You are hereFeed aggregator / Sources /

Syndicate content
Updated: 30 min 37 sec ago

Germany Also Having Big Problems Building Infrastructure

18 hours 54 min ago

Der Spiegel had an interesting article recently called “Angry Germans: Big Projects Face Growing Resistance.” The article (linked version is English) talks about how it is increasingly difficult to get infrastructure projects built in Germany.

Wherever ambitious construction ventures loom on the horizon in Germany — from the cities to the countryside, from the coastlines in the north to the Black Forest in the south — opponents are taking to the streets…. As the public’s enthusiasm for constant innovation has lessened, so has the appeal of these sorts of projects, and, as a result, they now inevitably come accompanied by picketers. Germany’s graying society, it seems, is so cozy and settled that it resists anything threatening to upset the status quo. In the process, it has lost sight of the bigger picture.

There are a lot of key points in this article that immediately raised parallels to the United States, where infrastructure projects are also under increasing siege. In fact, some of this reminded me of elements of the Tea Party movement. The protestors are uninterested in compromise. They are devoted, full time activists who are unrelentingly opposed to the projects in question:

[Hartmut] Binner’s form of protest has a radical undercurrent: Well-informed, confrontational and devoid of respect for authority, he is typical of the new grassroots activism spreading across Germany.


Binner’s entire life revolves around the campaign. He monitors the routes of departing and landing planes. He plays his self-designed noise simulator on market squares. He kicks off his court appearances by singing the Bavarian national anthem. “If you want to be heard as a member of the public, you need to push the envelope,” he shrugs.

These days, he sees grassroots protests, activism and political responsibility from a different perspective. “The typical protesters are gray-haired, know-it-alls and very networked,” [Freiburg Mayor Dieter Salomon] says. “But they’re not remotely interested in consensus-building, political processes and pluralism.”

Grassroots groups have become so livid, intransigent and single-minded that even the most respected politician in the country, Angela Merkel, is feeling their sting. In early May, hundreds of furious residents had gathered in central Ingolstadt to protest against the construction of a power line from Bad Lauchstädt in Sachsen-Anhalt to Meitingen in Bavaria.

This certainly reminds me of the no-compromises view of the Tea Party. Also, a number of early American Tea Party activists were unemployed, and thus able to basically be full time activists. Even the singing of national anthem has echoes of the Tea Party and their tricorn hats. I don’t want to claim there’s a philosophical or other link between the Tea Partiers and Germany, however.

Not everything lines up with the Tea Party, however. In Germany it seems to be disproportionately retirees who are the most engaged and militant:

Germany’s graying society, it seems, is so cozy and settled that it resists anything threatening to upset the status quo. In the process, it has lost sight of the bigger picture.

Many of the protestors are pensioners with no vested interest in Germany’s future. “It’s striking that the leader of the protests against the Munich runway is a 75-year-old and not someone in the middle of his working life,” [Munich Airport CEO Michael Kerkloh] points out.

Salomon’s nemesis is Gerlinde Schrempp, a determined and argumentative 67-year-old retired teacher with attitude to spare. She’s the leader of the Freiburg Lebenswert movement, which translates roughly to “make Freiburg worth living in. The movement just got elected on to the district council and is first and foremost opposed to any new building in the city.

There’s a stereotype out there of the average Republican voter as an old white guy. But the average Tea Party activist I’ve seen tends to be working age. I look at this one a bit differently. We need to see these types of controversies against the substrate of an aging population. Aging populations are not noted for dynamism, and older people’s self-interest is better served by starving investment for the future in order to save money and avoid uncomfortable change in the present. As a country whose population is projected to decline into the future thanks to this demographic inversion, we are seeing in Germany what’s likely a preview of coming attractions elsewhere around the world.

Indeed, I’m reminded of what one analyst friend of mine in Indiana has said about the property tax caps there. He sees the push to cap property taxes as driven by an aging population in a stagnant state. Old people generally aren’t earning a lot of taxable income nor are they buying huge amounts of stuff, so they are disproportionately less affected by income and sales tax hikes, whereas they often own homes and are hit hard by property taxes. Thus property tax caps serve as another income transfer mechanism from young to old, holding revenue constant. They are in part an artifact of an aging society. Disinvestment in infrastructure can be seen in the same light.

But there’s another part of this that shines a light on yet another group of opponents, namely the intelligentsia.

The term “Wutbürger” (“enraged citizen”) was coined during the Stuttgart 21 fiasco to describe people like Hartmut Binner, and much has been written about them since. They often aren’t the “common man.” According to the Göttingen Institute for Democracy Studies, they tend to be highly educated people with steady incomes and white collar jobs. And while protests movements of the past were often steered by sociologists, today their leaders are more likely to stem from the technical professions, the researchers found.

