The antithesis of the Jane Jacobs-esque ideal of small, incremental, organic urban economic and development growth — the planned, micromanaged mega projects — now seem to be required in order to stimulate urban development. “Cities are once again planning with grandiosity,” declared the New York Times Magazine this week. “This year witnessed the return of what you might call big urbanism, with large-scale redevelopment projects sprouting nationwide.”
Tax incentives such as abatements and Tax Increment Financing are doled out left and right to stimulate development and economic growth, with much less emphasis now placed on the once requisite small business entrepreneur, who combined with his or her peers served to build the city. For an example, downtown Kansas City now has two large, managed construction projects approved. One covers nine city blocks, and the other, twelve blocks. These two developments serve as a wholesale replacement of the decay, neglect, and blight that has festered for decades in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. It seems that now, to get anything done and make any progress, a city has to give away its future tax revenue and budget in order to stimulate the “urbanity-in-a-can” mega developments.
I suppose the thinking among city leaders is of the old adage, “public investment begets private investment,” but I still have to wonder if the vaunted small incremental organic growth lauded by Jane Jacobs has become an archaic anachronism in this time of tax incentives and master planned, huge development projects spanning many city blocks all at the same time. Perhaps it is fateful recompense for a city that allowed itself to be nearly destroyed by the automobile.
Tags: Urban Design