Tag Archives: revitalization

Top 10 reasons the Shockoe ballpark is a bad idea

At this point, we all know that Mayor Jones wants to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. He’s doing his best to convince us that it’s a good idea for Richmond. Here are 10 reasons why I think he’s wrong:

1. Baseball parks are disposable. Baseball stadiums don’t last. Even Yankee’s Stadium, “The house that Ruth built,” was demolished for something bigger and better. Here it is in all its glorious ruin:

Yankee Stadium

In the case of Shockoe Bottom, we are planning to build more developments alongside our stadium concourse. Do we have a plan for how we’re going to retrofit the concourse when the stadium is out of date? Honestly, how long will this stadium last. 50 years? 100 years? I bet Main St. Station will be standing long after the ballpark has come and gone.

2. The team could ditch us. Contracts can always be broken. If the team leaves, the league has apparently agreed to cover the cost, but what will we do with the space at that point? Last fall, the Atlanta Braves announced they have received the government approval to build a new stadium in nearby Cobb County. They recently released stunning designs for this new stadium complex that they are hoping finish by the 2017 season. If they move forward with the plan, Atlanta will start scrambling to find a new use for Turner Field:

turner field

3. Stadiums are only good for one thing. It’s not good to devote so much valuable urban land to one single use. Urban areas are dense and integrated with housing, businesses, institutions, and public space all nearby. These areas of cities are best for many uses (at a park you can picnic, host a concert, play basketball, organize, or do yoga). In contrast, ballparks are PERFECT for the suburbs where everything is already spread out, huge and single-use. One example is Ranger’s stadium in Arlington:

Rangers

4. Stadiums don’t add value to daily life. Stadiums are used for about 164 games each year. Even on those days, they are only full for the 3-5 hours that visitors spend on the premises. The other 201 days they are mostly empty aside from practices and sports camps for kids. For the majority of their lifespan, stadiums are empty. In contrast, some of the most-visited places in the world are places that simply enhance the daily life of residents and tourists for generations:

Brooklyn

Even intersections can become 24-hour tourist attractions:

Times square

5. Baseball stadiums are not public space. In the middle of almost every admirable city there is open, public space (see two photos above). Public space can be integrated into the fabric of the city: alongside railroad tracks and highways, next to rivers, and across from businesses. Here are a few more:

Copenhagen
PortlandDresden

6. Richmond doesn’t want a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom. Mayor Jones and his advisers are the sort of politicians that believe they know what’s best for their citizens. There will never be a public vote on this plan because Jones knows that it would fail. He also wouldn’t put to a vote because he doesn’t care. This attitude is particularly offensive as someone who thinks that Richmond is a pretty smart and sophisticated place. I honestly believe if Jones had engaged a group of knowledgable citizens in the process, the final plan would have been incredible. Maybe we would have ended up with something like this:

bryan park

Notice all the shops and cafes nearby? Bryant Park is an asset to many businesses  in the area and is connected to the nearby New York Public Library. It’s also a model that could be emulated in Richmond. The park is maintained by a publicly-funded private entity, the Bryant Park Corporation. According to Wikipedia, “… BPC is now funded by assessments on property and businesses adjacent to the park, and by revenue generated from events held at the park.”

7. Richmond is the River City. If Mayor Jones wants to build a signature development, he should focus on something that is quintessentially “Richmond.” He should invest in something that is unique and timeless:

James

I know the mayor has plans to continue the riverfront redevelopment plan, but I don’t think he realizes the ballpark could begin to outweigh the river in our public image. Richmond could be known as a city of timeless architecture and natural beauty. The ballpark is neither of those things.

8. The ballpark is destined for mediocrity. Why do we want the crown jewel of Richmond to be a stadium for a minor league baseball team? As we improve our image locally and nationally, we should strive to keep our most valuable assets in the center of the city. I love The Squirrels and I think their games are fun and easy to love. I just think we can do better for the center of our city. Many people have mentioned the need for a slavery museum. There has been a backlash of people saying that museums are boring, but I think a museum could be world-class, free, and could encourage a spirit of learning. Unlike a baseball team, local history isn’t going anywhere. Also, we would have an easier time seeking donations for something historically significant. Maybe something like this:

Bilbao

Bilbao is a city of 350,000 people in northern Spain. This museum cost $89 million through a partnership with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Richmond is a city of 201,000 people. We’re planning to build a minor league baseball stadium for $50 million without any international partnership. Which project is worth the cost? The whole world knows about Bilbao because that city dared to do something world-class. Even Roanoke turned heads in 2007 with the construction of a museum that set a new design standard for the region.