When we look at opposition to infrastructure in the United States, at least certain types of infrastructure, we see a similar profile of people (though not necessarily technical) behind it. It’s the leftist intelligentsia that oppose the Keystone Pipeline, suburban highway projects, fracking, and many other types of things, often with a militant unwillingness to compromise similar to the Tea Party.

As with Germany, this opposition is enabled by environmental reviews and public participation laws that, while they serve important public purposes, make it easy to delay projects for years through repeated objections and scorched earth litigation. Traditionally environmental lawsuits were associated with the left, but conservatives have started saying, why not us too? Hence litigation against San Francisco’s regional plan. The Hollywood densification plan was recently overturned by lawsuits, and lawsuits have plagued California’s proposed high speed rail line as well.

Whatever the project, it’s sure that somebody on the left and/or the right hates it, and thus will do everything in their power to kill it, which probably means years of delays and untold millions in increased costs.

Also as with the United States, German governments have shot themselves in the foot with a series of financial debacles:

Political and bureaucratic bodies are partly to blame for their own diminished authority. Every major venture seems to entail spiraling costs. Berlin’s new airport was supposed to cost €1.7 billion, a price tag that has shot up to well over €5 billion. Meanwhile, the €187 million earmarked for the Elbphilharmonie concert hall under construction in Hamburg is expected to exceed €865 million by the time the project is completed. Albig is well aware how bad this looks. “People see us as financially incompetent,” he says.

Until politicians can convince the public they have a handle on this, the taxpayer will remain rightly skeptical of many major megaprojects. This is doubly true since it’s very clear, as has been documented by folks like Oxford professor Bent Flyvbjerg, that in many of these cases the politicians were simply lying all along about the real costs.

I’m not sure what all the takeaways are, but there are clearly many forces operating on a global basis to inhibit the development of infrastructure in the West.

Aaron M. Renn is an independent writer on urban affairs and the founder of Telestrian, a data analysis and mapping tool. He writes at The Urbanophile, where this piece originally appeared.

"MittlererSchlossgartenKundgebung 2010-10-01" by Mussklprozz - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

To Fight Inequality, Blue States Need To Shift Focus To Blue-Collar Jobs

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 22:38

In the coming election, we will hear much, particularly from progressives, about inequality, poverty and racism. We already can see this in the pages of mainstream media, with increased calls for reparations for African-Americans, legalizing undocumented immigrants and a higher minimum wage.

There’s no question that minorities’ economic wellbeing has deteriorated since the economy cratered in 2007. African-America youth unemployment is now twice that of whites, while the black middle class, once rapidly expanding, has essentially lost the gains made over the past 30 years,  says the Urban League.

Conservatives may not have the answers but it’s clear that a progressive regime has not worked either.

The net worth of blacks and Hispanics has declined relative to whites. The black poverty rate stood at 27.2% in 2012, and for Hispanics, 25.6%. At the same time as poor kids are flocking here from Central America, child poverty among Latinos has risen sharply, from 27.5% in 2007 to 33.7% percent in 2012.

One would think these statistics would make someone question at least somewhat boilerplate progressive polices, which certainly have not worked better than standard brand conservatism. But often the common answer to these trends has been a call for more “progressive” social policies that would seek to redistribute wealth and to enforce racial equity in everything from housing to university admission. Given Republican control of the House, these racial and class politics are increasingly most keenly felt in the states and cities.

There are numerous signs of this, including Seattle’s $15 an hour minimum wage and similar proposals in other cities. The thrust of New York Mayor Bill De Blasio’s administration seems to be to provide ever more succor to the city’s large, heavily minority, poor and working-class population through early childhood education and more subsidized housing.

As an old Democrat, I am sympathetic to the concerns. But it’s dubious the deep blue cities have found a solution. Let’s start with the gap between rich and poor. For the most part the regions and states with the widest gap between the classes are overwhelmingly dominated by modern progressivism.

The capital of blue America, New York City, has easily the worst levels of inequality in the country, with an income distribution that approaches that of South Africa under apartheid, notes demographer Wendell Cox.

But New York is hardly the only progressive stronghold  with searing inequality. A recent Brookings report  found that of the regions with the greatest income disparity only one, Atlanta, is located in a red-leaning state. These include San Francisco, Miami, Boston, Washington, D.C., New York, Oakland, Chicago and Los Angeles. The lowest degree of inequality was found generally historically more conservative cities like Ft. Worth, Texas; Oklahoma City; Raleigh, N.C.; and Mesa, Ariz. Income inequality has risen most rapidly in the probably the most left-leaning big American city of luxury progressivism, San Francisco, where the wages of the poorest 20% of all households have actually declined amid the dot-com billions.

 Since most of the urban poor are minorities, these disparities are also reflected in racial terms. Among the nation’s 15 largest metropolitan statistical areas, according to an analysis by Praxis Strategy Group’s Mark Schill, the biggest gap between black and white incomes as of 2012 was also in San Francisco, where African-Americans made 49% of whites’ income. Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia are a shade behind at 50% to 51%.

