Hooray! A New Bike Boulevard!

I’m a big fan of bike boulevards and I recently mourned the fact that moving into a new house meant that I spent less time traveling this way. In my old apartment, being on the bike boulevard six or eight times a week was not unusual. As I said at the time, location is:

 “…the crux of the problem with such limited networks for bike travel. A mile or so of dedicated roadway is wonderful, until you have to go someplace else in town.”

Imagine my surprise then when a city notice arrived at our house. Not only are they proposing to extend the current bike boulevard all the way to Stephens Lake Park (offering a safe and direct connection from downtown, through campus, and into the park) but they’re also proposing turning our street into a second bike boulevard.

It makes perfect sense–the MKT Trail entrance is just a mile south of us and aside from having to cross a couple busy streets and climb the worst hill in the city, it’s a straight shot. Heading in the other direction, it’s also a nice connector to all the neighborhoods to the north looking for a safe route to the trail. Non-residential vehicular traffic will be directed to more appropriate thoroughfares, keeping the bike boulevard safer for two-wheeled traffic.

Portland–no surprise–has added some great amenities to their bike boulevards that not only make it safer for cyclists, but will benefit the neighborhood as a whole:

  • Speed bumps to slow traffic
  • Concrete medians with cuts for bikes and pedestrians
  • Stop signs oriented to give preference to cyclists
  • Signage highlighting distance and time to key destinations
  • Landscaping doubling as stormwater retention basins
  • Mini-parks in neighborhoods with limited public space
  • Integration into their version of a Walking School Bus program

These aren’t just niceties, they are all elements that will ensure the success of this type of program. It’s not a done deal yet here in our city but the public process is starting and I will definitely be there in support.

Arts Districts and the Power of Swerve

We walk through cities everyday but rarely do we ask how this messy mix of buildings, people and infrastructure came to be. Who planned this?

Planning used to be fairly straight forward. It came from a man with a vision. A planner would look at a public space, decide the best use for it, and then tell the public.We’re all familiar with the spaces created by these men of vision. Pierre L’Enfant and his Washington DC. Lucia Costa and his Brasilia. Walt Disney and Tomorrowland.

But the problem with public spaces is that the public insists on using them.

So for every famous man who plans a pedestrian mall lined with monuments celebrating democracy, you’ve got a much less famous man who decides that’s the perfect place to sell t-shirts.

The problem is, cities are places where people live and people are constantly adapting, molding, and reinventing their surrounding to fit their needs, not the vision of the planner. And that’s exactly what makes a city interesting—the ways people use it. I would argue that any public space that isn’t being adapted by the public is, simply put, a poorly designed space.

Planners eventually got the message and the planning process shifted to incorporate the public. And in a nicely ironic twist, they gave this process a name no member of the public understands. They called it a charrette—which is apparently French for groups of people sitting around tables drawing on maps.

And that’s exactly how it works. The planner opens his doors to the public and they all sit in groups, drawing on maps and making lists of what they’d like to see. Ideally, the best ideas should rise to the top and the resulting space is one that will be used by the public because the public help create it.

I’ve participated in more of these than I can count and interestingly enough, regardless of the city, the area within the city, and the people involved, it’s pretty much the same list. People always want a farmers market, and usually a grocery store as well. Everyone wants to see artist studios, galleries, and public art. Loft apartments always make the list as does green space. Everyone wants a park.

So the planner takes all these ideas, puts them in a well organized plan with lovely sketches of the streetscape, complete with 40 year old trees and fashionable people sitting in sidewalk cafes, and then puts it all in a binder and proudly hands it over to the community—“here is your publicly-generated plan.”

And the community says “thank you” and then puts it on a shelf and that’s where it usually stays.

There’s many reasons for this. Often these plans aren’t much more than a community’s wish list. Market forces are glossed over, supply and demand are ignored, and funding sources are non-existent.

Our time would have been better spent writing a letter to Santa.

This type of planning is well-intentioned but it misses the key point. This is not how great cities are made.

