As I write this, Congressional leaders are meeting with the White House to hammer out details of a massive bailout of troubled financial firms and banks. The public has been presented with the following extortion scenario: pay us $700 billion or life will return to the dark ages. I've been doing a lot of reading and there seems to be a general consensus among academic experts and political analysts:

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Urban Schmurban

19 Sep 2008

According to the Des Moines Register, Hubbell Realty has purchased the mixed-use Fox Prairie development out of foreclosure for just over $10 million. Because Hubbell purchased the project at a discounted rate, they believe they will be able to offer the residential condo units at a competitive price. It is certainly not odd or surprising that suburban commercial and residential developments are feeling the pinch now, particularly with the tightening of the financial markets.

But that's not what I want to talk about here. The real shocker in the article was a quote by Rick Tollakson, Hubbell's chief executive:

"It's very convenient to everything," said Tollakson, who described the lofts as urban living in a suburban setting.

It is impossible to have urban living in a suburban setting.

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As I was browsing Google Maps around Raccoon River Park, I came across a street called Scenic Vista Drive. What would you expect this to look like?

I picture a country road that winds its way across the ridges overlooking a river valley. Every so often, the tree cover breaks to reveal a slightly misty valley hundreds of feet below, where deer romp through wildflower fields. Imagine my surprise when Street View revealed this:

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Due to heavy flooding at Gray's Lake, Hy-Vee Triathlon race officials were forced find an alternate site for the 2008 event. A huge amount of effort went in to logistics and planning to locate an acceptable venue. The event ended up in West Des Moines.

The two-year-old Hy-Vee Triathlon has decided to make the suburban move permanent - starting and ending at Raccoon River Park. According to WHO-TV:

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I am saddened and angered that the Republican leaders have such disdain for people who dedicate their lives to making their communities safer, stronger, and better equipped to deal with changing economics.

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin said the following in her acceptance speech:

"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities."

Rudy Giuliani was aggressively dismissive of community organizing in his speech as well.

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Particularly in older Midwestern towns and cities, it is not uncommon to find rural anachronisms in the middle of otherwise urban settings.

East Grand Feed Mill Aerial Photo: Aerial photo of feed mill on East GrandEast Grand Feed Mill Aerial Photo: Aerial photo of feed mill on East Grand

Note that this facility is located in a residential neighborhood, where the train tracks cut through. The grain elevator was constructed in the early 1900s, as were most of the surrounding homes. It seems reasonable to believe that employees of the feed mill were able to live nearby and walk to work.

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Cars Can be Cool

03 Sep 2008

East Village Classic Car Show 2008East Village Classic Car Show 2008A couple weekends ago, we hopped over to the East Village to attend the first annual East Village Classic Car Show. The timing wasn't great (the kids are napping between 1 and 3 most afternoons), but they were more than willing to drag themselves out of their beds to see some "Hot Wheels".

An urban, pedestrian-oriented commercial district is the perfect place to host an event such as this.

  • Layering Uses - The street serves double-duty. On a lazy weekend afternoon, when there are not likely to be a lot of through traffic, it is easy to put up the barricades and reclaim the street for pedestrians.
  • Economic Multiplier - Since the retail storefronts are placed right up against the sidewalk, people attending the car show are more likely to pop in to one of the restaurants for a bite to eat or some quick shopping.
  • Mixed Use Accessibility - Residents in the surrounding apartments and condos are more likely to attend events right outside their doors.
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Larry Bradshaw of the Living Downtown Des Moines blog has posted video of a Sunday Morning stroll through the downtown Des Moines skywalk system. This stroll (sans people due to the morning hour) makes me even more sure of my earlier analysis of the skywalk system: it needs to go.

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Schools rank right up at the top of any respectable list of urban "issues".

When children, morals, and big money are thrown together in the political blender, the mixture is likely to explode every so often. It looks like this September 9th, there will be an explosion of sorts in Des Moines.

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Of the six major candidates for president, only Barack Obama has outlined a specific and coherent Urban Policy platform. While each of the other candidates and parties have individual policy proposals to address specific urban issues, it is plain to me that sustainable revitalization will take a coordinated approach.

From Obama's official campaign web site:

Today, government programs aimed at strengthening metropolitan areas are spread across the federal government with insufficient coordination or strategy. Worse, many federal programs inadvertently undermine cities and regions by encouraging inefficient and costly patterns of development and local competition.

For the most part, it appears that Obama's urban policy pulls together elements from his other policy statements. Some of them are more applicable than others and several policy suggestions in his Urban Policy proposal appear to actually promote suburban expansion(?).

But it's a start. The difference between Obama and the other candidates is that he is clearly thinking about urban policy as a comprehensive agenda. I am quite certain that this stems from his experience as an organizer in Chicago.

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