Trend: movement from suburbs back to urban cores | Arkansas Blog

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Trend: movement from suburbs back to urban cores

Posted By on Sat, Nov 26, 2011 at 7:05 AM

MORE TO COME? LR has experienced some growth in high-end residences downtown, such as River Market Tower here? Does future promise more?
  • MORE TO COME? LR has experienced some growth in high-end residences downtown, such as River Market Tower here. Does future promise more?

Food for thought in the New York Times, an article saying that the real estate bubble spurred suburban growth and its crash means that same vitality will never return to ring cities.

What's more writes Christian Lineberger, a professor of urban planning, high-priced real estate is moving to urban cores, along with people.

Simply put, there has been a profound structural shift — a reversal of what took place in the 1950s, when drivable suburbs boomed and flourished as center cities emptied and withered.

The shift is durable and lasting because of a major demographic event: the convergence of the two largest generations in American history, the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and the millennials (born between 1979 and 1996), which today represent half of the total population.

Many boomers are now empty nesters and approaching retirement. Generally this means that they will downsize their housing in the near future. Boomers want to live in a walkable urban downtown, a suburban town center or a small town, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors.

The millennials are just now beginning to emerge from the nest — at least those who can afford to live on their own. This coming-of-age cohort also favors urban downtowns and suburban town centers — for lifestyle reasons and the convenience of not having to own cars.

Well. Little Rock has seen some hefty investments in downtown real estate, but a largely derelict Main Street is testament to the distance yet to travel. Still, this larger view of reconcentrating cities could explain the theory that the Stephens empire's acquisition of big chunks of downtown Little Rock property — only to raze it, gravel it and let it sit (and the Channel 7 building is a rumored future acquisition) — is a legacy investment. That is, it's money spent now with a very long view. Someday, when people can't afford to drive to Chenal or Cabot or Bryant any longer (and we may be talking 30 years), that land will be very valuable.

It's a theory anyway. This is easy for me to say, too, but I don't understand why the Stephens Inc. investors don't enhance their holdings now by investing a little of their money now into new development or at least making a meaningful contribution to the publicly funded initiatives currently on the drawing board. Offering a small markdown on kitchen equipment manufactured by a company you own — as Stephens has done in the case of adding something to the pot to relocate Pulaski Tech's culinary school — is not an investment. Given that most of the city power players joined forces not long ago to defeat a hotel development project seen as competition to the Stephenses' Capital Hotel, you'd think they could show a little more gratitude.

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