Cities are messy, they’re alive and most of the time, the planners are struggling to keep up with changes that are happening naturally all around them. Great cities happen from the bottom up. Think New York City versus Irvine, California. A random encounter on the sidewalk can have a greater effect on the structure of the city than a formalized plan.

Author Steven Johnson describes these random encounters as “the swerve.”

How does this work? People travel through the city in set routes. There’s a well worn path between my office the nearest coffee shop. But if you see something interesting just off your route, you swerve. A new shop, a sidewalk café, an art installation. Pretty soon, traffic patterns change. That little bubble is incorporated into the larger whole.

Then the next guy comes along and decides he’d like to take advantage of all the new traffic. So he decides to open a business just outside this area—usually because that’s where the rents are low and vacancies are high. And people swerve again. And then the next person comes along and she decides to open up a restaurant and more people swerve. And over time, you’ve created a busy urban street where there wasn’t anything before.

Who plans this? According to Johnson, No one—and everyone. There is no leader. It’s nothing more than a series of small, independent decisions but together, they become a whole.

You may as well ask, “who planned the web?” Google may offer us a directory but that’s like referring to the phone book as an urban planning document.

So given this, what’s the best way to plan? And if cities are created from the ground up, what’s the role of the planner? Part of it is adapting to what’s happening organically, on the street level.

The idea that some types of areas could emerge organically first took root with something called Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities or NORCs. It used to be that we’d create planned retirement communities with easy access to all the necessary health and social services. And then we’d pack up all the seniors and move them to this community. There’s a much easier way to do this though. Residential neighborhoods age at fairly consistent rates. A neighborhood is built and everyone moves in at the same time, they all have children at the same time, and they all retire at the same time—naturally creating a retirement community. A much better idea is to move the needed services into these neighborhood, leaving the people in place.

It’s the same thing with Naturally Occurring Arts Districts. These are areas that emerge organically from an existing base of community assets. They are formed naturally, by the swerve.

We’ve got one here in Columbia—the North Village Arts District. Seven or eight years ago, when my organization was doing some downtown planning, we drew a circle around one underused section of downtown—the North Village—and said “this is our arts district.”

It was utter hubris on our part. We had no plan, no funding, and no marketing campaign. But we had what we thought was a good foundation of existing assests. The area had historically been the bohemian counterpart to the rest of downtown—the Strollway where women shopped in hats and white gloves. Susan Taylor Glasgow, a nationally recognized glass artist, was doing some really interesting things with public art. And of course, there was Mojo’s so we had a steady stream of live music.  We started recruiting arts-friendly businesses to the area.

And then one day Mark Timberlake walked into my office and said, “I just bought an old roofing company over on Orr Street. What should I do with it?” I had been fielding calls for months from artists looking for affordable space so I didn’t hesitate. “Artist studios.”

To my surprise, he listened–and then he talked to people.  Artists. Contractors. He learned about adaptive reuse. And soon, we had Orr Street Studios. Artists leased space. They hung paintings on the walls. Hosted events. Turned the doors themselves into works of art. And soon, people started to swerve.

Enough that Mark bought the diaper factory next door and started to work on that. Then, John Ott bought some property in the area and started recruiting artists there as well. Lisa Bartlett opened Artlandish  Gallery and runs the Catacombs, a collection of artists in a warren of tunnels underneath her shop. More people began to swerve.

And then we worked with the city to improve infrastructure–undergrounding utility lines, installing street lights, adding crosswalks and bike racks, hanging banners.

It expanded to all sorts of creative types–dance companies, graphic designers, photographers, web developers. Mojo’s grew and Forest Rose Park was born. And one day, the Cafe Berlin packed their entire restaurant into a caravan of bikes and moved into the old gas station. More swerve.

And then PS Gallery, a well-established gallery on Broadway, learned they had to relocate. The first question everyone asked was, “Are you moving to the North Village Arts District?” The answer was yes. Swerve.

