This is a transcript from Ep.1 of the blogcast
Hey everyone and welcome to the first episode of the Suburban-Urbanist blogcast, my name is Jim and I like to think of myself as the Suburban Urbanist. In this episode I will get into what that means, a little more about me, and what to expect moving forward. Thank you for joining me.
But first I want to say that I am very excited to launch this blogcast. It is something I have wanted to do for some time, but just never did it. I have been a huge fan of podcasts for some time, I have blogged a bit here and there, and I feel that I have some level of expertise that I want to share so finally, I just decided to do this thing and put something together. I hope you enjoy and subscribe to it through. I can also be reached by email at email@example.com and I am working on a website, that at the time of this recording is not quite ready, but look for suburbanurbanist.com to launch soon.
With that said, let's get started.
So just to set expectations for future. I am calling this a blogcast versus a podcast because, as I currently conceive this, I will be the primary voice you will hear. Hopefully that will change, but for now you are stuck with me and my thoughts about development, public policy, real estate, and well life. Hopefully you find this informative, entertaining, thought provoking, or at least interesting. Thanks again for tuning in.
So, when you saw the title of this blogcast you may have asked yourself what the WTF or what the hell is a Suburban Urbanist? It seems counterintuitive right. No, I don’t think so. Urban design has been blurring the line between the cities and suburbs for some time.
I’ll get more into that in a second, but first I want to take a moment and introduce myself and explain what it is that I mean by a suburban urbanist.
Before I get into that, I want to take a second and tell you a little about myself. My name is Jim Flick and I an Economic Development Director and Public Information Officer for a urbanized Township in Ohio.
I was born in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, but have always appreciated urbanism which was fueled by a fascination of places, the people that inhabit them, and how the government works to try and solve public problems.
As a child I grew up with a father and grandfather who worked in the federal government administration. I guess I kind of saw government as a family business and I became rather passionate and idealistic about how government works. I, however, was particularly interested in local government and so my goal from a young age was to work in local government as I am now.
During my education and early work experience in pursuit of that goal, I sort of fell into the world of data and analytics. It became a secondary passion for me as I found I understood how I could put pieces of a puzzle together with data.
After graduate school, I started my career, not in government, but as research analyst for a commercial real estate company, and within two years was promoted to Vice President of Research and Marketing. In that role, I was able get to know places really well though the analysis of demographic and real estate data. That experience led me into economic development first at the City of Cincinnati, where I got the opportunity to assist with Smart City initiatives and other interesting projects, because of my data and analytics experience.
In taking over the Director of Economic Development role in my Township I have tried to bring that analytic mind with me. While I know I will get to meet the people and businesses in the township, I want to know them better and I firmly believe that I can do that through data analysis; specifically, the analysis of demographic data, which leads to me today’s presentation.
Having worked in both the suburbs and a city I believe that i bring both perspectives to this conversation. However I am also Adjunct Instructor for a Masters of Public Administration program where I teach Public Policy – So I have a policy perspective as well.
My philosophy is that I believe strongly in government information transparency and in public engagement as a means to guide development activities in a smart and sustainable way.
And, although I work in a Township, I do live in a city and I firmly believe in vibrancy, walkability, small business growth, variety, transit options, and more. Basically, I see myself an urbanist that works to enhance the lives of those in the suburbs – hence “suburban urbanist”.
The best definition for an urbanist I have seen came from an Article posted on theurbanist.org which defined it as:
Urbanists want more people (of all types) to have equal access to housing variety (apartments, townhomes, backyard cottages, houses, duplexes, etc.), more ways to get around (transit, walking, bicycling, ride-share, vanpool, etc.), more to see and do (parks, cafes, bars, museums, shops, etc.), and to have more grassroots influence on city government.
As Economic Development Director I have taken part of many a community engagement session. The community I work in is currently undergoing a parks masterplan process as well as a process to update the comprehensive plan, and they just completed an economic development strategy.
Through the community engagement I have heard what the people want directly from them. And using the definition of an urbanist I just shared, one could argue that nearly everyone in this community is an urbanist, but they just so happen to live in the suburbs.
They want more biking and walking paths. They want more community and open spaces, they want non-chain restaurants and non-big box retail.
Now I know every community is unique in its own way, and people have different opinions. Some communities are going to be more rural or whatever and may not want all of the same things, but I can only speak from my experience. So from this experience, I can tell you, confidently, that people in the suburbs, as I have seen, have grown tired of the big box stores and massive parking lots and want urban concepts.
People in the burbs are seeking the same main street experience as the downtown with small stores and non-chain chef led restaurant concepts. They are seeking open space, bike lanes, connectivity and vibrancy in their community.
My part in this is to bring those things to a suburban community.
For years we have been hearing about the waves of millennials and empty nesters pouring into city cores. However, the suburbs continue to grow. Millennials are not opposed to the suburbs, as one might think, they are just looking for a little bit of urban design. Those urban concepts are now, and have been for a little while now, making their way into the suburbs through mixed use developments.
Large mixed used developments are being built in the suburbs and are designed to create a lively walkable neighborhood like atmosphere. There are countless examples to choose from and I will showcase those in future episodes, but for now I am just speaking generally as an introduction to this whole thing.
Stephanie Bell, wrote an article in Commercial Investment Real Estate Magazine and said, “Many suburban towns are recognizing the benefits of mixed-use projects. Developments with office components add new jobs and increase the customer base for local shops and services. Multifamily brings new residents to suburban towns, creating a demand for restaurants, movies theaters, grocery stores, and other entertainment venues. The retail component adds to the town’s tax base and the parking helps control traffic and keep the pedestrian friendly format.”
The demand that Stephanie points out for things like restaurants, movies theaters, grocery stores, and other entertainment venues is met by the supply of those things in suburban communities.
There are ample restaurants, retail, movie theaters, everything in the suburbs. It may not be the right mix of those things or type, so that is why Economic Developers, like myself, have to attract the types of businesses and retailers that residents and employees of those mixed use developments as well as the surrounding communities want. What they want are the types of restaurants and retail found in cool urban areas. So, as people flock to the suburbs, those concepts travel with them.
Plus, one thing that the suburbs can often offer developers that many cities cannot is available land. Whether it is open land, former agricultural land, or former big box stores or malls that have died off, the suburbs offer great development opportunities. Combine that will lower taxes, better schools, and ample amenities, the suburbs remain attractive to people looking to live and work.
By rethinking suburban development to include more urban design elements communities outside of the city core can thrive. Yes there are challenges to this like traffic, highways, 7-lane roads, the massive parking lots. This is where it becomes important for suburban governments to figure out how they can connect their community, provide better transit options, and utilize urban design elements like underground parking garages to achieve success and build the suburbs of today into the urban centers of tomorrow.
So, to sum up the point of this blogcast will be to identify ways suburban communities can bring in these urban concepts and how they can compete against cities for businesses and residents. It is not just about the burbs though. I will talk about economic development and real estate in general and get into public policy and talk about other things that affect the life of government and business professionals in general. If you are at all interested in economic development, government, or business, I hope that I am able to provide some insights or interesting topics for you.
Thank you again for tuning in. I am always looking for topics to cover so feel free to send me in suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Finally I want to give a shout out to someone called Silent Partner who posted the song I am using as my theme song which I grabbed from the YouTube audio library.