Matrix Blog

Suburban, Urban

Detroit: Where Hedge Funds and Goats Want to Work Together to Improve Livability

June 24, 2014 | 7:15 am |

goatwiki

The city of Detroit has a problem with goats, among other significant challenges. It has been battered with political corruption (two former mayors are in jail) and it is trying to sheppard (pun intended) through a huge bankruptcy but goats are where the city draws the line.

The city also a tremendous amount of potential and is desperately trying to reinvent itself. My wife’s family is from the Detroit suburbs and I went to college in the Michigan for 4 years – one thing I noticed – the suburbs and the City of Detroit are mutually exclusive unlike most big US cities I have visited. One of the best explanations of Detroit’s fall was a recent read of mine: Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff. The original urban planners got it all wrong.

But let’s talk about goats. Last year a Detroit city councilman had a vision, that vision was eventually carried out by a billionaire hedge-funder who brought unlicensed goats to control the overgrown vacant lots of Detroit. Goats as lawnmowers are used in other cities.

I don’t think many people in the US realize just how much abandoned property there is within the city boundaries – the size of Paris.

An op-ed piece in the Detroit News made an argument for it, but the city was not interested.

The hedge funder explains:

Detroit is very much a place that lives by what I call ‘home rule.’ The people are bound by a lot of laws from years ago that restrict them from doing things that can help their community. The people of Brightmoor have decided to step up to ensure the survival of their families and the community. One of the ways they are doing this is with guerrilla farming. Guerrilla farming brings attention to pieces of publicly controlled land within the city that have been abandoned, left vacant or have been left to grow wildly out of control by absent owners. It cleans these areas, brings them into a productive capacity and converts them from a nuisance to an asset within the community.

The housing market won’t recover without the abandoned elements being removed ie unkept lawns, condemned housing and commercial structures. One of the surprising aspects of Detroit’s rise from the ashes has been the non-conventional nature of progress. Goats would definitely fit in.

Arguably my favorite type of goat entered this world from 1964-1967.

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Is Gentrification a Four Letter Word?

March 5, 2014 | 11:00 am | nytlogo |

dieyuppiescum

Back in mid 1980′s the front door of a new condo conversion at One Tompkins Square Park was spray painted with words “Die Yuppie Scum” and it became the battle cry for protests against gentrification of the East Village. With the eastward push of new residential development in the 1980s from the West and Central Village, residents and local businesses worried about being priced out and losing the intangibles that made the neighborhood unique – and that they would disappear along with it.

I remember appraising apartments to the east of Tompkins Square Park, seeing squatters inhabit derelict buildings, observing a burned out school bus on blocks in front of a newly converted walk-up and the self-described “Anarchists” in the park. All that is gone.

Recent discussions about gentrification have been more visible of late – and so have the discussions of the benefits of gentrification.

Merriam-Webster defines gentrification as:

the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents

Philadelphia is one of the first cities to tackle the issue in an attempt to keep the long time residents there and in doing so, helping to minimize the loss of the character of the neighborhood. It is fascinating and encouraging to see city governments be proactive on the issue since it costs money in the short term.

The initiatives, planned or underway in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Pittsburgh and other cities, are centered on reducing or freezing property taxes for such homeowners in an effort to promote neighborhood stability, preserve character and provide a dividend of sorts to those who have stayed through years of high crime, population loss and declining property values, officials say.

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Price per Square Inch for Pizza, Slices for Real Estate Market

March 3, 2014 | 5:58 pm |

sausagepizzabox

Now that the Oscars are behind us and the “next big snowstorm” just missed NYC, I thought I would finally talk about pizza. But because of why you are here – I’ll make price per inch and price per square foot interchangeable.

One of my favorite podcasts, NPR Planet Money had a great segment called “74,476 Reasons You Should Always Get The Bigger Pizza

The math of why bigger pizzas are such a good deal is simple: A pizza is a circle, and the area of a circle increases with the square of the radius. So, for example, a 16-inch pizza is actually four times as big as an 8-inch pizza. And when you look at thousands of pizza prices from around the U.S., you see that you almost always get a much, much better deal when you buy a bigger pizza.

Explanation of above math: 200.1 inches of pizza surface versus 50.2 inches of pizza surface (pi*r squared=surface area of a circle) And here’s an easy way to calculate the volume of a pizza if you can’t help get enough pizza geometry.

priceperinchpizzachart

Here’s the (pizza) logic
The premise of the piece is that it is much cheaper to buy a large pie than a small pie on a price per inch basis. Pricing for a large pie doesn’t expand as much as the surface area does so the price per inch drops precipitously. In the example above, the 16″ pizza wouldn’t be priced 4x as much as the 8″ pizza – probably more like 2x. Apparently pizza makers don’t take geometry seriously.

Buy the large and throw the unused portion in the fridge. Perhaps that is why people buy homes somewhat larger than what they actually need – they will grow into it.

Suburbs
In suburban real estate, after a certain point, larger the home is, generally the lower the price per square foot. There is a point of diminishing return on excess square footage. The total dollar price is higher, obviously, but the cost of additional space is usually less on a per square foot basis. Hence the pizza analogy applies.

Queen of Versailles, Florida
A well known example of diminishing return is the home featured in the documentary, Queen of Versailles. The 90,000 square foot home is so oversized for the Windmere, South Florida housing market that the vast majority of the living area likely has no value as a single family – other than to the current owners, of course.

