Tuesday, December 24, 2013

North Carolina, land of lost opportunity?

As more researchers burrow in to the idea of economic mobility, the Equality of Opportunity Project (led by four economists, two from University of California-Berkeley and two from Harvard) has ranked the 100 largest U.S. cities on the economic mobility of children, looking specifically at the odds of a child reaching the top fifth income group if he or she started life in the bottom fifth. Here's a link to the rankings.

The big news for those of us in the Carolinas is that our two states are propping up the bottom of the list.

Four of the bottom five cities are in North Carolina. Another is Columbia, S.C. In order, starting at 100, are Memphis, Fayetteville (N.C.), Charlotte, Columbia, Atlanta, Greensboro, Detroit, Raleigh, Indianapolis, Columbus. Greenville (S.C.) is No. 11 from the bottom.

The study looked at "commuting zones" for cities, which is a different regional configuration than looking at Metropolitan Statistical Areas or just at city limits.

As this Salon.com article ("Class warfare in Dixieland") notes, the bottom of the list is dominated by Southern cities. It doesn't point out that all six of the Carolinas cities in the study are scraping the bottom of the list.

The big question - why? - is not addressed in the research. Theories abound, including in the Salon.com article. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

'Local food' for thought: How healthy is a commuter lifestyle?

I heard this morning that NPR has discovered "agriburbia." Here's a link to Luke Runyon's report on the phenomenon of developers building subdivisions centered not on golf courses, but on farms.

Of course, PlanCharlotte.org had an article on the phenomenon last April. Here's Corbin Peters' report on a hoped-for agriburbia development in Granite Quarry in Rowan County, "Putting a local food twist on suburbia."

But there's an interesting dilemma for developers and potential residents alike to ponder. Will the budding enthusiasm for "healthy living" on suburban farms take into account the growing body of research showing that long commutes by car can hurt people's health? As I sat listening to Runyon's report on WFAE, I was reading this report from the New York Times' Jane Brody in the morning Charlotte Observer: "Commuting takes a high toll on your health."

As Brody writes:
"A recent study of 4,297 Texans compared their health with the distances they commuted to and from work. It showed

Thursday, December 5, 2013

When planners insist, Walmart gets urban

Multistory Walmart in Washington, in a mixed-use building.

Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington -- and a keynote speaker here in June for the RealityCheck regional planning exercise -- sends along a photo of the new, urban-styled Walmart that opened Wednesday in Washington, on Seventh Street NW. "It shows what Wal-Mart can do, if you push them," he writes.

In a later email, he said, "Wal-Mart* wants to be in hot urban markets like DC because cities are the only place left in America with more spending power than stores." Because Walmart's intention to build in Washington was controversial, he wrote, "The City Planning office pushed hard for good urban design."

The huge retail chain has proposed six stores in D.C., McMahon writes. Two opened Wednesday. The other is on Georgia Avenue. A rendering is below. While the Seventh Street store has housing above the retail, the second one is single-use. but at least it's sitting on the sidewalk like a respectable city building, and has parking underground rather than splayed out on an asphalt parking lot.

Now, just to get you thinking, just below is the new(ish) Walmart that opened near UNC Charlotte on North Tryon