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Archive: Mary Newsom

Regionalism: Wonky but Real

Mary Newsom / Nov 19 2011

For Release Saturday, November 19, 2011
Citiwire.net

Mary NewsomIt’s as obvious as the air we breathe, as basic as the fluid geography of a watershed, as clear as the connection between a new highway and the strip shopping centers and subdivisions that cluster nearby.

But then again, the air flowing over city limits and state lines is invisible. And most people don’t stop to think that what goes down the kitchen sink or runs off a muddy construction site eventually flows into rivers or lakes and sometimes into other people’s drinking water supply. Even the idea that road building shapes how we live, work and shop is a foreign concept to most people.

In other words despite city limits, voting districts and state lines on maps, in the real world of air and water, of urban transportation and economies, city regions function in ways our American political systems may not recognize. Although environments, economies and living patterns create very real urban regions, those geographic areas don’t exist in the basic structure of the government of the United STATES. Under the Constitution, states have powers; cities don’t.
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Letter from Sofia: Perils of Letting the Public Realm Decay

Mary Newsom / Sep 17 2011

For Release Saturday, September 17, 2011
Citiwire.net

Mary NewsomSOFIA, Bulgaria — Residents of this graffiti-pocked capital awoke one recent Saturday to find their controversial Monument to the Soviet Army had been painted to look like Superman, Santa Claus and other American pop-culture icons.

Reactions ranged from delight at the anti-authoritarian creativity to finger-wagging at vandalism to a dour scolding from the Russian embassy. Was it freedom of expression — a witty political statement? Or was it just hooliganism — another example of a culture of disrespect for the city’s deteriorating public spaces?

More than 20 years after the fall of communism, Sofians confront one of the intrinsic tensions found in any democratic society: How to support the creative messiness of individual freedom and free expression without losing a sense of collective order? It’s a tension American society hasn’t yet resolved after 235 years of self-government.
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A Bright City Future Dimmed by Cuts

Mary Newsom / May 12 2011

For Release Friday, May 13, 2011
Citiwire.net

Mary NewsomCAMBRIDGE, Mass. — For people who care about cities, the past 10 years have been good ones. Many of America’s cities are flowering.

Rail transit has been built in places you’d never have predicted, like Dallas and Salt Lake City. People are moving back downtown in search of urbanity. One recent study for the nonprofit group CEOs for Cities found that in large urban regions, since 2000 the number of young college-educated adults living close-in is up 26 percent.

Crime’s down, so people feel safer in the city. With ongoing reform efforts, some formerly disgraceful urban public school systems are improving — another draw. So why did I leave a conference here about the future of cities feeling gloomy? It’s because I’m afraid what Congress and state and local governments are doing will undermine the success cities are having.

Crime is down? Just wait: City governments are slashing public safety budgets. The New York Times’ Michael Cooper told us that Camden, N.J., outside Philadelphia laid off nearly half its police force though it has one of the nation’s highest crime rates. Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Diego and others last year started “rolling brownouts,” shutting some fire stations each day.
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Our Suburbs: Re-imagined, Re-invented?

Mary Newsom / Feb 26 2011

For Release Saturday, February 26, 2011
Citiwire.net

Mary NewsomCHARLOTTE — Last year the global population crested a major ridge. More than half the world’s people now live in urban areas. This is being called the Century of the City — title of a book by my Citistates Associates.

But in the United States, the 21st century may also be the Century of the Suburb — or more accurately, the retrofitted, re-imagined and re-invented suburb.

Sun Belt cities, in particular, are facing a huge, and hugely important, challenge. Places like Phoenix, Atlanta, Orlando and Charlotte saw rapid growth during a time when low-density, suburban development was admired, even required.

Today, whether and how those cities meet the challenge the 21st century will require may well determine whether they struggle or thrive.
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Our Suburbs: Re-imagined, Re-invented?

Mary Newsom / Feb 18 2011

For Release Friday, February 18, 2011
Citiwire.net

Mary NewsomCHARLOTTE — Last year the global population crested a major ridge. More than half the world’s people now live in urban areas. This is being called the Century of the City — title of a book by my Citistates Associates.

But in the United States, the 21st century may also be the Century of the Suburb — or more accurately, the retrofitted, re-imagined and re-invented suburb.

Sun Belt cities, in particular, are facing a huge, and hugely important, challenge. Places like Phoenix, Atlanta, Orlando and Charlotte saw rapid growth during a time when low-density, suburban development was admired, even required.