9. We’ve tried this before. The city of Richmond has funded and subsidized many single-use, large-scale venues in the past. These include the Richmond Coliseum, the Greater Richmond Convention Center, and the Carpenter Center. Each of these was built or renovated with the hope that they would help revitalize the area around them. The results have been mixed. I personally love the Carpenter Center and I think that it has been the most successful example in conjunction with grants extended to business on Grace St. More recently, efforts to encourage development on Broad have had incredible results. These have come from the hard work of citizens and government employees. The large-scale developments may have played some small role. That sort of revitalization will come with a more small-scale, intensional reinvestment program.

10. Richmond deserves better. It’s really irresponsible to spend our time and precious resources on something that will eventually be outdated. We can’t devote valuable land in the center of our city to the construction of a building that will be used for 70 days out of the year by a minor league baseball team that could leave. Even if they leave after 30 years, we’ll still be scrambling to find a use for the space. But there is no other use for the space because stadiums can’t be retrofitted or rebuilt. We can’t afford to ignore the rest of the city and try, once again, to revitalize Richmond with a big, flashy project downtown that is being celebrated as the future of Richmond.

If we must have a big project, we should at least build something that will be historically, architecturally, and culturally significant as well as something that is relevant to the place and people of Richmond.

“World-class cities are not built on a foundation of minor-league ideas.”

Career Brainstorm

While flying back to Richmond a few weeks ago, I drew up a brainstorm for my future. All of the sudden, it became clear that local history is something that I could champion for a lifetime. It’s not really a brainstorm. It’s an observation of my past and a hope that, with a lot of work, all of my various interests might be resolved into one goal:

Future Brainstorm

On Jobs and Place

Right now it seems like everyone is talking about jobs and the economy. I saw Obama in Richmond yesterday talking about jobs, Republicans are hoping that the lack of jobs will help get Obama ousted, and many Americans are looking for jobs just about anywhere. All the while, it seems that we’re missing a relatively important point: Where are these jobs going to be created? I’d like to drastically shift this dialogue to the specific places and communities where these theoretical jobs will appear. First, we need to care about where we live.

For the record, the government may temporarily rehab existing jobs (e.g. highway repair), but this is neither innovative nor sustainable. In my opinion, the American government effectively sustains much of our society, but is not a trustworthy engine of growth. The American government has a longevity and reliability that makes for a comfortable place to live and do business.

Within this context, it is hard-working, intelligent and creative people that can add new and innovative jobs to our economy.

Unfortunately, most people in America aren’t able to make the proper connections that lead to new businesses. This is because the creation of a job requires a new idea, a connected network, sufficient capital and a knowledge of and commitment to a particular community. This community serves as the proving ground for these soon-to-be business owners and provides them with a knowledge base of needs and trends.

In a recent video posted by the National Endowment for the Arts, Christine Harris described the “creative economy” and a network of “creative industries” in the greater Milwaukee region. She defines these creative industries as “organizations, individuals, and companies whose products and services originate in artistic, cultural, crative, and/or aesthetic content.” These industries span a the gamut of traditional sectors and together comprise the creative economy.

The organization developing this network, Creative Alliance Milwaukee, works to bring together men and women in the creative economy who are working to move the region and create jobs.  One noteworthy example that Harris cites the time the CEO of a flooring company visited hosted by the creative alliance. businesses. She recalls the story in this way,

“Within a month of that meeting, he had hired one of our visual artists to design a new flooring pattern. That artist now has a royalty fee. And he has since then hired two other artists. They have royalty fees and he has products that no one else in the world has.”
 
We cannot talk about job creation without discussing the relationships involved in commerce and innovation. This is ultimately the foundation of local economy.

Rather than rely on our government for jobs, I want us to rely on our government for the environment in which jobs are created. We have amazing political stability in America: That can sustain job creation. We have a wide-stretched infrastructure in America: (as much as I hate highways) That can sustain job creation. Maintaining these constants will be necessary to improving our economy, but will not create long-term positions in the workforce.

