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Lincoln Road’s $67 million makeover (and Business Improvement Areas)

Lincoln Road is one of my favorite parts of Miami Beach. Supposedly the pedestrian-only street attracts some 11 million visitors a year. But I have noticed that the street has lost some of its mainstays to areas such as Wynwood. This is probably why the city and local property/business owners struck a deal this past summer to makeover the street based on a design by Field Operations.

The deal works like this: The City of Miami Beach is going to pay for the entire US$67 million makeover. This money will come from city and county taxes, as well from bonds. In return, property owners in the Lincoln Road Business Improvement District (BID) have agreed to tax themselves an additional 25% in order to pay for promoting and programming the street.

Obviously everyone believes that they will come out ahead as a result of this makeover. An improved Lincoln Road means more foot traffic, more sales, and more tax revenue. There’s also talk of expanding the boundaries of the BID, which would generate additional funds. Right now the district is bounded by Alton Road on the west and by Washington Avenue on the east.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Business Improvement Districts, they are essentially defined areas where additional taxes are levied in order to fund projects and improvements that help overall economic development within the district. It is a structure that is used all around the world and it is one that was actually pioneered here in Toronto.

Here we call them Business Improvement Areas, and the first ever was the Bloor West Village BIA, which was established in 1970. There are now 83 BIAs in the City of Toronto. The first BID in the United States was the Downtown Development District in New Orleans. It was established in 1974. There are now over 1,200 across the U.S.

If you’d like to learn more about the improvements planned for Lincoln Road, here’s a copy of the master plan that was submitted to the City of Miami Beach’s Historic Preservation Board. The link is from The Next Miami.

Rendering: Field Operations

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A merit-based system

I went to graduate school in the United States. After I graduated I was given, if I remember correctly, 90 days to leave the country. The US wasn’t a good place for professionals in architecture and/or real estate at that particular time, and so I did exactly that. I left the country.

Lately, I’ve been having a number of informational coffee meetings here in Toronto where I have been connecting with highly intelligent and educated people who have moved to this city in search of success. They couldn’t get a visa in the US and so they decided to, instead, move to the greatest city in the world.

These are people from Brazil to Bangladesh. These are people who are young (late 20’s), who have multiple masters degrees, who are hungry to get ahead, and who have a strong, if not perfect, command of English (or French).

I have been finding this fascinating. As I sit and drink my coffee, I can’t help but think to myself, “This is what a merit-based immigration system looks like.”

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The construction hard hat turns 100

I learned today that the hard hat will celebrate its 100th anniversary this year.

Patented in 1919, the hard hat was invented by a man named Edward W. Bullard (though his father had already been making protective leather caps for the mining industry). Edward had just returned to the United States after World War I and he began to wonder why construction workers weren’t wearing helmets like the one he had been wearing overseas. So he decided to make one.

Edward’s first product was called the Hard Boiled Hat, and it was made out of steamed canvas and leather. Similar to today, an early version of the hat featured a “suspension system,” which created an air cavity between head and helmet and cushioned any blows to the head. This overarching design approach hasn’t really changed all that much over the years, but Bullard’s hats did go from canvas to aluminum (1938) and then to plastic (1950). Plastic is, of course, cheaper to produce.

Supposedly, the first designated “Hard Hat Area” in the US was the Golden Gate Bridge site, which started construction in 1933. This should give you a sense of the hard hat’s adoption curve. It seemingly took well over a decade for construction sites to start mandating their usage, and even then it doesn’t appear to have been ubiquitous.

The company — which was founded in 1898 in San Francisco — is now in its fifth generation of family ownership, according to the New York Times.

Photo by Guilherme Cunha on Unsplash

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A taxonomy of moats

Jerry Neumann’s recent blog post on the “taxonomy of moats” is a great summary of the ways in which companies — and perhaps even cities — can protect themselves against competition.

Here’s an excerpt from his introduction:

Value is created through innovation, but how much of that value accrues to the innovator depends partly on how quickly their competitors imitate the innovation. Innovators must deter competition to get some of the value they created. These ways of deterring competition are called, in various contexts, barriers to entry, sustainable competitive advantages, or, colloquially, moats. There are many different moats but they have at their root only a few different principles. This post is an attempt at categorizing the best-known moats by those principles in order to evaluate them systematically in the context of starting a company.

And here is his taxonomy of moats. He identifies four main sources:

As a sidebar, consider how this might also apply to cities.

Scale, for example, matters a great deal. We know that as cities get bigger, people tend to walk faster, have broader social connections (the relationship is super-linear), and be far more productive and innovative.

If you’d like to read Jerry’s full post, click here. And if you’re interested in this space, I recommend you also check out Fred Wilson’s recent post on, “The Great Public Market Reckoning.”

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Junction House ground breaking

The Junction House team is excited to announce that construction will start this fall and that our ground breaking ceremony will be held at 11AM on Saturday, October, 19th. Mark your calendars.

It will take place at our Sales Gallery — 2720 Dundas St W. This will be one of the last opportunities to see the award-winning Junction House Sales Gallery before it is demolished in preparation for construction.

There will be photo opportunities for everyone in attendance, and so we encourage you to bring your phones/cameras. You’re welcome to extend this invitation to family and friends, but kindly RSVP by sending an email to info@junctionhouse.ca.

We look forward to seeing you there.

