Friday, September 23, 2011

Little Rock is Three Cities


I think Arkansas Business' Jeff Hankins gets it right in this article. While I disagree with some of his other analysis, he's right on the logistics. We're divided and what does it are the freeways. Robert Moses said "... when you're developing a city, you have to hack your way through it with a meat ax". That's unfortunately exactly what we've done in Little Rock. The biggest shame of it is that we didn't learn our lesson with West Little Rock.

Sure, that's where the majority of retail growth has happened over the last 12 to 15 years and it's also seen no small amount of housing growth, though little of it could be classified as 'affordable'. In fact, it's largely high dollar housing. What we haven't seen is a significant population growth for the city. It's grown just about 0.7% from 2000 - 2006. That's nothing to write home about as the population is growing overall in this country and we're finally a urban nation; people are (sadly) fleeing the rural areas.

Yet the shame of it all is that it didn't have to be that way. We could have had a more focused growth pattern if we'd have had leadership that focused investment and encouraged growth in neglected areas of the city such as it's the Southwest portion which remains in need.

This westward sprawl is wholly unwalkable in the retail areas. It doesn't distinguish itself beyond the fact that there are a few high brow shops in that area (Apple, Fresh Market, J Crew, etc). Worse, it's greatly increased the need and demand for services - roads, water, fire & police protection, etc. unnecessarily. That sprawl is no small reason whey we needed the additional revenue.

It didn't have to be that way and we've just enabled it.

I hope we're wise enough to soften the sprawl with this revenue through traffic calming, dedicated bike lines and a strong focus on good design but history isn't on our side.

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