That’s our job.

Race in Tyler: A Pie Graph of Color

This is a response to a map of race in Tyler recently produced by Christopher Groskopf (@onyxfish) using the brand spankin’ new 2010 census data. He posted his analysis on the Web site hacktyler.com  titled “2010 Census: Racial diversity in Smith County.” Check it out:

In some ways, what I always knew makes much more sense after looking at this map. I now see that the original El Lugar is in the middle of the most Hispanic section of Tyler. Texas College and Martin Luther King Blvd are in the heart of Black Tyler. South Broadway, the site of most new development and big business in the city, is the backbone of White Tyler.

I think Groskopf’s work compliments thoughts that I and others have had on Tyler and gives me more of a context for the city over all.  Somehow with the language of the internet (which is beyond me)  he has illuminated my city in a way I have never before seen. Granted, some racial realities are not surprising, but the overall experience as a resident looking through this map is remarkable.

When I first looked a the map, my eyes immediately went downtown (pictured right). That black, vacuous space in the middle of my city. It may seem strange to be drawn to an empty space, but it’s because I have a different vision for downtown. In an earlier post, “C-T-D: Thoughts on Downtown,'” I tried to understand the idea of “downtown.” What is it supposed to be in relation to the city? If we understand the idea, then we have a standard of comparison for the reality. Here’s my standard: The first element of downtown is density, the second is urbanity, and the third is a creative economy. Looking at the black space of our downtown reminds me that it is still primarily a place to work and park your car. What would it look like if it was a place to live? Downtown could be the place where all three major pieces of the racial pie meet each other. It could be the center of city life and it could be a place where everyone feels welcome. I know there are dreams for the old King Chevrolet location and other vacant lots downtown … I hope we share these dreams with the rest of the city.

From downtown, my eyes zoom outward. I follow the three pieces of this pie from their smallest points to their largest and I’m amazed at the simplicity of the settlement patterns in our city. Groskopf mentioned the racial segregation in Chicago because in my experience that city is a patchwork of race. Tyler is more of a pie. The white population in Tyler is certainly the most homogenous, but there are some clear demarcations between the Black and Hispanic regions as well.

Here are specific observations:

Physical structures divide urban communities. The clearest example of this for me was the section of Paluxy just south of the Loop (pictured right). This photo is special to me because the black community to the right is in the middle of the huge white piece of the pie. The community also looks clearly sectioned off by Paluxy to the west (left) and other, smaller roads to the N,E, and S. On Google maps, this section doesn’t look any different. I have to admit I haven’t driven around these streets on either side of the color line, but I have this urge to go there and learn more about why the communities have settled in this way.

Invisible lines divide rural communities. I was really unaware of the racial breakdown of rural Tyler before looking at this map. It’s partly because I haven’t spent as much time in rural Smith County and it’s partly because it’s just a bigger amount of space to understand. I think it’s so interesting that north of Tyler the two pie pieces of Black and hispanic communities stops at this invisible line (pictured left) and then White communities continue all the way to the county line. BUT, to the east, there is no imaginary line and the rural Black population is sustained to the edge. I wonder what historical legacy or communal understanding has created these invisible lines? While roads and buildings sustain separation in the city, segregation in the rural areas of Smith County is a little more difficult to comprehend.

There is so much more to learn from this map. I have already spent over an hour looking at the dots on this black field and I’m still amazed at what they have to teach me. I will certainly be referencing this map until the next census and I look forward to thoughts and responses from my fellow Tylerites.

Check out my other Tyler projects at my Tyler, TX page.

Lost Treasure: Stone Drainage Tunnel

They don’t build ’em like they used to … so why don’t we take care of the old stuff? My “Lost Treasure” category is for structures and spaces that have been forgotten. The first entry is my favorite bit of public infrastructure in Tyler. The tunnel is a stone arch made of stone with a capstone that reads, “1880.” You might not have noticed it just east of the intersection of Elm St. and Fannin Ave. Here’s a link to the Google map aerial shot for reference. This is something worth restoring:

Buy this Brownfield: Tyler Ice House

The coolest building in Tyler has trees growing in it. If you’re like me, you’ve seen it before. If you’ve lived in or visited the Salvation Army, you might have stumbled upon it. Otherwise the area is probably one big blank spot on your mental map of Tyler.

