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Chi2Midlands

Columbia's "Midopolitan" Areas

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Something I want us to discuss is Columbia's "midopolitan" regions.

The term was coined by urbanologist Joel Kotkin (who has an interesting, if controversial perspective on urban development), to describe older suburban regions that are kind of at a crossroads in terms of their future trajectory. They may have been bedroom communities with some commercial activities in the past, but they are now squeezed between "hip"/"yuppie" inner-city development and "family-friendly" exurban development. In many cases they have advantages in terms of their location, convenient to both downtown and new suburban areas. Ideally, they mature and become more cosmopolitan and urban, despite their more suburban form. However, sometimes demographics, regional trends, etc. leave them behind, and either stagnate or even decay. I wanted to raise the issue because it's easy to focus on the neat inner-urban stuff near downtown, and the fast-growing fringes like Blythewood & Lexington, but there are wide swaths in between that need community attention as well.

Now, there are some areas, like Forest Acres and West Columbia, which seem to be doing just fine and will continue to evolve into more interesting urban environments. They have the benefit of convenient location and have a long history of having a stable middle class to upper-middle class demographic, which is now gradually yielding to more singles, young couples, and empty nesters. Even though they are filled with 1960's and 1970's vintage houses, they are attracting some newcomers who want a reasonably-priced house with reasonable local amenities and reasonable access to the city. They are also pretty safe areas with good schools. I think these areas will become similar to prosperous "border 'burbs" in bigger cities such as Elmhurst near Chicago or Falls Church near Washington.

There are other areas that seem to be more of a question mark. For example, the Two Notch/Decker/Parklane area, and Bush River/Broad River Road area near St. Andrews/Dutch Square. There are a lot of abandoned storefronts and sections of strip malls, such as the old Decker Mall and Bush River Mall. There are also some random "big box" sites that have not been redeveloped, such as the old Circuit City in the Bush River/Broad River area. A lot of these retail activities seem to have leapfrogged to far Northeast Richland (Clemson Road area) and Irmo/Dutch Fork (Harbison and further north). In parts of Chicago and DC, I've seen such areas re-vitalize rather quickly, especially if there is a large immigrant base to establish new businesses. In Columbia we have a very small immigrant population, but it does seem to fill in these areas to an extent (Decker Blvd. and parts of Broad River Road being good examples). But other areas seem to stagnate - like Farrow Road from from Parklane down towards Palmetto Richland Hospital. The worst case scenario is what has happened to the older Maryland suburbs southeast of DC; crime and poverty in these areas is actually worse than in the city itself now, heavily due to gentrification pushing the underclass out from eastern portions of DC. Similar phenomenon on the south side of Chicago and it's adjoining 'burbs. If close-in areas like Eau Claire and Elmwood get revitalized, will it push out those who can't afford to live in new developments?

Anyways, sorry for the long post, but I wanted to raise a challenging issue that many folks tend to forget, because we often get caught between pure urban and pure suburban environments. There is a whole spectrum in between that we need to look at. How would you revitalize and redevelop these midopolitan areas so they don't fall between the cracks?

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That is a complicated but good question.

The problem is that in Columbia's case, these areas are not further away from the new areas than people are willing to drive. If you live in St Andrews, Harbison is 5-10 mins away. That is downright convenient. Besides, Dutch Square seems to be doing alright.

I think that some mixed use developments- not necesarily upscale- would help these areas. It could aid in the transformation to a more urban (and less suburban) area, and encourage some pedestrian activity. It would require that some of the existing 60's suburban stores be taken out. If you are at all familiar with the Villagio Verde in Greenville, this is what I have in mind. Something dense and mixed use- but not a signature development.

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Besides, Dutch Square seems to be doing alright.

( . . . )

Something dense and mixed use- but not a signature development.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

You're right - Dutch Square is fine. I'm thinking about areas further north, like the sliver between I-26 and Broad River Road. I know some residents in older parts of Irmo may be getting a bit antsy about a perceived underclass on their doorstep. Not that there aren't real problems, but there needs to be a proactive attitude rather than further wave of middle-class flight up I-26. The issues aren't going to go away.

I think you're notion of a "non-signature" dense, mixed-use makes a lot of sense. You aren't going to get the greenfield advantages of starting from scratch, like Village of Sandhill or Lake Carolina. And you're not going to happen upon a large inner-city plot of land, like the State Hospital property. Side note: I wish folks like Andres Duany would focus more on midopolitan development - it doesn't have to be flash (nor can it be).