In contrast, African-Americans score better in comparison with whites in less expensive, more suburban areas. In Riverside, Calif., black incomes are over 81% of whites, highest among the nation’s 15 largest metro areas; in the Phoenix region, black income is 73% of whites; in Houston, 65%. This is not a case of Democratic rule being the problem; the real issue is what kind of  Democrat. In cities like Phoenix, Riverside and Houston, Democratic mayors are usually very pro-business, and rarely engage in the kind of rhetoric one hears in places like New York or Seattle.

A somewhat similar pattern can be seen among Latinos. The worst disparities – 50% to 54% of white income – are in greater Boston, Philadelphia and New York. Again, the lowest disparity was in Riverside, where Hispanic incomes were 84% of whites, followed at 81% by Miami – a city that is neither cheap nor sprawling, but has a population of generally more prosperous Cuban-Americans. In third place is Phoenix, at 73%, a city, that ironically, has been castigated as a capital of anti-Latino sentiment.

Part of the difference is the strong growth of higher-paid, blue-collar jobs in places like Houston, Oklahoma City, Salt Lake and Dallas compared to rapidly de-industrializing locales such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles. Even Richard Florida the guru of the “creative class,” has admitted that the strongest growth in mid-income jobs has been concentrated in red-state metros such as Salt Lake City, Houston, Dallas, Austin and Nashville. Some of this reflects a history of later industrialization but other policies — often mandated by the state — encourage mid-income growth, for example, by not imposing high energy prices with subsidies for renewables, or restricting housing growth in the periphery. Cities like Houston may seem blue in many ways but follow local policies largely indistinguishable from mainsteam Republicans elsewhere.

Nowhere is this relationship between job growth and racial disparities clearer than in California, where regulations have slowed construction and industrial growth even as Silicon Valley has enjoyed a giddy boom. In Silicon Valley, Hispanic and African-American incomes have sagged, as manufacturing and many middle management positions have been reduced. But the real problems for poorer and minority residents can be seen in the state’s interior regions, where many communities still suffer close to double digit unemployment or worse.

Part of the problem also lies with costs, particularly for housing. Simply put most working Americans, and most minorities, cannot earn enough to maintain a decent quality of life in most of America’s biggest cities. This is particularly true of big, diverse blue cities like New York and Los Angeles, where the average paycheck, adjusted for cost, ranks worst among the major metropolitan regions.

High housing prices, notes economist Jed Kolko, are a key reason why even with a boom, population growth remains slow in the Bay Area. In contrast, Houston, which also is booming, has seen rapid population growth and in-migration. Since 2000, Houston’s population has grown 30%, three times as rapid as the Bay Area.

One boomtown epitomizes opportunity while in the other growth has largely benefited the well-educated and well-placed. Between 2000 and 2012 income growth in Houston has been 53% while in San Francisco — despite the tech boom — it has been 35%.

Minorities and, particularly, immigrants have been drawn to these sprawling, growing regions as the best places to improve their life. Over the past decade, the foreign-born populations of Houston and Dallas expanded roughly 50%; Atlanta saw nearly 70% growth. In contrast, immigration growth in New York, Chicago and San Francisco was under 20%.

Immigrants are coming to these areas, in many cases, in order to buy a house. In Houston, according an analysis by demographer Wendell Cox, 52% of African Americans and 42% of Hispanics own their own homes. In Los Angeles, this percentage is in the 30s, and in New York and Boston, minority ownership is even smaller. The Atlantic may say the Sun Belt is where the “American dream goes to die” but an examination of the statistics suggests, these critics may need their compasses readjusted.

Much the same can be said about progressive policies. Unlike some on the party-line right, I do not think that concerns about inequality and stunted upward mobility are fabrications by left-wing academics.

The question is how to address the issue. We should consider that last time African-Americans made big strides in income were when the economy was booming under Presidents Reagan and Clinton, both of whom have been criticized for “trickle down” policies. They have done far worse under the present more conventionally progressive region.

If they are honest, it’s time for progressives to deal with these trends with some sense of realism; you don’t have to be a conservative to favor good blue-collar growth. All too often progressive mouthpieces like the New Republic, while admitting black inequality is at the highest level in decades, emphasize such symbolic (and political unlikely) steps, as reparations and and expansion of means-tested subsidies that would help minorities and poor but leave out the middle class, and mostly white, majority.

Such approaches will do little effectively, except to make some progressives feel even more self-righteous. But real progress on race and poverty requires a growing economy that provides opportunities for the broadest part of population. Clearly the regulatory and tax regimes that stunt middle- and working-class opportunities does not help. Blue-state progressive can whine about race, inequality and poverty with the best of them, but they would contribute far more if they started to address these issues with something other than well-rehearsed indignation and rhetoric.