Today, whether and how those cities meet the challenge the 21st century will require may well determine whether they struggle or thrive.
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Oops! Fast City Growth May = Lower Incomes

Mary Newsom / Jan 28 2011

For Release Sunday, January 30, 2011
Citiwire.net

Mary NewsomOptimists prefer to look forward, not back. But especially during a month named for the two-headed Roman god Janus — a month when state legislatures are convening only to face mammoth budget shortfalls — maybe we all need a clear-eyed look backward as well as ahead.

A look back at the past decade from an Oregon consulting company, Fodor & Associates, ought to get plenty of people thinking about whether some assumptions of the past need re-examining. The report looked at growth rates and prosperity in the 100 largest U.S. metro areas. Its findings may challenge a bedrock assumption for many local and state government leaders, that “growth” in and of itself automatically brings jobs and more wealth.
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In the Wake of the Olympics, Did Athens Win or Lose?

Mary Newsom / Oct 08 2010

For Release Sunday, October 10, 2010
Citiwire.net

Mary NewsomSix years ago this month Athens was the world’s darling. When the 2004 Olympic Games closed with barely a hitch, it’s likely the Greeks themselves were more surprised than anyone. They had overcome disorganization, global skepticism and procrastination so egregious Olympic boss Juan Antonio Samaranch had to intervene.

Credit: Mary Newsom
The new light rail tram line runs from central Athens’ Syntagma Square to the coast.

But this year, as Greek’s economy cratered, people in Greece and beyond targeted the estimated $10 billion the games cost as a factor in Greece’s woes. “In 2004 people were cheering,” says Lila Leontidou, professor of geography at Hellenic Open University here. “Actually the people lost.”
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Mixed-Use Downtown Development Puts Standard Malls’ Tax Yield to Shame

Mary Newsom / Jul 09 2010

For Release Sunday, July 11, 2010
Citiwire.net

Mary NewsomAs local politicians across the country get scorched by voter anger over recession-induced budget cuts — laying off teachers, closing schools and libraries and slashing services — perhaps they’ll be more receptive than usual to some powerful and surprising tax revenue numbers.

So what follows is about fiscal prudence as much as it is about smart city planning.

Conventional wisdom, of course, says that to prop up the property tax base, a high-end shopping mall is just the ticket. But when Sarasota County, Fla., looked at where the county government gets the biggest bang for its property tax buck, it found some numbers that may surprise a lot of people.

Sarasota County Director of Smart Growth Peter Katz, speaking to a meeting of Citistates Associates in Minnesota late last month, described a recent analysis of the county’s property tax revenue per acre. He pointed first to residential areas. Not surprisingly, when you work the numbers on a per-acre basis, residential property inside the county’s municipalities offered the biggest revenue per acre — a little more than $8,200 per acre for single family houses within the city of Sarasota. This makes sense, as in-town land values tend to be higher.
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Urban Ills: No American Monopoly

Mary Newsom / Jun 26 2010

For Release Sunday, June 27, 2010
Citiwire.net

Mary NewsomATHENS — Each city is a unique blend of history, culture and architecture. But put three dozen urban planners and scholars from around the globe into one room and you discover that their concerns sound astoundingly similar.

In June I spent three days in Athens with a group of former International Urban Fellows from Johns Hopkins University, holding their annual conference this year in the Greek capital city of almost 4 million. I asked those in attendance — most from Britain and Europe, but others from Mexico, India and Turkey — to pinpoint the biggest problem their city faces.

Despite major differences in history, urban form, customs and governance between their cities and U.S. metros, their answers might easily have come from planners in Atlanta, Cleveland, Charlotte or Chicago.

In the U.S., with our primitive rapid transit, our expensive — and expansive — large-lot suburban neighborhoods and our rapacious appetite for oil-based energy, we’re apt to imagine that other countries’ cities have found more effective solutions to problems that bedevil our urban areas. Europe is like a gigantic, well-planned Portland (though with better French fries), we think, while the U.S. is more like sprawling Phoenix.

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Sustaining Sustainability: It Ain’t Always Easy

Mary Newsom / Feb 28 2010

For Release Sunday, February 28, 2010
Citiwire.net

Mary Newsom A little more than a dozen years ago, a collection of three adjacent suburban towns in the sprawling Sun Belt region of Charlotte did something extraordinary. After months of public workshops, lectures and community discussions, months of looking at slide shows to choose what kinds of streets, stores, houses and apartments they wanted for their towns, they revamped their town codes. They aimed to discourage conventional suburbia and encourage traditional neighborhood development, transit-oriented projects and farmland preservation.

It warmed the hearts of planners. It drew national attention and awards and, after a couple of New Urbanist neighborhoods were built, busloads of visiting Smart Growth disciples. Writers, including yours truly, ladled on praise. In 1996 I wrote an editorial calling the new ordinances in Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson, N.C., “a remarkable exercise in local and regional planning” and “a remarkable vision.” Read More »