Squeezing the Balloon in Missoula

16 thoughts on “Squeezing the Balloon in Missoula”

  1. Incidentally, Johnny — regarding that picture of a Miller Creek area house with the BH realty sign, realtor Lew Matelich.

    I moved to Missoula in the mid-90s, and back then, Lew was an absolute bottom-tier realtor, handling only the houses which nobody wanted to buy. Any house with a Lew Matelich realtor affiliation was basically a stay-away warning, because it was both overpriced and poorly built/maintained.

    Back in the mid-90s, there were maybe 4 trustworthy realtors. And maybe a total 10 others, all told.

    In 2017? Probably over 100 realtors, and few of them trustworthy — if any.

    You might want to investigate John Engen’s past and how it is he persuaded and/or presided over most of these terrible changes to the landscape.

  2. Johnny, I haven’t read any of your blog but this post here. I found it by doing a search of “missoula gentrification” — your blog hit on page 2 of the search results.

    I’m not sure you’ve thought this through much. You laud the infill in the “downtown” area, but it seems your applause is due to fancy modern architecture, rather than the real result of gentrification: displacement. The fancy-looking downtown area “small houses” are neither small nor cheap.

    Have you investigated average household income in Missoula? It’s not 100k. It’s not 75k. It’s not 50k. It’s more like 30k. But you’re applauding $175k crackerboxes with angular “modern” architecture like they help matters of displacement.

    The infrastructure angle is interesting. None of it would be needed if Misssoula were not eagerly seeking gentrification. Also, did you bother paying attention to the sale of Missoula’s watershed for drinking water? Or the town’s weak-kneed, legally flawed arguments supposedly trying for retention of ownership regarding that water? Or the history of the sale of that water in the 1980s?

    Once, not too long ago, Missoula was an inexpensive town to live in. The cost of apartments and houses was pretty well in line with median household incomes.

    Then, the gentrifying opportunists saw avenues for fat profits. And they pursued those profits by spending lots on PR campaigns, which sold the idea of infill development and a need for rigorous infrastructure rebuilds.

    It would seem they caught you in their sales pitch audience, and it would seem you lack the skepticism needed to discern their profiteering motives from their PR sales pitches.

    I don’t think you’d find a lot of people in Missoula in July 2017 who’d agree with what I’ve said above. Most have moved away due to their inability to afford ever-increasing taxes, or impossibly expensive apartment rentals, or absurdly overpriced angular infill “small homes” in the downtown region. Some left because they couldn’t find work any more.

    Speaking of work: what do you think is the average hourly wage of a Missoula employee?

  3. It’s so refreshing to view these sights and read about the intricate details of this place, making me feel as though I AM there. Definitely looking forward to getting out of the metropolitan area to visit such places one day..!

  4. Call a place paradise kiss it goodbye.
    Economics controls human behavior.
    It may very well in the near or distant future sort itself out through some cataclysmic reckoning whose form sends a shutter through my soul.

  5. There’s people out there who I’m sure think that if you squeeze the whole balloon equally it will simply solidify into a sort of pressurized stasis rather than popping. The analogy works better anyway if you imagine the balloon starts leaking through a bunch of holes, as the demand has nowhere to go but out, while still keeping it inflated. That’s sort of the California situation, where everything is so constrained that growth has slowed and people are even leaving. Of course if the amount of demand starts to drop for other reasons, there’s nothing to say the hemorrhaging won’t continue and then the balloon will start to shrivel and deteriorate

    1. Missoula and countless other towns are the recipient of overflows of people and money from other places that have ossified. California has comprehensively failed to manage its growth. Not in my back yard. Build absolutely nothing near anything. Build giant things out of scale with the neighborhood. Hyper gentrify one place. Impoverish another. Society can’t have a rational conversation about how to proceed. So people migrate to Oregon and Washington State. People in Oregon and Washington get squeezed and Idaho and Montana start to look pretty good. This is the flip side of the massive depopulation of the Rust Belt where the air just left the ballon until it was sad and flaccid.