Part of the challenge will be to integrated mixed-use, dense development with the existing street system. In the older parts of the city, you have a nice grid system which lends itself to easy re-development, even piece-meal, because you can have an organic urban re-vitalization with multiple investors and property owners (e.g., you can have a series of 3- or 4-flat apartment buildings owned by individual property owners - this has worked very well in the Chicago area). In newer exurban areas, you can design the street system from scratch. However, it's harder to do so along Decker, Bush River, etc. Like you said, a lot of those retail environments will have to be massively retooled and even torn down. Something like what's proposed for Richland Mall on a broader, if more modest, scale. This will be needed to open up spaces for new streets to keep Two Notch, Broad River, etc. as arterials but that feed into a "grid" that disperses traffic well.

Even in prosperous areas, it is very challenging to evolve from a suburban street pattern to one conducive to true urban environments - I'm thinking of the challenges posed to the Tysons Corner area NW of Washington, which has meandering, pedestrian-unfriendly boulevards, 30-story office towers separated in a sea of asphalt parking lots, and will now have the Metrorail line coming through in a decade or so.

Any more specific ideas out there? A certain abandoned big box or other eye sore you have a neat concept for?

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You make some good points, Chi. I'll focus on the small stretch of Bush River Road from I-26 to I-20. At first glance it appears to be a good location, but if you look at commuting patterns, it is kind of off the beaten path. People that live further out on Bush River Road take I 20 to 26 to get downtown, so there is not alot of traffic on that section of Bush River. My solution for that area is to redevelop the small Circuit City shopping center into a hotel/motel development. The location next to I 20 would be ideal for that. The former BR Mall property should be redeveloped into a residential area. The traffic count is not sufficient to sustain commercial property at that location. With a large residential development on that property, the other small vacant stores will attract smaller shops that will serve the nearby neighborhoods. Just my solution.

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This is an excellent post topic and I think it rings very true. I would add West Columbia/Cayce/Springdale to your areas that could fit the 1950s/1960s/1970s inner suburban area caught between the reurbanizing inner core (pre-1950 areas of the city generally) and the more recent suburbs and exurbs. In fact, I think West Columbia has some of the better 1950s/1960s areas around Columbia.

I think the revitalization and gentrification of America's cities is really creating a new urban geography. If you look back in the 1800s, the more desirable residential locations in cities were typically on the main streets near the business district. Around the Civil War, Columbia's most prominent homes would have been along the main streets like Gervais. Then the streetcar suburbs came like Shandon and things started spreading out more. Then things really started sprawling out after World War II when the full blown automobile culture took hold. When the racial issues came into the forefront in the 1950s and 1960s and white flight took hold, a new urban geography was finalized with the donut pattern. The inner city tended to be poorer and more non-white with the exception of a few enclaves. The outer areas tended to be more affluent and whiter. I think now we are seeing the emergence of yet another pattern.

What I see in Atlanta is that the city proper and popular older suburbs like Decatur are becoming gentrified. That is pushing out the poorer residents (particularly African-Americans since it is Atlanta) and immigrant groups who can no longer afford housing in these areas. The public housing projects are one by one being redeveloped as mixed income areas. In short, the city's population is becoming relatively more affluent.

Meantime, the outer suburbs and exurbs are still pretty affluent. I will say that they are more racially diverse than you might think around Atlanta. There is a large Asian/Indian population for example around the high tech suburb of Alpharetta.

The really interesting change is in the in-between areas that are the topic of this post. The 1950s/1960s/1970s ranch neighborhoods and such are increasingly home to diverse residents (lower income, immigrant, etc.). They also are attracting young professionals who want to be closer in than the outer suburbs but may not quite want "downtown" living as such. Some of the older areas are becoming pretty urban in terms of the diversity and cosmopolitan atmosphere. For example, Atlanta's Asian quarter is a huge area of 1950s/1960s era shopping centers and ranch neighborhoods. Its form is suburban, but its feel in many ways is urban. It is an in-between area.

As the older suburbs age too, they get a more established feel to them. They have beautiful old trees and architecture that almost seems quaint when compared to the newer McMansions. The older areas are more likely to have been laid out in some sort of grid (with curvilinear streets perhaps) rather than cul de sacs, making them a little more "traditional city" feeling. I much prefer areas of Forest Acres, for example, to the newer areas up in northeast Richland.

Southern cities do not have large areas of truly urban development (with the exception of few like New Orleans perhaps). It is just the reality of when these cities experienced their greater growth, etc. That is why I think we have to start becoming more open minded about the old 1950s/1960s areas possibly becoming somewhat urban. To have real meaning in a southern context, "urban" may have to include some old ranch neighborhoods and strip centers.

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UrbanSoutherner - excellent post, especially regarding the reality of having to accommodate "visually post-WWII suburban" areas in form, even as _demographically_ become more urban (by that I mean it has more than just yuppies or young families or retirees or any particular racial/ethnic group). It's been said that the way Southern cities have developed over the past few decades, they are urban in function but not always urban in form. We have to deal with that. My only hope is that older suburban areas of the South don't end up looking like parts of New Jersey (i.e., dense, unattractive, middle-aged suburbia). We need to make them liveable without flattening them or ignoring them (I'm more worried about the latter).

