|They can't catch us if we go low-tech!!|
Are State Capital Cities the Final Frontier of Neighborhood Regeneration?
Over a two-week period this Spring I was lucky enough to work with Urban Land Institute-led teams analyzing transportation, connectivity and neighborhood regeneration challenges in Columbia, South Carolina and Austin, Texas. From a marketing and branding perspective, Austin is currently "keeping itself weird" and Columbia is still "famously hot". Both cities have great mayors who are awesome city ambassadors.
|Yours truly with Mayor Lee Leffingwell of Austin|
|Yours truly with Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia|
In addition to my time in those capital cities, I am also helping to implement neighborhood regeneration strategies in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Washington, DC. As you might imagine, the District of Columbia shares many of the challenges and opportunities faced by most capital cities (I know, I know, there's no "State of New Columbia" but we operate like a state capital city).
Our state capital cities often have the same critical revitalization challenges:
- Fractured ownership of land and buildings;
- Transportation and Connectivity Issues;
- "Parking Lot Problems"; and
- Lack of 18-Hour Vibrancy.
- Fractured ownership of land and buildings. Whether it's the state government owning a large percentage of the land, or dominating ownership by local colleges and universities, many state capitol cities and downtowns struggle to reinvent themselves. Part of their struggle is the mosaic (*ahem*) of landowners they have to work with who have very different interests, resources and decision-making structures. What do you do when the local government, state government, major university and large corporate employer don't agree on land use and planning? The solution takes a robust understanding of how to structure, implement and manage P5 public/private/non-profit/philanthropic/people partnerships in a way that all parties can benefit and flourish.
- Transportation and Connectivity Issues. Ownership and control issues also typically apply to the streets and avenues in many state capitols as well. Many state capitols don't own, control or maintain the streets that bisect them. Oftentimes there are mini-highways that bisect the state capitol (four lane roads cutting through downtown Austin come to mind) which hamper the ability of the city to offer safe and convenient multi-modal options for pedestrians, cyclists and people using public transit. Moreover, the street grids, too-wide roads and office building-focused development tend to disconnect the capitol city center from its adjacent neighborhoods often through ridiculous intersections that serve to divide not connect. Capital cities from Sacramento, to Austin to Columbia are all desperately trying to retroactively fix these issues.
|To be fixed: Columbia, I don't want to cross that street to get to that nice restaurant. Oh wait.|
- Parking Lot Problems. A consistent second problem in capital cities is parking lots. If you're working to revitalize cities you're probably channeling Jay-Z right now and saying "I got 99 problems but parking lots ain't one." But put yourself in the shoes of a state capitol city where government, corporate institutional and universities build seas of parking (some of it underground no less!) that only get used for 12 hours a day. Those same lots (usually fronting onto major streets by the way) break up urban streetscapes and hamper retail development, create public safety issues, are usually poorly maintained (if at all) and are often magnets for unscrupulous activity at night.
This 7 feet tall Gamecock protects a downtown Columbia parking lot. There's no one to protect at night though.
- Lack of 18-hour vibrancy.
We built it and they didn't come.Lack of 18-hour vibrancy is mostly an outcome of the ownership, connectivity and parking lot issues I identify above. If you have an area of your city where a 12-hour work day population commutes in but very few people live there, you end up with limited retail and restaurant options in the evenings and on the weekends. The limited entertainment amenities cause more people to stay away, which begets less activity, less public safety, and the vicious cycle kills the vibrancy of the downtown in that state capital city.
Capital cities also have assets that coalesce in their downtowns that make many cities envious. Our next blog post will discuss solutions to the problems discussed above. Many of the solutions to the revitalization challenges of state capitals derive from leveraging three assets that most capital cities benefit from that many cities wish they had:
1) A semi-permanent employment base and industry cluster;
2) The headquarters or sizable outposts of large private sector corporations and;
3) Major universities and colleges.
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