  6. This very well captures most of the development patterns currently practiced, except adding density in the downtown, which Missoula may not be pursuing due to their downtown’s charm and historic character. I’ve heard garden apartments described as “density without amenity” as well as “density without urbanism”; either way, they have the same unsatisfying hybrid result as the “stroad”. Where in Missoula is that good example of cottage housing?

    1. Missoula no longer has charm or character anywhere! Most especially, not in the downtown district. Missoula is now a trendy neo-Boulder, an ersatz proto-Bend, or a northern mountain-Austin. It’s empty behind the fancy facade, and it’s proud of itself like most empty things/people/ideas.

      The rural, rugged character of Missoula was lost in the late 90s/early 00s. Back in the mid-90s and before, you could honestly say Missoula had a unique character, perhaps some would call it “charm.” But in 2017? It’s just another Outdoor Lifestyle McTown, a carbon copy of every other place gentrified into dull pretense, filled with self-congratulating hipsters who sing the praises of gentrification and urbanization. Ironically, they often move to Missoula to escape a city — but eagerly promote urbanization of Missoula once arrived.

      The only happy people you’ll find in Missoula circa 2017 are the retired, the semi-retired, and those rich enough to never have to find work (independently wealthy, in other words). Doubly ironically, these people often consider themselves progressive, while living in a way that displaces the poor. Apparently that’s acceptable because Missoula’s poor can be dismissed as dumb rednecks or White Trash.

  7. This pretty much sums up most current development options, except densifying the downtown, which Missoula may not be pursuing due to its charm and historic character. I’ve heard garden apartments described as “density without amenity” as well as “density without urbanism”. Either way, it’s an unsatisfying hybrid like the “stroad”. Where in Missoula is that good example of a “pocket neighborhood”?

  8. As you point out, modest infill / missing middle seems to be the only political palatable solution that pencils out.

    In that vein, I’ve begun to admire aging garden apartment complexes in older suburbs. Tear off those horrid 70s shingles, give them a cheap-o Dwell treatment and 1.5x the number of units. Voila! Additional housing stock, tax revenue and eyesore mitigation. A little carrot for everyone. In theory…

    1. In theory “missing middle” infill works best. In reality, there’s a lot of resistance. I’ve got a follow up story from Missoula that describes the gathering momentum to make it harder and less likely. Same as most places…

  9. “Code of the new west” was the first thing I thought of when I saw those houses on the hill. Specifically “forbidden” if I remember right.

    I went to university in Bozeman and recently paid a visit through the portal of real estate websites. I graduated just before the recession(you might call it peak bubble) but when I look at the prices there now the seemed to have doubled from that point in time. What do you call “double bubble?” I somehow don’t think the word recovery is the right term.

    That being said Montana is a damn nice place to live and if you can make a place independent living(internet) or are independently wealthy than why not. And if you got money to burn and a proped up QE market is not your thing than why not commoditize/financilize the “last best place”. Anyone who can’t afford to/dosen’t think of real estate as a financial instrument be damned.

  10. Great post. I just disagree with this part:

    “And environmental activists insist on little green Band-Aids being applied in thin strips so there’s “nature” in the city.”

    I don’t think any genuine environmental activist would insist on that little green strip! When you add those up throughout a whole city, that’s the city spreading out farther than it needs to, into genuine nature, in order to accommodate non-natural green strips! I think that kind of thing isn’t insisted on by actual environmental activists, just people who don’t see development through the anti-environmental lens at all, and instead think they’re “beautifying” the neighbourhood.

    1. The code is informed by years of environmental activism that demanded a less destructive built environment. So administrators added a long list of well intentioned mandates and incentives to the usual development pattern. The result is an incoherent collection of isolated parts. Permeable surfaces, drought tolerant native plantings, open space buffers, storm water retention ponds… I’ve got another post coming from across the street from this apartment complex that’s a “wetlands habitat refuge.” In reality it absorbs the oily run off from the Albertsons supermarket parking lot. But it has cattails and ducks right there between the discount tire shop and the Quickie Mart. “Nature.”

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