Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

2007 – A Look Back

Dateline: 2:13 pm December 17, 2007 Filed under:

2007 has been a good urban year, capped off by my son Ellis learning to say the word “downtown.” He points at the tall buildings in downtown Minneapolis and says “dun-tun!” I can’t think of anything that brings me more pride.

Looking back on 2007, I learned a lot in my work and travels. Many of these are highlighted in other posts on this website, but this post will go back and fill in a few holes as to what I’ve been up to this year.

I traveled a fair amount and saw some great urban places. Even with trips to the Netherlands, San Francisco and New York, perhaps my most enjoyable couple of days was a January weekend spent tromping around in the rain getting to know the beautiful park systems in Pittsburgh and Louisville.

I had heard good things about both cities, but neither Pittsburgh nor Louisville were on my radar until I got an assignment to write an article about parks conservancies. I was drawn to both cities for precisely the fact that they are often overlooked compared to the better-known Olmsted parks in New York City or Boston, for example.

I enjoyed Pittsburgh immensely. I joined some locals on a regular Saturday morning walk through Highland Park sponsored by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Driving between parks I was struck by the variety and vibrancy of many of the neighborhoods, many tucked away in the hills and valleys of Pittsburgh’s rolling river topography. All the while, Devotchka’s “How it Ends” album played in the CD player, and I will always associate the two.

I had the parks in Louisville (designed by Frederick Law Olmsted) entirely to myself that sodden January Sunday. The rain was more intense and my walks shorter than in Pittsburgh. While I spent more time observing the parks from various picnic shelters, I was equally impressed. My CD of choice in Louisville was The Hold Steady’s “Boys and Girls in America,” good party music that lifted my spirits on a damp day.

Louisville is worth a visit, and has a visionary urban leader in Mayor Jerry Abramson. If you are ever in Louisville, check out the ribs at Mark’s Feed Store and Carmichael’s, a lovely independent bookstore, both of which are on Bardstown Road.

While I’m at it, check out the new album by Lucinda Williams, called “West,” as well as “Neon Bible” by Arcade Fire and “Magic” by Bruce Springsteen.

Well, I did visit an Olmsted Park in New York for that parks article. Not Central Park, the obvious choice, but rather Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Prospect Park is known, among those “in the know,” I suppose, as the park where Olmsted did all the things he wanted to do in Central Park. I was fortunate enough to get a guided tour by the park conservancy’s president, Tupper Thomas, on a gorgeous Saturday morning following a snowstorm. People were out enjoying winter with gusto, skiing, sledding and frolicking in the snow. It was a wonderful behind the scenes look at improving a park that is very much loved by its neighbors.

Highlights in my consulting and market research work included the Ford Plant redevelopment planning process in St. Paul. I teamed with my old firm, Colliers, to provide market research analysis for the 135-acre site. The planners, led by EDAW, worked with the city and community to come up with five development scenarios for the site after automobile manufacturing ceases there in 2008. It turns out Ford will continue to make the Ranger there until 2009, but if and when manufacturing ceases there is wonderful potential for the development of a great urban neighborhood in St. Paul.

I also worked on behalf of Hennepin County in their legal battle over the condemnation of the land on which the new Twins stadium is being built. Effectively the county won, and taxpayers will foot the bill for less than half of what the landowners wanted for the site. Although I helped play a small part by providing market analysis, the real credit goes to the appraisers hired by the county, whose thorough work was recognized by the judge in the end. Ultimately, I look forward to opening day 2010, and I hope that not only is the Twins stadium a great urban place but that the surrounding area is redevleoped in an attractive manner. There is much to do on that front.

I’ve also been working with my neighborhood board to improve the quality of life in our little piece of the city. I serve as board secretary and have high hopes for redevelopment in our neighborhood. 2008 will be an interesting time as we fight to continue funding of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) in some way while still trying to do our work and spruce up the 38th Street Corridor and the light rail station areas at 38th and 46th Streets. There will be much to write about in the coming months. Stay tuned.

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