West Des Moines

A couple weeks ago, I was a guest on Michael Libbie's show "Insight on Business". I had a great time talking with Michael about preservation for almost an hour. One of the questions he sprung on me was a comparison between the troubled West Glen development in West Des Moines and the redevelopment of the Historic East Village neighborhood adjacent to downtown. That question sparked an idea for this blog post: a comparison of the physical characteristics between an established urban neighborhood and a new "urban" development.

Then it got really cold and snowed, so the concept morphed from a physical comparison to a conceptual comparison based on the two neighborhoods' web presence. No way I'm driving out there to take photos in this weather. Instead, I embarked on a journey through the interwebz in order to do research from the comfort of my own couch. [Note: I did actually end up getting photos yesterday because I happend to find myself near both Historic East Village and West Glen anyways.]

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According to a Business Record article:

Monrovia, Calif.-based Trader Joe's will open in West Des Moines, a spokeswoman with the privately held chain of specialty grocery stores confirmed today. Alison Mochizuki said Trader Joe's in 2010, will open a 12,200-square-foot store at Galleria at Jordan Creek at 6305 Mills Civic Parkway.

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The Iowa chapter of the American Planning Association recently honored West Des Moines for its publication of a "pattern book". Pattern Books are locally specific guidebooks detailing appropriate interventions in existing neighborhoods (both renovation and new construction). This particular book is focused on the older areas of West Des Moines. Examples used in the book are the Cape Cod, Ranch, and Split Level home.

The 45-page book is available for free on the West Des Moines web site.

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General Growth Stock Price PlummetsGeneral Growth Stock Price PlummetsReal estate investment giant General Growth stock plummeted to around $0.35 per share this morning on news that the company may declare bankruptcy. General Growth developed and owns the Jordan Creek Town Center "retail resort" in West Des Moines.

Over the next few years, almost $4 billion in debt from recent property acquisition comes due, but current income from their real estate holdings doesn't cover the payments. General Growth acquired Rouse Company in 2004 for $7.2 billion, mostly financed through short-term debt instruments. Defaulting on one debt would likely cause other creditors to call their loans due, precipitating a catastrophic avalanche of defaults.

General Growth officials blame the "credit crunch" for the company's current financial woes. That is, they cannot find people to loan them money to cover their existing loans. Now that there is blood in the water, it becomes even more unlikely that anyone will loan them money - a self-fulfilling prophesy.

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Scenic Vista Drive: From Google Street ViewScenic Vista Drive: From Google Street ViewThe West Des Moines City Council placed itself in citizens' living rooms this evening when it adopted an ordinance dictating that no more than three "unrelated" adults may live in a single-family home.

People most likely to be affected:

  • Same-sex couples
  • Immigrants
  • Non-traditional families
  • Economically struggling families
  • Young homeowners

Ordinances like this have not-so-hidden racial and economic undertones. While Iowa courts have found other cities' attempts constitutional, that doesn't make it right.

There are legitimate reasons to restrict the number of people who may reside in a house: building codes already have standards regarding how many people can safely inhabit a dwelling unit. The number of people has nothing to do with the relationship between the residents. A good example of this is same-sex couples, who are currently not recognized by the State as being related. Regardless of what the politicians say, this legislation is intended to restrict the types of people who can live in West Des Moines.

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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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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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