This story originally appeared at Forbes.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Unemployed woman photo by

The New Extraterrestrial Geography

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 22:23

This month marks forty-five years since men first left planet earth and set foot on another world. The last man to walk on the moon did so in December, 1972, over four decades ago. It's a good moment to ponder what we haven't done since.

There were six successful landings on the moon, and, almost literally, they barely scratched the surface of that body. The later astronauts had “golf carts” that allowed them to travel short distances, but only a fraction of a percent of the Africa-sized area was directly investigated by humans. To say, as some do, that we shouldn't go back, and should instead go on to Mars, would be like saying that, having touched shore in a half dozen places in the Americas, we should have then ignored those continents and gone on to Asia.

It's a misnomer, of course, to call this a new “geography.” That word is derived from the Greek “ge,” for earth. We probably should use something like 'selenography' for the moon, 'venerography' for Venus, and for Mars, either 'areography,' or my preferred fanciful 'barsoomography' (with a nod to Edgar Rice Burroughs). Each of these “ographies” are vastly different from each other and from earth.

There's a lot of interesting real estate out there, and all we've done so far is to briefly poke around on our own moon a few times, only to abandon the effort after a few years.

We stopped because we have never, as a nation, made it a serious goal to open up the new lands of the solar system. Apollo wasn't about exploration or science. It was a soft battle in a cold war; a demonstration of our technological prowess versus that of a brutal adversary. In order to win, we set up a state-socialist enterprise to rival that of our opponent, except our enterprise was democratic, whereas theirs was totalitarian. We had aerospace contractors; they had design bureaus.

We won even before Apollo 11, with the circumlunar mission of Apollo 8 the previous year, about the same time that the Soviets started to pretend they'd never been racing. The human space program devolved into one of national pride and white-collar welfare in the states and districts of those on the Hill who funded it.

Had it been our intent to develop and settle these new worlds, we would have gone about it very differently. For instance, we might not have acquiesced to the Outer Space Treaty in 1967. The partial goal there was to end the space race by putting the entire solar system beyond the reach of claims of national sovereignty. This is one reason why the US didn't claim the moon when we landed. Instead, we came “in peace for all mankind”.

This had the effect of rendering extraterrestrial private property claims themselves as somewhat problematic, even though it didn't go as far as the Soviets wanted. Private enterprise in space was permitted. Otherwise, the communications and remote-sensing satellite industries might have been stillborn.

If we had followed the tradition of free-enterprise America, we wouldn't have rushed to the moon with an expensive giant rocket. Rather, we would have more methodically developed affordable space transportation, and created a competitive industry to continually drive down costs, as has occurred in other fields of transportation. We'd have developed the infrastructure in space, such as assembly facilities and propellant storage depots — the equivalent of gas stations on the Interstate — that would allow full reusability of vehicles to and from various locations.

We are only now starting to do so, in the face of strong resistance from Congress, primarily because small, private industry doesn't allow sufficient opportunities for graft in the way that large, sole-source NASA contracts do. Congress currently seems determined to repeat Apollo, with its giant rocket and capsule, and its missions costing billions per flight. As a result, it is likely to continue to keep us trapped in low earth orbit for the next few decades.

Fortunately, the government is no longer the only source for the funding of human spaceflight. Several billionaires have expressed interest, including Elon Musk of SpaceX, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Las Vegas hotelier Bob Bigelow, Microsoft co-founders Paul Allen and Charles Simonyi, and others. Musk has repeatedly stated that the ultimate purpose of his space company is to colonize Mars – he believes it's important that we become a multi-planet species. He has already disrupted the expensive dinosaurs of the space industry with his low-cost rockets, which will become even lower cost if he succeeds, as seems likely, in developing the ability to reuse them rather than to throw them away.

Bezos has also declared his interest, ultimately, in space colonization, whether as an insurance policy against having all of humanity's eggs in a single basket, or perhaps to allow new social experiments like the one our own founders created in their own New World almost two hundred and forty years ago. And Peter Diamandis, author of the book Abundance and co-founder of Planetary Resources, an asteroid-mining venture, notes that the vast majority of resources available to humanity lie not on this tiny planet, but in the rest of the solar system, and ultimately the galaxy and universe beyond.

These entrepreneurs and visionaries hold these beliefs, despite the obstacles. Planets in our solar system have a wide variety of different atmospheres, including (as with our moon) essentially none. None of them are presently breathable by humans, and won't become so absent massive terraforming and/or radical genetic engineering (which at some point begs the question of the meaning of the word “human”).

As for Mars, its atmosphere is far too thin to breathe, even if there were oxygen in it (it's mostly carbon dioxide). But there is water there, and plants in greenhouses could manufacture oxygen from the atmosphere, using sunlight dimmed by its distance from our star. Rocket fuel could be produced, as well, to make access to and from the planet easier. It is full of iron and other minerals, unfortunately including the very toxic hexavalent chromium.

