Friday, July 11, 2008

Urban News Vol. 23

As promised, here is the first of my summer Friday news collection entries. Until Labor Day, I will be likely be falling into a pattern of news on Friday, programatic posts or series installments on Monday, and a temporary preview post each Wednesday. This has mainly to do with my company's summer hours schedule, but also the fact that are closing before the end of the month on a city (words can't describe how excited I am to finally be walking the walk) townhouse. There is plenty of work to be done on that front.

Associated Press

Article Key Points:
  • Many stores in rural towns are starting to see an uptick in sales after years of decline at the expense of the auto-catered shopping experience miles away
  • Thomasville, Alabama has seen a 5% sales tax revenue increase so far in this fiscal year
  • Brewton, 80 miles away, has seen an increase of 6%
  • Family Dollar reports rural location outperforming the chain as a whole
  • Supermarkets in rural South Carolina seeing first appreciable rise in sales

The article continues on with a lament about commute times and portions of take home pay consuming by fuel expenses, a topic I can't really sympathize with so I'll focus on the Main Street retail side of the story.

While this appears to be a good development on its face (and in line with Kunstler's theories of reactivated small cities), I can't stop thinking about the misguided motivations of Mayor Day of Thomasville. A former Wal-Mart manager, Mr. Day wants chains like J.C. Penney and Target to locate 'in town' to help 'revitalize' and he equates revitalization with an increase in vehicle count on the roads. Of course J.C. Penney and Target will add to the atrocious asteroid belts that have ripped out the hearts of Main Streets nationwide. His reasoning for this effort is also flawed. He thinks adding more junk national retail will increase Thomasville's sphere of retail influence from 35 miles to 50 miles ignoring the fact that the reason local tax revenues are up is that Alabamans can't drive everywhere they want all the time anymore. It's easy to think that Wal-Mart provides quality jobs when you were once the manager, but what Thomasville needs is not more minimum wage positions, they need to start employing their citizens in an appropriately scaled regional economy.

Centro Pumps Up Bus Service
by Charley Hannagan, Syracuse Post-Standard

Article Key Points:

  • CNY Centro unveiled new express bus service from Baldwinsville to downtown Syracuse on June 30
  • Centro also plans to announce service enhancements and more Park-N-Ride locations in September
  • Transit Authority increase in inquisitive traffic from individuals, corporations, and business owners
  • Number of trips taken on the system has increased 12% since the beginning of the year, 28% increase on suburban routes

Other service adjustments and enhancements are listed which I suppose are only of immediate value to Syracuse residents. While its sad that American hyper-individualism and obsession with convenience is so rampant that it takes financial incentive to do the right thing, these figures are significant and positive.

Where I might find criticism in this piece is the bending over backwards to accomodate suburban riders through park and rides and express routes. Does a Park and Ride do anything to address the problems associated with 'one car per adult' social structure and the vast asphalt deposits littering America? They certainly don't add the public health benefit regular bus riders receive by walking to and from stops. Trying to express my point of view in the framework of a diminishing returns argument, at what point is it folly for a transit system to continue to extend routes into the back woods? Why should people who chose to shun culture and community in favor of wealth segregation be rewarded with a subsidized ride of greater distance at the same price as those who can least afford their shorter journey? Doesn't an express compromise the ability of a bus company to pick up maximum revenue along the route? What makes the citizens of Baldwinsville's time more important than those of Nedrow for instance?

I guess its one of those weeks (the long hours probably a contributing factor) and I apologize for running afoul of my stated mission statement to point up optimism regarding urban redevelopment. I just feel that the viability of these valuable transit systems may come into question at some point and that these questions need to be asked. As much as I wish RTS still had weekend service to Webster (at least for a few more weeks anyway), they likely did the right thing by removing it. Their one zone system? That's another story.

I'd like to thank my wife for the first story and Joe Lorenz for the Syracuse news. While on the topic, Joe also alerted me to the presence of a blog out of Syracuse that currently functions as more of an exercise in thought regarding the city's elevated interstate infrastructure. A group called the Onondaga Citizens League has begun to consider the implications of the need to outright replace 1960's era elevated highways that literally quarter the city. This group has their head on straight with respect to the consideration of 50 years worth of future consequences while firmly rooted in the ability to look back on past experiences with other transportation modes and their outcomes. I hope to see more content in the future coming out of this discussion hopefully leading to some form of real city improvement (and no I don't mean a brand new highway).

If any readers have urban development news from anywhere in the country, feel free to post links in the comments or E-mail me directly and I will certainly consider them for inclusion on each of my next seven Friday posts.

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