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Old 06-08-2014, 12:49 PM
 
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So, I have a question-whatever happened to grassroots urbanism? I guess I asked a related question in my building size thread, but this is different. Years ago, many different companies and many different entrepreneurs built many separate structures for their businesses. Cities were built from the ground up by many thousands of individuals looking for a fortune. Let's look at this example from Indianapolis.

Notice how there are 4 separate buildings in the foreground, with 4 more smaller buildings towards the left edge of the view. Compared to the modern skyscraper, these buildings are tiny. But they were each built by smaller individuals, by smaller companies, looking for a fortune. They weren't big projects propped up by some billionaire developer or a massive corporation, they were little start-ups just attempting to make their way in the world. They were businesses built from the ground up. This starkly contrasts with contemporary construction. Let's look at this example from Kansas City.

Notice how this structure takes up an entire city block! It's pretty massive compared to the 1920s-1930s era skyscrapers in the vicinity. While I get that bigger corporations build bigger buildings, which is what appears to have happened here, that also happened in the 1920s and 1930s-and yet, smaller buildings and structures still popped up everywhere. And now they are not. I don't quite understand it.

I honestly feel like buildings, and thus cities, used to be built from the ground up. Now it seems like they are built from the top down-we always have to wait on the big developers to get things done for us. Businesses and buildings aren't sprouting up like they used to; maybe they're doing this in the suburbs, but they're difficult to notice when they're surrounded by a sea of chain stores and restaurants. So does anyone else feel like this sort of "grassroots urbanism," big cities made of many small buildings, is gone? If so, then why has it left us?
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Old 06-08-2014, 01:42 PM
 
Location: Southern California
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Money.

[preferably someone else's]
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Old 06-08-2014, 07:01 PM
 
Location: Portland, Oregon
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It depends, I see plenty of small footprint buildings going up around New York. In Portland, OR, I have seen a number of neighborhoods grow from grassroots urbanism. So it does still happen, maybe not in the same sense as your two pictures show, but the cost of construction is much different today than it was then and the cost of doing a building several floors high on a small footprint isn't as feasible compared to a building with larger floor plates. This is why I am all for preserving these small footprint buildings because the era of buildings like you posted is long gone in the more common sense.
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Old 06-08-2014, 08:25 PM
 
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Interesting, I was thinking about the cultural differences between Knoxville and Chattanooga and it seems like most of the redevelopment in Chattanooga is coming from the top down - either the government or heirs with wealth from the industrial era. So things are changing much faster with a lot of big new developments.

Most of the redevelopment in Knoxville is coming from the grass roots. In one case quite literally because one of the early Market Square redevelopers financed the businesses by laundering money from his brothers pot trade. How much more grass roots can you get??

The grass roots style is more appealing to me. The big money developments feel sterile.

Along those lines, I remember underground Atlanta when it was first developed, lots of diverse businesses/ bars and I loved it. After a period of decline it got cleaned up and corporatized. Big yawn.
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Old 06-08-2014, 10:09 PM
 
Location: Oakland, CA
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We had this cool project in an area in downtown: Old Oakland.

A really cute area, the original Victorian commercial district. But it was sort of quiet. There were a couple of offices (designers and the like), a fee new condos opened, a nightclub. But it wasn't really catching on. One of the businesses, the owners of a thriving restaurant, decided to work with the city on an incubator program for retail in the a area. It worked, some business stayed, some didn't but now the area is totally hopping and most of the storefronts are in use.

It was called "popup hood." Instead of a single popup store, there were a few in close proximity.

And now they opened up a consultancy to help other neighborhoods.
popuphood - home
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Old 06-08-2014, 10:13 PM
 
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We're turning into more and more of a corporate oligarchy--bigger and bigger piles of money concentrated in fewer and fewer hands?

I still see grassroots urbanism going on, but instead of building, it focuses on adaptive reuse--fixing up old buildings and turning them to new uses. Or even "gurerrilla" or "tactical" urbanism, playing around with parts of the city fabric in new ways using everything from pallets to parking spaces.
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Old 06-08-2014, 10:16 PM
 
Location: Oakland, CA
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Oakland has so much grassroots urbanism, probably because the news media seems to have way too much fun portraying Oakland as a lawless place where you risk being a victim of a drive by. Oakland has a DIY and scrappy undertone.

The other interesting case study is of "koreatown." Around 7 years ago first Friday started with art gallery openings. It started concentrating in the koreatown spot, and became a city sanctioned thing for a while it least. It became nationally recognized and was super popular. Things declined a bit last summer when there was a shooting (not a random one, the victim was targeted) and the city withdrew official sponsorship. But there was a report on the economic impact. Well he vacancy rate dropped from 47% to 12% in the neighborhood. And the businesses changed from shady adult stores to a diverse array of galleries and restaurants.

