Design Ingenuity: My wknd stay in Canadian public housing

Design Ingenuity is a series highlighting teachable examples of urban design. The first Design Ingenuity post highlighted US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, the second highlighted OKC’s citywide park redevelopment plan. The goal of Design Ingenuity is to understand the difference that good design makes in the lives of city residents.

1-year ago, after learning about development processes and policy mechanisms behind American public housing at an accelerated rate, I had a hair-brained whim to go explore the Canadian equivalent.

daniels-spectrumI particularly wanted to see Regent Park – Toronto’s “most notorious” public housing estate (for all the wrong reasons, if you could imagine such a thing in Canada) – which underwent an ambitious revitalization project in 2005. Regent Park’s Daniels Spectrum community centre (an art gallery I believe?) recently won the UK’s prestigious Civic Trust Award, along with a bevy of other awards. This is not your grandfather’s public housing, or even Drake’s – see MTV article likening a co-appearance with the Toronto-native rapper to “a passport out of Regent Park.” The NY Times has hailed Regent Park, once a “neighborhood in despair,” as an international “model for inclusion.”

In case it seems odd (or insensitive) to “vacation” in another nation’s public housing…

  • I am very interested in the culture of public housing, which is quite rich.
  • I am very interested in the design opportunities surrounding public housing, which are limitless.
  • I am very interested in the social and equity implications of redesigning public housing, which are a double-edged sword.

Regent Park was an amazing thing to check out for all those reasons and more. It turns out that, thanks to the mixed-income composition of the replacement housing, you can find AirBnB units within Regent Park itself. It might even be the best AirBnB location in Toronto, for someone on a budget who wants a sleek rental near downtown TO.

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I stayed in the extremely cool Paintbox building, which is a 26-story, 282-unit mixed-income housing tower designed to evoke its namesake. In the elevators you truly rub shoulders with people from all walks of life, and from the balcony, look down on the entirety of Toronto’s vast cityscape. You also look down on Regent Park’s namesake park itself, also redesigned as an excellent space. The view was highly instructive:

The park itself integrates all the amenities you would expect on-site for 1,800 public housing units, including an aquatic center (toward the right), greenspace programmed with active- and passive-recreation spaces, the Daniels Spectrum, and a church that was preserved. The most interesting thing in these photos are the older units, what remains of Regent Park (the next phase to be replaced), across the park.

The redevelopment is replacing roughly the same number of units – 2,083 units existed in 2005, and 1,800 will be rebuilt along with another 266 off-site (“nearby”) – while 5,400 market-rate units will be introduced on-site. Those market-rate units sell for around $400,000-$500,000 for a 2br, and around $200,000 for a studio. I have been told that they are completely indistinguishable from the public housing units, although I am not sure whether the unit I stayed in was public or market; I can attest that there are no separate entrances or “poor doors.”

All in all, Toronto Community Housing’s redevelopment will take 15-20 years to accomplish the following:

Y:2009 Projects916 Regent Park MP Phases 3-6Drawings00 Sit

  • Replaced RGI Rental Units: 2,083 (over 1800 in Regent Park and 266 in new buildings nearby)
  • New Affordable Rental Units: Over 210 in Regent Park and 100 in new buildings nearby by the end of Phase 2. Additional affordable rental units in future phases will be subject to funding availability.
  • Market Units: 5,400
  • Project Start Date: 2005
  • Anticipated Project Length: 15-20 years
  • Total Size: 69 acres
  • Amenities: New amenities include the Daniels Spectrum, the Regent Park Aquatic Centre, the new Regent Park, and the Regent Park Athletic Grounds
  • Retail Space: Freshco by Sobeys, Rogers, Tim Hortons, RBC and Main Drug Mart have moved into newly created retail space
  • Employment: 1,100

All of which looks good on paper, but looks even better in person – as it such amidst Toronto’s beautiful cityscape, replete with open modern design, green rooftops, and “red rockets” (Toronto streetcars).

Perhaps it is not only possible for public housing to raise people up, but to more importantly immerse people in an immersive community that naturally provides better social supports than a community action program ever could.

CMSD Needs Cleveland

Cleveland has invested in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, time after time. When I lived there, I happily pulled the lever for a $256 million tax levy, intended to rebuild 20 failing schools and support innovative reform programs. Cleveland has a strong history of supporting tax increases for the challenged school district.

It is time for the school district to show some reciprocal interest in improving Cleveland. Not atypical of embattled school districts, CMSD exudes a distinctly callous vibe toward anything in the community besides its own financial bottom line. Unfortunately even for themselves, this myopic set of priorities will cement the district’s vicious cycle.

The district routinely engages in a practice of demolishing its historic school buildings at any opportunity it gets, for any reason. The most common reason is when a school is no longer necessitated by the district’s  shrinking enrollment, and rather than sell surplus buildings with architectural potential to developers (a potentially lucrative source of additional revenue), the school district prefers to demolish to preempt the outside chance that a charter school could come in and compete in the neighborhood. Another equally common scenario is that the school is not located in an obvious hot real estate market, so the district will demolish, citing limited redevelopment potential.

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Neither of those common scenarios are claiming the historic Jesse Owens School at Larchmere and MLK. This tudor-style landmark anchors the western edge of the up-and-coming Larchmere neighborhood, where a historically mixed-race community is revitalizing without displacement, and potentially connecting prosperous Shaker to lower-income neighborhoods to the west. These are the types of connections that must be made in order to break down the barriers of segregated prosperity.

Tim Perotti wants to rehab the building, adding high-income apartments to the neighborhood, furthering the happy mix that coexists in Larchmere (and bringing that mix further west). The school district wants it to be open space and parking for a new 1-story school, a $26 million CMSD project, that Perotti argues could still exist on the site. The district’s response:

District officials said they wanted to keep the existing roads on the site to avoid the expense of relocating and rebuilding them and the utilities underground.

Furthermore, they said, the district would not have been at able to sell the Jesse Owens building to a developer without first offering it to a charter school, a course the district did not want to pursue.

