Reading through the Impact Downtown Albany playbook

impact downtown albany zones

The plan identifies four zones downtown.

The "playbook" for the Impact Downtown Albany project is out. It's aimed to be a set of specific ideas and steps the city can take to continue the redevelopment of downtown Albany -- touching on topics such as residential and retail development, taxes, parking, pop-up events, and branding.

"Impact Downtown Albany was designed as a game changer," said Sarah Reginelli, the president of Capitalize Albany, the city's economic development arm. "It was designed as a tactical approach to downtown revitalization."

The report was produced for Capitalize Albany by a team of consultants over the last two years. Capitalize Albany released it this week so that it might help the Capital Region's bid for one of those $500 million Upstate Revitalization grants from the state.

"Downtown has wonderful assets already, downtown has a strong momentum," Reginelli told us Thursday. "Part of it is changing perceptions of downtown and understanding that this momentum has been occurring and that there is potential here for people to reach out and grab."

We read through the report. And there's approximately three tons of stuff in it. So, if this topic interests you -- go skim through it (pdf). But here are a few chunks of it that caught our eye...

Underused properties

Economic development officials have expressed frustration in the past that downtown Albany has properties that are stuck in a kind of limbo -- some vacant, others occupied far below their full potential. So the Impact Downtown Albany plan proposes trying to rouse these properties from that state.

"We have huge market potential in downtown Albany, and in Tech Valley and the Capital Region as a whole, so there is demand for these spaces," Sarah Reginelli said to us. "But often properties are either not listed on the market and are sitting underutilized and stagnant, or when properties are listed, the owner lists them at an inflated price that is unreasonable for what the market can bear."

One of the potential solutions suggested: buying these buildings, particularly underused "class B" and "class C" office space, and reselling them when developers come along willing to invest in redevelopment. The plan proposes creating a "strategic property acquisition fund" for Capitalize Albany to acquire underused properties, or to aggregate smaller properties that could be combined for larger development.

(The plan also mentions "Potential to exercise tax foreclosure or eminent domain or authority, in partnership with Albany County or the City of Albany Industrial Development Agency, to assist strategic acquisition and redevelopment of properties to serve local and regional economic development priorities.")

How to pay for that? Well, one of the potential ways mentioned is a "share of regional fees and/or taxes related to retail sales, hotel visits and/or other sources" that could help supply the fund for Capitalize Albany.

If this idea advances, it'll be interesting to see how this role for Capitalize Albany will be received.

Taxes

From the plan: "Downtown businesses endure higher costs for property taxes and parking than those in suburban locations. Absent compelling business advantages to being downtown, businesses will tend to seek lower cost alternatives." (pdf p. 14)

Taxes are a constant topic in Albany because 1) they're high and 2) large projects are always seeking tax breaks, which in turn prompt complaints about those breaks from people concerned the city is giving away too much and from small businesses that say they're left out.

"Our tax structure puts commercial development in the city of Albany at a disadvantage with its surrounding jurisdictions," Reginelli said Thursday. And so, certainly, the tax incentives offered through the industrial development agency are necessary and need to be continued. But, obviously, we don't want to rely entirely on those, and want to be able to move downtown and the city in the direction of being able to rely less and less on that particular resource."

The plan proposes a few ways to approach the tax issue that don't involve more breaks, among them leaning on the state and other institutions that currently don't pay property taxes to chip in to help cover services. And the hope is, that will help lift some of the tax burden on other properties in the city. (As you know, a large portion of Albany isn't subject to property tax because it's either owned by the state or non-profits.) The city of Albany has had some recent success in scoring payments from institutions such as SUNY Poly and Albany Med. But in both those cases, the payments were for $500k a year -- and while that's a significant chunk of money, the city has a $176 million budget.

So, yeah, taxes -- and tax breaks -- are going to continue to be a topic of discussion.

Parking

Every planning and development discussion eventually comes around to parking. Always. From the plan (pdf p.15):

Downtown parking costs are perceived by many property and business owners to be uncompetitive with the free or lower-cost parking in alternative suburban locations. While property and business owners in many downtowns accept higher parking in order to access a downtown's premium business environment, downtown Albany's locational benefits for business are not as compelling as they could be.

Among the ideas proposed: better coordination of available parking spaces in garages and lots so that spaces are made available when they wouldn't otherwise be used. And there's a nod to car sharing.

