Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Jeff Speck at the Figge review

I attended Jeff Speck's lecture last night at the Figge, but due to various issues wasn't able to write a post about it until now. Cruiser has already posted his impressions of the evening here.

As others have said, the turnout was excellent. People wearing everything from a bicycling outfit, to jeans, to suits, which is great. There were people standing along the aisles of the auditorium in the Figge, and he seemed very well received. I wondered how many people were there for the free museum admission and free grub, but the number of people buying his book and having it signed after the event really showed that many of the people were really into Speck's points.

As far as the lecture itself, it was pretty textbook new urbanism stuff. Jeff pointed out during his talk that planners and others familiar with new urbanism may find it a bit basic. Many of the topics, such as building narrower streets, alleys, houses that look like houses instead of garages, and walkability have been discussed around this and other local blogs. I think this is the perfect introduction to this topic for people who have only heard a bit about new urbanism, or maybe have just a passing familiarity. This makes sense, since the lecture was taken in part from the Mayors Institute on City Design. I can definitely see it having an impact on people who were elected for skills other than city design and planning. One thing that I really have to commend him on was his illustrative images. He's been able to find intersections, developments, and photo angles that really show the downsides of suburbanization. Some of the sprawl images caused an obvious negative reaction from the crowd.

Mr. Speck admitted to not knowing all that much about Davenport and the Quad Cities specifically, and even hinted at coming back sometime to give a lecture that is directed more at our particular issues. I think this would be a great thing, especially now that at least 150 people are familiar with the concept. One of the only things that I took issue with was his criticism of the Skybridge. He discussed how strange it is to build a parking garage away from a casino, build an enclosed bridge from there to the boat, and have people walk over downtown without ever hitting the streets. I agree that that would be strange, but disagree that that is the point of the Skybridge. To me it will always be an observation bridge and landmark, and after the boat leaves that will become even more obvious.

All in all, it was a great event, and it was good to see so many people out at the Figge for something related to city planning and design. I was able to meet Jeff Speck, and I now know that he's at least been shown both this blog and Cruiser's. I'll be very interested in the results if he takes a closer look at the QC area and comes back with his specific suggestions for our issues.


Socialist Christian Hippie said...

The funny thing is that the Quad-Cities, for the most part, are "old-urban" and do not need to be redone.

"New Urban" would not fit here. What we need is investment in the "old urban". We have plenty of houses, but many people are anxious to bring in sprawl.

There is a suburban development just up the street from where I live that is almost entirely useless. It sticks these mixed size, typical 50-90% garage houses in an urban neighborhood. Destroying an urban wooded area to do it. I see the same thing happening in Rock Island.

Whilst, the urban housing stock sits, cheap, and unused.

I like "new urbanism" to reclaim and destroy suburban sprawl, but around here it tends to be sprawl under a new name. Especially, when there's old urban places to live.

Anonymous said...

I think the greater question will be which city will Nancy up and say no to the next Best Buy or Super Walmart etc.,

I found it somewhat ironic that the speech was held in Davenport, a town which one could argue is the greatest sinner of them all.

cruiser said...

Thanks for the nod QCI. I thought alot of what Mr. Speck said made sense, it just hadn't been implimented around here. If he's seen my blog I hope it didn't give him second thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Were cruiser and QCI at the same event?

Cruiser and many of the commentators on his blog seemed to view the lecture as too academic and not relating to the specifics of the quad cities. Mr. Speck’s comments were based on his studies and observations over a very respected career. His insights are examples of what can be done.

The suggestion that he was paid an exorbitant fee by elitists does seem pretty redneck. I am not sure he was even paid a fee for the lecture, or if he was, it might have been a nominal fee. If I am mistaken, I am sure I will be corrected.

The responsibility for better neighborhoods is a public/private partnership.
Without respect and cooperation nothing will change. This is no issue for negative thinkers.

QuadCityImages said...

I think its unrealistic to expect a growing city to stop building new residential areas. So the question we face is whether to keep building the same junk we've been doing for 20 years, or look at what worked better before the suburbs.

And I would say that Bettendorf has Davenport beat on all categories of sprawl. They are only lacking a Walmart.

pioneer98 said...

Bettendorf = residential sprawl
Davenport = commerical sprawl

Tory Brecht said...