In summary, they didn’t want to be bothered to redesign vehicular circulation around the site, and they are terrified of having to first offer the school to any interested charter schools. Shocker. The reality is that CMSD has wanted to demolish this property for over a decade, according to a paper copy of the district’s building survey that I have had since I worked at Cleveland Restoration. For this particular property, they initially cited poor redevelopment potential as the reason to demolish. The most frustrating aspect for preservationists (who want CMSD to succeed) is that once a capable developer steps forward, the district can just easily shift to a different rationale to demolish without missing a beat.

Renovating the school, adding apartments, benefits the school district on two fronts: 1, increased tax revenues; and 2, a rare redevelopment project deep in the residential neighborhoods, further from a revitalized corridor. The school district’s fate will be indelibly linked, whether it likes it or not, to the fate of the city’s residential neighborhoods. Young professionals moving into thousands of renovated dwelling units right on a major corridor are not sending children to the neighborhood schools.

CMSD does this several times a year, all across town. They have torn down a huge chunk of Ohio City’s best buildings, which could easily have made attractive market-rate and affordable housing. They are doing it right now with the John Marshall School, where developers are interested in redeveloping the LAKEFRONT-PROPERTY on Detroit Avenue. CMSD is ensuring the site remain vacant and abandoned.

The community wants this:

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The district’s response:

Zohn and Gordon have long said that they did not see any other properties on the West Side that would work for a new high school. Earlier this month, both said that they have rejected all seven of Councilman Zone’s suggestions as not adequate, or as good a site as the Max Hayes property.

So once again, no redevelopment for you.

According to Fresh Water Cleveland, since 2005 the district has closed 35 schools and demolished 14. The only future use that CMSD has in mind for any of these landmark buildings, representing some of Cleveland’s finest building stock, is as swing space while a nearby school is closed for renovations. Our neighborhoods are littered with mothballed schools (if we should be so lucky), so that the district can move kids around while playing musical schools. They don’t know what chairs they have or when their own music stops.

Cleveland has a lot of problems, and fixing the school district is one of its biggest. Everybody in town wants CMSD to improve, and loves to see the district succeed. The schools and the city are part and parcel. The city recognizes this.

The school district does not. CMSD seems to operate under the impression that its fate is hermetically sealed off from that of its community, which is in desperate need of community development. CMSD needs to start showing some interest in its surroundings.

I know that the embattled district has become so insularly-focused that it won’t hear this perspective, but CMSD really should consider doing itself a favor.

Linking Linden via Design

There are two types of cities that I have worked in, though I’m sure others abound. My experience however has been either economically-driven cities (Dallas, OKC) or equitably-driven cities (Cleveland, Columbus to some extent). For the economically-driven city, the bottom line is the bottom line. They will listen to city planners and urban designers who can offer economic development. For the equitably-driven city, it’s about quality of life for the disenfranchised.

412box7fsnpl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Cleveland after all is the birthplace of “equity planning,” which is a school of thought founded by Norm Krumholz that honed in on planning for the poor to the exclusion of others. Krumholz’s philosophy, which soon caught on in most major cities, was a response to the times, following race riots from which most major cities have yet to recover. Cleveland for certain was rocked by the Hough Riots of 1966 and the Glenville Riots of 1968. The groundbreaking literature on this matter was Krumholz’s 1975 Planning Policy Report, admirably discussed in this article by his fellow FAICP predecessor Bob Brown.

citywidemap20transparentRegardless of in which category a city may fall, no city is practicing planning for fun. Nobody in a major city, strapped for time and resources, has time on their hands to engage in academic exercises. Columbus is also an oddball hybrid community that is probably equally motivated by both the economy and equity. Just when you think economic development matters always win, the city’s disenfranchised communities get a big win. As far as putting our money where our mouth is: Nearly all place-based resources (CDBG, LIHTC, Urban Infrastructure Recovery Fund, grants, discretionary spending) are targeted to low-income neighborhoods, and nearly all TIF resources are targeted outside of the I-270 beltway, representing a strategy schism.

Cleveland Avenue in Columbus is the context for my most significant personal foray into equity planning – specifically the South Linden community located along Cleveland Avenue, between Hudson and 11th Avenue. This community was the focus of Ohio State’s Fall 2015 Community Design Studio with Dr. Jesus Lara, for which our client was the City of Columbus’ Celebrate One Initiative. Celebrate One is an initiative responding to Columbus’ worst-in-the-nation infant mortality statistics. After studying this matter in great detail, the city, county, Columbus Foundation, and other non-profit partners have concluded that infant mortality is spatially concentrated in areas that suffer from pollution, low walkability, high crime, economic distress, and substandard (unhealthy) housing stock.

There is a must-read study on this matter from Wash U in St. Louis. The takeaway: “Your ZIP code is a better determinant of your health than your genetic code.” When it comes to neighborhoods such as this, not only is equity planning a good approach, but it pays dividends to start making partnerships and inroads with public health officials. In equity-driven cities, the public health officials are going to hold a lot of sway, have more resources, and probably be sympathetic to planning goals. 

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In addition to astonishingly high infant mortality, the neighborhood also suffers from substandard and often lead-paint-covered housing, low walkability, high traffic noise, proximity to brownfields, poor air quality, and high crime. The high crime is in part due to broken street lights and un-maintained rear alleys that make the perfect spot for a shady drug deal gone bad. The rest are primarily due to poor transit access, adjacency to high-traffic I-71, and the speedway that is Cleveland Avenue (especially heavy commuter traffic that barrels through the neighborhood to bypass congested freeways).

By the way, Walk Score deduces that South Linden is the 42nd “most walkable” neighborhood in Columbus. This was determined not by visiting and documenting existing conditions, but rather through a computer algorithm that relies on “amenities” it picks up on Google Maps. Many of these “amenities” look nicer on Google Maps than they are in reality – many are no longer open at all – so the reality is actually much worse than Walk Score’s imputed result of “Somewhat Walkable,” but it is a good empirical starting point nonetheless.

Should one actually visit to document the existing conditions, I recommend just taking the #8 or #1 bus and just hopping on and off, talking to lots of neighborhood residents in between. Here are some photos from such an excursion:

The above photo with a bus is actually just the “typical bus stop,” which not unlike elsewhere in Columbus, is basically a pole with a sign. Despite its relatively low walkability, the community has some of the highest rates of transit ridership in the area (4,800 daily riders on the #1 Bus), due in part to the transit-dependent population (no car). Transit in this case is seen as a last resort, and due to its undesirability, is not only relegated out of the way of the area’s motorists, but it’s also ditched by transit riders themselves as soon as they can afford a car.

