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Small Towns

Small towns can be vulnerable if they mimic other people's bad choices.  However, the core tends to remain solid even if people aren't using it as much, and the sheer size difference is vital.  Very often, they have a concise downtown, with activity often now shifted to a more modern business center, and their suburbs tend to include a lot of grid rather than squiggles.  Even though many of them have built on the fringes, that's more often one or two directions rather than the entire circumference.  So while they're frequently over-budget, it's a lot easier for them to cut off the excess and survive, compared to a big city surrounded by miles of brittle edge. 

A strong leader can make a big splash in a small pond.  It's much more feasible to convince 20 people in a town meeting who all know each other compared to 200,000 who don't.  Even a modest project can have much impact on a local scale.  Here are some examples of revitalization.

For a long time, people have been moving out of small towns into big cities.  However, now the cities are desperately overcrowded.  While urbanites are howling about a housing shortage, America actually has lots of homes standing empty -- in the places that have been losing people.  If you want cheap housing look in small towns or their rural outskirts.  That housing crisis can't continue forever; eventually the bubble will pop and people will flow back out of the increasingly uninhabitable cities.  Plus, those old downtowns have something that is becoming more fashionable: live-work space creating walkable neighborhoods.  Make a few careful upgrades for accessibility, as some are doing, and you've got a very good place.

This is facilitated by other changes in the economy.  Originally most jobs were rural, then they concentrated in cities, but now they're becoming more mobile.  If people can work from home, there's much less reason to cram into cities.  Small towns could facilitate this by investing in cyber-infrastructure to ensure that people can work online from anywhere in town or its surrounding service area.  They can also assist people in starting businesses by streamlining regulations, providing mentors, and offering space.  Most towns have a ghost mall or shell of a departed megastore that could be use to house a fleamarket with cheap stalls.  I've seen them around and they work great.  The most successful businesses that outgrow the stall space can usually then afford to rent a storefront -- which is, like housing, a lot cheaper than in the city even if it's still too expensive to count as bottom rungs on the ladder.  Don't forget to support jobs you can do from anywhere, country jobs, and work-at-home jobs.  Not everything is a big-city, big-company job.  Most important, small towns should encourage local businesses over chain stores, so that more of the money stays in the local economy.

Like so many things in business, this is all about seeing resources, possibilities, and trends.  Watch for the tipping points and think about where they will tip to.
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Poem: "An Entry into a Character"

This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls. It fills the "interconnecting with others" square in my 11-1-20 card for the Sense-ation Bingo fest. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. This poem belongs to the Shiv and China's Mistake threads of the Polychrome Heroics series.

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Place vs. Non-Place

Modern cities tend to have a poor ratio of place to non-place.  This article marks places in blue and non-places in red.  You can see how much the ratio differs from one locale to another.

The more the ratio favors places, the more human-scale the area tends to be.  You can walk, bike, or ride a wheelchair comfortably through much of this space, because there's a new place -- a store, restaurant, house, etc. -- every few yards and there are fewer serious barriers such as highways or big parking lots.  If there are also shade trees, benches, wide mixed-use paths, and other human-friendly features then it becomes even more accessible for even more people.

The more the ratio favors places, the less human-scale the area tends to be.  It's designed for cars.  That means if you can't or don't want to drive, you are screwed.  Getting around without a car is difficult, dangerous, illegal, or downright impossible.  And cars are risky even for passengers, given the number of collision deaths.  Devoting some space to high-speed travel makes sense, but the more you do that, the less you have for everything else, which quickly becomes a problem.

I will quibble about their definition of greenspace, though.  It doesn't mean just empty lots and medians.  It means ALL the plant-covered parts of an urbanscape.  That matters for a variety of reasons, most of which can be condensed into: 1) Wildlife needs greenspace to survive, the more the better.  2) Humans need greenspace to stay sane, the more the better.  Defining non-park greenspace as a non-place ignores both of these vital services that it provides.  Seriously, those stupid lollipop trees in the median keep the sun from baking pavement and pedestrians, provide habitat for birds, and discourage people from murdering each other.  A borrow pit become a runoff pond is a layover for migrating waterfowl.  If you add fish, verge plants, a few willows, etc. then it's a parklet.  You can even add a dock for boating/fishing and a picnic table to make it more appealing.  But it's the water that makes it a crucial resource in town where little surface water remains to support wildlife.
polychrome

Poem: "Proximity Leads to Intimacy"

This poem is spillover from the November 3, 2020 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired and sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It also fills the "proximity sense" square in my 11-1-20 card for the Sense-Ability Bingo fest. This poem belongs to the Calliope thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

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Black Friday Parking

Some areas have way more parking space than they actually need.  Black Friday Parking aims to reduce the excess by posting pictures of people in mostly-empty lots on the busiest shopping weekend of the year. 

