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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The Retail Blank Wall

27 Aug 2008

Storefront Decoration at University Ave. Radio ShackStorefront Decoration at University Ave. Radio Shack (circa 2005) - Photo by Polk County Assessor's OfficeWith few exceptions, blank walls ruin the pedestrian experience. Blank walls make it difficult to discern what is happening inside the adjacent buildings, decrease the number of "eyes on the street", and promote an automobile-centric environment.

The Radio Shack at University and 42nd Street is an excellent example of how the location of the main entrance can have a huge impact on the urban character of a building.

The structure itself, is actually relatively urban. It is built up to a generous sidewalk, with the parking located in back. There is a small path between buildings that allows shoppers to easily make their way from their cars to the stores in the adjacent building. It maintains a good street edge and lines up with the adjacent building.

There is just one problem, but it's a killer: the main (only) public entry to the Radio Shack store is on the back corner of the building!

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The Des Moines Rehabbers Club seeks nominations from the public to name "Des Moines' Seven Most Endangered Buildings." Neighborhood groups, individuals, and businesses are encouraged to submit nominations for buildings in danger of demolition or neglect. Nomination forms are available for download at http://renovatedsm.com/node/305 and must be received by September 22, 2008.

Eligible buildings must be located within the city of Des Moines, must be threatened with active demolition or severe neglect, and should not be in a condition that is beyond the possibility of rehabilitation. Buildings may be residential or commercial, of any size and being used for any purpose. The list will be announced in mid-October.

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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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