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To ameliorate this problem the city is giving the Cleveland Avenue corridor our first BRT system, albeit a BRT-lite. The Cleveland Avenue C-MAX is a $47.7-million project BRT with enhanced stations and rolling stock, but without a lane or signal priority. The C-MAX is one of the most significant recent investments in the northeast side of Columbus.

The C-MAX project is my base line for improving the South Linden community, to the extent that our Community Design Studio was tasked with creating design interventions that enhanced quality of life for this neighborhood’s residents. It’s an urban neighborhood, and it’s a transit-propensity neighborhood, so it should also be a walking neighborhood. Reaching people while they’re waiting for the bus is the most-targeted way to touch lives. It’s also a way for these design interventions to really help the people who live here, and not the people who don’t.

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As the member of our studio that focused on transit placemaking, I proposed two design interventions: Bus Box and the “Heart of Linden.”

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Bus Box is a bus shelter made by cutting, combing, and painting shipping containers. Not only is it cheap and trendy, bringing an avante garde style to the neighborhood, but additional “boxes” can be used for community info kiosks, a farmer’s stand at the bus stop, or a “bodega box” that just sells essentials.

It’s tailor-fit to this neighborhood’s needs, which is a food desert for its lack of retail and specifically fresh food options; despite efforts to build suitable retail space, area residents still can’t afford the rent. A lot of the neighborhoods carry-outs get themselves in trouble by selling mostly booze, cigarettes, and junk food in order to pay their rent. Rent won’t be a problem at a Bus Box, and successfully incubated retailers will then be in better position to afford rent in the bricks and mortar behind it.

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Heart of Linden is basically just taking the worst block in this neighborhood (albeit beautifully fenced-off), also located at the heart of it, and re-activating it. “Heart of Linden” has two main components, a scaled-up Bus Box that can basically become an edgy low-cost retail incubator, and a “Food Hub” not unlike the one proposed previously for Weinland Park. There is currently an effort underway for a similar Food Hub in South Linden, and it makes sense that this needed project (and a potential neighborhood improvement catalyst) locate on a prime site. All of the other uses are just programming expansions and connections to surrounding assets, like potential bike trails or the new library.

Bus Box is certainly more practical. It is built off of ideas I have seen in other cities, such as LAND Studio’s Bike Box project in Cleveland (where they built 8-10 of these). Heart of Linden, certainly a tougher project to take on, seeks to solve a number of challenges through forging the right connections. A lot of Linden’s problems stem from disconnectedness. It just isn’t a pleasant neighborhood in which to walk, so nobody is going to belabor themselves worrying about the pedestrians of South Linden.

But they should.

Beyond offering needed amenities in a well-connected site and layout, Heart of Linden is an intriguing idea as a “BRT-OD.” I’ve obviously written a lot about transit-oriented-development or TOD, and it goes without saying that I’m a believer in the power of rails toward the goal of generating this coveted prize. That said, I concede that BRT can move the needle a little bit. It won’t be the sole driver behind billions of dollars in TOD, but it can contribute, and it doesn’t hurt. So just as BRT is a practical innovation, what if the TOD model could similarly be innovated to fit that practicality? As such, a “BRT-OD” could be more of a temporary re-activation of a site, not unlike a pop-up city, and could rely on technological innovations to give it a lighter footprint and lower up-front building cost.

What if “BRT-OD” is a way forward in terms of integrating these BRT systems with surrounding low-income neighborhoods? I leave you with that thought.

Detroit: 2016

Now a year removed from bankruptcy, Detroit is moving on and building the strongest momentum that the city has had since its precipitous decline began, more promising than any other flash of hope that came and went in the past. You can’t come to Detroit today and not see that this is the Comeback City; It’s happening.

Click here for the photo tour from my 2015 trip.

m-1-rail-route-mapSomehow, I seem to be making a personal tradition of making an annual Detroit trip during the winter. I also somehow always luck out and get a weekend that is “relatively” warm, so I’ve really lucked out (2015’s trip was in the 30s, but wedged between two Polar Vortex weeks; 2016’s trip had temps in the 50s). All of this said, and even in the “Comeback City,” there really isn’t all THAT much change in 1 year. A few new scaffolds covering some buildings, such as the Griswold Bldg on Michigan Ave that’s now pretty far along. The booming M1 Corridor isn’t all that unchanged – it’s mostly the same building projects still underway, and the light rail is still under construction, although the street is a little bit more passable.

The one area where there has been a lot of change is the new Redwings Arena. One of the grandiose old hotels are gone, yet the other (two twin hotel towers) still stands, and the arena totally dwarfs everything in the southern end of Midtown. Across Woodward, the western-most block of Brush Park is seeing a lot of new development. Huge projects going up between Woodward and John R.

As always, you gotta start at the Market, especially if it’s a Saturday and the weather is sublime. This area was previously artfully gang-tagged all over, which is now giving way to an actual public art initiative called Murals in the Market. There is a map of murals on their website, but several are new in just the last year, such as the really awesome googly eyes. There are more pics inside the market in my 2015 pics, as this time I mostly explored the surrounding market district, where several distilleries and breweries have given way to cold storage and meat market businesses. The Eastern Market is as old school as it gets.

Murals in the Market

The Eastern Market is just east, across I-75, from Brush Park and Midtown Detroit. The two areas, arguably Detroit’s most active on a nice weekend day, are still pretty disconnected. Of course, Brush Park still has a ways to go toward regaining its lost luster. The M1 Rail project is chugging along, making Woodward Avenue a little more passable than before, and it all looks great. The new Red Wings Arena is also topped out.

Midtown & M1 Rail

 

Confession time: I LOVE the Detroit People Mover. I wanted to hate it so badly. It’s everyone’s favorite kind of rail project to pick on. It’s a monorail, it doesn’t connect to the street level, you need quarters to ride it, and it only does a 3-mile loop around downtown. I always tried using it as an example of a bad rail project. But it isn’t. The Detroit People Mover somehow works. Every single time I’ve seen it, it’s packed full of people. You have to literally squeeze onto it. It could be sped up – it doesn’t need to stop at every station for a full minute or two – but the best thing about it is the headways. With 5 trains simultaneously making the 3-mile clockwise loop around downtown, a train comes every 3-4 minutes. It’s really awesome.

Downtown Detroit is also really awesome. Similarly, I really wanted to hate the Renaissance Center. It’s the most typical fortress city urban renewal project you’ve ever seen. Did I mention that it’s massing is ugly and intimidating? But it’s also really cool, and I finally made it to the Coach Insignia bar up on the 73rd Floor, which makes the Renaissance Center alright with me. Next time you’re in town, you’ve got to go. Go get a drink (not badly priced at all) and watch the sunset. If you hate fortress corporate towers like me, it will still make you fall in love with the Ren Cen.

People Mover & A View From the Top

Corktown is probably my favorite little pocket of Detroit. The main reason for this is probably Slow’s BarBQ. Easily the best BBQ joint I’ve ever been to outside of KC, and I would know bc I’m kind of a foodie tourist.

West is (was) Best

And lastly, I finally made it to the Heidelberg Project, which is truly the weirdest thing I have ever seen. In fact, that is all I have to say about it. Enjoy.

Departure From Reality

Until next time, Motor City!

CityLab Officially Channeling CAVE: Champions BAN on Historic Districts

Fight with Richard Florida. Check. It’s like a well-known rite of passage for any academic. I have always taken issue with some of the destructive reporting and advocacy at CityLab. One day they’re categorically against public housing authorities (which do a lot of good), the next they’re against all streetcar projects for some reason, and it so happened that over the weekend the new fashionable stance is against historic districts. Not just any one historic district, but you know, ALL of them. Richard Florida then indignantly defended throwing Rust Belt historic preservation under the bus, saying they “aren’t pro or anti city, [but rather just] objective and fact based.” Rather than wait for the other side to get an article, here are my own objective and fact-based responses. Whatever that means.

Their stable of writers remind me of that crazy uncle (in my case, my very own Dad is our family’s crazy uncle) who can’t have nice things, and sees an ulterior motive behind every corner. In other words, Citizens Against Virtually Everything. You just can’t win for trying.

throwing-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater1In fact, CityLab would like to unite with Republicans in Michigan and Wisconsin who according to a twitter exchange I had with the author Kriston Capps, have the “right idea for the wrong reasons.” So there you have it, when Tea Party Republicans aren’t busy regulating water quality in Flint, they’ve got a lazer focus on the housing affordability crisis caused by historic districts. Right. And the splash photo accompanying the article was that of a baby literally being thrown out with the bathwater. (I wish)

In case you doubt that the reputable (supposedly?) people over at CityLab would actually write and subsequently publish this:

Houses, on the other hand, are often poor candidates for historic preservation. This may be a bitter pill to swallow for people who love residential architecture (as I do). Historic homes and neighborhoods can be immensely significant, culturally and architecturally. But houses belong to owners, and in the U.S., the tried-and-true way to build wealth is to acquire real estate. Historic homes, typically gorgeous single-family homes, are often powerful assets.

So when local- and state-government bodies grant preservation status to historic districts—sometimes entire neighborhoods—they do not always simply protect culture, architecture, and history. Sometimes they also shore up wealth, status, and power.

So the charge, so far as I read it, is that insisting on single family zoning of historic homes not only squeezes low income families into a housing problem, but is actually just a conspiracy to “shore up wealth, status, and power.” Also, the author could have pointed to some research on this. That would have lent an understanding of how HP districts work in the Midwest (Michigan, Wisconsin), which is where this article is premised.

Read on…

“How would you feel if you woke up one day and found your house subject to 40 pages of rules and regulations?” said Wisconsin Republican State Senator Frank Lasee in a statement. “Burdensome regulations that require you to get permission from a government committee to improve your house, get approval for paint color, or the style and brand of windows you buy.”

I’m a little shocked by the credence CityLab is lending to this essentially anti-intellectual argument. There aren’t 40 pages of rules telling you what you can and can’t do with your historic home. There is a helpful guide that may or may not be that long, but I assure you that the rules can fit on one sheet. This goes to Richard Florida: I’ve been a long-time supporter, but come on man. If you take yourself seriously, you can’t be the publisher of ignorant CAVE talk. What is this FOX News? Here are the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, which are mostly just good practice for us all.

Behre reports that Charleston is changing its architectural-review process, which could ease the way for more ambitious growth. Charleston residents aren’t all against the idea. And as his longtime readers know, the people of Charleston bear an authentic interest in architecture; it’s not a front. Still, the same class of argument being levied against cutting-edge campus design is being used to thwart more affordable housing, and that’s a problem. The result is a Charleston elite of increasingly wealthy downtown residents, and an affordable housing crisis for everybody else.

This giant paragraph-long sentence fragment literally blew up my WordPress, but it’s important to get it in here because of how wrong it is. It’s the crucible closing argument in a whole vignette Capps wrote decying Charleston as “a model for how not to do preservation.” Charleston is actually not a model as much as it is a grandfather of the historic preservation movement. I erroneously wrote in this paragraph that the National Trust conference was in Charleston, when it was actually in Savannah – two cities I frequently combine, to be honest. Thanks to Jennifer Bailey for pointing this out, as well as this fun fact of the day: Charleston was actually the first city (1931) to designate its own local historic districts.

I can not actually speak to everything that has ever transpired in Charleston, and if it’s anything like my own hometown or the cities I’ve grown to call home, I certainly can’t defend everything they have ever done. I share Capps’ passion for equitable urban development. Here’s the bottom line: How many low-income accessible jobs are supported by the tourism industry in South Carolina? How many cities, not beaches, in South Carolina have a tourism industry?

I’ll do the research on that, just because it’s not difficult. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that of Charleston’s 331,000 non-farm jobs, Leisure and Hospitality account for 46,000. You can look this stuff up. 46,000, and that’s not even counting all of the services supported by that Leisure and Hospitality industry. Altogether it’s a HUGE opportunity for low-income families where the bread winner may not have a college degree. And it’s made possible by something as annoying as Charleston’s unique historic charm and its resistance to modernity.