But here's an idea that we're not even sure we believe, but what the hell: Maybe parking is something to which we should all just stop paying attention. If there's compelling stuff in downtown Albany, people will go -- and the parking will sort itself out eventually as people adapt (they might even -- gasp! -- take the bus) and capacity grows to meet strong demand.

Or it won't. It's just that for all the things to get stuck on, parking seems like something that can be sorted.

Housing

733 Broadway, February 4, 2015
733 Broadway is one of the buildings being flipped to residential. This pic from this past February.

One of the bright spots for downtown Albany in recent years has been a small boom in residential development, as some 900 units of new residential have been added in redeveloped spaces, with another 300 units in the pipeline. And the new units are renting out, often with waiting lists.

An important aspect of the residential boomlet is that for a lot of the space downtown housing is probably its best use. From the report, which notes that 60 percent of Class C office space downtown was vacant in 2014: "Much Class C space, which tends to occupy older office buildings with small floorplates and other characteristics unsuitable for current office preferences, offers good potential for conversion to loft housing." (pdf p. 76)

Those spaces are probably never going to be offices again. So residential puts them to use. And adding people to downtown -- residents, especially -- should have all sort of beneficial spillover effects for the growth of retail and other development.

Much of the new residential development in downtown Albay has been toward the higher end of the market. So one of the things to watch going forward will be whether that mix can be diversified so it's available to a wider range of incomes.

"Catalyst" sites

The plan identifies a bunch of specific "catalyst initiative sites" around downtown, with details about what it might take to flip them to a different use (pdf p. 78) You'll probably find the discussion about these sites and buildings interesting.

Also: Similarly, the report includes reinvestment priorities for four districts downtown: State Street, the riverfront, Pearl/Broadway, and the Warehouse District (pdf p. 47) -- you'll also probably find those interesting.

One more bit

impact downtown Albany linear park idea

This isn't a major part of the report -- and, really, it seems like a longshot -- but we thought it was interesting: A park built on one of the exits from I-787:

"Clinton Square-Corning Riverfront Park "high-line" connection--the northbound exit from I-787 to Clinton Avenue is relatively lightly used, redun- dant to other exits, and could offer much more to Albany as a landscaped multi-use path to Corning River-front Park. The ramp could serve as a promenade, bike route and linear landscape making a valuable connection to the park, dramatically increasing its accessibility from Arbor Hill and downtown." (pdf p. 65)

Earlier

+ Impact Downtown Albany's vision of what the city's downtown could be
+ Thinking about residential development in downtown Albany
+ About retail in downtown Albany, and other local downtowns
+ Impact Downtown Albany
+ Six short takeaways from six short talks
+ Pop. Pop. Pop. Shop.
+ What "they" say about here

Comments

Show me a city without a downtown parking problem, and I'll show you a city with a downtown problem. City's should embrace parking shortages as a good problem to have. It means people want to visit your city, and they're willing to pay for it. It seems the people that complain about parking the most, are the suburbanites who think they're entitled to park right in front of their destination for free.

"It means people want to visit your city"
________________________

I'm confused. Are the visitors city dwellers or are they part of the "evil suburbanites"? All joking aside, I travel quite a bit, and the best cities, towns and villages I have visited are the ones where you don't see a parking meter or pay for a parking garage (many cities in California, just to name one place, are like that). Paid parking is inherently annoying and discourages people from patronizing businesses. Why would anyone pay an extra $20 or $30 for parking to buy a pair of sneakers or a bottle of wine? Or to go to the movies? Ludicrous. At the end of the day, the Alabany Parking Authority is so bloated that I wouldn't be surprised if it costs taxpayers more to run than the indirect taxes it collects. Paid or restricted parking is a bad idea. If developers want to provide exclusive parking to their tenants, they'll be forced to integrate that into their plans. Otherwise, visitors should be able to drive in and park wherever they want without any problems. Use the resources to fight crime.

Joe, just curious, are the majority of your examples in central/western U.S. (like your California example)?

Either way, paid public parking is generally (supposedly) used to encourage turnover. It doesn't help anything to make street parking free if none of the spots are available because office workers are parked there for the entirety of their shift -- all of the downtown state employees have to pay for their OGS parking permits, I guess you already know, which is why Clinton, Broadway, Orange, etc. beyond the meters are always packed on weekdays.