Manhattan
In a market with one of the highest per capita population density for a US city, there is a premium for larger contiguous space so perhaps that is why we have so many pizza joints. Here is an price per square foot table by apartment size – you can see how ppsf expands with apartment size consistently over the decade (actually it has shown this pattern for the past 25 years). It’s expensive to get more living area in Manhattan.

manhattanppsftable

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New Yorker Cover’s “Crossroads” (aka Urban v. Suburban)

September 10, 2013 | 12:05 pm |


[Click to see cover article]

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[This Place Matters] National Trust for Historic Preservation

August 25, 2009 | 11:19 am |

National Trust for Historic Preservation does a lot of good work slowing the disappearance of US landmarks.

One might incorrectly assume their job might be a tad easier (thereby diminishing the urgency of their cause) without the massive quantity of essentially free mortgage money that was available for some crazy stupid development during the recent credit boom. The tear it down mantra seems a bit dated now.

The Trust created a Flickr photo pool for their new campaign.

No biggie but it’s fun to peruse. Of course, remember who is writing the blog and how boring he is. After being out of the loop for vacation, I feel the need to clear my desk so forgive the larger than usual volume of posts coming at you this week.



[New Urbanism Watch] A Streetcar Named De-Leverage

May 7, 2009 | 12:52 am | irslogo |

One of my favorite visuals when I visit San Francisco are the trolleys and street cars. When I rode a street car for the first time a few years ago, I didn’t realize that they were largely retired cars purchased from eastern cities like Newark and Philadelphia.

Here’s a cool map from The Infrastructurist (hat tip to The Architect’s Newspaper Blog) outlining where some of the activity is. There’s a version on the infrastructurist site

There seems to be a bit of a renaissance toward light rail service in many cities given their reasonable economics and limited pollution among other advantages (such as fun). This has likely been a result of the swing towards urban residential development, especially in former commercial districts and class b and c office markets. The credit boom fueled demand for residential housing in downtown markets and more need for public transportation.

With the recession, credit crunch and falling tax collections being experienced in many urban municipalities, I wonder if the opportunity for light rail expansion is already past. Transportation is always a key consideration in urban residential housing market.

Man, I love trains.



[Weedless Green] Grass Gets You Higher (Property Values)

September 5, 2008 | 12:11 am |

A study by Michigan State University, one of the best schools on the planet (ok, it’s my alma mater), found that:

Good landscaping can increase your home’s value by 5% to 11%

“Most lawns should be cut between 2 1/2 and three inches high,” says John Stier, professor of horticulture at the University of Wisconsin’s turfgrass extension program and playing-field consultant for stadiums in the National Football League and Major League Baseball.

It’s essentially like decorating the interior of a house. Sellers should present a home in a neutral manner so the buyer can envision moving in.

The marketability may be enhanced because the property has an edge over competing listings. This may translate into shorter marketing times, a higher price or both.



Crains New York Business Economic Spotlight Chart – April 2007

April 23, 2007 | 12:01 am | crainslogo | Charts |

Since 2003 I have provided a chart that appears once a month in the Economic Spotlight section of Crain’s New York Business magazine. Here is this month’s chart appearing in the current issue of Crain’s New York Business.

Source: Crain’s New York Business


Go here for a complete archive of all my Crains’s New York Economic Spotlight charts. They are organized by year.

As an added bonus (to me, actually, ’cause I am in it), there is an interesting article in Crain’s on how NYC currently has the edge over the outlying suburbs.


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Outstanding On Our Soapbox This Week: Martha of Katonah

February 12, 2007 | 10:40 am |

On our other blog, Soapbox, in the post called Martha of Katonah, a The Hall Monitor column by Todd Huttunen, brings back memories of the rock band, The Knack, singing Martha Stewart’s version of “My Sharona Katonah, about a sleepy town in Westchester County, New York.

….sort of.


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Cul-de-sac: More Than A Dead End

June 8, 2006 | 12:01 am | wsjlogo |

In Amir Efrati’s The Suburbs Under Siege [WSJ] or here homeowners love their cul-de-sacs while city planners find them to be a nightmare for traffic.

I lived on a classic cul-de-sac when I was a kid in the 1960′s when they were all the rage in new suburban tract housing. Our neighborhood was full of them. All the houses faced the street and there were no windows on the side of the house (that I remember), providing a sense of privacy (or isolation, depending on your perspective). Of course I remember losing control of my bike on the downhill leading into the cul-de-sac and splitting the bottom of a split rail fence (as well as my knee).

The term cul-de-sac is French for bottom of the bag. Their objective was to limit traffic through residential neighborhoods thereby promoting quiet and enhancing safety for children. Today developers charge a premium for properties located on them for this reason and they remain popular. Their existence in a subdivision allows more houses to be squeezed into the land parcel.

But the New Urbanism movement says they promote driving by separating streets, making it impractical to walk, isolating neighbors from each other and encouraging crime because of limited pass-through visibility.

Here’s an interesting NPR segment released yesterday called Cul-de-Sacs: Suburban Dream or Dead End? [NPR]

Their safety has been a big source of comfort for many buyers.

“The actual research about injuries and deaths to small children under five is that the main cause of death is being backed over, not being driven over forward,” he says. “And it would be expected that the main people doing the backing over would in fact be family members, usually the parents.”

Armed with such arguments, critics of the cul-de-sac have won some victories in recent years. In cities such as Charlotte, N.C., Portland, Ore., and Austin, Texas, construction of cul-de-sac-based suburbs has basically been banned. In other places, cul-de-sac communities have been retrofitted with cross streets.

They still remain popular with homebuyers and I suspect they are so engrained into our suburban culture that they will remain a staple of design for generations to come.