So now you walk through the North Village Arts District and yes, we have both a Farmers Market and a grocery. We have artist studios and galleries and public art. We have a park. And we even have those loft apartments. nd not surprisingly, all the business owners and artists have joined together to create a more formalized organization to promote the area.

But not because a planner, sitting by himself, envisioned this neighborhood in exactly this way. It’s because the artists and the business owners and the property owners and all of us had small, individual ideas on how to take advantage of the swerve.

So we ask the question again. Who planned the North Village Arts District? The answer is no one. And everyone.

TEDxCity2.0: A day of urban inspiration.

“For one day only, the TEDx platform will harness the power of people across the globe to encourage them to host a TEDx event, themed “City 2.0,” featuring the brightest local minds and biggest hearts.

In unison, we’ll share the stories of our beloved homes. Where are the bright spots? The creative adaptations? The transformative responses to injustice? Who is asking the most pressing questions? Pioneering the most complex solutions? Speakers may focus on official City 2.0 themes, including Art, Education, Food, Health, Housing, Play, Public Space, and Safety–all elements whose presence will dictate the success of our future cities.”

I’ll have the pleasure of speaking at theTEDxCoMo event on Saturday, October 13, exploring how cities are planned (or not) and the rising phenomenon of organically occurring arts districts.

For details, visit www.tedxcomo.org or check out their facebook page at www.facebook.com/TEDxCoMo.

Keep Away From Our Fancy Houses

When the state began a rails-to-trails program to transform the KATY railroad line into a bike trail, the City of Columbia had the foresight to transform their own spur line as well. Now, the MKT Trail connects directly into the KATY Trail, bringing cyclists from all over Missouri right into Columbia.

The MKT isn’t just for tourists–it’s become part playground, part transportation hub for so many Columbians. Whether it’s an afternoon walk with the family, a short cut for those biking to work, or a safe place for neighborhood kids to bike, the appeal of the MKT is unmistakable.

What it does depend on for its success is neighborhood access points. Formal or informal, public or private, these access points are how people discover the trail. Every time I’ve moved, one of my first objectives is to figure out how to get to the MKT from my new home.

There’s one access point that I’ve used on a regular basis for the last 10 years–a path about 15 yards long located in a neighborhood that backs right up to the trail. When I lived in this section of town, I used it almost daily.

Imagine my surprise then, when I noticed that a “No Trespassing” sign had been erected at the entrance to the trail.

I don’t know the rationale behind this change but at some point, the surrounding residents must have decided that allowing public access to the trail from their neighborhood was somehow detrimental. In my experience though, this path was free of any sort of problems. No one was getting mugged. No unsavory characters were hanging out. There weren’t even many well-meaning families plopping down on people’s yards to rest. In fact, homes bordering trails have lower rates of burglary and vandalism than the national average.

One interesting factor here is that the half million dollars homes in this neighborhood were actually built after the MKT Trail was constructed. There was never any misunderstanding that they would be living adjacent to a city trail.

This appears to be part of a larger desire among some to keep the public away. We’ve seen it before in other cities–protesting against new transit stops, for instance–and it’s truly a method of closing down a neighborhood to outside interlopers. Transportation–be it a bus, a subway or a bike–is a great leveler. Not only does it allow people to travel into any section of a city, it also brings highly diverse people together.

This move shuts down a critical access point for the trail. It’s a safe way to enter the MKT from a local elementary school and from other nearby neighborhoods and it allows everyone to avoid biking down a busy thoroughfare to the next access point about a mile away. Besides, it’s such an unfriendly sign.

Imagine if the residents had instead decided instead to install a sign that said, “Welcome to our neighborhood. We hope you enjoy your time on the beautiful MKT Trail.”

Bike Boulevards

I spent a lot of time last summer on our city’s bike boulevard. It’s a short, bike-friendly stretch of road designed to better connect our downtown with a college and a popular neighborhood to the east. I enjoyed winding my way past the community gardens and through campus into our arts district. And although they’ve faded somewhat, I loved the murals painted at the intersections.

