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Exemplary small mixed-use urban project proposed for Miami, earns praises from Riley

4510 NE 2 AveI try to write about built projects only.  For every great small urban project that is proposed, there are 100 reasons why it might not get built.  I prefer to spend my time writing about all the reasons that such projects should be built.

But a project was brought to my attention by the legendary and gracious Terry Riley, and it is so promising that I cannot stay quiet.  It is proposed for Miami at 4510 NW 2 Ave.  The site is small, 150 ft wide and 112 ft deep, and zoned T4, which permits zero side setbacks, 3 stories, and 36 units per acre.

The project, designed by Kobi Karp Architecture, is proposed to include 9,585 sq ft of ground-floor retail divided into 4 bays with 15+ ft ceilings.  The project would also include 12 residential units on floors 2 and 3, each with 9+ ft ceilings.  The facade is proposed to be a mix of natural elements: stone, metal, and glass.  According to Mr. Riley: “The proposed design would be a very handsome addition to the commercial buildings that are part of the neighborhood.”

And Mr. Riley goes on to make a larger point: “There are few too developers who are concentrating their efforts on smaller infill buildings, the type of buildings that build strong neighborhoods, encourage street life, and favor pedestrian traffic.”  Keep an eye out for this project, and let us hope that it represents an emerging trend!


ULI Southeast Florida dinner is debutante ball for Miami urbanism and adaptive reuse (with video)

Last night the ULI Southeast Florida/Caribbean Vision Awards was a debutante ball for Miami urbanism and adaptive reuse: Lifetime Achievement was given posthumously to Tony Goldman, private sector Project of the Year went to the Lincoln Theater redevelopment, and one of the two Young Leader of the Year recipients was me.  After thanking ULI and a long list of individuals who took a chance on me over the years, these were my remarks:

I want to say a few words about great urban neighborhoods, neighborhoods like South Beach and Wynwood (really anywhere Tony Goldman invested), Little Havana, the North End, the West Village, the French Quarter, old Savannah and Cartagena, Harlem and Copenhagen.

I want my kids and grandkids to have the benefits of these neighborhoods, the convenience, community, and culture. Many Dade County urban neighborhoods will be redeveloped in our lifetime, and each deserves to be great in its own way.

For that to happen, we need to know how to build great urban neighborhoods, and how to do that predictably and consistently. The two most important principles are: don’t reinvent the wheel, and don’t wait for superman.

Principle #1: Don’t reinvent the wheel. Most likely your favorite urban neighborhoods are all made up of many iterations of the same type of building: small and adaptable. Just building more of those buildings gets you 95% of the way to a great urban neighborhood.

Principle #2: Don’t wait for superman. A great urban neighborhood is the result not of one hero, but of 1000 small property owners making 1000 small investment decisions. Their inherent diversity creates the neighborhood’s character and strength.

But we don’t see enough of those neighborhoods growing or being built in Dade County. Why not? We put disproportionate burdens on small property owners, and the biggest burden comes from our legal framework, like required parking and water and sewer regulations. It is easier to get approval of 400 units out west than 8 units on a single lot in a central urban neighborhood.

We as a real estate industry need to change so that, as my friend Ken Naylor says, small urban development is as rewarding as large development, be it urban towers or suburban communities. I will continue to dedicate my spare time – through Townhouse Center and other initiatives – to that cause because I think we deserve nothing less.

Coral Gables Museum presents exhibit of new small building designs, FREE opening 9/5

AllBuildingsFrom the Coral Gables Museum website: “All Buildings Great & Small is an exhibit of new building designs for a better city. Exhibited works include drawings and models of new building prototypes for Coral Gables and Wynwood, and of the existing buildings that inspired them.  In contrast to the prevailing landscape of large towers and suburban subdivisions, these works examine how to update the building types that made up Dade County’s early urban areas: small and adaptable.

