Midwest Memo: Groupon’s Growth, Toledo’s (Unfinished) Transformation And The Big Easy Takes One Away

Groupon grows Chicago-based Groupon has acquired a new York company that specializes in gathering data about local consumers. The Chicago Tribune says it could be the “deal of the year.”

Long way to go in Toledo The Toledo area has seen 7,200 new jobs in manufacturing since June of 2009. That’s the second best improvement in the country (Lansing, Mich. is number one). But the Toledo Blade says there are still 36 percent fewer manufacturing jobs than there were in 1998.

Background check The Blade also has a Special Report out this morning. The newspaper hired investigators in China to look into two Chinese investors who’ve invested millions in Toledo. The paper finds that the two investors amassed their fortunes thanks to connections to the ruling Communist Party in China, and after years of service as government bureaucrats. (Our own Dan Bobkoff reported on Toledo’s China connection last summer).

Losing to the Big Easy Indianapolis was in the running for a GE corporate office with 300 high-paying jobs. But the company picked New Orleans instead.

Next in line The New York Times profiles the heir apparent to the CEO office at Ford.

Unpaid fees Detroit decides it’s time to collect.

Media moratorium The Chicago News Cooperative, a non-profit news agency that had been providing content to The New York Times, will suspend its operations on February 26th.

Midwest Memo: Lansing-Area UAW Members Voting On Strike Authorization, Illinois Lawmakers Regroup, Milwaukee Businesses Sharing Office Space

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Lansing-area Local 602 could authorize strike. Members of UAW Local 602 are voting today and tomorrow on whether to authorize a strike. The union, which represents approximately 3,430 employees at the General Motors assembly plant in Delta Township, Michigan, has failed to reach an agreement on a local contract with plant management. According to the Lansing State Journal, a strike authorization gives union leaders the authority to call a strike, but does not necessarily mean one is imminent. Changing Gears profiled Local 602, one of the three locals that defeated the GM-UAW contract, in September.

2. Illinois lawmakers regroup. Lawmakers will give a second effort to keeping CME Group and Sears in Illinois. After rejecting two bills that would have provided the Chicago-based companies with $250 million in tax incentives last week, they announced the House would hold a special session Monday in hopes of trying again. House members have now raised the prospect of splitting the bill into several pieces of legislation and holding multiple votes, our partner station WBEZ reported. The two companies have threatened to relocate elsewhere in the Midwest if a deal isn’t done by the end of the year. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said Ohio offered Sears $400 million in incentives to relocate to Columbus.

3. Milwaukee capitalizes on workspace-sharing trend. A Milwaukee developer is bringing a  West Coast trend of small businesses sharing office space to the Midwest. Soon, William Waldren will open the Hudson Business Lounge, where 180 small-business owners have already signed up to share work space, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “There’s definitely been a pickup in people wanting to do this,” said James Carlson, who runs Bucketworks, another Milwaukee-based shared workspace building. Hudson offers various levels, starting at $55 per month for part-time access to group work tables to a $795 per month package that includes private office space. Across the U.S., 450 to 500 co-working sites exist, according to the newspaper, but most cater to tech people. Walden wants to broaden the appeal to other businesses.

 

Zoning Out: Why Cities are Rewriting their Codes to Transform their Look

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Zoning is the DNA of a community: it controls how you live, shop, and work.  After nearly a century of many cities separating those uses, now, they’re going back to the future: trying to recreate an old way of life. Streetsboro, Ohio is one such place. Drive down its main commercial district and it has nearly every chain store you can imagine: A Walmart and a Target, a Lowes and a Home Depot.

 

Streetsboro's big box stores are set way back from the street. The city wants to change that with new zoning. (Photo: Dan Bobkoff)

Some call it sprawl. Streetsboro calls it economic development. This six-lane strip of big box shopping centers has served this city well since its explosive growth started in the 1960s. It just doesn’t look like a traditional town.

The town center is an intersection with a grassy knoll on one side. But Jeff Pritchard is in charge of planning there now and he’s aiming for a future Streetsboro that would look very different. These big box stores could eventually be replaced by attractive housing and shops. The way towns and cities used to be.

“A place where they can walk to a corner store, maybe live above a store, says Anthony Flint of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. “And, those kinds of things, that’s illegal in America today in so many of our communities. “

Illegal because of zoning.  In many cities and towns, zoning codes don’t allow living and working in the same place. And, when zoning spread across the country in the 1920s and 30s, that was considered a good thing.

“ You didn’t want to have a slaughter house next to a residential apartment,” Flint says.

But those issues aren’t as big a deal anymore. As the Great Lakes region reinvents itself, there’s a growing feeling among planners and thinkers that much of the public wants to spend less time in their cars. They point to rising gas prices, and think fewer people will want the single family home separated from everything else in their lives. So, cities as diverse as Peoria with its historic downtown, and Pontiac, Michigan, with its post-industrial woes are joining Streetsboro in rethinking their zoning.

Jeff Pritchard (Photo: Dan Bobkoff)

The change could be dramatic: something called form-based code. In his Streetboro planning office, Pritchard shows the city’s current colorful zoning map: purple for industry, yellow for homes, pink for those big box stores.

Streetsboro's Current Zoning Map

But there’s no overlap, no mingling of uses. Form-based code is the opposite. It encourages mixing. The city controls how a building looks and operates: say, three stories high, up against the curb, parking in the back. But it doesn’t dictate the use. So, it could be housing and shops in the same building.

How does this work in the real world? A decade ago, Miami, Florida had a mess of buildings, but some streets had few shops at street level. So, city planner Ana Gelabert-Sanchez pushed for parts of the city to try form-based code.  She says the zoning now allows for the kinds of streets more residents want to live and walk on.

“Younger people started moving into downtown because they wanted to live close by,” she says. “They wanted to work close by. So, it’s happening. And, what I think is great is that it’s happening at every age.”

But is this a life everyone wants? Critics say this is government dictating how people should live and that there isn’t enough evidence that a broad swath of the population really yearns to return to dense, urban areas.

“I sort of chuckle at those sorts of arguments,” says Lolita Buckner Inniss of the Cleveland Marshall College of Law. She says form-based code, and the larger so-called New Urbanist movement, is based on a nostalgic notion of cities. For many people, they had no choice but to live in a dense neighborhood.

 

“That wasn’t necessarily something that they sough or that was beneficial,” Inniss says.  “That was how they lived. Many of those people, when they got the opportunity, looked for less density, more fresh air.”

That’s not stopping Streetsboro officials from trying to turn a part of this exurb into more of a traditional town. It will likely take years or decades before the changes are noticeable. Standing in front of Walmart, Sean Smetak and Becky Slattery had a hard time imagining this strip having sidewalks and people walking.

“No, no, it’s too busy, definitely too busy,” they said.

But, they have no love for the way it looks now.