Couldn't disagree more, Joe. If you want to drive in and park wherever you want without any problems then PLEASE stay in the suburbs. We have too much parking in Albany as it is, and people should absolutely be required to pay for it.

And theshakes is absolutely right. The best cities are those where parking is tough, because they contain stuff besides parking.

Sorry, folks, I don't engage in the "me vs them" mentality, and I wouldn't really know how to classify "suburbs," since most of what you would consider "burns" already are extensions of the city proper. Not much of a tribalist.

"PLEASE stay in the suburbs."
------------------------
This absurd statement takes away any reason you may have. First of all, there are many, many people, who own property on what you consider the suburbs and the city, like myself. Second, your typically "American exceptionalism" is borderline pathetic. And third, every reason you normally give as "right" is precisely what got us into this craphouse in the first place. So, no, I'm not impressed about the "me-first" because I want it. Maybe you should look up the meaning of "suburbs" or whatever it is that you mean. People from what you call the "suburbs" allow YOU to live in the city, otherwise Albany would be a worst hell hole than what it is today. Or do you think that your five dollars run the city? Get off your horse and think, brother. And why does AOA organize trips to what you call the "suburbs"? To observe creatures in the wild? A trip to the zoo? I really get tired of such pointless thinking. Grow up.

"Joe, just curious, are the majority of your examples in central/western U.S."
____________________________
A few, yes, but also throughout Europe and Latin America. The last one I visited was Burbank. Not a parking meter in sight and the municipal parking garage and lots were free. As for State workers, they are indeed a problem, but it's a problem that the State is creating through: 1) moving offices to downtown to spur businesses without appropriate parking facilities; and, 2) by CHARGING for parking, which now costs near $50/month (State) or $120 (private). Most of the folks who look for street parking do so to save the monthly expense (I know many of them). So, here's one example of why charging for parking defeats the purpose. In addition, the State's parking garages are horribly managed. Many of those garages have dozens and dozens of vacant spaces every single day, but because it is permit parking only, those spaces will remain vacant day after day. If the parking was free and first come first serve, I bet you that you would see less State workers' cars on Albany streets. What is sad, as I state above, is that there is this hate for people who come in to work every day as if they were some sort of foreigners or invaders or something. I find such attitude deplorable. many of those folks are from the city and moved a bit away for many different reasons: they want a larger backyard for their children, or they want to have a big garden, or they simply reject the low caliber of the public schools, etc. To demonize them for such choice is irrational.

Joe, if you can't be borderline respectful, PLEASE stay in the suburbs.

And I'd love to respond to your rant, but virtually none of it made sense at all. The few coherent points you did raise were... odd.

Try to calm down. Have some tea or take a walk or something.

I wouldn't call the state workers a problem. I have no issue with state offices relocating to urban centers, it's infinitely better than sticking them on a remote commercial strip or inside a campus ringed by an asphalt moat.

The OGS parking fees state employees pay go to maintain the OGS facilities they park in. No idea how it would work otherwise, the facilities crumble or the cost is passed to taxpayers?

It's true that the parking is poorly managed, but free first come first serve would be that much worse. Parking capacity is lower than office capacity (which is fine -- we don't want the new Albany Med monstrosity cloned in a dozen other places), otherwise the workers wouldn't need to use the Park & Ride lots. Yes, even with your claim of dozens and dozens of spaces empty all day. Don't forget that those lots also hold fleet vehicles for multiple agencies, and capacity needs to consider maximum usage (for when people aren't on vacation or whatever), this isn't an airplane where you just bump someone to the next flight when overbooked. People are trying to work. And now you want them to waste an hour plus in the morning driving from lot to lot until they find one that's not full.

Look, I see that you genuinely care about these issues and have put some thought into them. I appreciate that and I'm not encouraging you to stop. But solutions have to be grounded in reality, and there isn't a lot of that in your suggestions. Your final words above are the icing here; The schools are certainly not low caliber unless you're just superficially looking at numbers on a report, so maybe you can understand where the demonization comes from when that chestnut gets roasted again. For the record I was with you up until that bit, I don't have hate for people living in the suburbs generally, but that particular attitude, which is easy to file under "suburbanite", is just willfully ignorant. You know, it sounds like you think the city dwellers don't understand or have sympathy for the mentality of suburbanites, but you're not listening to them either; a big part of what they react to is the attitude of people who moved away from the city for the reasons you mention but then still expect the city to offer exactly what they want. Cake possession without mastication, etc.