Those who are simultaneously competing and conspiring to open up the solar system, with all of its new lands, are doing so not just for a handful of government civil servants, but potentially for thousands or millions of private adventurers and explorers, in a way that government cannot, and likely will not, absent a sudden burst of vision rarely seen in politicians. But with or without the government, the new lands look increasingly likely to be privately explored, settled, developed, and even created, opening up vast new wealth to humanity, and perhaps giving us the first trillionaire.

Many today lament that they didn't live in the excitement of the sixties, when “we” went to the moon. But the coming decades of the new “solography” promise to be vastly more exciting — not just vicariously, as Apollo was, but with the participation of the new pioneers.

Rand Simberg has had many years of experience in aerospace engineering and project management at the Aerospace Corporation and Rockwell International Corporation in Los Angeles, and has been recognized as an expert in space transportation by the Office of Technology Assessment. He is author of the new book, Safe Is Not An Option, on how our risk aversion holds us back in human spaceflight. He blogs at Transterrestrial Musings.

SpaceX Dragon Cargo Transfer at the SpaceX facility in McGregor, Texas. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, left, and SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk, view the historic Dragon capsule that returned to Earth following the first successful mission by a private company to carry supplies to the International Space Station. Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Showing the Flag: The Transit Policy Failure

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 22:38

David King has a point. In an article entitled "Why Public Transit Is Not Living Up to Its Social Contract: Too many agencies favor suburban commuters over inner-city riders," King, an assistant professor of urban planning in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University notes that transit spends an inordinate share of its resources on suburban riders, short changing the core city riders who cost transit agencies far less to serve and are also far more numerous. He rightly attributes this to reliance on regional (metropolitan area) funding initiatives. Many in transit think it is necessary to run near empty buses in the suburbs to justify the use of transit taxes to suburban voters (what I would refer to as "showing the transit flag")

King asks: "So does public transit serve its social obligations?" He answers: "Increasingly the answer is no." King is rightly concerned about the disproportionate growth in spending on commuter rail lines that carry transit's most affluent riders from deep in the suburbs to downtown. Transit policy has long been skewed in favor of the more affluent suburban dwellers in the United States.

My Experience in Los Angeles

I saw this first-hand as a member of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (LACTC). When we placed what was to become the first regional transit tax on the ballot (Proposition A in 1980), the shortage of transit service was critical in the highest demand, largely low-income areas of Los Angeles such as Los Angeles and East Los Angeles. I described the situation in a presentation to the annual conference of the American Public Transportation Association: "Often waiting passengers are passed at bus stops by full buses" Approximately 40 percent of the local bus services between the Santa Monica Mountains, Inglewood, Compton, Montebello and Santa Monica reached peak loads of 70 passengers, well above seating capacity

At the same time, suburban area buses were usually less than half-full. In connection with this concern, I produced a policy paper, Distribution of Public Transit Subsidies in Los Angeles County, which was published in by the Transportation Research Board. The abstract follows: 

"Public transit today is faced with the challenge of serving its clientele while subsidies are failing to keep pace with increasing operating costs. In Los Angeles County, there are service distribution inequalities--overcrowding and unmet demand in some areas and, at the same time, surplus capacity in other areas. To use subsidy resources efficiently requires that the effects of present subsidy allocation practices be understood--that is, how subsidies are translated into consumed service, both by type of service and by geographic sector within the urban area. An attempt is made to provide a preliminary understanding of that distribution in Los Angeles County. It is postulated that significantly more passengers are carried per dollar of subsidy in the central Los Angeles area than in other areas and local services require a lower subsidy per passenger than do express services. A number of policy issues are raised, the most important being the very purpose of public transit subsidies."

Generally, transit operating subsidies per passenger were far higher in the suburbs than in the central area (where incomes are the lowest, and poverty rates the highest), and subsidies were much higher for commuter express services than for local bus services.

I attempted to address this problem by proposing a "Mobility Policy" that would have reallocated service based on customer needs, giving precedence to areas where mobility was restricted due to limited automobile availability and lower incomes. Some colleagues whose constituents were disadvantaged by this inequity objected,  feeling compelled, it appeared, to rally about the “transit flag”

On a Siding: Transit Policy in Recent Decades

Since that time, Los Angeles and other major metropolitan areas have built expensive rail and busway systems. Despite the promises of attracting people out of their cars (routinely invoked during election campaigns for higher taxes), the reality is that single occupant commuting has risen from 64 percent in  1980 to 76 percent in 2012. Over the same period, transit's share of urban travel has fallen, though stabilized in recent years at very low levels in most metropolitan areas. Indeed, when New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, and San Francisco are excluded (with their "transit legacy cities"), the 46 major metropolitan areas have a transit commute share of just three percent. Overall, more people work at home than commute by transit in 38 of these metropolitan areas and more people walk or cycle to work in 27, according to American Community Survey 2012 data.

