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Archive: Peter Katz

Why Your City Might Be the Next Detroit

Peter Katz / Aug 02 2013

For Release Friday, August 2, 2013

Peter KatzThe headline on Time magazine’s cover story on Detroit’s bankruptcy poses a simple, scary question: “Is your city next?”

Most of us can think of reasons why our community is different from Detroit. Unless you’re in an older industrial city, Detroit probably doesn’t look much like where you live: The largest of America’s Rust Belt cities, Detroit’s aging infrastructure is visibly crumbling as nature retakes empty factories and once-proud neighborhoods. Haunting images of such decay accompany much of the recent web coverage about Detroit’s fiscal woes.

Yet the picture on Time’s cover shows something different: It’s the top of General Motors’ fortress-like headquarters, known locally as “RenCen.” The futuristic slice of 1970s architecture would be a great backdrop for “The Jetsons” and their flying cars. Unfortunately, the flying cars never arrived for GM, and the company sank into the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. So it stood to reason that the city of GM might eventually succumb to the same fate.

It’s ironic that the obsolescence that companies like GM built into their cars now permeates our thinking about place. Just as many drivers regularly trade in their old ride for a new, shinier one, generations of Rust Belt residents have traded in their gritty hometowns to retire in the warm places where they once vacationed. Expectations that the trend would continue prompted massive growth-related outlays in Sunbelt municipalities. But the 2008-09 downturn wrought havoc north and south: slashed retirement accounts and stalled home sales locked many older workers into jobs and housing they couldn’t afford to leave; Sun Belt communities faced huge bills with too few residents to pay them.
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Thank You for Listening, Mr. Donovan

Peter Katz / Jun 11 2010

For Release Sunday, June 13, 2010

Peter KatzThat’s what I would have said to Shaun Donovan, Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development had I been able to reach the podium before he was whisked into a waiting car for a tour of Atlanta-area public housing sites. Donovan had just addressed the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU)’s annual gathering this May. CNU has been working tirelessly for the past two decades to find a new and better approach to community development in America.

Simply stated, CNU seeks to build strong, economically competitive regions woven from a fabric of walkable neighborhoods and districts, that offer beautiful, affordable places to live, work, learn and play. What CNU members dislike is the single-use development pattern known as suburban sprawl– the pattern prevalent in most places built over the past 50-60 years.

Apparently, Donovan dislikes sprawl too. He thanked CNU members for their part in changing “the way we think about our communities” and offered his critique of the suburban-edge housing boom that hindsight now tells us was a fool’s paradise:

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Will Rescue Plan Simply Serve Sprawl?

Peter Katz / Oct 09 2008

For Release Sunday, October 12, 2008

Peter Katz

There’s a critical “place” story beyond the carelessness and/or chicanery of subprime mortgage lenders and resellers who precipitated the crisis that’s triggered a $700 billion federal bailout and global financial jitters.

It’s the brutal geographic sorting out of winners and losers among the residential properties we call home. It has to do with the “intrinsic value” of a dwelling. Which, in turn, has to do with where it’s located and the convenience and amenities of the surrounding community.

In his study Driven to the Brink, researcher Joe Cortright identifies an emerging pattern of home price fluctuations spanning many U.S. regions. “Distant suburbs,” he writes, “have seen the biggest declines, while values in close-in neighborhoods have held up better, and in some cases continued to increase.”

The picture’s not without exceptions, including the despair of already troubled neighborhoods in such “rustbelt” cities as Cleveland and Detroit. But the pattern across the continent is fairly consistent: Dwellings within walkable neighborhoods, close to transit, shopping and places of entertainment, are holding their own in terms of price and value. Read More »