What I see with the "donut" model is that the donut is spreading further out, enough that there is now enough gentrifiable space inside the hole to fit a healthy urban "munchkin". In other words, the "midopolitan" belt is the space between the munchkin and the outer donut. I know, that's stretching the analogy - but the point reflects my earlier one that there are bands of older 'burbs wedged between a vibrant urban core (Vista, Five Points, Shandon, Rosewood, etc.) and news, outer 'burbs (Lexington, Ballentine/Dutch Fork, NE Richland, etc.).

I'm familiar with Decatur - I had a friend who lives there. Several years ago, it seemed pleasantly diverse, but I read a recent article about its gentrification. To the extent that the local high school is becoming more of an Abercrombie & Fitch crowd.

I'm also familiar with Atlanta's wealthy suburbs, particularly the "favored quarter" between I-75 and I-85. And as an Asian Indian myseslf, I also know about those suburbs' ethnic demographics. I do know there are even more Indians in the corridor stretching from Doraville/Chamblee up through Duluth/Buford - Asian immigrants in general seem to favor the I-85 corridor through Gwinnett County. I will say that Indians, particularly wealthy/professional ones, often settle in suburbs that are otherwise largely white - Alpharetta being one of these (others include Cary near Raleigh and Oak Brook near Chicago). But these areas are evolving, too. I hardly think Alpharetta will stay that way for too long. I do know that Cherokee and Forsyth now represent the exurban fringe, which means today's Alpharetta will probably become more like Sandy Springs/Dunwoody tomorrow.

If I had to choose an older, established suburb near Atlanta that I like, I think Dunwoody would probably be it. Kind of like Atlanta's Forest Acres.

On the flip side, what are the (older) suburbs south of I-20 like and how are they evolving? I'm thinking south DeKalb, Clayton, Henry, etc. - down to Jonesboro. Are there large swaths of decaying strip mall / ranch house development? Or have their been revitalizations?

Anyways, I don't want to turn this into an Atlanta thread, but it's a good guide for other Southern cities in terms of what possibly to expect and learn.

The one area I would like to see creative minds pour over is the Two Notch/Decker/Parkland area, especially if stores at Columbia Place Mall really start bailing for the Clemson Road area. And I say this as someone who lives near Clemson Road. A dead mall would be an urban black hole that is in no one's interest, including mine. Forest Acres seems to be on a right track economically, far NE Richland is on a right track, but we need to make sure our other neighbors thrive as well.

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The one area I would like to see creative minds pour over is the Two Notch/Decker/Parkland area, especially if stores at Columbia Place Mall really start bailing for the Clemson Road area.

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I just don't believe we need to spend our time and effort thinking we need to control this sort of thing... I don't think we can... I don't think we should.  The only way you can make everything all pretty and clean all the time is to have the guvmint go in and keep up these homes and yards... and that's certainly not something we can afford... nor should we be asked to.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

By no means am I suggesting we use coercive planning techniques to "clean up" minor cosmetic "problems". I don't think anyone here is suggesting that. No one is talking about "control". I'm looking at it from a macro-level point of view, and suggesting ideas and concepts is just that, suggesting. We're not all thinking like county or city planners here, ready to whip out a big fat red marker on a map - the ideas we kick around here can be implemented by a private developer who legally and fairly purchases properties. Plus, I believe we are largely discussing commercial areas, not someone's private backyard. I think most of us are live and let live in terms of people's private homes, although we may have our preferences of how we'd like to see the city evolve (again, through fair and legal means).

I agree with your assessment that there are many well-maintained homes in the "near northeast" area of Columbia. I happen to work in the area, and I've driven up and down streets like Wilkes and Farrow and Fontaine, so I am familiar with it. There are many fine citizens living in this area, and we should leave such good law-abiding folks alone. But the fact remains, there are economic forces which *could* mean that certain areas could be put in some jeopardy, and left completely to their own devices, could be an environment of crime, vandalism, etc. (of course, urban planning is but a *tiny* aspect of crime, etc. - it is first and foremost a personal responsibility issue, but we shouldn't be blind to other factors that could mitigate it). That doesn't mean we should be hasty and condemn land, declare "blight", or impose draconian "urban renewal"-style redevelopment, etc. (if you must know I am against the recent Supreme Court "Kelo" ruling).

In terms of the small details like peeling paint, etc., there are master-planned communities such as Lake Carolina or The Summit that have homeowner associations to monitor such things. They aren't everyone's cup of tea, and I myself are ambivalent about them, but if judiciously used (i.e., they shouldn't be everywhere), it is an options homebuyers have if they want such a community with aesthetic standards.

