Blogs

I spend a good amount of time at my job researching vacant and distressed properties in Des Moines for acquisition and rehabilitation. The internets are a great tool. Some of the key web sites I use are:

And, of course:

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Entry to River Bend

04 Aug 2008

6th Avenue is the spine of the River Bend neighborhood. The intersection of 6th Avenue with University Avenue serves as the primary entrance to the neighborhood for much of the traffic that passes through.

6th Avenue at University: Entry to River Bend6th Avenue at University: Entry to River BendUnfortunately, this intersection is not very welcoming to either vehicles or pedestrians. It is marked by surface parking lots at the southeast and southwest corners, a Quicktrip gas station on the northeast corner, and a McDonald's drivethru (behind a three foot retaining wall) on the northwest.

This intersection actually misleads potential visitors about the neighborhood - though it cuts right through the center, there is very little on 6th Avenue that relates to the residential areas on either side. The sidewalks are pushed up against a highly traveled street (though there are curb cuts at all four corners!). None of the corners are "built" with pedestrian-oriented uses, despite the proximity to Mercy medical center that could provide a flow of pedestrians. Despite its current configuration, 6th Avenue actually has a history of pedestrian use.

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Defining Urbanism

04 Aug 2008

While I am a self-declared "urbanist", this does not mean I think everyone should live in a Manhattan or a Chicago (or even Des Moines). This post will discuss my approach to urbanism and why I actively promote urban policies and urban (re)development.

Normally to start a post like this, I would do a quick Google search for "urban" and check out what other people think an "urban" is. It's a standard timesaver used by the net generation - no need to reinvent the wheel (many blog posts are reactions or responses to something that already exists). As an aside, this approach isn't new. How many high school essays start out "Webster's Dictionary defines [my topic] as..."?

However, for the purposes of this exercise, I am forgoing that maneuver. I'm going to start from scratch and see where "urbanism" takes me.

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...then at the very least, you should build a plaza.

Country Club Office Plaza Entry MonumentCountry Club Office Plaza Entry Monument

Country Club Office Plaza is located in West Des Moines off Jordan Creek Parkway.

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There. Like ripping off a band-aid, I said it and there's no going back.

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Don't Even THINK About It!Don't Even THINK About It!This fountain is located at the entrance to the Country Club Office Plaza in West Des Moines. Evidently the idea of fun doesn't sit well with their insurance company. The big brown sign on the fountain reads "NO TRESPASSING" in big bold helvetica.

This is a great example of how suburban developments use representational ideas (a fountain) designed to make people feel comfortable. When you drive past at 45 miles per hour, they often work as intended. A closer examination, however, can lead to the discovery of awkward conflicts.

What could be more inviting than a fountain on a 90 degree day? But.... place that fountain 15 feet from a six lane automobile thoroughfare and it looses a bit of appeal. A large sign shouting "NO TRESPASSING" takes away a little more appeal. Placing it between a fast food drive-thru and an automobile-oriented bank building kills whatever remaining appeal the fountain had.

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In an article published on July 10, 2008, the Des Moines Register claims that "More Iowans like suburban life". The article is based on updated Census estimates for 2007. In fact, an examination of the underlying data leads me to the opposite conclusion: More Iowans actually prefer living in central cities and towns.

Here are some reasons why.

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Sixth Avenue is a north-south thoroughfare forming the spine of the River Bend neighborhood. It runs more or less from downtown at the south to Interstate 80 (where it turns into NW 6th Drive). Along the way it strings together a variety of destinations including Mercy Medical Center and North High School as well as crossing I-235, University, and Euclid.

It is also, for the most part, underutilized and dreary, particularly for the pedestrian. Until now.

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Before diving in to the reasons the Des Moines downtown skywalk system should disappear, I'll first lay out the reason why it should stay: Iowa gets cold. It's no fun walking anywhere when the thermometer reads 10 degrees below zero, particularly if young children are involved!

That said, I think the skywalks are holding downtown back from a complete revitalization.

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Fountain at Downtown LibraryFountain at Downtown LibraryThe fountain outside the downtown branch of the Des Moines Public Library is an excellent example of a public amenity. Note the walls at multiple levels (perfect for sitting on or walking along) and the zero grade entry for accessibility. It is clearly designed to encourage passers-by to slip off their shoes and linger.

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