Category Archives: cities

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New York City and the future of retail in cities


I’ve read a number of articles talking about the demise of New York due to rising rents and gentrification. After reading them, tt’s easy to feel hopeless about New York and cities in general. Which is why I was glad to read this: New York City Reveals the Future of American Retail – The Atlantic. It’s true, there are big changes in New York, just like there are big changes in other cities. And it’s true that many beloved retail stores are disappearing in cities everywhere. But it’s untrue that vacancy rates are shooting up and it’s untrue that it’s only big chains taking over. While retail stores threatened by Amazon are closing, places like restaurants and fitness locations are filling the gap.

You can argue that a city needs more than this new world of cafes and restaurants and gyms. The article points out to ways cities can encourage that. Specifically:

According to Jeremiah Moss, specific policies caused the disappearance of old New York—like tax breaks for big businesses, which have been a hallmark of city governance since the Ed Koch days (and up through HQ2). Moss says that several new policies could fix the problem. First, he is an advocate of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which would make it easier for small retailers to extend their lease in neighborhoods with rising rents. Second, he favors zoning laws that would limit the density of chain stores. He and others have also called for “vacancy taxes” that punish landlords who sit on empty storefronts for months at a time. All of these policies could help small businesses push back against the blandification of New York and the broader country.

Cities thrive when there is a mix of establishments servicing the wants and needs of its occupants. After reading this article, I think cities, New York and elswhere, are doing well and have a viable path to get better.

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What Happens to Churches in the 21st Century?

Quite a few things, according to this: www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/11/what-should-america-do-its-empty-church-buildings/576592/

if you have a church in your neighbourhood, there is a good chance one of the things mentioned in the article will happen in the next 10 years.

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Can housing be affordable?

Based on many affluent cities currently, the answer is “no”. But there are exceptions we can learn from like Vienna. As this piece shows,  Vienna’s Affordable Housing Paradise | HuffPost, it’s possible even in affluent cities and countries to have affordable housing under the right conditions.

Well worth reading that if you are feeling it is impossible to have affordable housing these days.

San Francisco puts delivery robots on a lease. Good.

According to CNET: Delivery robots face strict rules in San Francisco.

I like that picture above. Often when I see delivery robots in photos, they are by themselves on an uncrowded street. In the photo above, you can get a better sense of how it will be a problem if swarms of these things start taking over the sidewalk. The idea of sidewalks becoming more crowded by these tiny vehicles is a maddening one.

I’d be fine with them if city planners can come up with a way these robots can roll around and not impede better uses of the streets such as walking and cycling and public transit. Until then, the less robots crowding the sidewalks, the better.

Like drones in the air and autonomous cars on the roads, robots are coming to the sidewalks. City planners need to start planning for that now.

Montreal’s low rents are a lesson for any city suffering the opposite

Le Plateau in Montreal

Rents in many cities are high and rental properties are becoming increasingly difficult to afford. One exception to this is Montreal, where “average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Montreal metro area is $760. The Toronto average is $1,288. In Vancouver, it’s $1,368.” Why is that? Well there are a number of reasons, but as this The Globe and Mail point out, a key reason is the basic economics of supply and demand. But there is more to it that just that, and I’d recommend you read the piece to find out why.

I’m not sure if other expensive cities can replicate this, but it’s worth knowing it can be done and using this knowledge in cities where politicians and others try to limit rental stock.

The migration from rural to urban areas is going to continue for some time. People need more places to live. Let’s hope other cities can learn from Montreal.

(Quote from the article, image from Wikipedia)

How to see parks in Toronto

Easy, with this beautiful map:

Map of Toronto parks

A link to a full sized version of the map is here.

More information on the map, here: New map charts parks near TTC stations

Another cautionary tale: this time regarding Bleecker Street in NYC

The story of Bleecker Street’s Swerve From Luxe Shops to Vacant Stores in the  NYTimes is one playing out in many cities throughout the world, though perhaps not as extreme as this. It’s a big problem when money comes flooding into neighborhoods and cities, disrupting the people that live there, and making those areas unlivable in some cases. Most people need somewhat stable places to live, but unstable social systems (capitalist or otherwise) can make that difficult unless other social systems (like local governments) come in and press back against such instability. As more of the world moves from rural to urban areas, the tools to make streets and cities livable need to be developed and put to use.

Anyone living in a growing city needs to read this piece. Recommended.

(PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRIS MOTTALINI FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES)