Monday, July 30, 2012

Annexation and the politics of growth

Often urbanists discuss the growth of cities in the context of increasing density and the vertical scale of cities.  But rarely is the growth of cities discussed in the realm of the political boundary.  To get the ball rolling here is a video on the geographic growth of Houston:

As you can see, Houston grew politically larger during the era when many cities shrank in population and ceased their political growth.

For comparison here is a map of Chicago's annexation.  There is an animated gif of Chicago's growth HERE.  As you can see, Chicago stopped growing its political boundary in the 1950s.  Another point of contrast is the Detroit annexation map, which is available HERE.  There is also an animated version:

Curiously Detroit ceased its political growth in the 1920s.  If cities like Detroit and Chicago continued to annex the peripheral neighborhoods these cities would have had no population declines.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Unboxing the Big Box

The recent discussion about urban big box retailers has reached a zenith with the debut of a new Target retailer in the Loop, occupying the historic Carson Pirie Scott building.  The grand opening was July 29th.  Perhaps not coincidentally, Matthew Yglesias recently opined that this trend was a part of big box retailer's attempt to stave a systemic decline due to online retailers:

"Over the past five years, the urban/suburban growth balance has actually shifted toward rough parity and with the retail sector having already oversaturated suburban shopping centers many big box stores are looking to get into big cities, often with smaller format stores.

Meanwhile, the underlying issue continues to be secular decline in the demand for brick-and-mortar retail."

The term "big box" is synonymous with a certain sort of suburban design often called, for lack of a better word, sprawl.  But lately the retailers behind the big box have started moving inward to the city.  There, new design forms are taking shape.  The big box is adapting to urban life in interesting ways.

About a year ago Walmart, often the quintessential big box retailer, opened a store in the city of Chicago.  Called a Walmart express, it is a more compact version of a big box.  Target's loop location is not the first urban target to hit Chicago.  There is one on Roosevelt that has a different design than the usual Target.  Not a remodeled old building, but new whole cloth.

This building has many traditional urban form factors.  It is built next to the street.  No front parking.  It is multi-story (I believe it is a three story Target).  The parking it does have is a parking garage contained within the building itself.  The layout is a bit unusual because this section of Roosevelt bridges the river and is therefore above ground level "street grade".

Whether this is part of a long term trend of retailers to adapt to changing demographics or a short term trend in a dying industry is one that will reveal itself in time.

My own snapshot this afternoon, unfortunately I did not have time to go inside.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Beneath the surface

A resurfacing of the street on the corner of Lake and Clark reveals paving bricks.

I wonder at their antiquity.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Driving and the Generation Gap

It is no secret that there is a a decline in driving in America.  From December 2011:

Americans have been driving fewer miles every month since March, a decline fueled by factors ranging from the weak economy to high gas prices to aging boomers and teens driving less.

Is this decline a long term trend or a short term aberration?  While some pundits make the case that this is a short term squeeze, two crucial pieces of data make a sufficient case that this is a long term trend.  First is the increase in urbanization in America.

Second is the structural decline of teenage drivers:

More than 30% of American 19-year-olds in 2010 (30.5% to be precise) did not have a driver's license, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
That's the highest percentage ever, and a sharp increase from the 24.5% in 2008 and only 12.7% in 1983, based on data from the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Census Bureau. The unlicensed population is almost certainly larger today.

This goes further than reduced licensing, but also reduced car consumption in general:

From 2001-09, the average annual number of vehicle miles traveled by people ages 16-34 decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita -- a drop of 23%, according to a study by Frontier Group released in April.

We can also challenge the idea that aging boomers is a part of the decline in driving:

Meanwhile, the percentage of people with a driver's license who are 70 or older has increased from about 55% in 1983 to 80% in 2010, according to UMTRI.

Hopefully this helps put some context on the decline of collar county suburban growth.

Monday, July 23, 2012

New Loop construction

On the corner of Lake and Wabash, a mixed use parking garage was demolished.

What are they building here?  Apparently it is an apartment high rise.  There are some good articles on this project HERE and HERE.  The Loop is continuing to add to the downtown population density as well as overall population of Chicago.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The cranes of change

I observe numerous construction projects around Chicago.

This is in Streeterville. The South Loop also has numerous cranes going up on State St. south of Van Buren.  Some neighborhoods in Chicago are going up, and some are unfortunately going down.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Chicago: treading water or outperforming?

The following graphic caught my eye:

As you can see the top 3 spots remain unchanged:  New York, LA, and Chicago.  Perhaps a good comparison is the decline of other big cities in the region like Detroit, Cleveland, and Milwaukee.  The only other city in the upper Midwest that did not decline was Minneapolis, which also remain unchanged.  No city in the region increased spots.  Also note that for all the boosterism about Indianapolis, it has fallen off the index.  So would you say that Chicago and Minneapolis outperformed the region by holding their respective spots, or underperformed compared to many of the sunbelt cities that climbed up the chart?