Fiscal Romance

The town of Clayton, Missouri, loves neighboring Richmond Heights for its money. And Richmond Heights loves Clayton for its looks. If these two St. Louis suburbs get hitched, it'll be a Donald Trump-style wedding.
by | May 2007
 

The town of Clayton, Missouri, loves neighboring Richmond Heights for its money. And Richmond Heights loves Clayton for its looks. If these two St. Louis suburbs get hitched, it'll be a Donald Trump-style wedding.

Clayton is an upscale town known for its stately homes, corporate headquarters and top-notch schools. Richmond Heights is more blue collar but boasts two huge shopping malls. Lately, the mayors of both towns have been wondering: Would Clayton's handsome property values plus Richmond Heights' sales-tax base equal marital bliss?

Ironically, Clayton, the wealthier of the pair, needs Richmond Heights more. Clayton's retail sector is eroding. If residents there want to keep the high-quality government services they've come to expect, they see two choices: raise property taxes or get Richmond Heights to share its growing mall revenues. What's in it for Richmond Heights? Clayton's cachet. Over time, that might rub off in the form of higher home values.

"Make love not war"--perhaps suburbs everywhere should think of their neighbors this way. But several obstacles remain in the path of this deal. For one thing, both towns rule out employee layoffs, so there isn't much to gain by way of efficiencies. Then again, there's all that tax money. A decent dowry has been known to nail down questionable marriages before.

GETTING SMARTER

Ten years ago this month, the phrase "smart growth" first appeared in Governing. We almost always put quotes around it. The term is and always was a bowl of green mush, best articulated as the opposite of "sprawl"--whatever that is. As former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist tells me, "the definition of smart growth is, well, you know what I mean."

That may be changing. There's a new way for localities to independently verify the environmental bonafides of new development. And it comes from the U.S. Green Building Council, the nonprofit whose well-known "LEED" ratings have become an important standard for new office buildings.

The council is now scoring new neighborhoods using a checklist. There are required features, such as a compact development pattern, close proximity to water and sewer lines and linkages with other neighborhoods (gated communities need not apply). Add-ons such as transit accessibility, mixing uses, walkability and diverse housing types score extra-credit points. Only projects that score above a certain level can gain LEED certification--the new seal of "smart growth," and maybe the first one that will really mean something.

A DAY AT THE FAKE BEACH

Remember when Chicago put painted cows on the streets? And then every other city followed with its own painted pigs, moose, bears, mules, ducks, Snoopys and Mr. Potato Heads?

Well, I keep wondering: What kitschy public-space crowd-pleaser is coming next? The answer, I hope, comes from Europe, where summer in the city means hitting the beach. Several years ago, Paris began trucking in sand each summer, turning a riverfront expressway into the "Paris Plage." It was so popular that Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, London and Rome now create their own sandy beaches with lounge chairs, palm trees and a troubling number of men in Speedos. Even Mexico City has a temporary urban beach.

Why hasn't this idea caught on in the U.S.? I imagine it's because cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Diego have real beaches close by already. But I could see it working in landlocked Denver, Minneapolis, Cincinnati or Dallas. What are you waiting for, landlubbers?

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