We want to thank everyone who was able to come out and celebrate the firm’s 10 year anniversary earlier this month. Having officially turned 10 on November 8th, 2014, it was great to catch up with old friends and new partners that have helped shape a decade of work for Houseal Lavigne Associates. The celebration was held at Randolph Tavern in Downtown Chicago and included clients, consulting firms and organizations, and friends of the Firm, all having a chance to eat, drink, and share good conversation. We are so thankful to be part of such a welcoming and diverse professional community!
The story of Flint, as made infamous in Michael Moore’s Roger & Me, has been that of decline and hopelessness. However, the Imagine Flint Master Plan is beginning to change all this by providing the community with a single, united vision and the guidance needed to help transform Flint into a vibrant sustainable community. People and organizations are pledging their help. Institutions are investing. Businesses are expanding.
Though only adopted in October 2013, the Master Plan has yielded tangible results. The housing conditions data produced through the process has helped the City secure more $24 million in grants for demolition, neighborhood planning, and redevelopment efforts.
Choice Neighborhoods Grant
In January 2015, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro announced seven new Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant awards, including $500,000 to the City of Flint. One of 51 applicants, the City of Flint will use the grant, in partnership with the Flint Housing Commission, to create a plan to address the historic challenges of poverty and crime impacting the Atherton East public housing development and surrounding areas.
The Imagine Flint Master Plan prioritizes social equity and specifically calls for work to improve opportunity for residents of Atherton East. As Mayor Dayne Walling:
“This new grant will enable us to work with residents, partners and the Flint Housing Commission to develop a neighborhood transformation plan. This is another step forward in implementing the Imagine Flint Master Plan and demonstrating that we can create neighborhoods that are safe, vibrant, and inclusive in every part of the city.
“Decades ago Flint made the mistake of putting its public housing in some of the most isolated parts of the city, and now we’re seeing the results – high crime, concentrated poverty, and limited economic opportunity. This grant gives us the opportunity to work hand in hand with the Flint Housing Commission and residents to break the cycle and reconnect families to opportunity.”
− Flint Mayor Dayne Walling
Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2)
In January 2014, the City was also selected for participation in the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative largely because of the Master Plan. Touting Flint’s Master Plan as a key reason for the City’s selection, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said, “One of the things that really impressed us about Flint is that there is a brand new master plan and provides a clear road map strategy for the city and we really felt we could be helpful on.”
German Brewery Workers & Restaurant Roulette in Cincinnati
I spent part of the holidays in the Cincinnati region and visited some of the most rapidly redeveloping urban neighborhoods in the nation, generally north of the city’s traditional Central Business District (CBD), although there are a number of places Downtown experiencing a lot of reinvestment as well. Over the Rhine (commonly written as OTR) is a national treasure, containing the largest amount of Italianate architecture in the United States and with nearly 1,000 contributing structures, it is believed to be the largest, most intact urban historic district in the country. This neighborhood, originally settled by primarily German immigrants and home to a major pre-prohibition brewery district, covers dozens of city blocks and is one of the U.S.’s most well preserved historic areas, often cited as possessing a similar character to New Orleans’s French Quarter or historic Charleston, South Carolina, although distinctly early-American in style.
Once the location of some of the most persistent blight in the metropolitan region, OTR has now transitioned into an area experiencing rapid reinvestment, creative adaptive reuses and renovations, and even major infill development, including a recently announced $75 million multi-phase project. OTR has helped link existing regional assets, like the University of Cincinnati, Findlay Market, and Cincinnati Music Hall, to the CBD, traveling along Vine Street and feeding other areas of recent redevelopment, like Fountain Square in the heart of Downtown as well as to the Banks project on the riverfront, situated between the Reds and Bengals stadiums. Recent investments include adding a bicycle sharing program called Red Bike, a streetcar line slated to open soon, and a $48 million renovation of Washington Park in OTR, which reopened in 2012. By all accounts OTR is one of Cincinnati’s recent success stories and garnered the city deserved national attention.
But while I was there, a local newspaper article documented an experience I’ve navigated a handful of times before – the article dubbed it “restaurant roulette.” Simply, OTR’s success has become so widely known throughout the Cincinnati region, even to the point of drawing out-of-towners like me whenever I’m visiting, many of the quaint restaurants that line Vine Street post 2 to 3 hour waits for a table; further, many do not take reservations. The idea of “restaurant roulette” is to then split up your dinner party and place your name on multiple restaurants’ wait lists simultaneously, and then take the first one that opens up – even then, the waits can be long and the strategy has created complications and frustrations to both diners and proprietors alike.
This phenomenon made me think about OTR’s unique (and rapid) success story and the interesting dynamic that just about the same amount of startups and small businesses actually fail at their first significant period of rapid growth and expansion as they do in their early, fledgling stages. Simply, growth often smothers a rapidly growing small business, not the lack of customers.
I see similarities with a new startup venture and a neighborhood revitalization effort like OTR. The earliest examples of reinvestment started small, carried the highest degree of risk, and in the short-term, were a bit of a grind with low rewards. Then seemingly one day everybody knew about OTR and everybody – whether a business owner, or real estate developer, or consumer – wanted to be a part of that success. OTR now faces growth management as one of its central challenges.
So what role does urban planning play in ensuring continued success in this situation?
Planners do often work with the consequences of fast, uncoordinated growth and how the short-term benefits may not outweigh their long-term negative impacts (i.e. an unbalanced land use mix and its tax burden impact on homeowners). But we typically address this dynamic in rapidly developing suburban or exurban areas that are churning through greenfields and farmland.
But these challenges carry a lot of similarities – how can OTR continue to develop, but do so strategically in a way that preserves its recent successes and builds on those accomplishments? How does it handle unique challenges, such as a nationally-precious but finite supply of historic structures, and ensure that each project is professionally completed with a focus that maintains past quality? How can the community balance the demand for more restaurants and more projects more quickly, against ensuring that future projects are not done so focused on the short-term, they ultimately undercut the long-term viability of the neighborhood?