the urban prospector

Searching for Golden Opportunities in America's Cities

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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


Urban Design in the Hudson Valley

Downtown Saugerties on a busy Saturday afternoon.

Downtown Saugerties on a busy Saturday afternoon.

Recently, my girlfriend and I took a trip up to the Catskill area of New York to attend her brother’s graduation. We stayed in Phoenicia and took some time to explore other nearby towns.


Phoenicia (Pop 299) is a cute touristy town at the junction of the Stony Clove Creek with the Esopus Creek. This town suffered serious damage during Hurricane Irene in 2011. It has a nice main street, but doesn’t seem to maximize the benefit of its proximity to the creeks.


Saugerties (Pop 3,959) is located at the mouth of the Esopus Creek as it enters the Hudson River. This town has a much more developed downtown area. Shops are clustered on Partition Street and parts of Main Street. An overly wide and car-centric intersection at Market St. and Main St. cuts off a potential extension of this shopping district along Market Street. While it is not unsafe to walk to, the presence of parking lots at the intersection and the additional lane to accommodate higher speed turns creates the feeling that pedestrians are not welcome. Some traditional traffic calming measures in this intersection as well as a couple of pedestrian friendly buildings on the corners would improve the pedestrian atmosphere significantly and allow for this extension of the downtown area. A return to a pedestrian focus has already begun in Saugerties and can be seen in a great conversion of an old gas station/car service center into a restaurant. Continue reading