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Transit investment & density (in San Francisco)

This recent Streetsblog article about the possibility of turning the M Ocean View line in San Francisco into a kind of subway is a good reminder about the always important connection between transit investment and density. The question I always pose to myself is, “If I were a private company deciding where to spend the money on a new and expensive subway line, what would I look for?” Most of us recognize that population and employment densities would be near, if not at, the top of the list.

Of course, if the company were fully private, then we would run the risk of low-density / unprofitable areas of the city not being serviced by transit. For a variety of reasons, that’s not an ideal outcome, which is why transit operators are mostly subsidized. The challenge is that the way we plan transit in most — or all? — cities has become so highly politicized today. That’s how we end up with the wrong transit technologies in areas that don’t have the density to properly support them.

Now, I don’t know the specifics of the M Ocean View line. (Maybe some of you do and will provide those thoughts in the comments below.) So this is not a post about what may or may not be appropriate in this particular instance. But it is a commentary on the importance of fiscal prudence and sound transportation planning.

Photo by Lance Anderson on Unsplash

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New rental supply needs to double in Toronto

This week, RBC Economics published a study on Canada’s rental market where they argued that the pace of new supply needs to at least double in markets like Toronto in order to meet future housing demand and balance the market. Similar things, I’m sure, could be said about many other housing markets around the world.

The report pegs the current rental housing deficit in Toronto at about 9,100 units:

And because they believe that the cost of ownership is pushing more people into rentals, the number of renter households is expected to grow at an average rate of 22,200 units per year in Toronto.

If you take 22,200 units per year over the next two years, and add in the current deficit of 9,100 rental units, you get to a total count of 53,500 rental units. This is what RBC Economics believes must be delivered to the market in order to restore equilibrium, and decrease the upward pressure on rents.

Rental units are, of course, delivered to the market in two main ways. There’s purpose-built rentals and there are for-sale units that end up as rental housing. But even if you amalgamate both of these tenures, we are not building enough housing.

Against this backdrop, I find it curious that developers are so often vilified. Earlier this week, I saw Jennifer Keesmaat tweet out that — as we ready for this fall’s federal election — any sensible housing plan must move away from our current for profit housing delivery model.

Who, then, will build these 53,500 rental units? That part wasn’t clear to me.

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Metrolinx to further optimize the Union Pearson Express train

It was announced this week that Metrolinx will be making changes to the popular UPX train service that connects Union Station to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. This is an interesting transit story. And as someone who will be moving to the Junction (adjacent to one of the stops along the way), I have a vested interest in this announcement.

The UPX started out as a high-priced boutique train service to the airport. A one-way fare was $27.50 per person (without a PRESTO card). This was too much and I argued that here on the blog. If you looked at the math and compared it to the alternatives, such as taking an UberX, most people were not going to take this train.

The fares were ultimately dropped — by a lot — and the service then took off not only as a link to Pearson but as an inner-city commuter service. I now sometimes call it the Union-Junction Express, because the actual train ride from Union to Bloor St (at Dundas West) is about 7 minutes once you’re on the train.

The announcement this week merely solidifies the train’s evolution from high-priced boutique service (which didn’t work) to airport/commuter service (which is really working). The trains are expected to run more frequently now, some of which will continue to make the same stops as today and some of which will stop in new locations along the line.

As transit-advocate Cameron MacLeod said in the Globe and Mail yesterday, “there’s both good and bad news here.” The good news is more frequent service. Even quicker trips in some instances. And better integration with the broader GO train network. The bad news is the award-winning UPX station at Union will no longer be needed. The service is expected to move to a new platform.

Photo by Sean Thoman on Unsplash

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My life as a tram

Love them or hate them (I happen to love them), Toronto’s streetcars are part of this city’s identity. Most North American cities got rid of their streetcars around the middle of the 20th century. But Toronto didn’t. And that has left us with the largest first generation streetcar network in the Americas in terms of total track length, number of cars, and ridership. That’s something. If you’re also a fan of streetcars (or just like geeking out about cities), you may enjoy this little ode to Zürich’s tram network by Monocle. It’s called, “My life as a tram.”

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Airbnb is powering new purpose-built short-term rental buildings

This past weekend I was in a condo building here in Toronto with large signs in the elevator saying, “No Short-Term Rentals Including Airbnb Are Permitted. Trespassers Will be Prosecuted.” It was the first time I had seen anything like this, but it immediately signaled to me that the building must be having a problem with short-term rentals. Why else would you deface the elevators? There are some buildings that allow short-term rentals, but most don’t.

However, over the last few years we have started to see purpose-built short-term rental buildings. In some cases, existing apartments buildings were “converted”, as was the case with Niido’s two properties in Nashville and Orlando. Here tenants in the building can rent both unfurnished and furnished apartments and then rent them out on Airbnb up to a maximum of 180 days per year. To date, I think these are the only two properties to use the “Powered by Airbnb” moniker, but more are on the way.

The developer behind Niido — Newgard Development Group — recently launched a new Powered by Airbnb brand called, Natiivo. This one looks to be focused on for sale product, with two upcoming projects in Austin and Miami. Both projects will have hotel licenses in order to avoid any regulatory risk going forward. But this makes me wonder how materially different this model is from the condo-hotels we’re already familiar with.

For landlords and developers, the goal is obviously to maximize rents and prices. Allowing (or explicitly encouraging) residents to rent out their place and earn some extra cash, should help with that. And given the way I started this post, we also know there’s a desire to do this, particularly in places with strong tourist demand like in Nashville and Miami. But the reviews are mixed. Not everyone wants to live in a hotel. But then again, not everyone wants to co-live. To each their own.