@B:
Thank you for your reply. The points that you make are what you are made to believe, and the reality that you know, because nothing else has yet been tried. In other words, it's a "we've always done it this way." Yes, so-called "suburbanites" are constantly demonized by Albany folks (not sure if they even pay taxes to the city -- I do and don't live here full time), but I'm not sure if you would call someone from, say, Schenectady or Troy or Cohoes (other cities with dire needs), a "suburbanite." The use of the word, in any context, is pathetic. As for the schools, you are correct with one exception -- the middle schools. I had children who attended Albany schools, and I find the elementary schools (in particular) and the high school of very high quality. The middle schools, not so much. You touch on a very important aspect -- perifery parking, which OGS could run at very low cost and provide incentives for their usage. As for passing costs to taxpayers, absolutely. Taxpayers are the employers of State workers, and therefore should provide them with free parking. I've worked at three or four private entities in Albany and never had to pay for parking while employed there. Why is is different when taxpayers are the employers?

And one more thing, B, since we're at it: most "suburbanites" don't drive into the city by choice. They have no other options. If they want a job to provide for their families, they have to drive into the city because we have a horrible transportation infrastructure, with virtually no public transportation to 90% of the burbs. Solve that infrastructure problem and you solve the parking problem. Most civilized nations have complex public transportation networks connecting cities and burbs. We don't. So, blaming people because they have to get to their jobs to earn a living is absurd.

"The points that you make are what you are made to believe, and the reality that you know, because nothing else has yet been tried." What an inane, condescending comment.

"So, blaming people because they have to get to their jobs to earn a living is absurd." No one is blaming people for having to get to work. But parking always comes at a price, and it's not city residents (many of whom have no car) who should be subsidizing their parking. (We already subsidize their roads and highways.) First come, first serve free parking would not only be a logistical disaster, it would deprive the city of badly needed income.

If parking is really that much of an issue for people, they can take the bus. If that doesn't work, stay home. Figuring this out is part of being an adult.

Joe, your ideas are a bit schizophrenic. If you want more investment in public transit, advocating for free parking everywhere (reducing the pressure of commuting by car, and thus incentive to find alternate modes) is exactly the wrong tactic. Look up the concept of "induced demand".

I get that some of the earlier comments were a bit inflammatory and you're entitled to take exception to that. But again, there's just not a lot of reality in your statements, and it's mind-numbing to deconstruct them. I'll leave it at this: you say you want to avoid "the way it's always been done" syndrome, but your comments here can be summed up as "getting to the city is annoying, let's BUILD MORE OF THE THINGS!" We've been there, done that, and have the sprawl to prove it. Again, you're welcome to your own opinion, and the discussion needs many voices.

@B:
because this is a blog, I admit that some of the posts appear to be disconnected. For the record, I never advocated for building more parking lots at all. As for the "schizophrenic" part of my ideas, I simply imply that there has to be more than one solution, which will combine to solve the problem. Taxing people (that's what it is) does not solve anything. It only makes people poorer. For instance, when Albany started to issue resident permits for "special" areas of the city, it did not solve anything -- it only pushed the problem to "other" neighborhoods, as is always the case. The people who parked on the street still park on the street, just not in the "special" neighborhoods that received protection from City Hall. I don't find that "getting to the city is annoying." In fact, I stay in the city more often than not, and thus don't have to get to the city, and when I do I generally carpool. I continue to maintain that once a public transportation infrastructure network becomes available to people who have to get to work, much of the parking problem will be gone. Rather than charging people for parking, encourage employers to pay for bus passes and the counties to get into transportation agreements. Do you really believe that it is anyone's pleasure to drive to work with our northeast winters? Your concept of induced demand hardly ever applies to public goods. As I stated before, many national and international cities with robust public transportation networks provide free parking on their streets without any growth in demand because it's there (or latent demand). By the way, B, I don't take it personally. I would get as offended if the "suburbanites" referred to city folks in pejorative ways, like "don't come to our village," as if anyone has exclusive or exceptional rights to any geographic location or the keys to the city.

"Your concept of induced demand hardly ever applies to public goods." That couldn't be further from the truth. Parking and highway congestion are two of the areas in which the concept of induced demand is brought up all the time. Add more parking, more people will drive. Add more lanes, congestion gets worse.

