the urban prospector

Searching for Golden Opportunities in America's Cities


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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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Why I Oppose Urban Farming

This farm in Chicago could be put to a better use leading to a more environmentally friendly and energy efficient city. (picture from thegreenhorns.wordpress.com)

This farm in Chicago could be more environmentally friendly and energy efficient if the land was used for development.
(picture from thegreenhorns.wordpress.com)

It hit the news recently that a vertical farm is coming to the Ironbound. The City of Newark, RBH Group, AeroFarms and the Ironbound Community Corporation are working together to repurpose an industrial site next to the Ironbound Recreation Center into a 69,000 square foot vertical farm. I have mixed feelings about this project, which I will elaborate upon over the next few posts, but I like what’s been happening in Newark recently, I like the work that RBH Group has done here and have a lot of respect for the ICC (I worked out of their offices for about 10 months and they do a lot of great work from general social services to education to environmental protection).

I have a serious problem with urban agriculture. Just to clarify, I have no problem with urban gardening or community gardens. I would much prefer to see a personal garden than the traditional lawn and community gardens provide open space and help create a sense of communities in neighborhoods. My problem is with industrial scale agriculture in urban areas. With the exception of a handful of cities, such as Detroit, there are better uses for land than agriculture.

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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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Newark Walks to The Water

IMG_1965-COn June 14, I participated in a march from Newark City Hall to Newark’s riverfront. This long neglected post-industrial city is making a comeback. Having lost over 150,000 residents (37% of its population) in the last half of the 20th century, Newark gained a national reputation for urban decay and decline. With rising prices in nearby New York City as well as Hoboken and Jersey City, this transit hub is seeing an influx of residents and investment. While there is renewed interest in Newark, there is an industrial legacy that needs to be addressed. Continue reading