“The works are selected from seven semester-long courses taught earlier this year at FIU’s Department of Architecture to more than 100 students, under the direction of department chair Jason Chandler in collaboration with Townhouse Center and supported by Knight Foundation.  Each student documented an existing building in Coral Gables, Wynwood, or the Design District, and designed a new small, adaptable prototype.

“The course and exhibit are part of a broader initiative in Miami-Dade County and nationwide to promote fine-grain urbanism, a pattern of development that produces neighborhoods that are more vibrant and equitable.  Groups such as the Urban Land Institute’s Small-Scale Developers Forums, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Green Lab, and the Project for Lean Urbanism suggest that a great building is one that is small.”  Full post here.

The exhibit will open with a reception on Friday 9/5 from 6 to 9 PM (free).  There will also be an exhibit tour with its curators on Sunday 8/31 at 1 PM (with museum admission), and a walking tour of downtown Coral Gables small buildings on Saturday 10/4 at 11 AM ($10).  The exhibit will run until 10/26.

Company helps investment in portfolio of small neighborhood buildings by even smaller investors

ib84cQE.NXnUFrom Bloomberg writer Jonathan LaMantia on the subject of CityShares: “Investors who pledge at least $100,000 to one of the program’s neighborhood-focused funds become partial owners of a group of buildings and share in the rental income.

“‘One of the things we learned from talking to investors was a lot of people thought about value creation through the evolution of a neighborhood,’ [founder Seth] Weissman, 31, said in an interview at a Harlem coffee shop.  Buildings will be renovated, with a focus on cost-saving upgrades such as converting old oil furnaces to gas, Weissman said.

“Weissman said he chose neighborhoods for the funds based on amenities renters look for, including easy access to transportation and job centers.  Bedford Stuyvesant and Harlem, in particular, are distinguished by their blocks of 19th-century brownstones and a sense of community that’s hard to replicate, he said.

“‘In Bed-Stuy, you walk around and, people will be tending to their planters and you’ll look up and a cornice will be missing,’ Weissman said.  ‘Clearly the building needs major work.  They may not have the resources to make those larger investments but they care.  They do what they can.  They say hello.’

“CityShares investors must be accredited under U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules, meaning they made at least $200,000 in each of the past two years or have a net worth of at least $1 million.  That’s more restrictive than crowdfunding, in which large amounts of money are raised through small contributions.  Weissman said his program also differs from such websites as Realty Mogul and Fundrise in that those companies distribute pledges to property managers and developers, while CityShares will buy and manage buildings directly. 

“Participants will collect quarterly dividends from leasing income and in about a decade should see the benefits of price gains as the properties are sold, Weissman said.  The goal for the first fund is an annual return of at least 12 percent over a seven- to 10-year timeline, the majority of which will come from rents, he said. 

“CityShares is the only way for property investors ‘to get exposure to that appreciation and rental income outside of buying an apartment or buying a brownstone on their own,’ Weissman said.  That’s ‘a big check. It’s not a $100,000 or $200,000 check.’  The median sale price of a multiresidence townhouse in Brooklyn was $1.1 million in the second quarter, according to a report by the Corcoran Group.

“The program will offer participants advantages over buying shares of a real estate investment trust, including access to rent rolls, payment histories and other data on the funds’ buildings, Weissman said.”  Full article here.


“Goldilocks density”: not too low, not too high, efficient and better people habitat

Harlem Brownstones, in Manhattan, New YorkFrom Guardian writer Lloyd Alter: “In New York, sleek new towers for the tenth of the 1% are rising through previously sacrosanct height limits.  Critic Michael Kimmelman sums up the problem in one sentence: ‘Exceptional height should be earned, not bought.’

“Battles are raging over height limits and urban density, all on the basis of two premises: 1) that building all these towers will increase the supply of housing and therefore reduce its costs; 2) that increasing density is the green, sustainable thing to do and that towers are the best way to do it.

“I am not sure that either is true.  I am also a heritage activist, not because I particularly love old buildings, but because there is so much to learn from them and from the neighbourhoods and cities that were designed before cars or electricity or thermostats, and were built at surprisingly high urban densities.