Photo courtesy of comogardens.org
Photo courtesy of GearInches.com

I’d estimate I averaged between 6 and 8 trips a week down this boulevard, both during the day and at night, and I always felt safer than on other, more car-oriented streets.

I wasn’t the only one. According to the Columbia Daily Tribune:

“Traffic counts the city conducted in spring 2010, when the boulevard was established, and this spring showed that motorized traffic reduced from 942 vehicles per day to 522 — a 45 percent reduction — and that bicycle traffic measured during peak times more than doubled, from 33 to 71.

The city also measured lower speeds for motorized traffic on the boulevard, with average speeds decreasing from 26 miles per hour in spring 2010 to 24 mph this spring. And residents living near the bike boulevard report liking what they have seen: A city survey revealed overwhelming support for the idea, and an overwhelming majority of respondents agreed the boulevard improves the image of the neighborhood.”

I’m an avid cyclist–I have a trail bike and a commuter bike–and a bike is often my preferred choice of transportation when I’m heading to work, to the market, or even out on a Saturday night.

Imagine my surprise, then, when it dawned on me I hadn’t been on the bike boulevard once this summer.

Why? Because I moved.

Last summer, I literally lived at one end of the bike boulevard and my boyfriend lived at the other. It was our own personal route between each other’s homes. Now that we’ve moved into a house on the other side of downtown, we no longer have easy access to the bike boulevard and, more importantly, it doesn’t go where we need it to.

And that’s the crux of the problem with such limited networks for bike travel. A mile or so of dedicated roadway is wonderful, until you have to go someplace else in town.

Fortunately, the city already has fairly good trail system and is working on creating connections between existing trails. They’re also looking at extending the current bike boulevard–but, unfortunately, not to the extent that it would be useful to everyone in town. In fact, going back and trying to establish a larger network of roads dedicated to bike travel by severely limiting current car traffic seems like it would be both a planning and a public relations nightmare.

So maybe our little bike boulevard can continue to exist for those who live along its route and prefer a bike over a car on a nice summer day. And maybe it can serve as a reminder that there are other models for building roads that include multiple forms of transportation. And maybe it will inspire us, as a city, to do more  to build these connections between well-traveled bike routes and popular destinations.

I’ve become much more accustomed to sharing the road with cars now so I only miss the bike boulevard occasionally. And on Saturday nights we’re still cycling–only this time, we’re on our tandem.

When public transportation is a little too public.

Josh Stephens of Next American City has another great example of the phenomenon in which a neighborhood protests against a project by throwing up myriad reasons why the project is simply unsuitable for their part of town.

The residents of Beverly Hills are fighting to prevent the construction of a Metro line through their neighborhood. This new line would connect Beverly Hills to, shall we say, some of the less affluent sections of the city.

The concern of the residents?

“That the subway’s planned passage through a tunnel under Beverly Hills High School will make the swank public school a destination for terrorists, or potentially, a tinderbox prone to deadly explosion.

In short, the city that inspired a million Tudor-style McMansions is blocking the transit authority’s plans with a demand that it reroute the subway extension to avoid running below the high school that inspired everyone’s favorite bit of 1990s high school television greatness.”

Although public meetings were held on this proposed extension beginning in 2006, residents of Beverly Hills didn’t become engaged in the issue until 2010. In addition to the concern that construction may uncover yet-to-be-discovered oil wells or methane pockets, opponents also raised the possibility that terrorists might want to make an example out of the public high school and, rather than simply driving a truck up to the front door, they would instead choose to take the subway there.

The students at Beverly Hills High, in contrast, seem unconcerned about these potential problems–a Facebook poll of students showed that they have very different perceptions on this issue than do their parents.

“I feel as though hysterics have been a factor here,” said a junior class president…”Subways run under all over metropolitan areas. They go under commercial buildings…they go under other public buildings….the likelihood of a fatal automobile crash is very real, despite the safety precautions and airbag regulations designed to protect us. However, we drive anyway. To fight the subway is to drive away modernization.”