Check it out on  Google maps. I first found this building years ago while exploring North Tyler. When I found it, I couldn’t believe I was in the same city. It was one of those”WHAT IS THIS” moments that I have on occasion. From the road, the building is impossible to understand. The first think you notice is that it’s huge, old and derelict. The outside of the building is this weird cross between a Tex-Mex Restaurant stucco façade and a 1900s industrial frame. The primary door (right) is relatively ornate for an old ice house and a reminder that there was a time when people cared about details.  From what I can tell, besides the materials there is also nothing really uniform about the design. Which is perfect. Buy this brownfield. It could be literally be the coolest “whatever you want” in Tyler.

Because the space has the potential for such a wide variety of uses, I decided to choose my five favorite options. Four are long-term options and the fifth one is my “Hail Mary” option that would at least create some temporary attraction and breathe new life into the space.

Option #1: Concert Venue. You could do this tomorrow! All you would have to do is secure the area, hang a light canopy from the walls, spray some Roundup, and get an electricity hookup. The actual venue would be housed in the cavernous great room (left). It is reminiscent of an industrial cathedral with rusting machinery, an I-beam frame, and a large floor space. Recently, I walked into the space and got that sense of wonder I get when I see something that was once great. When you first walk into the space (beware of the three dogs that chased us out … seriously), you feel a sense of grandeur that can only come from an old factory brownfield. Instead of supporting the ceiling, the old steel beams rise into the air to the sky itself. There is some leftover from the industrial era, but otherwise most of this great room has been cleared away making it a perfect place to set up chairs and blankets for a life concert under the stars.

Option #2: Artist Collective and Gallery. This idea incorporates the mission of “creative placemaking” which seeks to attract creative people to improve a building or neighborhood. This plan would incorporate two parts: A retrofit of the great hall into a gallery and a renovation into the rest of the building into studios and apartments. For the great hall, imagine The Tate Modern on a significantly smaller scale. It would be industrial, expansive and equally stunning. With a glass dome spanning the distance between the walls and a canopy of lights it would be the coolest art space in Tyler. The great hall was made to showcase art. The two-story southern half of the building (pictured below) is large enough to fit 20 or so studios for local artists who desire an inspirational setting for their projects. I’ll admit this section needs a lot of work, but someone with a vision and some money could invite the right people to make it an incredible success.

Option #3: Urban Farm and Fresh Produce Market. This project could be a particularly good fit because the entire lot includes both a large amount of land and a large building on the street. The land surrounding the building could be an excellent urban farm and garden. There’s enough room to grow crops as well as concept gardens for visitors. This vacant land  is currently being used for auto repair, but I don’t think there much physical infrastructure associated with the shop. The owner of the business (and the dogs) would probably be able to find another vacant lot in N. Tyler … I can think of a few. If the land were converted into a farm and garden, the building itself would be converted into greenhouses, market space and apartments for the farming community. In contrast to the current farmer’s markets in Tyler, this would be a permanent space completely devoted to the growing, sharing, and selling of good food. In addition, the location of this farm would be strategic in connecting the surrounding neighborhoods with fresh vegetables and weekly workshops on nutrition, agriculture and entrepreneurship.

Option #4: Offices for an Urban Development Firm. Usually, it takes a very creative and ambitious firm with a lot of money and confidence to retrofit something like this building. As such, it would be the perfect flagship for a pioneering architectural firm in Tyler. Is there one? I’m not sure, but if there is one I would consider applying for their first entry-level job in this new space. As a flagship, it would highlight the firms ability to critically analyze the historical significance and current condition of a space and produce successful adaptive reuse solutions. There are already people doing this sort or work in Tyler, but I think they need to join forces, gather investors and convert this building. With representatives from real estate, landscape architecture, architecture, engineering and planning, this new firm could be a regional presence.

Hail Mary Option: Host a Regional Mural Conference! My last-ditch effort to start using this space is simply this: Invite artists from all over Tyler and East Texas to come for a weekend of live music, street food and live mural paintings on the property. What is now old and grey could find new life with creative people and for a moment everyone would catch a glimpse of the buildings full potential.

Check out my other Tyler projects at my Tyler, TX page!

p.s. I’ve heard the building is overpriced, but if you’re up for a challenge call Five-Star Reality at 903-561-2200. I’m sure they’d be happy to show you around.