Yet the politically driven inequality in transit spending continues. Transit subsidies continue to be far higher for services that are patronized by more affluent riders. For example, subsidies (operating and capital expenditures minus fares) are three times as high for the commuter rail services, with their higher income riders, than for buses, with their lower income riders (Figure).

The difference can be stark, as an example from the New York area indicates. A Fairfield County, Connecticut commuter rail rider with the median family income of $102,000 would be subsidized to the extent of $4,500 per year (assuming the national subsidy figure). By comparison a worker from the Bronx or Hudson County, New Jersey, with a poverty level family income of $18,500 per year (or less) would be subsidized only $1,500 per year. In fact, the bus subsidy would likely be even lower, because transit in lower income areas is much better patronized and thus less costly for the public. My Los Angeles research found inner city services to be subsidized approximately half below the average of all bus services (Note).

Where Transit Works

The functional urban cores contain the nation's largest downtowns (central business districts). Their population densities are nearly five times that of the older suburbs and nine times that of the newer suburbs. The functional urban cores have transit market shares six times that of the older suburbs and 15 times that of the newer suburbs. Yet, it is in these poorer, denser areas where overcrowding is most acute and the need for more service is most acute. In Los Angeles, for example, the greatest potential for increasing transit ridership is where ridership is already highest.

The vast majority of suburban drivers are not plausible candidates for transit, simply because it cannot compete well with automobiles, except, for example, for some trips to the downtowns of the six transit legacy cities (which account only one of seven jobs in their respective metropolitan areas).

Where transit makes sense, people ride. Where it doesn't, they don't. Allocating resources inconsistent with this reality impairs the mobility of lower income residents, wastes resources and relegates transit to an inferior role in the city. Charging the affluent fares well below the cost of service compromises opportunities to serve more people in the community.

Better allocation of transit resources would likely improve core area unemployment rates by increasing the number of jobs that can be accessed by lower income workers. Further, because the better used services would require lower subsidies, there would be funding available for additional service expansions.

The principal fault is not that of transit management. It's the politics.


Note: These data (expenditures per boarding) are estimated from Federal Transit Administration and American Public Transportation Association data for 2012. Commercial revenues other than fares are excluded (the most important such source is advertising). Debt service is also excluded because it is not reported in the annual reports of either organization. The subsidy ratios between lower income and more affluent riders would be changed by including transfers (though the subsidies would still be considerably higher for the more affluent). Some low income riders use more than one bus or rail vehicle for their trip, while some commuter rail riders transfer to bus or rail services at one or both ends of their trips. No readily available data is available to make such an adjustment. The New York area example assumes 225 round trips per year.


Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He was appointed to the Amtrak Reform Council to fill the unexpired term of Governor Christine Todd Whitman and has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Photo: Bart A car Oakland Coliseum Station

Long Island Needs Regionalism

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 22:05

Eric Alexander, the Executive Director of Vision Long Island, seems to be popping up everywhere on Long Island these days. He was recently quoted in The Corridor Magazine’s transportation and infrastructure issue as saying: “Academic conversations about regionalism is a 90s thing.” Similar to his condemnation on “academic” commentary concerning the downtown redevelopment trend, Alexander made it clear in the piece that he feels a local, downtown-centric approach is the way to go.

Whether we like it or not, Long Island is a singular region.

If Long Island’s developmental future is divided and segmented municipality-by-municipality, we, as a collective whole, will fail. The Village of Rockville Centre, one of Long Island’s much-touted “cool” downtown areas, shares the same aquifer system as Rocky Point. If a company abandons their corporate headquarters in Lake Success, residents in Suffolk feel the economic blow. Despite claims to the contrary by special interests and stakeholders, we are one Island. Our social, economic and environmental policies must reflect that fact.

It is in the interest of builders, developers and stakeholders for Long Island’s developmental future to remain both segmented and divided under the guise of “localism”. Divide, and conquer, as the saying goes. When projects are looked at a regional level, they are more heavily scrutinized, and their impacts are more thoroughly explored.

Here is a scenario:  A small village on Long Island is welcoming the economic windfall a particular development is slated to bring, while five miles north to the village, an unincorporated area fears their shops will wither thanks to the influx of shops proposed.  The Village does as they please, approving the development.  Now, the businesses in the unincorporated area lay stagnant thanks to the over-saturation of retail usage that the new development brought to the area.

It’s Urban Planning 101: You don’t build what you don’t need. Much of the debate concerning Heartland, whose future lays with the Town of Islip, is that its impacts will resonate far beyond Islip.