Wal-Mart v. Downtown

An interesting piece appeared in Better! Cities & Towns today, designed to get everyone thinking about how highly dense, mixed use developments common to downtowns help support the tax base:

An analysis by Joseph Minicozzi of Urban3 in Asheville, North Carolina, shows that on a per-acre basis, dense, mixed-use development far outstrips the value of lower density, single-use development — even profitable big box stores.

The article explains:

In the dozen communities (surveyed), a Wal-Mart on a large outlying site generated $7 per acre in property taxes, while a shopping mall or strip center produced slightly more: $7.80 per acre. By contrast, denser, more urban kinds of development provided much greater financial returns for their communities. Two-story, mixed-use development generated $53.70 in property taxes per acre. Three-story mixed-use generated $105.80 in taxes per acre. Six-story mixed-use was best of all: $415 per acre.

Minicozzi chose property taxes to compare because they are collected in both counties and cities and are more consistent across cities than school taxes. However, a vast majority of cities are also funded through sales taxes, making big box stores (and retailers in general) easy bets for cities looking to increase revenues. Unfortunately, these retailers are not the best for providing full time jobs with good salaries and benefits. It’s a constant struggle for cities. How do you increase city revenues while still attracting good jobs?

Why do we insist on Bradford Pears?

Spring’s come early to our city and the Bradford pears are in full bloom. As I was walking to work the other day, I couldn’t help but think how lovely they were to look at. But the smell was something else entirely.

Bradford pear trees on Coffee Street in downtown Greenville 

Bradfords were first developed in the early 1960’s and for the next few decades were promoted heavily in downtowns and other urban areas as landscape trees, largely due to their resistance to disease and their ability to withstand pollution.

Clearly, this was an era where cities were designed for cars, rather than cyclists or pedestrians. How else could a city planner, in all good conscience, plant such stinky trees along all our city sidewalks? As for me, I’m now detouring around the Bradfords and walking to work past the community garden instead.

Naturally Occurring Arts Districts

Oftentimes, when people are busy making the big plans, everyone else is working on the little plan.

Over the decades, a number of brainstorming sessions were held by our city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau to see if a cultural district could be created somewhere in the downtown area. Overall, a great discussion to have, and one that sparked a lot of thought in the community about the importance of supporting local artists.

Initial discussion revolved around a large cultural arts center that would serve as an anchor to the area. Later discussions focused on how to create an area akin to Granville Island in Vancouver. Of course, Granville Island was a former industrial site into which the federal government poured nearly $20 million in development funds.

Granville Island

Although Granville is a wonderful destination for tourists and locals alike, not every city has the resources to create something on this scale. In fact, it could be argued that large, complex developments such as this are extremely risky to the developers or the municipality investing in the project.

We were all thinking big but it as it turns out, thinking small may have been the key to the success of our new arts area downtown–the North Village Arts District.

Lately, a lot of talk in the arts community has centered around Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts. Urbanonmibus.net interviewed two people highly involved in helping these types of arts districts develop organically.

According to Tamara Greenfield, Executive Director of Fourth Arts Block in NYC:

A Naturally Occurring Cultural (or Arts) District is distinguished by both its origins and organization. A NOCD (for lack of better term) supports existing neighborhood cultural assets rather than imposing arts institutions somewhere new. Traditional cultural districts are often used as a promotional tool to import visitors to a downtown shopping or commercial district and are generally centered on large institutions. The difference is important because each idea represents a distinct set of public values about what’s important to cities and what’s worth supporting. Understanding NOCDs can provide a framework to recognize and support a more inclusive, equitable vision of a neighborhood’s culture.

Caron Atlas, organizer with the Arts + Community Change Initiative, points out that:

If a cultural district has emerged ‘naturally,’ then it grows from, builds on and validates existing community assets rather than importing assets from outside a community.

