Evanston Map

The story of this Evanston map restoration is interesting on two counts. First, for the really great restoration process — taken from a curator’s experience with Japanese screen restoration. Second, for indicating how central Northwestern University was to the development of Evanston — in fact, they were major landlords and real estate players in their early years in the 19th century. The map itself is pretty great, as well.


In returning this blog to matters academic, I offer a draft of the introduction to my dissertation. It is for information and entertainment, and not for citation without the permission of the author.

Universities are places of optimism. For much of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, Americans have grafted their individual and collective dreams onto campus communities and the project of higher education. Social mobility, public health advancements, regional economic development, Cold War technological triumph, and racial integration and equalization—all of these were goals given to or embraced by the nation’s colleges and universities in addition to educating each succeeding generation in intellectual and professional pursuits. In so many of these endeavors, universities achieved measures of success that higher education has come to stand in for the American promise of progress and opportunity.
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Review Essay: Railroads and Metropolitan Form

I was asked to write a review essay of four recent books related to the theme of transportation and urban form. My draft version is available on the sidebar. One important book I refer to is David Scobey’s Empire City, a terrific book on real estate in New York in the 19th century.

ANN DURKIN KEATING. Chicagoland: City and Suburbs in the Railroad Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

JOHN HENRY HEPP IV. The Middle Class City: Transforming Space and Time in Philadelphia, 1876-1926. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

HILARY BALLON. New York’s Pennsylvania Stations. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002.

DAVID M. YOUNG. The Iron Horse and the Windy City: How Railroads Shaped Chicago. Dekalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005.

For more than a decade now, federal transportation policy and the efforts of numerous cities around the country have emphasized the importance of regionalism in their planning activities, dovetailing with practitioners’ and scholars’ emerging concerns with finding a new model for urban development and the organization of metropolitan space. The 1991 passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) codified and reinvigorated a regional approach to transportation, reversing a decade-long devolution of transportation planning. The legislation supported the work of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in urban regions, allowing them to consider mass transit, among other modes of transportation, in addition to providing for private automobiles in allocating transportation resources. With the power to direct and use federal transportation funding, regionally-oriented politicians and planners were faced with the challenge of improving transportation systems that, for half a century, had provided almost exclusively for the automobile.

Bring Back Redlining?

This was my first response to seeing the NY Times op-ed by economist Alan Blinder on a proposed return of the New Deal Home Ownership Loan Corporation (HOLC). Blinder’s larger point is about the utility of government intervention in the problems of home finance. But, much as I envy the would-be policymakers who are unencumbered by the grubbiness of history, we cannot discuss or espouse the legacy of the HOLC without mentioning race or redlining, neither of which Blinder does.

As Ken Jackson discussed in Crabgrass Frontier, HOLC and FHA lending guidelines generally discriminated against blacks, leading to or accelerating deterioration by denying financing guarantees to black, central city neighborhoods. While this is one example of a past form of discrimination, it is by no means isolated. Lizabeth Cohen showed the reinforcements of race and class structures of the 1944 GI Bill in A Consumer’s Republic, where benefits such as higher education were spread to those who were already middle and upper middle class. Let’s not start on the past 50 years of federal housing policy (and local implementation cf Arnold Hirsch). At base, unless there is a major and explicit effort to fight discrimination in such programs, prejudice and de facto segregation rear their heads again. A new HOLC? Not until there are controls to ensure there are no security maps this time around.

Leopolds’ Out

AAiO had the scoop.

Todd Leopold has just announced that he and Leopold Brothers are leaving A2 for Denver. Writes Todd:

“Our lease expires in the summer, and shockingly (note heavy sarcasm), our landlords asked for an obscene amount per month in rent, so we’re done. This move has zero to do with the economy, or sales levels, as we are coming off of our strongest year of sales at the pub since we’ve been open. We moved here in 1998, and since that time our rent has tripled, and our new landlords want even more….because, of course, that’s what the market will bear.”

I hope to run into you all before we leave, and I wish Ann Arbor the best. The business climate isn’t one that we can survive, however.

I love Leopolds and miss going out there with the Madison House crew. You’ll recall their building sold in the summer of 2006 for $1.8 million.

Did I Say Columbia?

I actually meant Yale.

New Haven has no revenue to invest in urban infrastructure. Yale’s got a ton. Guess who calls the shots on development?

Yale University is rebuilding itself — drawing on its huge, rapidly growing endowment and on multimillion-dollar gifts, mainly from alumni — to renovate 54 buildings and construct 16 new ones. Not since the 1930s has Yale undertaken so ambitious an expansion.

The message in this outburst of activity, here and in other places across the country, is that private spending, supported handsomely by a growing number of very wealthy families, is gaining ground on traditional public investment. In the case of New Haven, once the recipient of more federal dollars per person for urban renewal than any other city, private investment now far surpasses public outlays.

“For us,” the mayor said, “infrastructure spending has come to mean growing the university. Yale has the money, and what they get from us is the approval to grow.”

But for all the wealth going into private philanthropy, its reach is limited. Richard C. Levin, Yale’s president, is not committing money to the mayor’s reconstruction plan or to other items on Mr. DeStefano’s wish list, like high-speed rail service to Manhattan or lengthening the runway at Tweed New Haven Regional Airport so more airlines will fly here.

Doug Rae’s book on New Haven, City: Urbanism and Its End, is a great introduction to the problems the city has faced and continues to face. I remember in high school my physics teacher at the magnet school was talking about college life and said that you didn’t even need to leave campus and, in the case of urban campuses like the University of Chicago or Yale, you wouldn’t want to. New Haven’s manufacturing base deteriorated and the mid-sized city faced many of the same black/white, center/periphery issues other northern cities like Detroit and Chicago dealt with, save for a wealthy white island in Yale University.


