Think tank’s urban jobs agenda misguided: cities must be empowered, not wards of the state

This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Hartford Business Journal by your correspondent and David Panagore.

The Connecticut Policy Institute (CPI), founded by Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, issued a series of white papers earlier this year about economic development.
With the election for the state's top spot heating up and Foley running neck and neck with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, it's a good time to assess some of the economic development initiatives and thinking from the contender's camp.


Make Transit a Downtown Priority and Get the Details Right

This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Hartford Courant.  Supplemental italicized text and graphics in this post are intended to lend further clarity to the issues presented in the original text. Your correspondent previously served as the City's Complete Streets Coordinator and has been involved in several of the projects discussed.


Acres of parking in the shadow of tens of
thousands of jobs and the State Capitol
As recent research at the University of Connecticut indicates, too much surface parking is bad for downtowns. Citing Hartford as an example, the study finds that large swaths of blacktop drive down the value of surrounding property, making development less likely, which in turn begets more parking. In spite of being the highest concentration of jobs in the entire State, the conclusion of this unfortunate spiral is a place with plenty of parking but not much to do after you park.

A big part of the solution is improved transit, and with fewer than 10 percent of downtown Hartford employees currently using transit, there’s room for improvement.


Economic Development - How Philadelphia Snagged Comcast without Giving Away the Farm

Comcast Innovation and Technology Center - This is the year's big real estate development news in Philadelphia. 

Comcast and Liberty Property Trust announced the plan to construct a $1.2B skyscraper at 19th and Arch in Center City, designed by Lord Norman Foster.  There will be much discussion of the design and the economic impact of such a development, but there's another important story here - Philadelphia has just caught a big - no, gigantic - fish without wading into the sordid waters of corporate relocation/retention incentive one-upsmanship, which so many cities and states seem unable to resist.  But this development is neither an accident, nor to the credit of the will if a single administration or development official; rather, it's the product of at least three decades of strategic choices and turning the tide in the City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection).


The Unnecessary SEPTA Doomsday Scenario

As Paul Nussbaum recently reported for the Philadelphia Inquirer, SEPTA, which provides commuter rail, subway, a few versions of light rail, and bus service for Philadelphia and its surrounding counties, has presented a doomsday scenario if the Commonwealth chooses not to provide substantial cash infusions for capital improvements over the next several years.


ThirdPlace WorkSpace: Special Edition - Park(ing) Day Preview and Recommendations

Park(ing) Day comes but once a year, and this year it seems to be bigger and better organized than ever.   You can even post to a website that will map each such intervention around the world.  Pretty cool.     It's a great idea - our cities have been overrun by cars and parking, so let's reclaim some of that space for the humans as ThirdPlace - and has gained real traction.  At the time of this post, here in Philadelphia, there are already over forty participants officially signed up.  That makes for a great visual impact for helping people visualize a different future.  But allow me to present a possible next frontier.


ThirdPlace WorkSpace Thursdays: Ultimo Coffee Bar

Ultimo was ranked best coffee shop in America (take that, Seattle and New York) - though I think that's the 15th and Mifflin original, not the Graduate Hospital edition I'm reviewing here, but who's really keeping score? - so it's no wonder that I'm a fan.  But now that I've been here a few times, I'm realizing the subtle things that also make Ultimo a great place to get some work done, in addition to having a great cup of coffee.


Naked Bike Ride... Effective Tactical Urbanism or a Robespierre for a Bicycle Revolution?

As I've posted about before, Philadelphia cycling culture, especially in Center City, is strong.  As the chicken-egg dance goes, public infrastructure to support that culture is incrementally improving.  I sold my car almost five years ago and my bicycle is my primary non-foot means of getting around, so suffice it to say I'm an advocate.  But over the weekend, I came to the quick conclusion that a Naked Bike Ride doesn't really advance my cause at this point.