“There is no question that high urban densities are important, but the question is how high, and in what form.  There is what I have called the Goldilocks density: dense enough to support vibrant main streets with retail and services for local needs, but not too high that people can’t take the stairs in a pinch.  Dense enough to build a sense of community, but not so dense as to have everyone slip into anonymity.”

“At the Goldilocks density, streets are a joy to walk; sun can penetrate to street level and the ground floors are often filled with cafes that spill out onto the street, where one can sit without being blown away, as often happens around towers.  Yet the buildings can accommodate a lot of people: traditional Parisian districts house up to 26,000 people per sq km; Barcelona’s Eixample district clocks in at an extraordinary 36,000.

“At the Goldilocks density, construction is a lot cheaper and the buildings a lot more efficient.  Building to the Goldilocks density is also more resilient: it’s easier to get in and out of your flat when the power goes out when you live on the fourth floor than when you live on the 40th.  There is lots of room in our cities to do this.”  Full article here.  (Photo credit: Alamy.)

Headline (and article) impossible to improve: “Atlanta not world-class city”, and how to fix

news_opinion1-1_13-magFrom Creative Loafing writer Matt Garbett: “There’s nothing like living in a ‘world-class’ city.  And by some accounts, Atlantans do.  Attend any ground breaking or ribbon cutting or read a politico’s press release and you are sure to come across the phrase.

“But we need to stop referring to Atlanta as a ‘world-class’ city. Our focus on this meaningless phrase and the ‘iconic‘, ‘transformative‘, and ‘catalytic’ projects that we hope will thrust us into some elite group distracts us from — and often runs roughshod over — the smaller, necessary, and more rewarding local projects that create vibrant neighborhoods, the true lifeblood of any world-class city.

“The problem isn’t that we want to be ‘world-class.’  The problem is that we aren’t taking the necessary steps to achieve it.  The best way to do so is by promoting more walkable blocks on a human-scale street grid; emphasizing slow, incremental, sustainable growth for vibrant neighborhoods; and actively discouraging automobile use through our street design and building codes.  Instead we stress the standalone ‘world-class’ project without regard to its relationship to the neighborhood and overall city.

“None of this is to say that Atlanta is not a very good city.  I love living here.  There is an electricity in so many of the people working to make the city better in small increments, whether it’s the folks behind the Beltline Lantern Parade, gloATL, Living Walls, or other organizations.  Their targeted, place-making projects focus on community, not on bravado.

“So, please, strive to be a ‘world-class’ city, but stop worrying about where the next tourist will go.  Rather, focus on the small things, following best practices, being a role model for incremental and sustainable growth.  Consider selling off such large chunks of land in small, newly platted, individual parcels, and letting an area grow organically, not at the whim and design of one developer.  These projects may last longer than a political cycle, but the benefits to the city are tremendous.”  Full post here.

Lima, Peru narrow apt bldg has 4 units, contemporary style, daylight in every room

532ce77cc07a803a0700009a_mq-project-oscar-malaspina-rodrigo-apolaya-rosa-aguirre_2_-_frederick_cooper-530x806From architects Oscar Malaspina, Rodrigo Apolaya, and Rosa Aguirre via Arch Daily “The city of Lima is experiencing a real estate boom.  In the past two years, approximately 40,000 dwellings have been sold.  The speed of these changes and the high demand for social housing has resulted in projects that focus more on profitability than improving people’s lives through the re-imagination and quality of the spaces.

“The MQ project, a 4-apartment building in a 8 m wide and 20 m long parcel, explores these ideas and takes on the challenge of promoting a sense of community within the building.  The main strategy was the articulation of a series of open spaces and rooms along a main corridor that serves as a space itself.  This pattern allows both the expansion of visual perception through diagonals across open spaces, and the presence of natural light and ventilation in every room of the project.