I would argue that Charleston IS a model for how TO do preservation: Focus on critical mass, preserving the larger context, and doing something significant enough. Preservation shouldn’t be about saving one landmark here, an old school there, etc. It’s value is in the whole, not the pieces. Few communities have been more successful at turning historic districts with heritage tourism into an economic engine, but something like this exists at a smaller scale in many of our communities, wherever we call home. This type of grassroots economic development is the essence of the patented Main Street Approach.

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National Trust for Historic Preservation Conference Attendees

Read on for the grand hoorah:

That case against historic districting is similar to the case against protectionist single-family zoning anywhere. And the question isn’t just aesthetic, it’s constitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year on “disparate impact” means that wealthy communities cannot keep affordable housing out because wealthy residents feel that they’re better off without it. The federal government’s Affordable Furthering Fair Housing rule means that cities and neighborhoods cannot use single-family zoning to keep affordable housing at bay.

As cities confront the growing nationwide housing crisis, there will be both a need and a market for building more densely, even in the most precious neighborhoods. Historic preservation is a tool better used to protect community assets, not private assets. Historic preservation is a tool better used to safeguard the historical resources in which everyone can take pride—not the historical resources that were only ever allotted to winners by race-based housing policies.

It’s always nice when an author just comes right out and says what he/she really wants to say. While the author didn’t exactly do that, he came close by just spitting out whatever he thought might stick… Supreme Court! Disparate impact! Wealthy communities! Single-family zoning! Nationwide housing crisis! The end [mic drop].

There is indeed a nationwide housing crisis. My generation is saddled with debt, over-educated, and more often than not living at home in the ‘rents basement. I’d be doing that myself if the family basement wasn’t already snagged…by my little brother…so alas, I venture out into the cold in the Rust Belt, where Millennials actually can make it these days. Michigan and Wisconsin are in the Rust Belt, and Michigan is a place I go often. Have even worked on some projects pertaining to its communities and have networked with many of its housing/development/planning professionals. They do good work Up North, and withstand a lot of blows from the Snyder regime. HP has always been under fire with this regime, and generally if Rick Snyder doesn’t like you, you must be doing something right!

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Michigan history is on the downward slide, but don’t worry: “Right idea for the wrong reasons!” -CityLab

One of Snyder’s first actions was eliminating the historic tax credit (which was a blow to every community in the state, esp Detroit), which he then followed-up with a new rule that HUD’s Hardest Hit Funds need not undergo a Section 106 Review. Sec. 106 is a SHPO review process that all federally-funded projects undergo in order to ensure our taxpayer dollars aren’t irreparably leveling cities left and right. We try to keep the wanton destruction to a minimum, but what can ya do? Snyder’s 2nd move was to expedite the extent to which HUD money can be used to dynamite what’s left of Detroit, basically. Now the latest is the proposal to “ban” historic districts, which is really just the hat trick! For you southerners, that means a 3-fer. What-a-deal (if you hate history). I drew the above handy diagram in case the direction of this arc is lost on you.

Furthermore, the article shows zero understanding of how community development in the Midwest works. The assumption is that the wealthy are clinging to their historic homes or moving in en masse, pushing out the poor, and giving us the nationwide affordability crisis.

Actually what is happening is that cities are clinging for dear life, desperate for families to move back, regardless of socioeconomic background. Historic districts in the Midwest aren’t bucolic small towns inside the big cities. In reality they are full of life and diversity. They are the densest parts of Midwestern cities. They are a home for immigrant communities, creative class, young professionals, and minority families – all of whom call each other neighbors. They are what is working amidst a lot of dysfunction in our cities. According to this Fannie Mae report, historic rehabilitation accounts for 50-60% of all construction activity in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and D.C. It is nearly 80% of what is happening in St. Louis.

As for Detroit, you better go see it now, because if the State of Michigan gets its way, there won’t be much left. In Detroit, historic districts are actually the only stable parts of the city. I would argue that anything that can provide stability in that city is a good thing. According to this article, historic designation has largely kept foreclosures out of historic districts. It has also injected these communities with federal historic tax credit equity, that they are desperately in need of. State tax credit equity was also brought forth by historic designations, before Snyder killed that. It’s not just Detroit, either. This is typical of every large Midwestern city with declining or stable growth. It’s called “asset-based revitalization,” which is the strategy where you work with the people and the building you already got.

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Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corporation and Midtown Detroit Inc. are teaming up to rehab several old decades-empty buildings into quality affordable housing, using both federal historic (not possible without historic designation) and low-income housing tax credits. Read about this project and see more photos on MLive.com.

Not only are these Rust Belt historic districts NOT pushing poor people out, they have actually been one of our best strategies to repopulate inner city neighborhoods. In almost every case, these neighborhoods are growing more income-diverse, which is exactly the goal of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. Before you cite policy, you might actually want to read the policy. Not only are these neighborhoods attractive for affordable housing projects (I believe in putting affordable housing in good communities, but that’s just me), but oftentimes historic tax credits and low-income housing tax credits work together. In Ohio, Round 15 of Historic Preservation Tax Credits (the most recent) alone made possible $32.5 million in rural affordable housing, where the need is greatest in our state.

During a twitter exchange with the author, I and Belt Magazine asked him where in Michigan have historic districts pushed out the poor? He offered Grand Rapids. Again, Reeeeeeesearch man. It turns out that in Grand Rapids, historic districts are gaining safe, decent, affordable housing in the 100s of units. This article alone cites several concrete examples that combine historic and affordable. I could go on ad nauseum, but instead Let ME Google This For You. In the Midwest we’re big on teaching people (pundits) to fish (research on their own). Wait no, he only meant that Grand Rapids spawned the Michigan GOP. Not sure what that has to do with the price of rice in China, but the more you know!

Many state historic tax credit programs actually have an inclusionary affordable requirement, which is as much as anyone can do to combat the nationwide affordable housing crisis. You can look that up on the Novoco website. In the end, fixing this problem won’t come from finding a panacea. The problems are multi-faceted, and so must be the solution. What is working, ie historic preservation, must be a part of that calculus. Killing historic districts isn’t just throwing the baby out with the bathwater; it’s throwing the bathwater out with the baby.

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Cleveland ranks #8 for brain gain

Then there’s this, a new report from the Cleveland State University Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs’ Center for Population Dynamics. According to the report, Cleveland now ranks 8th nationally, in terms of attracting Millennials with college degrees. Roughly tied with Miami and Seattle.

In case anyone doubted that this whole sustainability-planning-preservation-urban design-whatnot thing works. It’s working for Cleveland. In fact, it’s working wonders for a formerly “dead city.”

OKC: Tower Theater Lights are back

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Drone aerial over NW 23rd, with the revitalized Tower Theater on the right, and its new public parking (formerly a dirt lot) across to the left, and the bustling (often congested) 23rd corridor dead-ahead. Photo credit Stephen Tyler, whose awesome Vsco page is worth a look. http://vsco.co/stphntylr/grid/1

It’s hard to believe that Devon Tower was finished 4 years ago. Hard, no, impossible. It’s amazing how time flies. For those who track urban progress, these big-ticket projects often serve as benchmarks not just for the communities we love, but for our own lives. I remember as a kid driving into downtown OKC, pre-Devon, thinking what a nicely balanced skyline we had. Similarly, I remember driving down NW 23rd just dreaming of the potential.

For those who don’t know, 23rd Street is the inner north side’s main east-west corridor, carrying between 25,000 and 18,000 cars a day, from the State Capitol west through the inner northside’s tree-lined historic neighborhoods. One block off 23rd, in either direction, usually looks great. On 23rd itself, until recently, has always looked terrible. Somehow the resurgence of the inner northside has evaded its main drag, where seedy landlords and underutilized sites have managed to cling to dear life while their ilk around them have given way to signs of progress.

One of those signs of progress finally happened along 23rd, and it was a big one. The Tower Theater, a long-languishing art deso / art moderne landmark at 23rd and Hudson, in the heart of the Uptown 23rd district, finally turned its lights on. After numerous starts and stops, including a once-hopeful restoration by Piedmont mayor and Midtown developer Greg Banta, this community anchor is approaching the finish line as an music hall, with the potential for film screenings, and storefronts refilled with a bar and another restaurant. The work was finally completed by Jonathan Dodson, Ben Sellers, and David Wanzer. Together these three guys are taking a lot of high-profile sites, where patience has worn thin before, and bringing them across the finish line. Watch this space, because these guys get the job done where others couldn’t before.

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The Land is Thinking Big

I love cities with a propensity for big, bold thinking. Some label it an “edifice complex,” I call it city-building. This is a lost art, often misunderstood by even the best-intended planners.

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Cleveland became known as “The Mistake on the Lake” after a series of high-profile environmental disasters in the 1970s

Cleveland, Ohio – the “mistake on the lake” – is a city with such a propensity. The Fifth City, once an equal anchoring the Eastern Great Lakes half-way between Chicago and Toronto, nowadays the city has dropped off the world stage and settled into more of a regional role. There is nothing wrong with this.

Context – What is a Legacy City?

Ranks 10-40 are filled with cities that once claimed “Top 5” destination status (populations rounded to the nearest million).

  1. New York City-Newark, 23 million
  2. Los Angeles-Long Beach, 18 million
  3. Chicago-Naperville, 10 million
  4. Washington-Baltimore, 9 million
  5. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, 8 million
  6. Boston-Worcester-Providence, 8 million
  7. Dallas-Fort Worth, 7 million
  8. Philadelphia-Reading-Camden, 7 million
  9. Houston-The Woodlands, 7 million
  10. Miami-Fort Lauderdale, 6 million
  11. Atlanta-Athens-Sandy Springs, 6 million
  12. Detroit-Warren-Ann Arbor, 5 million
  13. Seattle-Tacoma, 4 million
  14. Minneapolis-St. Paul, 4 million
  15. Cleveland-Akron-Canton, 4 million
  16. Denver-Aurora, 3 million
  17. Portland-Vancouver-Salem, 3 million
  18. Orlando-Daytona Beach, 3 million
  19. St. Louis-St. Charles, 3 million
  20. Pittsburgh-New Castle, 3 million
  21. Charlotte-Concord, 2 million
  22. Sacramento-Roseville, 2 million
  23. Kansas City-Overland Park, 2 million
  24. Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem, 2 million
  25. Columbus-Marion-Zanesville, 2 million
  26. Indianapolis-Carmel-Muncie, 2 million
  27. Las Vegas-Henderson, 2 million
  28. Cincinnati-Wilmington-Maysville, 2 million
  29. Milwaukee-Racine-Waukesha, 2 million
  30. Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, 2 million
  31. Nashville-Murfreesboro, 2 million
  32. Virginia Beach-Norfolk, 2 million
  33. Greensboro-Winston-Salem, 2 million
  34. Jacksonville-St. Mary’s, 1 million
  35. Louisville-Elizabethtown, 1 million
  36. Hartford-West Hartford, 1 million
  37. New Orleans-Metairie-Hammond, 1 million
  38. Grand Rapids-Wyoming-Muskegon, 1 million
  39. Greenville-Spartanburg, 1 million
  40. Oklahoma City-Shawnee, 1 million

(Rounded to the nearest million, cut-off at OKC #40 with 1.4 million)

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Not to belabor the point, but scale is so important for “big thinking.” What may be thinking big in Jacksonville, with about 1.5 million in its metro, simply does not pass muster as the same in a city twice the size. As you see from the above list, despite being America’s 48th largest city proper (and falling, with 389,000 residents in its 77-square mile territory) – Cleveland is still pretty big. It is in fact America’s #15 metro. Even still. So while it has lost some of its luster, its important to not hyperbolize the fall of Cleveland. It has fallen from #5 to #15; it’s just less dense, more gentrified, and more suburban, hence the rise of Westlake, Mentor, Hudson, Medina, and around 500 other burbs…

New Orleans was once a Top 5 city as well, with its iconic Jackson Square named for the former president who first became a war hero in its vicinity fighting the French & Indian War. New Orleans has fallen a long way, from “Top 5” to #37. That is a city that just needs to maintain as something as world class as Vioux Carre, Uptown, Magazine Street, Tulane, and more are simply not possible in today’s metros of 1 million. New Orleans is blessed with a legacy that realistically its modern planning can never aspire to replicate. Heck, no city can ever replicate that. So toward that end, New Orleans is the classic “legacy city,” as defined by the famous Brachman-Mallach report on Regenerating America’s Legacy Cities.

