Good Reads : Week of 13 December 2015

The way that many people choose to live is changing. In 2011, for the first time in nearly one hundred years, the rate of urban population growth outpaced the suburbs.

Americans once flocked to the suburbs in search of a better life. Today it is America’s cities that entice younger workers with better options for their careers and lifestyles.

More than ever, talent is clustering in dense, urban areas.

There is a locational advantage to living and working in cities. America’s primary global competitiveness as a country is centered around its urban areas and the amenities and opportunities that they offer.

The suburbs are clearly not going away. The shift to urban living remains incremental and much of it is actually taking place in suburban areas. For commercial real estate investors, this presents pockets of opportunity across the country.

What tenants want in an office building is changing, and the old model of the isolated suburban office park is going the way of the fax machine. That’s according to a new report from Newmark, Grubb, Knight and Frank [PDF], one of the largest commercial real estate firms in the world.

Suburban office parks are losing their luster, industry analysts say. Photo: Wikipedia

Suburban office parks are losing their luster, industry analysts say. Photo: Wikipedia

The old-school office park does “not offer the experience most of today’s tenants are seeking,” according to NGKF. As a result, the suburban office market is confronting “obsolescence” on a “massive scale.” More than 1,150 U.S. office properties — or 95 million square feet — may no longer pencil out, the authors estimate, though a number of those can be salvaged with some changes.

“Walkability and activated environments are at the top of many tenants’ list of must haves,” the report states. Office parks in isolated pockets without a mix of uses around them must have “in-building amenities” –including a conference center, a fitness center, and food service — to remain competitive, according to NGKF: “If tenants are not going to be able to walk to nearby retail or a nearby office property to get lunch, they had better be able to get it at their own building.”

The study took a close look at suburban office submarkets in and around Denver, Washington, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. In the “southeast suburban” Denver office district, for example, office buildings within a quarter-mile of the new light rail line had a 1.7 percent vacancy rate. For those outside a quarter-mile, vacancy rates were nine percentage points higher.

NGKF’s findings don’t mean that office tenant preferences are in perfect alignment with walkability, however.

Parking was also important to the marketability of buildings in suburban Denver. The report notes that a lot of older management personnel prefer to drive, while younger workers want transit access. So buildings that offered both were in the highest demand.

TakeAway: One problem with the ‘report’ cited above is that it was done by a sales organization wishing to profit from its findings. This would be akin to having an coal company attempting to sell you on the benefits of coal knowing full well that the trends were towards cleaner fuels. I am certain that the folks from StreetsBlog knew this, but were perhaps more interested in fostering the sentiment than in getting to the unbiased truths.

Demographer Phillip Longman says that regional inequality divides America. He tells NPR’s Scott Simon which cities are doing well, which ones are falling behind, and how the U.S. got to this point.

The emphasis on American’s returning to the central cities of this country is all about the recapture of these municipalities by the ‘elites‘. The discussions about TOD and other theories of design is really geared to these ‘elites‘ and not towards the people-of-color who struggle to survive in the poorer sections of the city. You should learn to equate TOD with the return to apartheid but with a modern-day twist.

All the blather from the TOD crowd that loves to glorify city life is pointless in the face of the actual facts of life in the city. City life is a bit like ‘falling through the cracks‘. It is largely soulless and mean. And the problem is exacerbated by the number of people. Reduce the concentration and much of the anger and hostility of the populous might just change.

More ‘bike lanes‘ is probably not the answer. The lanes themselves are often more ‘unsafe‘ than what was there prior to their creation. And the premise that these lanes ‘coerce‘ good cycling behaviors is simply untrue.

City Hall is full of ‘data wonks‘. They have brought up overpriced bits and pieces of bike infrastructure that are ‘iffy‘ in both design and functionality. The two best examples of this are the Dearborn Street PBL and its even more expensive boondoggle causing the Bloomingdale 606 Trail.

Now we learn that when it comes to listening to ‘everyday people‘ these same wonks have no time. They would much rather be out vomiting up data that whose interpretation they can skew to their own biases. Nice work if you can get it. Let’s not let them keep blowing smoke up our collective dress.

The movement that supports red light cameras as viable means to achieve Vision Zero is either deluded or simply full of stupid people. But the problem is that ‘elites‘ are unable to see past their accepted theories. What they believe simply must be true.



I have only this to say. How does one go about trusting an administration to be honest in its installation of ‘bike lanes‘ but has virtually no knowledge of how to manage its police force?

Loop Link corridor on Washington near Franklin. Photo: © CDOT

Already the ‘True Believers‘ who have used this new BRT system are calling it a ‘fustercluck‘. It is creating problems because there is no corresponding bike lane to match the bus lane and so passengers crossing to the center of the street are not prepared to give bicycles the ‘right-of-way‘. How exactly does this sort of silliness makes it way off of the drawing board and into the real world? And what exactly does it say about a journalist who after seeing the problems, refuses to comment on them?

Mike Thomas

While we are rushing headlong towards a record number of miles of bike lanes we are entirely missing the point that our city is not very ‘livable‘. Forget about whether the place is ‘walkable‘. If you do not feel safe within the limits of the city, what does it matter whether your neighbor has bike lanes or Divvy?

Ask yourself this question: Why do all of the bicycle advocacy directors live outside the city limits. Who do the folks who own and run the bicycle advocacy forums also live outside the city? Talk amongst yourselves…

This death is eerily like that of a fellow bike club member who died crossing a road while she was riding a trail.