"I would get as offended if the "suburbanites" referred to city folks in pejorative ways, like "don't come to our village," as if anyone has exclusive or exceptional rights to any geographic location or the keys to the city." The thing is, we have quite enough parking in the city as it is, and there's no more room for it. If attracting suburbanites means we need to knock down more of our city for them, or induce the demand for even more parking, then it's not worth it. They can stay home if the parking is that much of a hassle. But the last thing we need to do is accommodate even more cars.

I consider myself a very progressive person, and have come to realize that there are two ways of approaching a problem: the neo-liberal way, where you tax and penalize people into submission, all the while severely limiting people's resources and opportunities. It's sort of like beating a dog into submission. And then there's the progressive way, which is to help people solve their problems, such as with infrastructure development, incentives, education, etc, which is the equivalent of training a dog with positive behavior reinforcement. Some folks also seem to thrive in adversarial relationships, the us vs them mentality -- suburbanites versus city folks, upstate versus downstate, etc -- which is the equivalent of vandalizing the home of a gay couple because they moved to a conservative area (the "there goes the neighborhood" syndrome). Neo-liberal public policies of penalizing people to curve behaviors are destroying the very values that we want to uphold, and in the process contributing to the impoverishment of working people. If there's a problem, you examine and tackle the problem, not the behavior that results from it. Nowadays, there isn't a problem that a penalty cannot solve, and I find such policies counterproductive and borderline totalitarian.

I thought we were just talking about parking...

"Add more parking, more people will drive. Add more lanes, congestion gets worse."
__________________________________

Induced demand: your variables above are incorrect, because to satisfy the condition of your model, you need more cars, not more people driving. What induced demand would mean is that if parking were free people would go out and buy more cars for the sole purpose of parking them in free spaces. Get your variables straight. Again, induced demand almost never works with public goods. If you open more schools, you'll not get more people to go to school, etc. In fact, induced demand barely works in commodity markets, because of the saturation point and other considerations, such as the elasticity of prices, opportunity cost, etc.

"I thought we were just talking about parking..."
__________________________

We were, until your attitude, motivated by what I suggest above, drove you to tell me to not come to "your" city and "stay in the suburbs," all the while having no idea whatsoever about who you were talking to. So, if you had been more respectful and felt less entitled, perhaps the conversation would have stayed much closer to the topic.

To add another perspective:

I don't think the issue of coming into Albany is lack of parking. Like any major city, parking is a limited resource and additional cost that should be expected. (I just visited Portland, ME and had to pay for parking. No big.) However, I don't come down to Albany often because there just isn't any reason to or at least one doesn't arise in my mind when thinking of how to spend the day.

For example, I'll come down to Albany for a particular show, dinner at a restaurant or a drink at a particular bar. However, once the meal/drinks are done there is little for me to do expect drive back home. There aren't many places to just walk around, stop into a few shops, or bar hop, etc.

On the other hand, I'll regularly drive to Saratoga to wander around Broadway, get a bite to eat, hang in Congress Park, browse the shops, etc. I rarely think of Albany as a destination to do that - Lark doesn't have enough to continually pique interest and the best restaurants and bars are spread all over the place.

I think Albany needs to develop critical mass in a particular spot that allows someone to come in, spend some time wandering, and then head out. (River Street in Troy could be a good example of what I'm talking about.) Maybe this exists now and I have a blind spot, but as already mentioned, Albany just never enters my mind when I'm trying to think of somewhere to spend a day or afternoon if I don't have anything specific planned.

What am I missing?

Reading thru this blog makes me laugh and cry at the same time....let's forget about parking for just a minute and get back to the topic at hand.....how do we make the downtown better?...PLEASE do not reply with ANYTHING related to parking! No wonder NOTHING gets done around here. I walk the streets of Albany day and night and SEE an abandoned architecturally beautiful compact city ready for re-birth with VAST AREAS of empty lots and parking for the "suburbanites"...so let's get on with it. Do you think there is anyway we could maybe get an ice cream store downtown? Or a bookstore? Or any other thing at ALL that would relate to being defined as a city??!!!! Do we really need any more studies??? I have been here some 15 years now, and while the City has improved slightly, and I have seen dozens of "studies" over the years, but I cannot afford to wait another minute until someone gets of their butt and brings this potentially incredible midsized city back to life. This mean politicians, suburbanites, developers, city dwellers and all concerned citizens. It is beyond my comprehension that we have the most wonderful dormant city right in front of our eyes yet we chose to live our lives out at the Colony Center or Crossgates Mall! What am I missing here???