Instead of developing a master plan for the creation of an arts district centered around a large-scale cultural institution, ours got off the ground through a combination of market forces and dedicated individuals. About the time Mark Timberlake purchased an abandoned roofing warehouse on the north edge of The District, I had been fielding calls from local artists looking for affordable studio space. He listened to this crazy idea and immediately set out to research it more–talking to artists and other groups to determine if it was actually feasible. Turns out, it was.

Orr Street Studios

Mark’s efforts spurred the arts community to action as well as inspired other property owners in the area, namely John Ott, to develop arts-related spaces and to recruit artists and creative professionals to the area. These folks have become the core influencers of the arts district and are largely responsible for its current success.

The Berry Building

The result is that our downtown has an arts district that occurred naturally, and in a way that truly reflects our community. We have artist studios and galleries but the area is also home to a number of creative professionals as well as a grocery specializing in local foods and several live music venues. It’s unclear if a larger master plan could have predicted what the community needed as well as the community itself did. And most importantly, the fact that it’s grown organically over time bodes well for its long term success.

Enhanced Enterprise Zone FAQ

The Columbia City Council will soon be reviewing a new program designed to bring jobs into Columbia called the Enhanced Enterprise Zone program. Below are some commonly asked questions regarding the program. Work on this program is being done by the city’s economic development office, or REDI, and questions can also be directed to their offices at [email protected].

What is an Enhanced Enterprise Zone?
An Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ) is a state program designed to create jobs, particularly in areas with high unemployment and low income. The program offers a combination of state tax credits and a partial abatement of local property taxes to new or expanding businesses that create good jobs in targeted industries.

Currently, 118 other communities in Missouri have EEZs. That means that every time we try to bring a new company into Columbia, we’re competing against neighboring cities that can offer this state incentive as an added inducement.

What types of businesses qualify?
Columbia decides what types of businesses it would like to encourage (state law prohibits some businesses from applying such as retail shops, restaurants, educational facilities and gambling establishments.)

Manufacturing is a clear choice. We can work to attract the next Quaker Oats and we can also help local manufacturers expand. We’ve got folks manufacturing everything from frozen pizza to microbrews to chocolate and we’d love to help them grow their companies.

Creative and professional businesses are also an option. Information services, software companies, computer programming services, Internet publishers, telecommunications firms, motion picture and video industries, engineering and life sciences development, media buyers, advertising agencies, consulting firms and more would all be eligible. These are knowledge-based jobs with good salaries that will help us retain our recent college graduates.

Arts, entertainment and recreation could also be included. Theater and dance companies, hotels and conference centers, museums, and historic sites will all help spur the economy—especially in the downtown area—and will also help attract tourists to Columbia.

What do companies have to do to qualify?
Generally, a company has to make a significant financial investment (minimum $100,000 in a new or expanded facility), create 2 new jobs at a certain salary level, and pay for at least 50% of the employees’ health insurance costs.  A company that makes an investment in only personal property (ie, computers, technology upgrades, vehicles, etc.) would be eligible for just the state tax credits while a company making an investment in real property, such as building or expanding a facility, would also be eligible for a limited property tax abatement.

How does the property tax abatement work?
The abatement is 50% on new investment for a period of 10 years, so it doesn’t impact the amount currently collected by the taxing authorities. Obviously, the taxing authorities would also receive the other 50% of  the new investment.

In addition, Columbia can decide to increase the percentage abated in order to encourage certain types of business practices. For instance, a company that builds and operates “green” could receive an increase in abatements and in return, the city would have less of a drain on its energy resources.

Which areas of the city will be eligible? 
The goal is to bring companies into current priority areas such as Discovery Ridge, Route B, the Business Loop, and downtown.  These areas are already zoned for manufacturing or commercial and have sites that are available now.