That’s the trouble with localism – it only benefits the locality, and often at the cost of other areas. Unfortunately for Mr. Alexander, some of Long Island’s issues are too big for the “locals know best” model he advocates for. Our fragile aquifer system transcends all geo-political borders, with poor land use decisions in one town impacting water quality in the next.

Our Island is small enough for economic development policies to resonate far beyond the Village or Town level. While the Town of Babylon IDA and Town of Islip IDA squabble over wooing a manufacturing business, a lucky county in North Caroline will reap the rewards when they eventually steal them away from Long Island.  It’s one thing for a village to build more housing options, but successfully raising a new multifamily development isn’t the same thing as quantifying and addressing our marked regional need for different types of housing.

Is it too “academic” to quantify our problems before taking the steps of addressing them? Is a protected aquifer system which supplies our region's drinking water outdated like Zach Morris’ blocky cellphone or the Macarena?

Localism at its worst puts immediate needs first, and Long Islanders as a collective second. Part of the challenge we face as a region is the segmented and fractured governmental systems that prevent us from significantly making any progress. The biggest public works and sweeping acts of environmental preservation in this region’s history were executed thanks to a solid foundation of regional thought. The Long Island Parkway System, LIRR and LIE weren’t built on the local scale. The preservation of 100,000 acres of Pine Barrens forest needed state legislation that trumped local zoning to be adequately protected. Suffolk County’s open space, water protection and farmland preservation programs weren’t locally-sourced, homegrown policies, but rather models emulated nationally thanks to their breadth and regional scale. 

Regionalism at its worst is characterized by monolithic bureaucrats making decisions without any local input. This is why a balance must be struck between both approaches that blend our local sensibilities with a comprehensive regional approach. The commonalities between Long Island’s various towns, villages and even counties warrant regionalism with a local twist. Our common aquifer is the largest common tie, while our surface bodies of water constrain our physical space. Economically, Long Islanders in both counties work and commute to the Island’s employment centers, which are concentrated in a few distinct locations, while all municipalities share neighborhoods that span the socio-economic spectrum. Given the common traits, a regional approach undertaken by municipalities, helmed by non-biased professional planners would serve both the local and regional good. For too long, Long Island’s development future has been staked out by stakeholders and policymakers with something to gain by swaying in one direction or another.

The best community planning efforts stem from public input, assessment of public needs and ample participation by the people who live and work in the area. The best environmental planning efforts use data and scientific study to advance the goals selected. A regional approach takes the best of both these approaches, and balances the needs of a region in a comprehensive manner. A local approach works under certain circumstances. When a neighborhood needs a community center, or seeks to improve their quality of life, the approach to development should be local. However, if the locality proposes development whose impacts resonate far beyond their municipal borders, a regional approach must be taken.

There is a reason why conversations concerning Long Island's future must be academic Mr. Alexander. We all feel the impacts of poor development choices. Sound regional planning isn’t something to dismiss as a “90s thing”, but rather, should be embraced for the betterment of Long Island’s future.  

Richard Murdocco writes regularly on land use, planning and development issues for various publications. He has his BA in both Political Science and Urban Studies from Fordham University, and his MA in Public Policy from Stony Brook University, and studied planning under Dr. Lee Koppelman, Long Island's veteran planner. You can follow Murdocco on Twitter @TheFoggiestIdea, Like The Foggiest Idea on Facebook, and read his collection of work on urban planning at

Long Island illustration by Wiki commons user Duffman.

America Down But Not Out

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 22:09

America, seen either from here or from abroad, doesn’t look so good these days. The country that maintained world peace for decades now “leads by behind,” or not at all. You don’t have to have nostalgia for George W. Bush’s foreign policy to wish for someone in the White House who at least belongs in the same room with the likes of Vladimir Putin. Some wags now suggest that President Barack Obama has exceeded Jimmy Carter in foreign policy incompetence – Carter certainly was more effective in the Middle East.

What about space? Remember, we won the space race but now have to depend on Russian launch vehicles to do much of anything in orbit. President Obama thought we could rely on the Russians to provide us with cheap rides into orbit, but Putin squashed that notion after we objected to his actions in Ukraine. John Kennedy must be turning over in his grave.

And as for our domestic economy, the best you can say is “It could be worse,” particularly if you look at what’s happening in torpid Europe. It’s a sign of our utter lack of confidence that the current administration, and much of the punditry, still thinks we should follow the Continent’s economic and social policies.

Yet, despite all these challenges – and two presidencies the public ranks among the worst in history – it’s far too early to write off the United States. After all, no one else is doing very well. Even the widely touted BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – face slowing growth and mounting social problems.

There are several factors that help explain why the USA’s long-term prospects are better than many Americans may assume.