Anyway I was back this weekend, and while it isn't as busy as it was 3 years ago, downtown was still packed and the food trucks are way better now. Most downtown restaurants report that first Friday is the busiest night of the month.

Seizing the economic opportunity of First Friday « Oakland Local
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Old 06-08-2014, 10:25 PM
 
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Hm. We have had a monthly event called "Second Saturday" since the early 1990s, it became a very popular event drawing about 20,000 people a month until a shooting a few years back (multiple fatalities) and greater restrictions by the city on Second Saturday related events. But lately there are so many smaller weekend festivals and special events that even Second Saturday seems redundant. Tactical urbanism moves becomes a bit more strategic, with projects like "parklets" and bike parking and urban gardens becoming part of city policy. Even this year's annual "Zombie Walks a city-sanctioned parade with permits and everything. But there is still a lot of the DIY kind, from yarn bombing and spontaneous bike rides to sidewalk chalk art.
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Old 06-08-2014, 10:48 PM
 
Location: Oakland, CA
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wburg View Post
Hm. We have had a monthly event called "Second Saturday" since the early 1990s, it became a very popular event drawing about 20,000 people a month until a shooting a few years back (multiple fatalities) and greater restrictions by the city on Second Saturday related events. But lately there are so many smaller weekend festivals and special events that even Second Saturday seems redundant. Tactical urbanism moves becomes a bit more strategic, with projects like "parklets" and bike parking and urban gardens becoming part of city policy. Even this year's annual "Zombie Walks a city-sanctioned parade with permits and everything. But there is still a lot of the DIY kind, from yarn bombing and spontaneous bike rides to sidewalk chalk art.
Now they have Saturday stroll for that neighborhood, that is for the galleries and art buyers. And a couple of other areas have their own monthly art events sponsored by the business association for the neighborhood. But these areas didn't really need city help, they either stayed busy or grew organically.

But in this case, first Friday was a total game changer and activated the whole area. Without it uptown would still probably much more of a dead zone, particularly in that section. Honestly, it was under utilized since at last the late 90s. Now I is pretty busy albeit transitional. 3-4 new places have opened up in the vicinity in the past 6ish weeks. But the true multiplier comes from the small businesses that started as a first Friday stand and graduated to a retail space. There are quite a few of these. First Friday has become a business incubator for the city.
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Old 06-12-2014, 03:01 PM
 
Location: Fort Lupton CO
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wburg View Post
We're turning into more and more of a corporate oligarchy--bigger and bigger piles of money concentrated in fewer and fewer hands?
wburg couldn't have said it better. I'm a construction estimator, so I get to see all the newest projects before they get built (in the Denver metro area that is). When large financial firms invest in property its for money, its not to be proud of their project. Its all about the bottom dollar. They just don't care is really all it is.
The rare (free market) project I see that could be defined as "grassroots urbanism" comes across as a joke. These "developers" blew their last dime on getting preliminary drawings that are useless to price off of. However the guy is so desperate for any cost numbers he can get to arrange a budget to get financing, he doesn't even want to know how inaccurate our pricing is.
When he takes this to a bank or a investor, and they do their own "due diligence" they realized how risky this venture is going to be. Therefore they don't take on the project or they want such high interest rates/ ownership share of the project its almost not worth the guys time to develop. Meanwhile he floats around his drawings for nearly 18 months paying property taxes, if he owns the property, until he gets burnt out and gives up.
Property investors tend to stick together with certain developers because they have a history of making money together. To be blunt, its hard to justify the cost of such structures unless you are an existing business that wants to move into one that can guarantee some sort of safety net to the investment. That's rare enough. I really only see such projects succeed is when the government gets involved for some sort of low income housing scheme, or its a urban renewal authority that's providing a generous low interest loan. Once again the complexity of dealing with government money leaves very little return for the developer. Those projects usually involve developers who specialize in dealing with the HUD, state/city housing authorities, & urban renewal authorities, that the same conditions I mentioned earlier begin to surface. They tend to stick with certain developers because they have a history of taking care of the Government's investment.
So continues the viscous cycle. The demand for such structures isn't really high outside of urban planning circles because of lack of education or concern for it. People who do have high buying powers in America tend to suburbanize or want to live/ work in the expensive high rise towers. Leaving market demand to people who have lower buying powers.
In conclusion, I am optimistic that in a decade the demand market for these structures will reach a sustainable free market solution. Simply because the current low buying power consumers will have matured into high buying power consumers. However its still going to require a constant education and outreach on the part of planners and planning minded people. I am very optimistic because, Pre-recession, a lot of these types of projects were very warmly welcomed in the real estate investment market. To wrap-up the mouthful I said above would simply be "FOLLOW THE MONEY!"
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