How is the zone created?
Because the goal is to bring jobs into areas with high unemployment and low income, the zone is based on information collected on federal census blocks (from 2000; census blocks based on the 2010 census won’t be finalized until 2013).  The entire zone has to meet state guidelines for high unemployment and low income so it’s possible that some development areas are excluded because they bring the overall income of the zone over the state limit.

The zone also has to be contiguous. That means that in order to create a zone that includes all the city’s development priorities, a good portion of Columbia must be included. There’s just no easy way to draw a circle around just Route B, the Business Loop and Discovery Ridge—and also include downtown, which is right in the middle of the city.

Finally, federal census blocks don’t mirror local zoning designations or individual parcels; you have to include everything in the census blocks within the zone. So in order to include downtown, for instance, some adjacent residential must be included as well because they’re all in the same census block.

Does that mean someone could put a factory in my backyard?
An EEZ does nothing to change city zoning, the role of the Planning and Zoning Commission, or the City Council’s role in guiding how development happens in Columbia.

In order to construct a commercial building or manufacturing plant in a residential area, the developer would have to ignore the many shovel ready sites currently available in town, buy up a tract of homes, tear them down, battle the neighbors, convince City Council to change the zoning laws….well, you get the picture. The EEZ is designed to make the current industrial and commercial sites more attractive to new and expanding businesses.

What’s all this about blight?
Because so many state programs are designed to help out areas that are struggling in some way, a designation of “distress” or “blight” is common. The goal of an EEZ is to bring jobs into areas that have high unemployment and low income, thus the state requires this designation.

When someone says their junky neighbor’s property is “blighted’ because an old car is sitting on blocks in the driveway, that carries a very different meaning than when the state designates something as blighted. Again, the state is looking at employment, income, out-dated infrastructure and so forth. To put this in perspective, the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City was designated as blighted so they could receive incentives to build a new parking garage.

(Note: TIFs can have a designation of “blight” or “conservation.” A conservation area is not yet a blighted area but is detrimental to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare and may become a blighted area because of dilapidation; obsolescence; deterioration illegal use of individual structures; presence of structures below minimum code standards; abandonment; excessive vacancies;overcrowding of structures and community facilities; lack of ventilation, light or sanitary facilities; inadequate utilities; excessive land coverage; deleterious land use or layout; depreciation of physical maintenance; and lack of community planning.)

Does a blight designation affect my property values?
No, this has not proven to be the case. For instance, Rolla has had an EEZ since 1981 with no decrease in property values.

Over the years, large portions of Columbia—including downtown—have already been designated by the state as “historically underutilized,” “distressed,” “severely distressed,” and “blighted.” Despite this, investment in downtown has steadily increased and property values have risen. What we’ve found is that people looking to invest in an area react positively to the state incentive, not to whatever designation the state has placed on the area. The State Historic Tax Credit program is a great example of this. Developers were drawn to downtown to fix up old buildings because this incentive existed, leading to an increase in the value of everyone’s property.

Does an EEZ lead to eminent domain?
No. An EEZ and eminent domain are not connected. In fact, the city can condemn property right now for public use. An EEZ will make that neither more nor less likely.

Also, Missouri passed a law a while back in response to Kelo v. City of New London that prohibits condemnation for solely economic development purposes (ie, the shopping mall in Kelo) and also requires a parcel by parcel designation of blight rather than an area designation of blight for any condemnation.

What’s the process for approving the EEZ?
Preliminary work on the EEZ was done by a REDI subcommittee. The goal was to determine if an EEZ was indeed a feasible option for Columbia, develop a draft map of the zone to establish if Columbia was eligible, and make a recommendation to Council to move forward on the planning process.

The City Council has appointed a committee to finalize the list of targeted businesses and the map for the EEZ.  This committee is holding a series of public meetings on March 9 and March 16 at 10 a.m. in City Hall.  REDI will also host a public information session on the issue on Tuesday, March 6 at 5:00 p.m. in the Council Chambers of City Hall. The Downtown Community Improvement District Board will address the EEZ on March 13. The EEZ proposal is due to Council for final approval in April.