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Monday, July 21, 2008

Ballpark Village: don't build an artificial office park!

Wait a second.

I'm not anti-office space.

With a recent article from the P-D expressing that two major law firms are looking at a new home in Clayton (OR a fresh bundle of tax incentives from the city to remain downtown!), we need workers downtown.

But why do we have to stress the "development" of sites? Isn't this a very suburban notion--to take a chunk of land, neatly plan it so as to screen out all unwanteds and funnel in all desires, to control for the expected and the unexpected?

Ballpark Village--and I believe Steve Patterson has expressed the same view over at Urban Review--should be subdivided and rezoned. The city should put through-streets in the site. The lots can then be sold off.

This is the best of both worlds--"development" mentality and urbanism. With an aggressive zoning overlay district, the city could indeed get a Ballpark Village-like development, meaning that a certain percentage of these private lots would have to be dedicated to offices, would have to be so many or so few stories in height, would have to have the same setback and signage requirements, etc.

BUT, the site's land would be competed over, producing a more diverse and potentially much better and much more organic "development".

Jane Jacobs called downtown megaprojects "cataclysmic development"--meaning that if too much money goes into one place at one time, the flood of money drowns the place. It drowns its authenticity and its connection to the dozens of surrounding blocks that were developed without such incentives and excitement and "District-ification". It becomes an island of investment, a fad to be discarded once the novelty has washed away with the money.

If the land that BPV rests upon is truly valuable, private developers will snatch up the lots. Due to the market, they may just erect the office towers that are currently being discussed. But some enterprising developer may also find it useful to develop rental apartments that overlook the stadium. The Ballpark Lofts have certainly done well, according to the Post.

So why restrict development and turn a couple city blocks into an artifical "Village" when we could have good ol' urbanism do the work?


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