History Cast Aside

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In the rust belt, historic demolition doesn’t just mean the loss of bricks and mortar. In many of these cases, the loss is an entire way of life. Given that many of the rust belt’s great neighborhoods were originally built as factory housing, post-industrial redevelopment has just become the local flavor of gentrification, if such a neighborhood should be so lucky. For the rest of them, they will just add to the thousands of vacant and blighted historic homes that litter communities “from Scranton to Oshkosh.”

Even in Columbus, typically considered an oasis of growth amongst the rust belt, this week has brought the news of not just another factory closure, and not just specifically the loss of the historic Columbus Castings foundry – but also a workforce of 800 in need of retraining, families that will be uprooted, a community that has lost an employer, and a nation that has lost another steel foundry.

I usually say we do not have gentrification in Ohio, and as such, usually cheer on any urban redevelopment. That said, we really don’t need redevelopment everywhere. Sometimes things are fine the way they are. The reality is that you can redevelop a neighborhood, but you can’t redevelop the lower-income families that reside there, who then have to move on with their lives elsewhere.

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While most of Ohio’s urban neighborhoods are so disinvested that it’s insane to oppose investment, at the same time, we don’t need to proactively redevelop factories on the other side of town. This site in particular really should be industrial. Surrounded by railroads, cut-off from surrounding neighborhoods, and adjacent to freeway access – this is a site where goods should be made and shipped.

This is not a site where we need a mixed-use utopia for more millennials and empty nesters, or even destination shopping for families. Even if economic activity on this redeveloped site creates low-income accessible jobs, they won’t be good jobs like the 800 provided at Columbus Castings. When we do find a way to grow quality low-income accessible jobs, they are usually located far removed from the communities where people live.

The City of Columbus tried valiantly to find (and financially support) a buyer who would keep the foundry open. Close, but no cigar.

Watch this space. The whole South End of Columbus, where an urban blue collar way of life was holding on, is transitioning to something else. Whatever that is will be dramatically different than what it was, for better or worse.

With this deal, the real estate industrial complex makes another revolution around the sun, which has set on yet another rust belt neighborhood.

Indy innovates BRT?

For all I know, my reputation for questioning most BRT projects probably precedes me. Not unlike most grant-funded initiatives that get off message in order to focus instead on a grantor/funder’s interests – the message that BRT is economic development is all wrong. BRT is one of many transit modes that a city may explore through the Alternatives Analysis phase of a fixed-guideway transit study. Other modes such as streetcar, light rail, or commuter rail will undoubtedly perform better on economic development.

BRT is a negotiated compromise between the ideal and the real; between what is aspirational and what is feasible. With lower up-front construction costs, yet higher long-term O+M costs, BRT is an easier proposition in a public finance system with no money for infrastructure. That BRT can also stimulate economic development is a good thing, but shouldn’t be confused as a unique advantage.

At the end of the day, it is still a bus. A bus is a bus is a bus. It’s still jerky, operates in traffic, like traffic – and for some reason, BRT signal prioritization hasn’t worked out as well as streetcar signal prioritization. A bus is a bus is a bus.

Or is it?

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Indianapolis, with its new Indy Connect BRT project, is pioneering the U.S.’ first all-electric rolling stock. These “buses,” if you can even call them that, feature rubber tires, an electric power source (allowing for smooth acceleration and deceleration), and feature a bullet-shaped nose and longer articulation. I’m just going throw out a qualitative observation that Indy Connect is the first of these BRT’s that actually fulfills its promise to be light rail-like. Though, I still cringe to read “light rail on tires.”

I’ll be interested to see what happens in this space, now that the project is funded, and seems to be on the fast track to implementation.