ThirdPlace WorkSpace Thursdays: Wi-fi and Learning from Starbucks

Diverging from cafe reviews this week, I'd like to touch on what independent retail can learn from corporate retail and how design plays a role in how people behave.


Thinking about Snow in August: A Fiscal Case for Walkable Development

Walkability is about more than the existence of sidewalks, configuration of streets, and the presence of parks and trees; it has to do with density, mixed-use neighborhoods, and a fine-grained scale of development.  More on that in another post, but keep that in mind for now.

Today, StreetsBlog featured an article about how fire departments both perpetuate and are victimized by sprawl.  The premise basically being that the requirements for streets to accomodate the department's largest fire engine begets wider streets and perpetuates the vicious cycles of sprawl sprawl inducement.  In turn, they speculate that volunteering to be fire fighter becomes harder, since so much time in a car-dependent place, is dedicated to driving.  Mark Abraham over @urbandata posed it a different way, asking, "if we did away with #sprawl, what could the typical firefighter salary be increased to?" This reminded me of some very tangible fiscal benefits to compact, walkable development I noticed during last year's big snow storm. 


Beyond Springfield: Reconnecting Central New England with the "Inland Route"

Deval Patrick, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, seems to be making a name for himself as a big believer in passenger rail, most prominently with a plan to expand Boston's South Station to allow for plenty of development potential, but most importantly, expanded service and better connectivity.  To the south, Gov. Dannel Malloy, who took advantage of the benefits of passenger service as mayor of Stamford, is pushing Connecticut forward with bus rapid transit between New Britain (and points beyond) and Hartford, along with commuter service between New Haven and Springfield, MA.  Taken alone, these are great things, but working together, governors of two small states can make for a real powerhouse... and there's plenty of potential on that front.


Reclaiming Streets for People - Gray's Ferry Avenue

New York City's Janette Sadik-Khan has become famous by way of bike lanes and the City's plaza program... the both of which involve converting overbuilt vehicular roadways into spaces for people, but the latter is probably most innovative due to the seemingly guerilla start to many of these projects, where paint, cheap bollards, and simple seating come long before concrete, granite and tree planters. But such opportunities abound far beyond the Big Apple.


Schuylkill Riverfront Development Anxiety: Focus Down, Not Up

With the huge to-date success of Schuylkill Banks and the Schulkill River Trail, along with lots of extensions and expansion underway, planned, or in theory, it's no wonder that Dranoff wants to build a new residential building at 25th and Locust Streets to double down on their early investments in loft conversions on the 2400 block of Locust.  Re-use is one thing, but as the urban revitalization story often goes... new construction has many in a tizzy.


On the (rail)Road; Jack Kerouac Redux for Millennials?

Last night, we took a midnight Amtrak train from Philadelphia and woke up in Boston.  Today we're spending the day in America's arguably (right Philly?) most historic city, and this evening we're taking a train down the Cape on the Cape Flyer, something that hasn't been able to happen in about twenty-five years.  Needless to say, trains have been around for a long time in this country, but there's some real change afoot these days, after decades of stagnation and decline, America seems to be rediscovering its railways.


ThirdPlace WorkSpace Thursdays - Nook Bakery & Coffee Bar, 20th and Chestnut

You may remember when Nook used to be on the Walnut Street Bridge, which was great for students, staff, and faculty heading to Penn or Drexel.  Three years ago, Edna and Mike moved their shop to 20th Street, just north of Chestnut Street, where they say they're getting much more foot traffic.  It's a nice spot to get some work done or have meeting, and even better for a cup of coffee and some freshly baked goods.


Shifting the Balance on Park Drives

Made most famous by the post-earthquake non-reconstruction of the Embarcadero Freeway, and Boston's removal of its elevated Central Artery (which I still can't believe actually existed) with the "Big Dig," many cities have rightfully gotten into the act removing urban highways.  But another interesting thing seems to be happening with parkways that morphed into highways, and are now trying be turned back.