Three Underrated Secrets About Cleveland

So the sky in Cleveland is not falling; it’s just a shade of gray 350 days out of the year. Cleveland has not dropped from #5 to #48. The function of Cleveland has changed. It’s no longer a nuclear entity. It is a hub for a larger region. For Ohio, it’s our state’s hub for bad sports (priorities, people), entertainment, banking, manufacturing, high tech, logistics, travel, research, and really practical stuff like that. It basically just lacks what Columbus has, that being government and education, and perhaps has also ceded shopping to Columbus (which is a retail HQ hub).

The first underrated fact: All of these functions (listed above) that Cleveland still dominates represent development opportunities past, present, and future.

The second underrated fact: Despite a legitimate decades-long “free fall” following the turbulent 1960s, Cleveland NEVER stopped building skyscraper cities. It’s a city that always thought big even when the hole was getting bigger. That is unique. Perhaps that’s an “edifice complex,” I don’t know.

The third underrated fact: While it’s never any one thing, if it has to be, the cause of Cleveland’s troubles was (and sadly continues to be) the racial inequality. The race riots were so incredibly damaging, with a legacy of despair that endures decades later in the hearts and minds of people. Cleveland was the #3 “receiving station” of the Great Migration, behind only Chicago and Detroit, and a topic I have researched extensively in a former gig at the Cleveland Restoration Society.

Putting all these facts together: Cleveland will always keep building, “under construction since 1798” as they say,” but it needs a foundation of community, and should that ever happen then Cleveland can really blossom. Working towards equality is work towards city-building.

Cleveland as a city, as envisioned by the founder of equity planning Norm Krumholz, is a beacon of refuge for the disenfranchised. Basically for all of NE Ohio’s disenfranchised. For better or worse, that is the City of Cleveland’s primary customer – those who have nowhere else to shop (so to speak).

Before Big Dreams, Big Nightmares

As a city that for better or worse has always “done it up big,” several factors have wreaked havoc on the city that exists today. Many of these factors have impacted other communities as well, but I can think of no other city adversely impacted by all of these issues, and sadly what makes Cleveland unique is the magnanimity of the adverse impact.

A few trends:

  1. De-industrialization
    1. Cleveland falls in the category of cities that have lost 43-56% of industrial jobs since 1950
  2. Foreclosure crisis
    1. Slavic Village, Cleveland’s inner-southeast neighborhood, was the #1 ZIP code (44105) for active foreclosures in 2007. This has led to the “Foreclosure Ground Zero” moniker. This one neighborhood had 787 active foreclosure filings at once. (!!!)
  3. Airline hub consolidation
    1. Cleveland has actually fared better without the United Hub, so take that
  4. Sports relocations
    1. Browns to Baltimore, then expansion team awarded (Browns return). These episodes really tear at the intangible bonds within a community, whether you’re pro-sports or not.
  5. Suburban sprawl
    1. NEOSCC / Vibrant NEO has assembled an incredible resource on Cleveland sprawl
  6. Urban renewal
    1. I.M. Pei. “Erieview.” East 9th Street. Need I say more?
  7. Race tensions
    1. In any city, the health of its people is going to manifest itself in the built environment. In Cleveland, 60% of its permanent residents are disenfranchised minorities. While its an extremely liberal and pro-diversity city, regressive policy at the state and federal level aims to push most Clevelanders around.

A visual representation of these trends:

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I must credit Angie Schmitt for both this gif and the “America’s worst parking crater” moniker

Comeback City

Rising out of the literal wreckage of all of the aforementioned conditions and trends, and out of the psychological shadow that lingers long after the dust has cleared, is a city that never stopped building. The 950-foot Key Tower, the tallest between NYC and CHI, was built in 1991 at a time when you could have taken a nap in the middle of Euclid Avenue. The 660-foot 200 Public Square tower was built in 1985. The 450-foot One Cleveland Center was built in 1983. The 450-foot Fifth Third Center was built in 1992. The 430-foot Stokes Courthouse tower was built in 2002. All in all, from 1983-2002, these 19 years resemble some dark years – so that it comes as a surprise that the city built so much during this period. To be fair, this period also had several “false starts” of premature revitalization that failed to stick not unlike November snow.

We have now transitioned into a period where revitalization is in full force, heralded by the national media any time Cleveland is mentioned. These projects and this revitalization are now more like a January blizzard, with ground cover that (like it or not) is going to stick for a while. Perhaps until June.

Recently Completed (last 2-3 years)

I really want to get to the projects I see in the pipeline right now, but I couldn’t do that without mentioning just some of the major projects that still have that new project smell. It is these projects that inspire confidence in A, the staying power of this revitalization; and B, that proposed projects will come to fruition.

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The 9 is a $170 million complex featuring an upscale Heinen’s grocery store in the historic AmeriTrust Rotunda. In the Marcel Breuer-designed brutalist AmeriTrust tower behind, there are high-end apartments, and The Metropolitan (A Marriott Autograph Collection hotel). Photo credit: The Plain Dealer

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The Cleveland Clinic continues to build, but the Sydell-Miller Pavilion gave it a centerpiece. Also, the $500 million pricetag distinguishes it from most Clinic projects here and there. Photo credit: The Plain Dealer.

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The Horseshoe Casino was a $350 million investment that revitalized the Higbee Building, which the Van Sweringen’s built to house the department store they felt their Union Terminal Complex needed.

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MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art, was comparatively cheap at just $27 million, but leverages the impact of its really cool design to make a splash

Copyright Keith Berr Productions, Inc.1420 East 31st Street Cleveland Ohio 44114 216.566.7950 www.keithberrphotography.com All Rights Reserved

The $250 million University Hospitals (CWRU) Seidman Cancer Center

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The $525 million Louis Stokes VA Hospital campus. Finished 2014.

