the urban prospector

Searching for Golden Opportunities in America's Cities


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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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Flemington’s Stangl Factory Forges a New Creative Economy

IMG_4827cFor Valentines Day I took Cailie out to Western Nj. It had been a while since we had done any exploring and I figured this would be a good time to go for a random drive around NJ. We first stopped at T.M. Ward, a great coffee retailer and institution in Newark. While Cailie ran in to get some coffee and peanut butter, I quickly looked through google maps to find a destination: Flemington it was.

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Plan for Replacement

One of the several small shops next to available space in the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. The ability to rent kitchen space as well as retail space as small as 100 square feet is allowing new companies to be created.

One of the several small shops next to available space in the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. The ability to rent kitchen space as well as retail space as small as 100 square feet is allowing new companies to be created.

Everything comes to an end. The dinosaurs of the Jurassic, the Pony Express, Google, and even the chair I’m sitting on either have or will come to an end; if I do not have a replacement for my chair when its time is up, I will be left sitting uncomfortably on the floor. Organizations will falter. Businesses, no matter how well run, will at some point in time fail. Bands will break up. Even the most powerful and respected organizations will at some time cease to exist. Atrophy is universal. In the long run, preservation will not work: the only long term strategy is replacement.

While replacement has different requirements depending on what needs to be replaced, it is almost always an incremental process. Multi-national corporations do not appear overnight. Bands, even the most corporately devised, have small beginnings. Effective community organizations take years to grow into an established force. Rather than focusing on creating large existing organizations, there needs to be a focus on creating the right conditions for small organizations to emerge and organize. The best way to do this is to remove barriers to entry.  Barriers to entry, is defined by Investopedia as “The existence of high start-up costs or other obstacles that prevent new competitors from easily entering an industry or area of business.” Barriers to entry can be removed or lessened in many different ways. 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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Job Creation the Solution to Gentrification?

The current reinvestment in Newark raises the specter of gentrification.  As seen in my last post, stores in downtown newark are changing. Furthermore, new development, including affordable housing units, are unaffordable to a large section of the Newark population. As has been seen in cities like New York and San Francisco, this is not an easy problem to solve. There are many potential strategies and perhaps a combination of strategies will prevent Newarkers from being priced out of the city.

While many solutions focus on housing policy, an article by  Ruben Duarte at Plantetizen proposes another strategy; increasing incomes. Duarte states, “Raising the minimum wage, increasing pay overall for most workers (pay in general for workers has not kept with inflation, let alone grown), ensuring equal pay for women, providing an adequate funding for assistance programs, and many other programs that directly address how much money individuals and families bring in will do far more to mitigate the negative effects of gentrification than any onerous development requirement or price control ever will.” 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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Watch the GAP

Watch The GAPThe other night, Cailie and I went to a Brick City Conversations forum at Rutgers Newark on the topic of “The Economic Development of the Tri-State Region: Regional Plan Association’s Fourth Plan.” The forum was very interesting and a great event to attend. The weather however was not so great: a Nor’easter was forming off of the Atlantic Coast. Though the winds here have not been too bad, the cold rain did not make for an enjoyable walk. After a half mile of this, we decided to ditch walking and take a cab. Shortly after getting in the cab, we passed by where Modell’s had recently been located on Market Street between Halsey and Broad. While I had previously noticed that Modell’s was no longer open, I saw a new development: The GAP.

That’s right: The GAP is coming to downtown Newark. Continue reading