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Published: Wednesday, 12/19/2007

He Calls "Urban Core" Mere Myth

WEDNESDAY

9 AM

Question: What do Keybank Tower in Cleveland, the Kettering Tower in Dayton, and One Seagate in Toledo have in common?

Answer: They are their respective city s tallest buildings, and they were built after their city s population peaked.

This isn t my line of inquiry. It s Sam Staley s, a big-time critic of so-called smart growth.

Mr. Staley poses this question in his blog post yesterday at planetizen.com, a planning/development Web site that s on my list of daily Must-Reads.

[This Web site offers a platform to practically anyone with something intelligent to say, regardless of ideaology. Where Mr. Staley argued yesterday against a core commandment in the church of smart-growth, today s planetizen.com include an article under the headline: How Smart Growth Fits into Small Towns. There s almost always something for everybody; if you re even vaguely interested in urban issues, put this Web site on your favorites list.]

Aside from blogging for planetizen.com, Mr. Staley (an Ohio native) is also co-founder of the Buckeye Institute, and director of urban/land use policy for the Reason Foundation. Given that organzation s Libertarian approach (motto: free minds and free markets ), it s no surprise to learn that among the books written by Mr. Staley is this title: Smarter Growth: Market-based Strategies for Land-use Planning in the 21st Century. (Off-topic prediction: Hmm. Guy's a Libertarian, eh? Look for him to show up any minute now as a guest on one or another of WSPD's several "Government is Always BAAAD" talk shows.)

Anyway, Mr. Staley doesn t much hew to this whole urban core notion that s so dear to so many planners. The urban core, he argues, may well just be a myth.

There is probably no mantra more ubiquitous in the Smart Growth movement than the one claiming we should revitalize our central cities and direct new growth into areas where the infrastructure already exists. But what if that infrastructure was never economically sustainable to begin with?

After all, he notes, One SeaGate and five other of Toledo s tallest buildings were built after the city s population peaked in 1970, the glory days when we numbered 383,062. And it s the much same story, according to Mr. Staley, in Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton.

Mr. Staley concludes his discussion (see the post in its entirety for the evidence he cites) with this:

All this suggests that planners and urban development policy analysts shouldn t put too much stock in existing infrastructure as an indicator of what is sustainable over the long run. Our eyes may perceive the architecture of space accurately, but not the underlying economics that ultimately determine the long-term economic sustainability of place.

Welllll, if you think about it for a minute, all that sounds an awful lot like what many critics of the city s continued involvement with the Erie Street Market seem to be saying



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