C-T-D: The Complete Loop

Ok, I’m changing my vision for reconnecting Tyler. In my post “Connecting the Dots: Intro,” I called for a loop of streets to be beautified with bike lanes, street trees as well as connected with street cars. My original vision saw the street car loop connecting down Broadway, but today I changed my mind. My imaginary Tyler now has a network of complete streets and a two-way street car loop. The map I have drawn (to the right) is the culmination of about a month of work on my Connecting the Dots project (C-T-D). It’s not a conclusion, but this is this skeleton that will be my foundation for future posts on infill development in Tyler. These developments are the dots themselves: The high-density nodes that should be developed throughout the older parts of Tyler. “The Loop” is the public investment that is necessary to make the entire concept a reality.

It begins with a paradigm shift from the current philosophy on street construction in Tyler. Currently, a street in Tyler (left) is where cars drive. While it seems like a basic statement, this is a relatively new phenomenon credited to 20th century engineers and planners who gave cars complete precedence in matters of urban travel. Before the advent of the automobile, streets were places to walk, gather, transport and protest. Bicyclists were the first promoters of “good streets” in America and streetcars (started in Richmond, VA) were the first modes of suburbanization. When the car became affordable, it trumped all of these previous developments and occluded their progression. In the past century, streets became very dangerous spaces as car-related deaths increased. The gathering spaces in America were lost. In his TED Talk, “The Tragedy of Suburbia“* (*F-Bomb warning) James Howard Kunstler argued,

“The public realm in America has two roles: It is the dwelling place of our civic life and it is the physical manifestation of the common good. And when you degrade the public realm you will automatically degrade the quality of your civic life and the character of all the enactments of your public life and communal life. The public realm comes mostly in the form of the street in America …”

In Tyler, we have certainly experienced this degradation of the quality of our civic life. There are few public gathering spaces. Just so we’re clear, Starbucks is not a public space, it is a private, money-making enterprise. There were once some incredible public spaces in the city, but many were destroyed or neglected … the downtown square is a sad example. Public space today is a scattered system of lovely public parks typically accesible by car. Our streets are often these large asphalt rivers running through the city with cars zooming by at deadly speeds. I drive one of these cars so I understand their utility, but I also understand the benefits of alternative transportation.

The National Complete Streets Coalition (NCSC) states that “Complete Streets are for everyone.” While there is no singular definition of a complete street, NCSC states that a city committed to transportation choices will ensure that “every transportation project will make the street network better and safer for drivers, transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists – making your town a better place to live.” (NCSC also listed the “elements of an ideal Complete Streets policy” to help local citizens tailor the concept to their locality.) Thus, a complete street will have defined spaces designated to those citizens not driving in cars:

I really can’t expound on this concept any more except to say this: Complete Streets are a message to the citizens of a city. It says, “Come outside, experience our streets and enjoy your city.” Currently, the message is, “Drive here, this speed, when I say go.”

The next stage in revitalizing this section of the city is the addition of a two-way street car loop. This will be an incredible statement of commitment from the public sector and will stimulate private investment at every point along the route. In my map (above) I have designated some locations that are prime for infill development. These typically have a ton of underperforming asphalt and outdated strip centers. The street car loop will be a convenient novelty for tourists as well as a viable commuting opportunity for a number of large employers along the loop. In addition, the street car loop will finally connect the parts of Tyler that are culturally, financially and historically significant: The Rose Garden, downtown, the hospital district, and the Azalea District. I’ll admit, the primary shortcoming of this loop is that it currently ignores the area north of the square. I response, I think that Broadway should be “completed” all the way to Gentry (banner photo of this post) which should also be retrofitted with bike lanes and street trees all the way to the amazing Caldwell Zoo. If you haven’t driven on Gentry lately you might not know how big that street is … it is due for a full retrofit.

So this is my “Complete Loop.” Unlike the car loop (323), it’s beautiful and versatile and it invites everyone to come and enjoy.

Check out my other Tyler projects at my Tyler, TX page.

*I also had a policy thought: Developments and businesses along The Loop would be exempt from zoning laws that require on-site parking. Instead, public parking would be provided at points along The Loop to encourage a “park-and-ride” system.