Personally, I think that the way to reduce parking wastage is to support other transit such as walking, biking, pedicabs, mass transit, etc.  The more people use things other than cars, the more those acres of pavement look like a waste, and the less inclined people will be to demand more parking.  But if you're in a place that has a shortage of parking, it's very different.  Removing the space, or failing to make new space for more cars when you add housing or big business, just sets up for trouble.  Then people will hate you and work against you.  Lower the demand first.

Wherever you can demonstrate that demand is already way lower than supply, ask what else could you do with that space. Is on-street parking half empty?  Put in some bike racks!  Is a medium parking lot typically empty?  Bring in a food truck or farm stand.  Consider a skate dot.  A big parking lot, like at a mall or box store, is a candidate for tearing out some of that pavement.  You could put in a pocket park, or a new business.  If you want to keep the pavement, wall off part of it for a skatepark (you can drop cement or wooden fixtures right over the pavement rather than digging into to make bowls) or paint sidewalk games like hopscotch.  If you have a lot of young families in the area, paint "streets" and make it a tricycle park.  I know of one mall that hosts a large farmer's market in its lot during summers, and that actually does fill up most of the surrounding parking spaces.
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Mobile Merchants

... put the bottom rungs on the ladder

If you do not have easy ways for people to enter the workforce, they will not, and you will have a bunch more poor people to support, or step over if they wind up sleeping on the sidewalk.

Ideally, a society that wishes its people to be independent go-getters should provide ample opportunities for this.  Set up a food truck park and make sure the other food trucks have space to set up -- parking lots are often an excellent option, as are empty lots.  Much the same will work for other street vendors such as food carts and pop-up shops.  In fact if you think empty lots are an eyesore, trade use of the space to whomever is willing to take on mowing it.  Farmer's markets and street fairs offer other opportunities.  Check your sidewalk width.  You should have some areas with enough setback from the street to enable al fresco dining, sidewalk sales, busking, pop-up shops, and so forth with room left for people to walk.  Another option is malls, which are more expensive than outdoor setups, but there's a way around that.  Take a big space and subdivide it into stalls where anyone can very cheaply put out whatever they want to sell, whether it's crocheted cozies, antiques, or weird fish welded out of recycled junk.  I'm not making that up, we saw such a place that had taken over a mall's former anchor spot, and it was so awesome.

If you provide appropriate infrastructure for these activities, then you won't be tripping over people trying to make a living in areas that genuinely don't have room for it.  Make some space.  Better yet, make a space with lots of different things to do.  Imagine if a typical neighborhood park included a plaza for food trucks and carts beside the bathrooms, another space for other vendors, and some sort of busk stop or other performance platform -- all available for citizens to use as needed.  That would be a great place to go.
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Community Building Tip: Bike-friendly Districts

For my current set of tips, I'm using the list "101 Small Ways You Can Improve Your City.

49. Form a bicycle-friendly district. The city of Long Beach, California didn’t just want to encourage cyclists to frequent local stores and restaurants, it wanted to prove that people on bikes were good for small businesses. The bike-friendly business districts provide amenities for two-wheeled patrons like racks and discounts, and serve as hubs for the city’s growing bike network.

This is a great idea, and much more achievable than trying to upgrade a whole city at the same time.  Create centers of strength and grow from there.  Some good ways to start:

* Create a bike information hub.  Survey area attractions and list them: bike-friendly businesses, bike shops, bike racks, bus stops, showers/locker rooms, bike repair facilities, parks, and so on.  Include maps of bike routes that connect bike facilities, pass popular businesses, provide scenery, etc. with their respective distances.  If you want to get fancy, mark the routes with paint or signs.

* Put up bike racks.  1 car parking space = 10 bike parking spaces.  Use thematic bike racks to advertise businesses, or get custom ones with your town's logo.

* Tell business owners that bikers shop more locally and spend more money shopping than car drivers.  Encourage them to support bikers through things like a discount for customers who biked to the store.

* Provide somewhere for people to shower and change clothes.  This could be a dottie in an existing building, a freestanding showerhouse, a locker room a gym, etc.

* Amenities like a bike wash and repair station are quite small and will fit almost anywhere.  These are good choices for a park or a bike-friendly business.

* Make sure there are drinking fountains that include a bottle filler.  Everyone needs water, not just bikers.

* Start a bike club.  Connected bikers have more influence.

* Get listed as a bike-friendly community.  This will attract more participants and money.

* Once you have established two or more bike-friendly districts in your area, look for ways to connect them.  Can you put a bike lane along a connecting street, widen a sidewalk into a shared-use path, or convert an abandoned railway into a new transit lane?  Most crucially, connect your bike-friendly districts to your mass transit service(s).