You’d think with all my harping about students, tenants, and exploitative landlords, I would be able to avoid typical landlord exploitation, wouldn’t you?

Not so. After hounding the local, landlordy of the pair of owning brothers for three months after the lease expired, we find out he sold his interest to his out-of-state brother and we’re dealing with somebody we’ve never talked to before. And guess what? He’s claiming $3570 in charges on a $3000 security deposit, including stuff that was clearly not our responsibility.

In for a fight much?

The Fly-to People

Adam Nagourney, in writing about Des Moines and how it is no longer a stereotypical Midwestern town, reveals why Midwesterners think New Yorkers are superficial idiots. His travel writing is as bad as his political writing.

But the other night in Des Moines, I had dinner with a colleague and the Iowa state director of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign at a vibrant restaurant, Lucca, in the heart of a gentrified neighborhood called the East Village. The restaurant had more panache and better food than many places I’ve eaten in Washington, D.C. The East Village streets, spread out under the State Capitol, were aglow with lights — lavender, icy blue and, of course, red and green — strung out for Christmas. They were bustling with boutiques, bookstores, coffee shops, culinary stores and Smash, an edgy T-shirt shop where the proprietors were listening to Band of Horses while making slightly off-color T-shirts celebrating the Iowa caucuses.

I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that Des Moines has become a vacation destination. But it has most certainly become cool. More than that, if you have any desire to witness presidential candidates in the most close-up and intimate of settings, there is arguably no place better to go than Des Moines. If the city itself was once a reason not to come, it has now in fact become an added draw.

Des Moines is now officially a place I don’t care to go to. “This whole thing in the East Village, which didn’t exist 10 years ago: that area, it was a classic grimy neighborhood, with a couple of lofts and gay bars. And now it’s wonderful and funky,” says David Yepsen. Wrong. It was funky 10 years ago. Now it’s bobo. I certainly don’t begrudge Des Moines economic development, but Nagourney’s enthusiasm only addresses one limited segment of an urban economy, that of an urban theme park.

‘Net Notes

A link dump with commentary. I never read the lists of links people leave on their blogs; I go to the blog to read their thoughts and misadventures, not to be redirected to something they glanced over and couldn’t be bothered to contextualize for me. Blog links for me are more like “further reading,” reference material, rather than being “the real story,” from which my blog would be only a distraction. This blog is the real story.

On holidays and consumerism, a Wired online list of The Top Ten Gadgets that Loose Our Bowels (or whatever) seem mostly pretty stupid. #1 is a slinky, a toy I do enjoy whenever I pick one up for about a minute. Numbers 2 through 6 are also lame, mostly more powerful and expensive versions of things I already have like a cell phone, tv, and point-and-shoot digital camera. #7, a Leatherman Skeletool, would actually be pretty useful, except that I also already have all of those functions (knife, Phillips screwdriver, needlenose pliers) individually and in combination. This is what the nerds hunger for? Does this illustrate why our economy is tanking? We can no longer develop inventions and products that make us more productive, comfortable, or healthy. Rambling aloud, I guess this is the essence of post-industrialism, now our gains our going to be in reducing environmental impact, smoothing credit, and entertainment. What I want for Christmas: a new battery for my iBook, a persian rug to tie our living room together, some photo stuff to tinker with, and maybe a couple books or DVDs of films like The Big Lebowski and Good Will Hunting. I’m sure my wife will surprise me with some other cool stuff I haven’t thought of, but jesus, I can’t believe this hellatious buying spree.

Also, for my dad’s birthday, I got him Christopher Leinberger’s book, The Option of Urbanism (warning: crappy cover design). Leinberger is a real-estate guy who writes (as well as teaching at Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning). I’ve been working on my dad (who works in real estate finance) for a couple years to stop promoting detached single-family residential living at the expense of everything else. Leinberger’s book is pretty accessible, boiling down a planning degree into about 200 pages and repackaging it in business-friendly prose. I hope my dad gets through it; the last book he read was probably The Roaring 2000s.

Commentary on gentrification. 7 Rules for Talking About Gentrification. I’m sure you’ll agree with most of them, like #1, “Be as specific as possible,” and #2, “Get your history right,” but #5 is a load of garbage. Blaming developers (and exempting residents from criticism) for a web of political, regulatory, economic, and demographic factors is nonsense. Developers DO serve (and create) demand, a necessary and fundamental aspect of real estate economics. However, the residents “just want[ing] a nice place to live” comes with a whole host of implications, actions, and consequences. I think I’d side with developers’ principles on urban development more often than not, since their motivations are generally pretty clear. Residents and their ideas of nice places to live, on the other hand…

Mapping Out My Dissertation

Originally uploaded by urbanoasis

I don’t rightly remember if I ever explained what I’m doing for my dissertation. Once my dissertation proposal is approved I’ll put it up here, but until then suffice it to say that I’m conducting 4 case studies of city-university relationships in the 20th century to illustrate the effect of federal student housing subsidies on campus-community relationships.

In terms of methods, I hope to combine what I’ve learned from history, planning, and architecture to develop a multifaceted consideration of the design, planning, economic and political aspects that shape the built environment, as well as how the built environment affects those structures in turn.

Right now I’m doing background research and reading on a few of my case study communities, including mapping demographic and real estate changes. Pictured here is a map showing the changing value of owner occupied units in Berkeley, CA, from 1970 to 1980. Almost everywhere, they’re going up (even more than inflation, which was significant). Feel free to check out some more of my maps on Berkeley. These are mostly for reference right now — I’ll improve upon them once I get into the more detailed and grimy archival and geostatistical work.