Cities: January 2005 Archives

The video game test

| | TrackBacks (1)

Former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist used a series of thought experiments or "tests" to help people think about whether a proposed development was really going to help the process of revitalization:

  • The postcard test. Is this building something you'd see on a postcard trumpeting the unique qualities of your city? Norquist did several companion slides comparing old historic buildings in the city's center (such as the library) with their new, uninspired counterparts in the suburbs. Lacing his talk with ample humor, Norquist labeled one particularly ugly new structure 'a monument to totalitarianism.'

  • The parade test. Is your street design and the buildings that frame the street a place you could imagine the public congregating for a parade or similar public festival?

  • The century test. Is the building designed to last? Will it be around 100 years from now? Is it attractive enough that you'd even want it around 100 years from now?

Oklahoma City's Downtown Guy makes a comment that suggests an additional test of urban design goodness:

One more random thought: if there is no interest in downtowns or hip urban locales, why is it that the most popular video games don’t feature races and other adventures with backdrops of big box retail shopping centers? Think about it – the coolest video games all take place in urban areas where the architecture is anything but suburban. What’s capturing the attention of today’s youth – you got it – they want to be downtown.

Let's call it the "video game test": If the cityscape isn't cool enough for a popular video game, it isn't cool enough for our city.

Downtown Guy also discovers a map of the Great Plains and that that's where Oklahoma City is. Interesting to see the way the boundary curves around and through Tulsa. That same entry lists an MIT professor's tips regarding design review, a process used in cities that have urban conservation districts, where proposed new developments in existing neighborhoods are evaluated for compatibility with the neighborhood's character. Charles G. Hill, whose Surlywood estate is located in such a district, has some comments on the same topic here.

Tulsa doesn't have any design review districts, as such. We have historic preservation districts that are strictly residential and are concerned with maintaining the appearance of the appropriate period on a home's facade. Urban or neighborhood conservation districts focus less on the building in isolation and more on its relationship to other buildings and the street. The focus is not on preserving buildings of historical significance, but on preserving any valued characteristic of a neighborhood. It would be a great tool for preserving the small and shrinking parts of our city that are truly urban and pedestrian-friendly.

A friend forwarded this week's update from the Brookings Institute Metropolitan Policy Program, with links to lots of interesting articles about urban policy. The lead article is by Heywood Sanders, the nation's leading expert on the convention industry, and once again, Prof. Sanders has dared to compare the promises made by those promoting new and expanded publicly-owned convention centers to the actual numbers generated by these facilities. It's a declining industry, but cities persist in believing that convention centers will bring a return on investment. They don't.

Report Urges Caution on Convention Centers

In the last decade, state and local governments have made massive commitments to tourism and conventions, hoping to jumpstart local economies and boost downtowns. Unfortunately, this spending—some $2.4 billion per year nationally—may target a business in decline.

A new analysis by Heywood Sanders for the Metropolitan Policy Program shows that the convention and tradeshow business is ailing, that the decline began even prior to 9-11, and that a large number of new cities are entering the competition for these events. The upshot: As with stadiums and sports teams, state and local leaders should think carefully before making big bets on these facilities. Simultaneously, they should consider other options for scarce public funds, such as attracting and increasing residential life and 24-hour activity in business areas.

In that vein, several other recent program publications have also examined what works—and what doesn't work—in local and regional economic development. One discussion paper notes that the information technology revolution extends far beyond the technology sector to encompass not just tech companies in Sun Belt locales but all kinds of companies in "old" as well as "new" economy sectors. Similarly, another reportreviews how five smaller regions in Washington state have sought to broaden the impact of the 1990s tech boom beyond Seattle by investing in broadband infrastructure and linking local research institutions to the local economy.

By contrast, a more skeptical publication assesses the structure and nature of the biotechnology industry with an eye to local development prospects. The report concludes that the extreme concentration of the biotech industry and its high demand for capital, talent, and cutting-edge research make it a long-shot economic panacea for most regions.

As Christopher Leinberger, a key player in the resurgence of downtown Albuquerque, will show in an upcoming policy program publication: The most effective downtown and local economic revitalization strategies don't focus on a single venue, but rather on a holistic approach to development that includes arts and entertainment, housing, retail, restaurants, and a strong office economy.

Note that last item -- last night at the TulsaNow annual meeting, an urban planner commented that Tulsa's leaders seem to think that it's enough for downtown that we're building the arena, and no one is thinking about how Denver Avenue will develop, or what kind of development is needed to connect the arena to the Blue Dome district and the Brady district. TulsaNow's members are certainly thinking about the holistic approach, as are some sharp people in the city's urban development department, but it hasn't trickled up to the people who can make it happen.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Cities category from January 2005.

Cities: December 2004 is the previous archive.

Cities: February 2005 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
[What is this?]