Transactions of Decline

14 thoughts on “Transactions of Decline”

  1. Something like this happened to my Aunt’s neighborhood in Albuquerque. Except that instead of a few bland commercial buildings, several blocks of nice, affordable, and well maintained pre-WWII homes were demolished. Replaced by a large parking lot (and several buildings) for a vocational technical institute. Of course the ‘hood opposed it fiercely, to no avail. Although not an expensive area, buying out all those homes wasn’t cheap. Never figured out why it was so important to have the institute in that particular location. Some of the homes sat vacant for several years before removal, no attempt to even rent them in the interim!

  2. It IS interesting. Perhaps the rationale for the garage was: this will be too expensive to later tear down? Meanwhile, temporary class-space, when demand outpaces supply, is notoriously cheap and cheap to remove when the commitment for building quality new space comes up.

    Of course “temporary” can go on forever; I’ve seen even top universities have portions of their campus with plain-to-ugly “temporary” housing for mid-century baby-boomers that for some reason became “permenant” — maybe much of that is gone now; it’s been a while since I was on a northeastern college campus.

    Could be that it is a community college. Here in Virginia, it seems EVERY state school and public school district has an “Edifice Complex”, building soaring palaces of Education. Even Radford U., VSU and VCU which have long been regarded as being at the bottom of the Virginia State U. System, have seemingly doubled their physicical plants in very recent years. Haven’t seen any parking lots thoug.

  3. The sad thing is Mendocino Avenue is relatively ATTRACTIVE by sprawl stroad standards. Just head south of downtown, where the incomes are lower and scale of commerce more massive. Or, hop over the Mayacamas and take a gander at much of Napa. I especially love the tumorous carbuncle of big box retail, megaplex and motels they are extruding at the south end of town. But there is a bike path!

    Excellent essay as always, Johnny.

  4. While I do agree on the missed opportunities and prevalence of car culture, I wonder what institutions in a position such as a community college can do. They don’t have power do promote structural changes in the mobility patterns of the city. They don’t have the funds to invest in transit. If students and faculty cannot reach the college, it would suffer.

    If it were a residential 4-year university, things would be different, but this is not the case of a college catering mostly for students that live with their families and can’t reasonably relocate within walking distance, for instance.

    So what should such institutions do in this transitional phase? I think the parking lot is not entirely bad, it can be built over (more classrooms, labs, university offices) at a later time.

    1. You are correct that individual people, businesses, and smaller institutions can’t change the larger culture. Personally, I don’t think the larger culture will self-reform. Many things will simply fail, or limp along slowly in a long mediocre period of stagnation. People may not even notice the decline if it happens gradually enough. I’m okay with that outcome – so long as I live in a better place myself. The places that coordinate their efforts and change course will thrive and gain value. It’s always been this way throughout history. So be it.

    2. Good points Andre. I’d like to add that my uni. instated a rule back in the 1990s that Frosh couldn’t even register a car on campus (they had a bus), and the parking decal that you could get once a sophomore seemed a bit pricey, given that there was a huge amount of space to put more parking if there ever was a shortage.

    3. The could have built a mixed use building on that corner. A small shop or two downstairs, a few offices and apartments upstairs.

      Or they simply could have done nothing at all.

  5. Reblogged this on small town urbanism and commented:
    A great post about a wasted opportunity. The street along the Santa Rosa Junior College is a mish-mash of low density, car-oriented sprawl. Given the thousands of people that attend and work at the junior college and the adjacent high school it is appalling how we have developed this stretch of Mendocino Ave. This should be a lively mixed-use district. Small local shops on the ground floor with apartments for students above. In addition to the parking lot discussed in the blog, other recent additions to this stretch of road are the culinary center, which completely ignores the street frontage and is oriented to its parking lot and a Chick-Fil-A. The zoning code must prohibit this low-value development. It’s a completely missed opportunity.

  6. Mendocino Ave., where this surface parking lot is located, is such a huge missed opportunity. You have thousands of people at the junior college every day. Not to mention the 2,000 students at the adjacent high school. There are built-in patrons for all sorts of businesses that cater to that demographic. Restaurants, cafes, bookstores, copy shops, music venues, etc. This should be a great mixed-use neighborhood. Small local businesses on the ground floor with apartments for the students on the upper floors. Why does the city continue to allow this sprawl to continue on this stretch of road? The recently completed junior college culinary center is located to the south of the parking lot (it can be seen in the third photo down). It completely turns it’s back to the street. Another recent addition to the lineup is the Chick-Fil-A a couple blocks to the south. It’s absurd that we continue to allow this to happen and such a wasted opportunity. Come on Santa Rosa, we can, and should do better than this.

  7. The only good news about the parking garage is that it could potentially be converted to light industrial space. When the time comes. And the parking lot could become raised vegetable garden beds. But yes, an order of magnitude less money could have been spent achieving both outcomes. It’s kind of astonishing they could come up with the funds for a massive parking garage and not for classrooms.

    1. Sometimes things can be repurposed. Sometimes they simply decline when maintenance costs exceed productive value. Growing veggies on an abandoned contaminated parking lot is unlikely if plain old dirt is available elsewhere.

      I noticed that the name Zumwalt was prominently cut in stone and painted in gold letters on the parking deck. The Zumwalt name also appears on the list of college trustees. And the Zumwalt family made its fortune over the decades with car dealerships in the area. This isn’t a conspiracy theory. It’s an understandable set of conditions and well intentioned civic minded procedures that make sense in the short term. Long term? Not so much.

    1. Don’t know about this. A LOT of people in certain corners seem to assume that the car is going somewhere; yet it seems to me that cars keep getting better and more widely used. New Deal era construction was notoriously high quality because cost wasn’t so much of an issue and good labor was super-cheap. In those days, people didn’t use cars as much.

      Today, people go to junior colleges b/c they are cheap, easy to get into, the students often heavily subsidized and nearby — people often do not deign to move to the location of the college hence, the high demand for parking, and the availability of parking being more of a limiting factor than the quality of class space (indeed, even in many expensive schools, there are abundant sterile and windowless classrooms and lecture halls.) —- so future people may think those folks were smart, don’t know. Nashville seems to be the next American boomtown; I don’t like most sprawl myself, but it seems to go hand-in-hand with success these days (though there are exceptions), and I try not to let my personal preferences cloud my view of where humanity is heading. Do I think humanity is going to become more like me? No. I’ m not sure I’d even want that.

      1. I’m not against cars or “sprawl”. So you might be right about who our descendants think of as smart. I was just reflecting on the amount of public money going into such a small parking lot. I think using public monies to “green” a minuscule parking lot is decadent.

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