Greystone Homes Start Construction

New construction homes have started to pop up along MLK and scattered throughout the adjacent neighborhoods just north of Downtown. This is a great sign for the City - I am excited to see investment in non-Habitat infill construction (even thought it is subsidized as well) because it demonstrates an expanding market.

Hatch Development Group is building 26 "Des Moines Greystones" on scattered infill sites. Here's what they will look like:

Des Moines Greystones, Hatch Development GroupDes Moines Greystones, Hatch Development Group

I'm not convinced that the design is appropriate for the locations. They are attempting to "import" the idea of the appearance of a Chicago greystone to a location that doesn't really support it. Here are some photos of infill Chicago "greystones" I took on a trip to Chicago several years ago:

Chicago Infill Housing

Not all of these are great design, but the Chicago greystone home type is a part of the context and underlying neighborhood development pattern there... density, material compatibility, consistent massing - these all create an understanding of why the buildings take the form that they do.

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It's Quite the Gamble...

Proposed Casino LocationProposed Casino LocationCasino owners Gary Kirke and Mike Richards recently put an option on an 85 acre piece of land north of 80/35 at 100th Street in Urbandale... and then quickly withdrew it. They proposed to develop on this 85 acre site a craptastical casino-dining-entertainment-bowling-hotel-conference-center extravaganza. This would have been a structure almost as big as the new Urbandale Hy-Vee. Perhaps they should have considered adding a grocery store to the plans.

The project would have required approval of the Urbandale City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission. My guess is that they faced stiff opposition from City staff and politicians and, well, everyone living in the subdivisions just north of the proposed site. Indeed, I lost a potential bathroom remodel client in part over concern about investing in a house so close to a proposed casino.

The site doesn't currently have direct Interstate access... Yet. Polk County Public Works website outlines a $21m plan to construct an interchange at 100th Street, scheduled to start in 2008. Clearly, that project is, um, behind schedule. Wouldn't it be great to control the land around it when the interchange does eventually get built. And it will.

In the meantime, my best guess is that a similar proposal will reappear, sans casino, some time soon.

With the disappearance of this proposal, you can feel free to invest in Prairie Meadows again. If Branstad's "education plan" is implemented, perhaps there will be enough suckers to support two Des Moines casinos. In the meantime, I suggest adding classes in probability and statistics to the high school curriculum...

Pecha What?

Q: So what do the intelligentsia do for fun on a Friday night?

A: They listen to each other talk at Pecha Kucha (pronounced "peCHA kuCHA" because it's Japanese).

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TEDx Des Moines

26 Sep 2012

I ran into the always energetic Alexander Grugrich yesterday (at Mars Cafe, of course). Among the other items in our conversation, he reminded me that the next installment of TEDx Des Moines is coming up on October 13th!

The theme will be "The City 2.0" and booked speakers at the day-long event include:

  • Former Des Moines visionary and architect Jeffrey Morgan,
  • Developer and contractor Mike Nelson, and
  • Sustainability expert and local go-getter Suzet Nelson

...plus many more.

I won't be able to attend so y'all have to represent. This is an event not worth missing. It's not just about the speakers, though they form the foundation from which the event springs. TED is really about engagement and inspiration. If you go, use the speakers as a tool for engaging your fellow attendees. You will be with interesting and innovative people all day - don't waste the opportunity!

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Kudos to the City Council

...for upholding the Historic Preservation Commission in a dispute with heavy hitters James and Roxanne Conlin over installation of vinyl windows in a building they own that is located in a local historic district. Rumor has it they may take the issue to court. Such a waste of time and money would be a shame. I suggest they put the money they might spend on attorneys and court costs into renovating their building and complying with the local historic district ordinance.

Staff in the planning department deserve a lot of credit as well. They wrote a staff response to the Conlin appeal, and it is a great read for all preservationists and city government nerds.

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Conlin Properties

24 Sep 2012

826 18th Street - Conlin Properties: From the Assessor's website826 18th Street - James and Roxanne Conlin: From the Assessor's websiteIn a few minutes, James Conlin (yes, related to Des Moines attorney Roxanne Conlin) will ask [pdf] the Des Moines City Council to overturn a decision made by the Historic Preservation Commission relating to one of their properties in the Sherman Hill local historic district.

The property is located at 826 18th Street. The local historic district has been in existence since before the Conlins purchased the property in 1989. They want to install vinyl windows in conflict with the Historic Preservation Commission's interpretation of the established local historic district guidelines.

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The Filling Station

Listed in the 2008 Des Moines Rehabbers Club "Most Endangered" list, the former Don's Service Station structure has been sitting on cribs in the Kathedral parking lot for four years... The Sherman Hill website now reports that it is finally scheduled to be moved to its permanent home at 18th and Crocker. For more information about the planned conversion to a teen hangout and worship center, visit the "Filling Station" website.

Downtown Development Plans...

KCCI reports that Hubbell Realty Company has initiated the public process for development incentives and zoning approvals for "Cityville", a 288-unit mixed-use complex to be built just south of downtown. Unfortunately, the available news reports were unclear which incentives are being pursued, with various references to tax abatement, loans, tax credits, grants, and tax increment financing. Surely Hubbell will negotiate with the city economic development department to hammer out the specifics - citizens need to be vigilant to ensure that we are getting a good deal.

