The Des Moines City Council is deciding whether or not to continue offering tax abatement to new construction and renovation in targeted areas of the City.

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Via associate transportation planner Bethany Wilcoxon at the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization:

The Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is pleased to announce that, effective September 1, 2011, its office will be located at 420 Watson Powell, Jr., Parkway, Suite 200 in Des Moines. The move to downtown Des Moines comes after ten years in the Merle Hay Centre in Urbandale.

File this one under "Walking the Walk" - this is great news! The new address is smack dab in the heart of downtown, where a quasi-governmental planning organization with responsibility for setting sustainable transportation policy should be located.

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Let me suggest the following as an add-on demonstration of sustainable transportation planning: How about a $150 per month incentive for each employee that commutes to work by public transportation, foot, or bike at least 15 days!

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09 Aug 2011

The term "gentrification" carries with it a substantial cargo of economic, social, and racial baggage. In general, it is a pejorative and Completed renovation of a vacant homeCompleted renovation of a vacant homeloaded word used to describe what might otherwise be seen as positive changes in a challenged neighborhood: increased investment in homes and influx of middle-class and wealthy occupants.

The negative aspect of gentrification is, of course, "displacement"

The Displacement Dilemma

In order to be adequately parsed, displacement due to gentrification must be subdivided into several categories:

  1. Displacement of homeowners due to rising property values - As properties are renovated, rising property values may impact long-term homeowners on fixed incomes who find themselves unable to keep up with property taxes.
  2. Displacement of renters due to rising rents - Increased property values, more desirable properties, and increased competition may lead to rent increases that existing tenants cannot accommodate.
  3. Displacement of minorities due to changing neighborhood demographics - Racial, religious, and social minorities may feel excluded or unwelcome in their own neighborhoods as the population demographics change.
  4. Displacement of poor families due to changes in available goods and services - As neighborhood economics change, so change the types of stores and services available to neighborhood residents.
  5. Displacement of criminals due to increased crime reporting and police response - With wealth comes political power, including the ability to do things like hire private security and influence resource allocation.

Clearly some of these categories are neutral, some good, and some negative. For example it may benefit one neighborhood to push criminal activity elsewhere, but unless the underlying issues are dealt with, it is a zero-sum game. Some other, less fortunate neighborhood will see an increase in crime.

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According to the Des Moines Register:

Local painter Frank Hansen polished off a colorful new mural at 808 Des Moines St., in the East Village. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth a drive-by look.

Hansen Mural Side View

Yes, it is indeed worth a drive by!

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There are two primary types of historic districts: National Register historic districts and local historic districts.

Historic Home, 1940'sHistoric Home, 1940'sLocal historic districts like Owl's Head and Sherman Hill in Des Moines require that exterior improvements meet certain standards, as interpreted by the Historic Preservation Commission. In a local historic district, for example, a property owner cannot alter fencing, siding, windows, or porches without a "Certificate of Appropriateness" being issued.

National Register historic districts are essentially all "carrot" and no "stick". The myth that the government will restrict what property owners can do to their privately held buildings in a National Register historic district is as persistent as it is false. In a National Register District, one can install vinyl siding, add an ugly porch, even demolish their house if so desired!

The "carrot" is Historic Tax Credits. Qualifying renovation work on buildings that contribute to the historic district is eligible for a refundable state income tax credit of up to 25% (and in some cases an additional Federal tax credit of up to 20%)! In my experience, there is no development tool more effective for spurring sustainable neighborhood reinvestment. Not only does renovation have the direct benefit of returning vacant and underutilized properties back to use, but it also has the associated benefits of raising property values, directing investment back to developing neighborhoods, paying of local wages and material purchase among others.

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On July 28, KCCI picked up a story listing a location in Clive as one of the top five worst spots to open a restaurant in the country!

Here it is - the building tucked in behind the car wash at 86th and University in Clive:

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The owner blames the former median (which was recently redone with a turn lane to allow automobile access to the site from 86th). A person who works across the street blamed prices and food. City Manager Dennis Henderson thinks perhaps the site would be better utilized as office.

Let me propose the following...

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I just returned from a fabulous summer vacation to the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. While there, I spent most of my time at a cottage on the beach - however, I did get into town a couple times. Saugatuk/Douglas is a close-knit community of just a couple thousand permanent residents that balloons in the summer to tens of thousands. The towns have built for themselves a reputation as both an art and tourist destination. Having avoided the fires that swept through many midwestern towns in the 1800s, Saugatuk retains much its original historic Victorian and Queen Anne style buildings, many of which have been converted to retail shops along the main corridors.

Just a short car ride south of Saugatuk is a town of 5000 permanent residents called South Haven. This small town has a thriving district with, I daresay, more storefront retail than downtown Des Moines! How can this possibly be?

This map shows the main entry to South Haven - complete with a standard Wal Mart at the highway intersection.

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What are We Called?

18 Jul 2011

What do you you call someone who lives in Des Moines? No, seriously, this isn't a spectacularly bad joke set-up. Are we:

  • "Des Moinesians"
  • "Des Moans" (rhymes with Samoans)
  • "Des Moiners"
  • "Des Moinistas"
  • "Des Moinae"

Any ideas I'm missing?

Go visit Scott Rocketship's newest web venture, "What If Des Moines". It's basically the same idea behind DMPerspective, except that he is able to distill the what ifs down to a single sentence, on a much more frequent and regular basis.

Reminds me quite a bit of another website called "People Who..." run by an evidently very snarky friend of a friend. The schtick is this: distill a rant dow to a single meaningful sentence and encourage people to respond with their own reactions and ideas. For example:

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Vinyl Preservation

14 Feb 2011

I took the following photo Saturday afternoon at the Home and Garden Show:

Do they not recognize the conflict here?Do they not recognize the conflict here?

Whatever replacement vinyl siding and windows are, they are most definitely not "preservation". I guess if you say something enough, people will begin to believe it is true. Well, I suppose vinyl qualifies as preservation from one point of view: the vinyl will stick around in our landfills long after the window has fallen apart and been replaced...

It is important to note that “Maintenance Free” free products still need to be maintained – it just means that when they eventually break they can’t be repaired. They need to be replaced.

Indeed, the residential double-hung window is a great example. We have gone from building simple windows that with proper maintenance can last hundreds of years to extraordinarily complex windows that last 10 years. I wouldn't put money on any window manufacturer still manufacturing the same proprietary tilt-in sash clip for a spring-loaded counterbalance in 20 years.

On the flip side, a standard historic double-hung window sash can be retrofit with readily available replaceable gaskets and weatherstripping to become much more energy efficient. Rope and chain have been made for hundreds of years and will likely continue to be made in one form or another for hundreds more.

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