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PlayHouse Square exterior improvements. Again, at “just” $16 million, doesn’t really meet the threshold for this list, if only it weren’t all spent on design that really makes an already-incredible district pop. Pictured: The world’s largest chandelier (hanging over Euclid Avenue)

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Battery Park, the $100 million redevelopment of the former Eveready Battery factory complex in Detroit-Shoreway, will feature mostly lakefront condos (330 units). The old power plant has been restored into a wine bar.

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In Tremont, the Gospel Press factory has been rehabbed into 102 lofts. Before functioning as a printing press for bibles this complex was the short-lived “University of Cleveland,” that was replaced by Fenn College, which eventually became Cleveland State University. (I may have over-simplified that sequence a little)

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The Tudor Arms, rehabbed into a Doubletree in 2011, is even more incredible inside. As a historic tax credit projects, this $20 million investment went a long ways. Typically historic rehabs realize huge cost savings, at least if something large-scale and high-quality is your end goal.

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I used to park on this site when I first moved to Cleveland in 2012. And into 2013. Finished 2014. This $65 million project features roughly 200 high-end apartments, dorm spaces for Cleveland Institute of Art, as well as street-level retail including Barnes & Noble, a bowling alley, Panera, Constentino’s grocery store, restaurants, and bars. This was a New Markets Tax Credit project (Constantino’s is a QALICB).

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The $92 million, 330-foot, 23-story Ernst & Young office tower has brought activity back to the Waterfront Line (light rail, pictured). Photo rights reserved by me.

Coming UP

Now we get to the exciting part – as Cleveland continues to reach higher, plan bigger, and execute better – these are the projects either under construction or moving through the proposal process. This is the next wave of progress that is set to come crashing down, in a good way.

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Overall, the Flats East Bank project is a $500 million vision. Phase 1 was the $100 million EY tower + Aloft. Phase 2 mostly completes the project, and brings the residential, retail, restaurant, and entertainment component. This pic from @Clevelandgram on Instagram, progress as of two weeks ago.

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UC3, or University Circle City Center, will add 700 mixed-income apartments including a high-rise component. The project anchors the southern terminus of Rockefeller Park, opposite the Wade Lagoon in front of the CMA.

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nuCLEus: $300 million, 54-story, 650-foot tall tower. The “jenga” connector, which is a 4/5-story “bridge” cantilevered between the two smaller towers and the base of the main tower. 500 apartments, 400,000 SF of office (leases already signed, lead-tenant will be Benesch Law Firm), and 140,000 SF retail arcade. This WILL happen. Not just because they’ve already secured financing, but also because of developer Bob Stark’s track record, which includes Crocker Park in Westlake.

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Bob Stark is also proposing to add apartments, pictured below, atop the garage at E. 6th and Euclid. This is a bit more tentative, and probably gets built after nuCLEus.

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Weston and Citymark, two of the biggest names in the suburban Cleveland real estate market, just last week proposed this $100 million behemoth on the above-pictured “World’s greatest parking crater.” Yes, those parking lots that separate the Warehouse District from Public Square/Tower City. When finished this will encompass 1,200 apartments and 3 million SF, broken into two phases.

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Intesa, a $100-110 million proposal by Coral and Panzica, is proposed to flank the new Mayfield Road Red Line (light rail) station between Little Italy and University Circle. With 700 parking spaces, 300 micro-apartments, and tech incubator office space – this project will complement the adjacent light rail. If it ever gets off the ground.

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One University Circle is a $112-million, 20-story, 240-foot luxury condo tower. This project, downsized from 28-stories at first, is taking the site of the Cleveland Children’s Museum, which has to relocate first.

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As great as all of these projects are, what Cleveland really needed was a $270 million RNC Convention Hotel. Actually it’ll be great because this 380-foot, 32-story, 600-room hotel will enable to Cleveland to continuously bring in top conventions.

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Lakefront development proposed for the North Coast Harbor site, surrounding the Rock & Roll HOF and Browns Stadium, could total $280 million, 1,000 apartments, in addition to office and restaurants.

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The $32-million redesign of Public Square, consolidating the four blocks into two that function better as one (only buses allowed through). This is one of the public investments making all of this private investment possible.

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Tyler Village, the mixed-use revitalization of a factory complex in St. Clair-Superior, will yield 450 new apartments. Underway currently.

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Upper Chester, by the Finch Group working in tandem with other developers, will fill in the gap between University Circle, Midtown, the Clinic, and Hough. This projects responds differently to the context on all four sides. The $42 million first phase is complete, and the next phase of build-out (three altogether) should start soon. The coolest phase will be the restoration Newton Avenue, a tiny little cobblestone road with cute little wooden homes. Many other developments would demo this street, rather than blending it into a new development.

Whew.

That was exhaustive, and in the event anyone actually read all of that, congrats for making it this far. Isn’t it incredible how this “dying city” is thriving?

What is even more impressive – all of the smaller projects that connect the neighborhoods to these business districts and corridors.

There is still a disconnect between population growth (or lack thereof) and all of these projects. I am not sure what is happening as there are many different theories. One, “gentrification” is reducing densities in some neighborhoods that really were too dense (for instance, imagine a Tremont house subdivided into an 8-plex during the dark years, now rehabbed into a single home or double).

Undoubtedly, the “good news” is still mostly confined to a growing list of neighborhoods where investment is concentrated. The truth is that the NE Ohio market is always hungry for new product, and rather than more stuff in Beachwood/Westlake stuff is finally happening in Cleveland – but that doesn’t translate into a market for Cleveland’s roughest neighborhoods. There is still a “tale of two cities,” and while downtown Cleveland’s population is set to surge north of 20,000 in the next 5 years (just counting everything under development for certain), the east side is still hemorrhaging population. The truth is many minority families are now moving out into the southeastern suburbs like Warrensville, Bedford, etc – much in the same way that Poles/Ukrainians/Russians in Tremont moved straight south into Parma/Independence/Seven Hills. Black flight won’t be all that different than white flight, sadly.

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Urban revitalization isn’t much different than yoga. You gotta be able to enjoy the view, move into seated downward fold, and breath out – all at the same time.

However, for a city with challenges and opportunities just like any other – you have to be able to stretch your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. You have to fight for growth where the market works and fight to save neighborhoods where the market doesn’t work. You have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

 

Note: Post taken from my first WordPress, the Eurokie blog.