In today's paper:
The city’s Urban Development Department noted in its memo to the council: “The Plan accomplished its purpose of improving the area. In 1971 the assessed value was $18,977,000, and in 2012 it rose to $73,766,630, with a Real Market value of just under $108,945,000.”According to the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index calculator, $18,977,000 in 1971 dollars equals $108,429,892 in 2012 dollars. If we just look at assessed value, the assessed value of the district badly underperformed inflation!
|Pringle Creek Urban Renewal Area, 1975|
But in this crude calculation leveling a somewhat shabby mix of homes and commercial buildings, and replacing them with a campus-like cluster of mostly single-use government buildings set in a generous parkland, together yielded less than doing nothing and just leaving those buildings, their owners, and prospective new developers alone. Isn't that a little disturbing?
(Moreover, how much in property taxes are these government buildings paying, hmm?)
I don't know that I want to delve into a debate about urban renewal generally. I think it still has uses, though range of appropriate uses is almost certainly smaller than what its proponents suggest.
But I want to suggest that we should run away from the way it was implemented here. In fact, big box government buildings like the library, city hall, and SAIF, share more with big box retail than we might like. The economic advantages of mixed-uses and density are clear:
|Charts: "The Smart Math of Mixed-Use Development"|
In addition to the lack of direct economic value, the land use patterns of old-school urban renewal impose other costs. In transportation, this pattern of institutional development near downtown has girdled downtown proper. Residents and regular pulses of traffic into downtown, especially pulses by those on foot, on bike, or on transit, but even those in cars, face formidable barriers on the south, east, and west. It is difficult to move through this kind of urban redevelopment. And should it matter that City Hall is seismically unstable, and that we need $60 million or so for a new police facility? Should we include the fact much of what was built through the urban renewal apparently had a lifespan of only 50 years or so - and does the replacement cost need to be factored in? There are a bunch of externalities not included in the City's assessment, hidden costs that render the urban renewal patterns even more problematic.
As we look at the Downtown-Riverfront Urban Renewal District and others in Salem, we should do a better job of thinking about generating future value and about the expected delta between doing nothing and staging an intervention.