“The facade of the building tries to be clear in defining the two functions that are represented.  In the area of the flats we have proposed a thick facade that brings enough depth to host window boxes in the outside.  In the area of the vertical circulation, we entirely close it and play with the cast grid during the construction process.”  Full post with many images here.

“Blighted” incremental development without parking generates 41% more property tax

Brainerd371_1From Strong Towns writer Charles Marohn: “The Taco John’s versus the ‘old and blighted’ story is one of the most compelling that we share in our Curbside Chat. Here you have two blocks that are identical in every way, except one: the pattern of development.”

“The old and blighted block is a remnant of the incremental, historical development pattern. It represents one of the first increments of growth that cities experienced on their periphery; a small investment in a pop up box. This is the cheapest, credible investment that someone could have made in a commercial property here in my hometown back in 1920. In their comprehensive plan, the city has indicated that this block is a redevelopment opportunity that would, to use their language, ultimately become ‘auto oriented’.

Old Brainerd

“This is exactly what happened two blocks away, which used to look like the ‘old and blighted’ block but now contains a new Taco John’s.  Definitely auto-oriented with a large off-street parking lot, two drive through lanes, a large sign and a setback/orientation consistent with highway development.

Brainerd Taco Johns

“In this case, that run down block that the city and others would like to see replaced is actually 41% more valuable than the brand new Taco John’s.  In a property tax system like we have here in Brainerd, that means the city gets 41% more taxes from the old and blighted block than it is getting from the exact same sized block with the brand new drive through restaurant.

“And that assumes the drive through restaurant holds its value.  Let’s examine that assumption.  There are eleven properties on the ‘old and blighted’ block.  In the three years since we last looked, five of them have lost value while six of them have increased in value.  The net is a $32,000 decline, which is a 3% loss from the starting value.  Given the market conditions, that’s a pretty stable block.

“That stability is in sharp contrast to what has happened at the Taco John’s. In that same period of time, it has lost $184,700 in value, a full 23%.”  Full post here, and really just read every Strong Towns post ever.

Chico, CA small-scale infill residential breaks from sprawl, sets new pattern, makes money

corner-statementFrom Better Cities & Towns writer Robert Steuteville: “A 22-unit apartment complex of four small buildings was finished in May of 2014 in Chico, CA, completing the traditional neighborhood development Doe Mill, begun in 2000.  The complex, designed by Anderson/Kim and developed by Greenline Partners, does certain things well despite its location on a car-oriented thoroughfare.

— It is small scale.  The scale allows the buildings to be integrated with townhouses, single-family houses, and courtyard buildings that make up the rest of Doe Mill.

— Due to their small size, these buildings are easier to finance and simpler to build than many larger multifamily buildings.

— Rather than backing off of the higher-speed road in front, the units make an architectural statement.

— Rather than contributing to the sprawling character of this area, these buildings help to set a new pattern.

— The project made money.  ‘All 22 units have been leased at rents about 15 percent above the pro forma,’ Anderson notes.”

Full article here.

Mid-rise mixed-use: ULI global award to Cincinnati building: 11-story, historic, no parking

gae7_351From Urban Land writer Daniel Lobo: “The 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati is a contemporary art museum, 156-room boutique hotel, restaurant, spa, and rooftop bar in the heart of downtown Cincinnati.  The first full-service hotel to open in downtown Cincinnati in 28 years, 21c restored the historic 11-story Metropole building, preserving its original architectural character and complementing it with contemporary art and design.

“Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Metropole building opened in 1912 as the grand Metropole Hotel, and in 1971 it was converted to federally subsidized apartments.  In 2009, a local nonprofit development organization, Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), acquired the building for the purpose of revitalization, provided counseled relocation services to remaining tenants, and helped facilitate subsequent purchase by 21c.”  Full article here.  Developer: 21c Museum Hotels.  Design architect: Deborah Berke Partners.  Architect of record: Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff + Goettel.

Building urban neighborhoods by promoting their fundamental building block: small, adaptable buildings.

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