When Fred Kent created and ran the Project for Public Spaces, he inspired me with the placemaking concept, and I became very interested in learning. He was somehow ousted later, and the group of 400 people he put together internationally collapsed under new management.
I always remember what he said about how you can only hold someone’s interest for about 100 feet when they are walking in a downtown setting. Figure twenty-five feet per storefront would be like four storefronts in terms of distance.
I plan on another nationwide evaluation of downtown vacancies due to the 2021 lockdown. This time, I will leave a few days before I did in 2021 and hope it does not get upper 90s temperatures in some of the locations, as I encountered in 2021.
I will also be able to have solid data on office vacancies in many of the big cities during this round. Still, I can also quickly determine the office vacancies in some small towns that I need to rank in the system.
Since the last column, I have been involved in some level of controversy, which has put my professional judgment at odds with a narrative. My credentials in the area of aberrant behavior are substantial — In both my behavior and the behaviors I seek to change. Although much has changed in my personal life, the memories of what would be a potentially good place to be aberrant are fresh in my mind.
I remember watching The Wire on an HBO binge. I had worked in Baltimore, both in the county and city. In the city, I worked in the Patterson Park Area and did tenant conversions from renter to homeowner. In the Wire lingo, I worked in Prop Joe’s area. I laughed about how they set up “Hamsterdam," an open-air drug market.
Many cities throughout the United States are struggling with the post-pandemic world. Much of the problem was self-induced when we all went into hiding and started working from home. Only a little was happening in the downtowns, and most was happening took place outside.
My first job out of college was working for the AFL-CIO in the international headquarters across from Layfette Park in Washington, D.C. I was tasked with compiling a manual explaining the new Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1971 and managed speakers at ten workshops nationwide. I had a lot of time on my hands and was tasked with the federal register monitoring on the Act.
The lockdown of 2021 created an upheaval in many lives. Everyone had to shelter in place for a year. This created many issues in our daily routine. My wife and I got to know each other well as we worked from home. We each got a monthly paycheck, even though my work was in slow motion because it was public sector work.
Last week I saw something I had not seen since the publication of the Covert Action Bulletin in the 1970s. The court has prohibited the government from censoring dissenting opinions. It concerned vaccine deniers and, in general, those unwilling to accept everything and the "trust the science" exception to free speech.
The Hurricane Ida flooding in Downingtown was some of the worst residents saw. Many of the churches and service organizations contacted Mayor Phil Dague and asked him to lead the effort to be prepared for the next flood when it comes. He established a common understanding of risk-informed planning and decision-making fundamentals to help Downingtown examine a hazard or threat and produce an integrated, coordinated, and synchronized plan.
The face of cities is changing. Recently, the CoStar Group reported that 12.9 percent of office space is vacant nationally, marking the sixth straight double-digit quarter. The rate has increased from a post-financial crisis low of 9.4 percent in the second quarter of 2019. The office space "availability" rate, which measures vacant offices plus currently leased space that isn't being renewed or has been listed for subleasing, is 16.4 percent.
The term noblesse oblige was first used in 1835. It is a term belonging to an earlier time of medieval generosity, referring to a lord’s responsibility because of their hereditary inheritance of privilege. I became familiar with it when some guy named Mike used the term in all the classes I shared with him when I was seeking a graduate degree in public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.
German Political Scientist Robert Michels (1876– 1936) theorized the "iron law of oligarchy" during his attempts to explain exclusive organizational behavior. It is as follows:
All forms of organization, regardless of how democratic they may be at the start, will eventually and inevitably develop oligarchic tendencies, thus making true democracy practically and theoretically impossible, especially in large groups and complex organizations.
One of the things I look for when strategically repositioning a municipal entity is how a place looks. I have always been a fan of historic resources and how they impact the sense of place in a town.
Infill construction is an important part of the design effort. When you are in the city, there is a lot of color in the apartment buildings, which is done to turn the nature of the space. I am not big on those kinds of buildings. I like the infill to look like it belongs.
I recently saw a newspaper article about the Municipality of Norristown proposing repositioning the municipality in the regional marketplace. It was refreshing to hear someone take a serious approach to improving the town.
Norristown has witnessed a hyper-segregation of low-income people in one area. The hyper-segregation of low-income people resulted from well-meaning people seeking to provide housing for that population. Unfortunately, clustering this type of development over the years has a cumulative effect.
As cities continue to come back from the pandemic, Center City Philadelphia is trying to track the foot traffic in relation to pre-pandemic 2019. Their recent study shows that it is about 77 percent of what would have been considered normal before Covid-19.
I have worked in several different sections of Philadelphia, and recently both of my former streets have been in the news. Repeated shootings on South Street have left the street shell-shocked and led to retail store vacancies far greater than anything I remember in my 30 years in Philadelphia. Kensington Ave (The Avenue) has continued to experience problems like those I experienced during my time there in the early 1990s.
Remote work has changed the office market in many cities. However, things are far from the ghost towns I saw in the spring of 2021 when I visited 70 cities to inventory and chronicle the effect of the lockdown on cities.
I visited South Street in Philadelphia this week to have lunch with a long-time friend. It was the day after there was a news article that had people questioning the closure of the side streets during the Made in America concert weekend. It appeared to me that the police were trying to limit access to the commercial area because they were afraid of violence.
For the past few months, I have been working with a committee in my hometown of Downingtown concerning flooding. I sent out a mailing asking interested people to form a committee. About ten people are involved, and each has a different interest in the process.
One Committee worked on mitigation and was eventually merged with the Borough of Downingtown Flood Committee to have one mitigation committee. Community members understand and know the conditions on the ground during a flood and have a voice at the table, which is how it is supposed to work.
Recent efforts to change how we feel about sexual identity have caused a stir throughout the hinterland. In a recent article, I explained that I had no problems calling people by their preferred pronoun.
But now, the term motherhood is under attack. You are no longer a mother but a birthing parent. I fail to see how that would mix with the freedom of pronouns, as it does not appear that all people could give birth. But I do not know, as people are having a problem defining what a woman is.