Redevelopment Strategies: "Cycling"

August 3, 2009 15 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The redevelopment of a neighborhood works best when the upgrades and improvements are part of an organic and predictable process called cycling. This process is most easily understood by comparison to the process of "Cycling" a saltwater aquarium, and draws its name from that comparison. Any saltwater tank enthusiast knows that no matter how much money has been spent on the interior of the aquarium, and no matter how exotic the fish that are intended to inhabit the tank, everything starts with the one of the lowliest and least expensive fishes on the market: The Lowly Damsel Fish.

"Cycling" a Saltwater Tank:

Now, every new tank must be "cycled." This cycle is closely related to the nitrogen cycle discussed above. But in this case, we are referring to establishing significant concentrations of beneficial bacteria in order to support the aforementioned nitrogen cycle.

This is how the cycle is achieved: After setting up the tank, some hardy species such as the much-maligned damsels are added to the tank and fed regularly (you can actually use only live rock if you wish, as dying matter in the rock produces the necessary ammonia source). In a few short days the concentration of ammonia climbs steadily due to an inadequate concentration of the right types of bacteria. The fish are a little tense by now; clamped fins and rapid breathing. Over time, several more days, the beneficial bacteria gain a foothold and the ammonia concentration starts to drop. Now here comes the equally toxic nitrite. Since the necessary bacteria for nitrite conversion still don't exist in concentration, nitrite quickly ramps up to toxic levels. The little fishes are stressing out by now; clamped fins, and pumping gills, and hiding in the corner. Finally, the appropriate bacteria levels are present and nitrite starts to decline, leaving nitrate in its wake. This is a good thing. Once ammonia and nitrite have dropped to 0 and nitrate starts to rise, the tank is cycled. Now you can start adding livestock…slowly.

In marine biology, nothing else can survive in the tank until all of the water has passed through the bodies of these extremely tough little fish.

The materials they produce and the effect they have on the water makes the water able to support other life.

But the damsel fish and their ilk are the only ones tough enough to survive the toxic water and its transition process.

Until they have done their job, the tank will kill anything else that lands in its environs.

This same dynamic is repeated in the redevelopment process.

As a district begins to redevelop, it happens with a few shop versions of Damselfish plunging into the hostile environment and toughing it out until the area begins to change.

They will attract street traffic, which is its own form of Imprinting (see the metrojacksonville article)  As the all important street traffic begins to pick up, then other shops and businesses will be encouraged to open, with greater chances of survival than the first crop.

Eventually as the area improves and acclimates, the businesses that need the most amount of foot traffic and passersby to succeed will finally begin to trickle in, once there is a possibility of actually surviving.

This process can take a couple of years or a couple of decades.

But it is by far the most stable of the development strategies, as new shops are added only as the district will actually support them.

The trick is finding the initial "cyclers".  

They tend to be a difficult and hardy group, fiercely independent and natural born risk takers.

They have greater success when they open in groups, are owner operated and have a vested interest in the community.

Mostly they tend to be younger, and a community can help these types of businesses by showing patience in the learning curve and giving firm positive and negative feedback.

San Marco Square

Five Points was cycled in the early 90s.  (see the Metro Jacksonville article on Niching in Five Points )

San Marco was cycled in the early 80s.

John Currington and Phyllis Lockwood
opened up a few complementary businesses, Cafe Carmon and Peterbrooke's Chocolate.  They ran the places themselves and did most of the remodeling and repairs personally.  John was honored with a park bench placed on a sidewalk in his name as a result of his many personal labors.

Mike and Terri Schneider
were almost broke when they opened up The Loop Pizza as a way to pay off debts accrued at another venue.   Terri retiled the kitchen counters herself.  Mike baked pizza.  They prayed a lot.

Many years later and much wealthier they opened up the upscale Bistro Aix just a block or so down from their original venue, Applejacks Barbeque.

The Shotwells personally worked at the San Marco Theater as concessions and ushers.  

Mimi still works her curio consignment shop, and Sandra has worked at Edwards tobacco shop since she was a young girl.

Debra opened and ran her shop Dress Up, until Krista Eberle (who had been working for the Schneiders at The Loop) bought the shop from her and eventually opened up her eponymous dress boutique.

Atlantic Beach was cycled in the mid 90s.

When Dave broke away from Ragtime and opened up the SunDog Diner, the fact that the two businesses could succeed simultaneously cycled the Atlantic Beach Town Center and the place rapidly opened up with a Peterbrooke's and a Loop from San Marco.

Cycling avoids the negative process of bubbles and busts, and is integral to creating a Community of Place, where the town center becomes its own destination and is heavily supported by the surrounding residents and inhabitants.

Article by Stephen Dare