the urban prospector

Searching for Golden Opportunities in America's Cities


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A Brief Tour of Minneapolis (Part 2)

IMG_6847In my previous post, I talked about my adventures with Cailie through downtown Minneapolis and the realization that we needed to go to some neighborhoods to find more interesting and enjoyable areas.

The day after exploring downtown, Cailie and I hit the city with an agenda. We used our Nice Ride pass to go south. We headed through Loring Park to get to the Midtown Greenway. The Loring Greenway was a bit confusing to navigate, a couple of signs or markings could improve that. Nonetheless, it was a great greenway and is the sort of pedestrian/bicycle space that every city needs. Leaving Loring Greenway, we headed down Hennepin’s bike path which during construction was confusing. Fortunately a bike detour was provided which ensured we didn’t have to share the lane with speeding traffic. Continue reading

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A Brief Tour of Minneapolis (Part 1)

The Mississippi River as seen from the Stone Arch Bridge.

The Mississippi River as seen from the Stone Arch Bridge.

It’s been a busy few months. Included in that time, Cailie and I went to Minnesota for a friends wedding. Despite being from the midwest, this was my first time in Minneapolis. Though Minneapolis is on the wrong side of the lake and thus suffers from bad geographic luck, what I found was an amazing city.

We flew in on a stormy Wednesday night and rode the Blue line to Target Field where a friend we were staying with picked us up. Even at night, it seems like much of the line was surrounded by parking lots as opposed to urban development. Though there are downsides to this, it does result in great potential for transit oriented development in the future. Continue reading


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A City is a Machine for Creating Networks.

IMG_5835-sHow can someone determine whether or not a use is good for an urban setting? What makes one use better than another? Is this simply an issue of preference, or is there a framework of analysis that can be used to make this determination?

Urban areas are incredibly important. They are hubs of commerce, culture and knowledge. Throughout history, vibrant cities haven’t simply been a hub for one or the other, but rather they tend to come together. Ancient Greece contained several bustling harbor cities with traders coming from across the Mediterranean; markets full of goods and throngs of customers. Greece was also the site of the greatest learning and knowledge; discoveries included the Pythagorean Theorem and the first calculation of the diameter of the Earth. Simultaneously there was also a great amount of literature and drama, including the Iliad and the Odyssey. Continue reading


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Small Storefronts Result in Resilient Retail

This shop is the result of a combination of two pre-existing retail spaces. If this store falls on hard times, it can shrink into one half of the space leaving another small storefront available for a new tenant.

This shop is the result of a combination of two pre-existing retail spaces (notice the structural support running down the middle of the store). If this store falls on hard times, it can shrink into one half of the space leaving another small storefront available for a new tenant.

With the current recovery and reurbanization of the US, there is a lot of construction in old industrial cities and suburbs that are looking to be more dense and walkable. As can be seen in places like Jersey City, the retail component of these buildings often involves larger spaces. This poses a challenge because it sets a higher threshold that a business has to cross before it can afford to rent the space. It is much cheaper to rent 500 square feet than 1000 square feet. There are two problems that result from this. First, there is a smaller pool of businesses that can afford to rent such a place. Typically these are larger more established companies and often are larger chains. Secondly, these larger spaces make it more difficult for a new company to get a foothold in the market. Continue reading


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Rural Decline or Rural Urbanism

Downtown Hesperia showing its rural decline.

Downtown Hesperia showing its rural decline.

Cailie and I headed back to my hometown of Grand Rapids, MI to visit my family for the holidays. While we were there, I decided to take her through some of the small towns in Northern Michigan and out to the lake (I almost said shore which certainly shows the effect of living in NJ). We stopped in the towns of Newaygo and Hesperia. Newaygo (pop 1,976) is a 45 minute drive outside of Grand Rapids. It has a commercial strip along and an industrial park near the intersection of two state highways. Down the hill, in the Muskegon River Valley, are a series of grain silos, a rail line and the historic downtown. The downtown has a couple of restaurants, antique shops and its own beef jerky shop. Given the urban amenities along with  great outdoors opportunities including hunting, canoeing, fishing and boating, Newaygo is a very cool town. Hesperia (pop 954) on the other hand is not. Hesperia has many of the same outdoor opportunities as in Newaygo, but is in much worse condition. In this town, the main street is lined with vacant commercial buildings. A grocery store and post office seem to be doing well, but everything else about the town seems to be in a state of decay. Continue reading


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Victory Against Surface Parking Lots in Newark

Members of PLUG celebrate victory at the Newark Zoning Board of Adjustment

Members of PLUG celebrate victory at the Newark Zoning Board of Adjustment

On Thursday November 13th, the Newark Zoning Board of Adjustment stopped (at least for the time being) the continued spread of surface lots in the Ironbound. A property owner wanted to convert his parcel near Penn Station into a surface parking lot and required a D Use Variance. This variance was denied by a unanimous vote of the 7 of 9 board members present. This decision is the culmination of a process that started in February. Opposition was led by the Planning Land Use Group (PLUG) of which I am a member. Continue reading


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Breaking the Asylum

There were a great number of horrible things done to cities in the 1950’s and 1960’s that today reverberate like hallucinations. In a rush to force space age modernist solutions onto cities, whole neighborhoods were destroyed. While almost every town has one such area, some places are truly exemplary. Albany, NY, is one such place. While Callie and I were on an anniversary trip in the Catskills, we decided to explore the state capitol of New York.

State Offices

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