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It's been a while since I have posted here, and I'm missing it a bit... I enjoy taking a look at what is going on in the city around me and looking for connections, possibilities, and opportunities for improvement. So I'm going to try a new format for a while - the Tuesday Morning roundup: Each Tuesday morning, stop in for development and urbanism-related news snippets, photos of interesting projects, and maybe a few bits of insight and/or snarkiness (depending on whether or not I have had my morning coffee).

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Bus Rapid Transit (via Wikimedia Commons)Bus Rapid Transit (via Wikimedia Commons)The Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) is set to unveil a proposal to develop “bus-rapid transit” – rail-like service delivered with hybrid buses on Ingersoll and University Avenues between downtown and 42nd Street.

The proposal will be presented at three open houses on Thursday, January 26:

  • 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. – Arthur Davis Room, Greater Des Moines Partnership, 700 Locust St.
  • 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. – Pomerantz Stage, Olmsted Center, Drake University, 2507 University Ave.
  • 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. – Greenwood Room, Plymouth United Church of Christ, 4126 Ingersoll Ave.

From the meeting announcement:

The service would be developed along established transit corridors that feature high-density residential neighborhoods and an abundance of destinations, including two medical centers, three institutions of higher learning, multiple shopping districts and employment centers, and many other services. DART would deploy hybrid buses that are branded specific to that service, build stations along the route with real-time arrival and departure information, offer 10-minute service at peak usage, and use technology to change stoplights and accelerate travel times.

Make no mistake, service like this is a fabulous idea to promote two things our City needs more of:

  • Wider transit ridership - with service that benefits a broad base of users
  • Compact development - Encouraging higher density development along established and consistent transit routes that connect to widely-used destinations

An additional suggestion for DART (no charge):
In conjunction with the establishment of Southwest Airlines service to the Des Moines Intergalactic Spaceport, DART should also explore ways of improving the anemic service to this transportation hub. Three times in the past year I have taken flights out and back from Des Moines at times when public transit does not serve the airport... very disappointing.

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Planning for Tomorrow

12 Jan 2012

This morning I attended the first in a series of speaker events organized around the "Tomorrow Plan". Spearheaded by the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (DMAMPO), the Tomorrow Plan seeks to design a coordinated metropolitan strategy for managing the expected population growth over the next 25 years.

Tomorrow Plan Speaker Series - Bill FultonTomorrow Plan Speaker Series - Bill FultonThe headline speaker was former Ventura mayor, Bill Fulton. Fulton now works for Smart Growth America assisting assist state, regional, and local government agencies around the nation with smart growth policies and tools.

All in all, the talk was an interesting if relatively superficial exploration of some of the fundamental issues that necessitate a reexamination of unchecked single-family suburban subdivision construction. He attempted to navigate the waters between advocating for more compact development, and the undeniable political, social and economic inertia driving (so to speak) suburban migration.

Here are some of his key points:

  • Demographic shifts - Baby Boomers and Millennials are the largest population segments, and they are trending away from traditional suburban living (they tend to seek walkable neighborhoods)
  • Sustainable and walkable neighborhoods - According to a National Association of Realtors survey 77% of of people prefer a pedestrian friendly neighborhood, 88% rank quality of the neighborhood higher than home size, and only 12% prefer a neighborhood with houses only
  • Sense of Place in either an "urban" or "village" form is important
  • Current development patterns strain fiscal resources - Low density development rarely pays for itself in terms of initial infrastructure investment or ongoing maintenance
  • Suburban development costs more money to support fewer people - Things like snow removal, elderly transit, and fire fighting are much less cost efficient in low density areas

Sustainability means making sure that a win today doesn't depend on a loss tomorrow.

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The Long Goodbye

28 Sep 2011

This evening, I am starting to disentangle Facebook from my personal life. I have just finished reading a disturbing article about the ways Facebook gathers, stores, and utilizes the information I give it.

Some key points I gleaned:

  • If you are not paying for a free service (like Facebook or Google), then you are the commodity being sold. In return for linking you to your friends and family, Facebook extracts payment in data - about who you are, what you do, websites you visit, and all the content you create and post to the Social Network. You no longer control any of this information, regardless of the "privacy settings" I'm sure you closely monitor. The new Facebook "ticker" is a glaring example of this.
  • Facebook's "Open Graph" allows third-party, non-Facebook websites to report your online activity back to Facebook. If you browse to Facebook-connected site that utilizes Open Graph, your unrelated online activities may be published to the ticker on your friends' Facebook page. This information is retained as long as Facebook chooses to retain it. This is not the future, this is now: the Washington Post's "Social Reader" app reports what you read to all your friends without explicit consent. That's fine when you are reading an article about the farm subsidy debate, but what if your girlfriend notices you have been suddenly reading up on gonorrhea?
  • If a website asks you to "connect with Facebook" don't do it. If the website requires you to "connect with Facebook" find another website. The more you "connect" with Facebook, the more information you are sharing with them and the more information Facebook will share with random people you don't know.

I am starting the process of disengaging my personal content from Facebook: my "status" and "likes", my opinions, my photos. I would like to share this with all of my friends, but I don't like the new strings attached. I will start posting "social networking" content and photos on Google+ rather than Facebook. Of course, for the time being, I will also put notifications up on my Facebook page.

Right or wrong, I trust Google over Facebook to do better by me and the content I create. When I engage with social media, I will make an effort to do so on Google+ rather than Facebook. I hope at least some of you will join me.

Add swilkeshapiro@gmail.com to your Google+ circles and I'll add you back!

See you all on the flip side.

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