So, given a reasonable, *limited* government, I think we can come up with fair, humane planning policies that respects property rights but lets communities revitalize themselves. We can create incentives and non-coercive zoning policies that make sure that empty strip malls or big box stores be redeveloped quickly, even if it means a land use that may not have been anticipated. The old Wal-Mart on Two Notch that's now a NetBank office building is a perfect example.

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This is a *great* discussion. I've been wanting to make a map showing Columbia's "rust belt" for a while, but I've been so slammed with other stuff. Anybody up for it? Maybe we could make it a group project.

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Since I am not as familiar with these parts of Columbia as many of you are, I will provide this map, feel free to fill it in as you see fit with the rust belt. Try to use some sort of transparent layer or just circle things so that we can still see where things are :)

post-292-1121222515_thumb.jpg

post-292-1121222515_thumb.jpg

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How do you guys feel about how "lifestyle centers" may figure in here? At the least, it can breathe new life into some decaying parts of town.

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How do you guys feel about how "lifestyle centers" may figure in here? At the least, it can breathe new life into some decaying parts of town.

Hard to tell - I will say I'm a bit skeptical about transforming graying midopolitan areas through lifestyle centers, except perhaps if there is a large site (such as a demolished mall or industrial site). Lifestyle centers seem to be put in greenfield exurban sites (like the Village of Sandhill in NE Richland) or retrofitted into older/urbanizing but economically healthy suburbs (like the new Richland Mall plan in Forest Acres).

In Greensboro, they just demolished Carolina Circle Mall, and I believe a Wal-Mart SuperCenter is planned for the site, after an aborted plan by a wealthy developer to convert the old mall into a sports complex. So perhaps not more upscale-ish lifestyle centers, but a general recycling of commercial activities? A big site to watch over the next 10 years is Columbia Place Mall, which I think is at the heart of the older midopolitan suburban area northeast of Columbia.

I'm more concerned about the scattered strip centers. It's sad to see Decker Mall in the shape it is - and while putting in a DMV or other government/institutional uses is ok up to a point, it really doesn't signify a healthy re-use of an old site. The NetBank back office operation that went into the old Wal-Mart site on Two Notch is one of the better examples I've seen in this area.

What I'd like to see is a quicker pace of re-use, including adaptive re-use, that's a part of a more vigorous economic engine. While not without its warts, you see a lot of interesting and creative revitalization of older suburban areas like the Doraville-Chamblee-Gwinnett corridor northeast of Atlanta or older parts of Fairfax and Montgomery Counties near Washingington. Often you have mom-and-pop shops (in many cases run by minorities and recent immigrants) keep these areas going so that they don't reach a semi-abandoned state. I think if the Columbia regional economy can move a few ticks up in growth and vigor, areas like Dentsville, Decker Blvd., Broad River Road, etc. can take some of these empty shells and make them more lively. I'm thinking relatively simple businesses like restaurants, barber shops, dry cleaners, child care centers, produce stores, nail salons, etc. It wouldn't necessarily be "pretty", but you would have a vibrant mid-suburban economy that provides a good ladder for young families (who for whatever reason don't or can't flee to the exurbs) to climb.

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This article in The State is perfect for this thread: what will become of Decker Blvd.? A place that was once pretty lively is now having some of that life drained from it by the increasing popularity of NE Richland.

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Since I am not as familiar with these parts of Columbia as many of you are, I will provide this map, feel free to fill it in as you see fit with the rust belt. Try to use some sort of transparent layer or just circle things so that we can still see where things are :)

post-292-1121222515_thumb.jpg

Hey - I finally got around to marking up the map you posted. But how do I attach the updated image to a post or reply? I don't see any options for attaching a file.

Thanks.

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You can't attach an image like that until you earn Members+ status, which requires that you have 100 posts. In the mean time you can use a site like Photobucket or Flickr to use an image host. These are free sites. Once you do that, the site will give you a link so that you can use the images here.

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Ok, then - here is my take on it. I'm less familiar with the Lexington County side of things, so that's why I'm not sure how to characterize the Springdale/Airport area. Maturing burb? Midopolitan stagnation? Can it successfully urbanize a la West Cola or is it caught between there and Lexington/White Knoll/Red Bank?

Cola Midopolitan Areas

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Just so you know, you can display the imgage using 140449224_b66cfeafa3_o.jpg

It looks good. My only problem with it is that I have always thought that St Andrews is the the area you have labeled as "Bush River/Broad River Rd Area"

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It looks good. My only problem with it is that I have always thought that St Andrews is the the area you have labeled as "Bush River/Broad River Rd Area"

Maybe I should have labeled it "Irmo / Harbison / Seven Oaks" or something. These are all "fuzzy" definitions of course, in terms of what is "established" vs. "maturing", etc.

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The cover story for this week's edition of the Free Times is the demise of Decker. Worth checking out.

I think it would be good to see some mixed-use developments come to these empty parcels.

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