Speck waived his usual hefty speaking fee because his wife is from the Quad-Cities and he has build up a relationship with Mayor Winborn at several conferences.

Tory Brecht said...

That should read "built" not "build". That's why I so desperately depend on my editors!

Anonymous said...

Found this on alderman Frink's blog. I believe this fits into the discussion of urban neighborhoods. For more see:


A public meeting for the 100 Homes Program will be held at 7 pm, July 19th, at United Neighbors. The program offers financing through forgivable loans for individuals, from any income bracket, looking to purchase homes in neighborhoods.

Socialist Christian Hippie said...

I don't know about having to build sprawl. Many of my friends and young families in Rock Island are moving into older communities because Rock Island is actively supporting these moves. Some people have over invested in the "Broadway" district but many who have bought modest homes there are doing quite well.

If communities support young families moving into existing housing stock then they will come and settle there.

If communities cut deals with developers and create TIF districts to develop sprawl, that's what they will get.

We have housing stock and blight and active Urban renewal will work. It is working. This is a greener alternative, a socially positive alternative and, overall, you will find a less expansive alternative than adding sprawl whether it is "new urban" sprawl or traditional sprawl.

Anonymous said...

I live in an 'old urban' neighborhood in rock island. I am all for keeping old housing viable but what 'new urbanism' has going for it is the mix of retail close enough so you can walk to get that gallon of milk. I put at least 5 miles on my car every time I need to go food shopping. Convert some of these quickee shop flavored malt liquor stores into a real small grocery and see what happens to the old neighborhoods.

Anonymous said...

The West Village subdivision tried New Urbanism. They houses looked very cute but they did not have to budget or high end market of the New Urban neighborhoods that you see in the glossy pictures of development text books. They were just short of doing something cool. The alleys were tight, they landscaping was not great, and the common parkways were missing. Davenport tried to do the right thing and institute New Urban building at “Prairie Highlands?” Unfortunately the New Urban is a very select niche market in the QC. Buyers think they are not getting value unless they have a 4 car garage and a giant back yard. Over time a combination of a small niche market and the city asking a steep price for any local developers to pay led to a scaling back of New Urban Design.

Personally I think this was a huge mistake. An effort to build neighborhoods withe some soul North of Locust in Davenport is desperately needed. Look at McClellan Heights surrounding Lindsey Park. That neighborhood never goes out of style. Deer Brook built the 80’s in Bettendorf, surrounding pocket parks and swimming pools is and will remain one of the most desired neighborhoods in the QC. It works, you just have to build it and they will come.

I agree Rock Island has done a better job of reinvesting in their older neighborhoods and downtown. I’ve been told they are more motivated to do so because they have nothing else going in that town. I don’t know if that’s true... I don’t know the city.

Davenport’s 100 Homes program sounds good. I think a compliment to the 100 Home Program would be a program that allows Licensed Contractors do the work on the front side and find qualified buyers after the work is done. In Real-estate it is always easier get people to buy into something they can see finished. That is why in a new home subdivision you always see Specs go up first... followed by PreSolds, after buyers catch the excitement. If we rehabbed a few homes buyers will begin to believe in the future of the neighborhood. Also this would eliminate some of the red tape buyers would cringe at, trying to shuffle the paper and general their own job. A lot of the ‘qualified buyers’ will be individuals of lower income working long hours or multiple jobs.

Similar financial incentives for Home Builders if they would be willing to buy up a whole block of homes at the same time, and be obligated to rehab them could work. The right area near the Village or Downtown done right could be very nice Show a business man a way to make money and let him do the work of finding the market.

Anonymous said...

For anybody who missed the talk, the city channel (channel 18) on Mediacom is showing it. I caught it while channel surfing and only caught the tailend. I don't know when it started, but when I caught the end, it was about 9:30PM. So it might have started at 8:00, since I believe the talk lasted 90 minutes. I'm not sure how they schedule these, but it probably will show up again.

QuadCityImages said...

Those are some good suggestions 8:10. I especially like the idea of giving an incentive to someone who's willing to adopt a whole block and try and focus on that particular area. Then hopefully the success would expand outward from there.

Anonymous said...

Rock Island and the other cities in the QCA have 'things going on' we just don't have as many whiney naysayers as Davenport.