Thursday, January 9, 2020

Fargo, Then And Now -- Vern Whitten Photography -- January 9, 2019

Belatedly I'm posting this. A big apology to Mr Vern Whitten for the delay getting these posted.

Link here

Mr Whitten sent me these photos over New Year's -- I was traveling and am still getting caught up.

These are aerial photos of Fargo, before (1993) and after (2019).

Truly amazing.

Mr Whitten would love to hear from you -- and I'm sure he can provide you a copy if you wanted one.

Vern Whitten Photography


  1. I get irrationally annoyed with modern American city planning. Living in NYC, I'll admit we're too dense. Largely the result of being on a couple of islands with few ways in or out. Ever since I've spent time in Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Vienna. I'll add Montreal and Reykjavik. I can't help but compare and contrast everywhere else I visit in America. I look at these images from Fargo and it just seems like such an unlivable waste. I visited Fargo this summer and was impressed with what they did with the downtown since I left. Those four by two blocks are quite a nice little community.

    The American ethos gives preference to leissez faire city planning and a strange preference for next to no vacation so we can live in featureless 3,500 square ft houses. I'd call it a bad choice, but I'm convinced it's not a choice as much as the default of knowing no different. I personally know a big developer in both Bismarck and Fargo that I've pitched this concept too. Both seemed to have given little thought into the bigger picture or what Fargo/Bismarck look like in 100 years of urban sprawl.

    Seems to me the developers take the easy, "Build what sells." I'd love it if there were a few more crazy maniacs that operated on Steve Jobs assumption that people don't know what they want and that the creator dictates the future. ... I'm just salty because I've been spoiled and wish we had more than one city in the US with the density of San Francisco (less the human poo and schizophrenics). If Iceland can do it, ND has no excuses.

    1. I don't have time or expertise to respond to all points raised in your comments, but having watched the boom / the build-out of Williston during the Bakken boom was quite an eye-opener. It was truly amazing.

      It appeared the public officials could not keep up and planning was actually done by huge developers.

      Keeping my remarks to what I know best in this arena -- Williston, ND -- regardless of all the problems/shortcomings/disasters that resulted because of the boom, things actually worked out quite well -- in the big scheme of things (many folks would disagree with me). But if things, in general, in the big scheme of things, actually worked out pretty well, it was due to really well educated folks (product of public school, public universities, private colleges, etc) with lots of practical experience, and a sense of "we're all in this together, let's do the best we can."

      In general, people looked out for themselves first, of course, but they also knew that what they built would be passed on to their children.

      On a different note. I haven't been NYC or Baltimore in a long, long time. The press suggests I might not want to live there. But having said that, I have some life-long friends who grew up with the same background as I did and they love the big city. One couple I'm thinking of -- grew up North Dakota-like midwest setting, and after a military career -- ended up living in Baltimore, near downtown (not the suburbs). They have lived there for decades and love it. In addition, they own an apartment of some kind in NYC and stay in NYC one week every month. Obviously with all the faults of these cities highlighted by the press, these midwestern folks -- who would have the same values as I do -- absolutely love the big cities.

      I don't know. In the big scheme of things I think we have a lot of problems much more serious than urban sprawl. If I had to name the one thing that concerns me the most is child abuse (in all its forms). The ramifications of child abuse are so severe that I cannot even think about it.

  2. I agree that sprawl is low on the list. Although I do think we can multitask. People might underestimate how much aesthetics effects us. Think a more superficial version of the broken window theory.

    I didn't expect a child abuse take, but that does make sense. I'd agree that so many problems are on the front end. I listened to this years ago and I still can't figure out why it isn't taken serious as public policy. It might be the most conservative fiscal action we could take, some investment up front saves heaps down the road:

    1. The reason child abuse came to mind with the urban sprawl issue, is the well-accepted theories of increasing stress as humans (and most animals) are packed into tighter and tighter spaces.

  3. ...and I saw your take on East vs West Berlin with city planning. I don't disagree. There is a middle ground to be found with city planning. Markets are the best system with the vast majority of things, they just need a bit of framework.

    It's very likely I'm just an outlier. If someone would build an area with four story buildings, some public squares and parks, and a main street with most things in walking distance, I'd be a customer. Perhaps I should make it my goal to get the money or clout to organize the money to do such a project.

    1. ... an area with four-story buildings, some public squares and parks, and a main street with most things in walking distance" describes the "Williston" in which I grew up during the 1950's and 1960's. Describes it perfectly. Except the highest multi-unit residential buildings were only three stories. My dad owned several such units, and the monthly rent was about $250 just before the Bakken boom (2007). He did his best to keep the rent at $250/month but the city raised the property assessment to such high levels he had no choice to either raise the rent (just to break even) or sell the apartments. That was my first introduction into property taxes. He eventually sold the apartments and the rent went upwards to $1,000/month, but I digress.

      Your description of "four-story buildings, some public squares and parks, and a main street with most things in walking distance" also describes Savannah, Georgia, perfectly, one of the most perfect / most beautiful cities in the US, with its 22 parklike squares.