I think the whole discussion on parking lost sight of the most important aspect, that any space have a view of and access to the river.

"We were, until your attitude, motivated by what I suggest above, drove you to tell me to not come to "your" city and "stay in the suburbs,"" Let's try for the sixth or so time: If you coming to "my(?)" city means you need free parking everywhere at any time, then yes, please stay home, because that requires knocking down lots of the city itself, and also makes the city lose money. No amount of money you can spend here will be worth it. Hopefully I've now put it in a way you will comprehend.

One of the big arguments for all of these fees is that Albany needs revenue. Albany doesn't have a revenue problem. Like Greece and many third world countries, Albany has a collection problem. There are far too many leeches in the city, who contribute nothing to the city and use most of its resources. Albany Med, a sprawling real estate and landlord in the city. Their non-profit status should be challenged. Medical facilities are non-profit, but everything else should be taxed. If they have millions of dollars to dump into executive pay, and to build condos and parking garages, which are not medical facilities, they have money to pay taxes. Colleges and univesities: their non-profit status should be challenged. They are building sprawling villages of student housing and dumping tens of millions of dollars in luxury athletic facilities. If they have money for that and to pay their administrators and CEOs millions of dollars, they have money to pay taxes. Universities, too, are becoming landlords, charging students premium rents for their units, and not one penny goes to subsidize tuition, as we know from the sharp increases in tuition over the last several years. Land developers and speculators, who buy property a bottom prices and sell it back to the city and other governments at premium prices, all the while getting absurd tax breaks to develop them and the contracts to build them. Taxpayers are subsidizing these follies and letting these developers accumulate vast wealth without contributing a cent. The State government, who has devolved its responsbility over its workers to the city. If State workers are the biggest users of city services, force the State to pay or contribute to infrastructure development, including the development of a robust public transportation network for its workers. The city has a bloated government, well beyond what the city needs. Bring the public workforce to its right size. When all is said and done, City Hall needs to have the political will and fortitude to challenge these moochers. Once those problems are addressed, the budget and revenue problem will be solved, and perhaps the city can start investing in public works, like new water and sewer lines, free internet access, etc. When faced with budget shortfalls, all City Hall can think about is how to extract blood from stones, stones being the working class. City Hall needs to look up, not down, to solve its budget issues. It's rather distressing to think that City Hall wants to plug holes in its budget by levying additional fees and fines through traffic cameras, parking fees, etc, which only penalize working people and do nothing to solve the underlying problems.

@A Gregory: you made me laugh.

"If you coming to "my(?)" city"
_____________________________

You're welcome to move to another city that fulfills your needs, while some of us try to restore Albany to sanity.

"It's rather distressing to think that City Hall wants to plug holes in its budget by levying additional fees and fines through traffic cameras, parking fees, etc, which only penalize working people and do nothing to solve the underlying problems." While I agree that entities that have large portions of the city's land should kick in more money (though it'd be tough to get it from colleges that are barely keeping their doors open), those are different concerns than parking and red light cameras. Parking fees I've addressed repeatedly. Red light cameras aren't penalizing working people - they're penalizing dangerous drivers who run red lights. These people deserve no sympathy whatsoever.

Alright, enough with the nonsense. I like what BS said, "Do you think there is anyway we could maybe get an ice cream store downtown? Or a bookstore? Or any other thing at ALL that would relate to being defined as a city??!!!!" This gets at my earlier point, that I don't think of coming into Albany to "waste" an afternoon. Maybe if there was a bookstore and ice cream I would...

So I guess I'm asking, who wants to open a bookstore in downtown Albany?

And, yes, I know about (and love!) Dove & Hudson Used Books.

Was being facetious!!! Don't care if it is ice cream store or a book store or a billiard hall..... Was looking for ANYTHING at all that would help to make "a city".....for the love of God there are more lively cities in Russia and Croatia!!! Can we not even aspire to Iron Curtain living? What is it about Americans that love crap? As long as it's cheap, accessible by car, not in their backyard, not old or historic, not pleasant or quaint, and excessively large and stupid Americans will gobble it up!

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