Entrepreneurial edge

The essential strength of the U.S. economy has rested on having two things that rarely occur together – an innovative culture combined with massive natural resources. Whole industries, notably technology, years ago thought to be lost to Japanese and other Asian competitors, have recentralized in the United States. In 1990, six of the world’s top 10 semiconductor companies were Japanese; by 2011, five U.S. chip companies dominated the top 10, which included only two Japanese companies, Toshiba and Renesas. And their combined revenue in 2012 was less than half that of world leader Intel’s $49.7 billion.

As of now, there’s not a key technology sector where the U.S. is not in the lead. We dominate social media, software and biotechnology. In fact, about the biggest technical threat we face is from the administration’s bizarre desire to surrender control of the Internet to foreign countries, many of whom, the president may acknowledge, do not share our values or relish our current predominance. Over time, to be sure, there will be challengers, notably China, South Korea and India, but none are likely to gain predominance in the near future. The same can be said in media; Hollywood still reigns supreme and U.S. dominance in fashion, lifestyle and music remains mostly in place.

The advantage of size

Other important countries are geographically large, but none – apart from Australia or Canada – is particularly rich. Russia is an oil plutocracy but beyond energy and weapons doesn’t export much else. China has a large land mass, but less resources, and its ability to feed itself will be increasingly constrained by pollution and diminishing water supplies. The country, by some estimates, has lost 28,000 rivers.

In contrast, America has a huge agricultural base, spread across a vast continent. If California goes dry for a spell, for instance, there’s lots of water and fertile soil in the northern Plains, the Southeast, the Midwest and parts of the Northwest. Size is a form of arbitrage that allows production to move from one place to another. Others are investing heavily in farm land and other real estate, evidence not of American decline, but, instead, of the patterns of investment that led to the country’s great expansion in the 19th century.

The energy revolution

The United States could be on the cusp of another period of broad-based industrial expansion, spurred, in part, by its rapidly growing natural gas and oil production. The current energy and industrial boom, notes Joe Kaeser, president of the German multinational conglomerate Siemens, “is a once-in-a-lifetime moment.” Cheap and abundant natural gas is luring investment from manufacturers in Europe and Asia, who now must depend on often-insecure and more expensive sources of energy.

The energy revolution has helped spark an industrial boom. There is already a shortfall, notes a recent Boston Consulting Group study, of some 100,000 skilled manufacturing positions in the U.S. By 2020, according to BCG and the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation could face a shortfall of around 875,000 machinists, welders, industrial-machinery operators and other highly skilled manufacturing professionals.

New capitalist revolution needed

America’s capacity for perpetual renewal – what one Japanese scholar Fuji Kamiya calledsokojikara, a latent power to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles – persists but is limited by our political leadership in both parties as well as misguided economic policies. We need to alter contemporary capitalism’s tendency to favor and encourage transactions among investors and asset inflation, rather than fostering broad-based growth that rewards people adequately for their labor.

Fortunately, the capitalist system, particularly one under democratic control, allows for the possibility of reform, as occurred in 19th century Britain and early 20th century America. What is needed now is structural reform that can shift priorities away from rent-seeking and towards true wealth creation.

One clear priority is to reduce “financialization” of the economy. Over the past three decades, financial-services firms have doubled their share of the economy. The Obama recovery, with its bailouts of large banks and free-money policies for investors, has accelerated this trend, as companies have tended to be slow to reinvest profits in new products and innovations, preferring, instead, to engage in mergers or stock buybacks that raise share prices and reward investors, but do little for the overall economy.

In contrast, financial institutions often regard productive industries – notably manufacturing – as hampering short-term financial gains. This has repeatedly pushed companies to strip their industrial assets, typically moving them overseas.

Reforming capitalism toward a broader and more inclusive focus may not appeal to some – Wall Street investors, speculators in high-end real estate and tech oligarchs – who have done just fine the past five years. But, when asked what mattered more to them, most Americans preferred economic growth to redistribution, noted a 2014 studyconducted by the Global Strategy group, a Democratic consulting firm.

Polls of popular opinion in the United States and the United Kingdom find key ecological concerns, such as climate change, well down the list, behind such issues as the economy, immigration, crime, unemployment and even the state of morality. What Americans want most, notes political commentator Mike Barone, is “an economic boom.”

Such a broad-based economic boom is necessary if we are to restore America’s promise for this generation and, more importantly, the next. The country still has all the requisite advantages to lead in the next century and restore the middle class – if only the political leaders either rise to the occasion, or get thrown out.

This article first appeared in the Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

USA map image by BigStockPhoto.

A Tale of 273 Cities

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 22:38

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. 

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Since 1790, 273 cities have made an appearance on the list of the nation’s 100 largest places.

Cities of all shapes and sizes have made the list at one time or another - ranging from New York, which has held the top spot in every single census from the very beginning; to little Chillicothe, Ohio, which appeared once in 1830, at #87, and never made the list again.

Examining this list decade-by-decade is instructive, for it largely tracks the entire history of the nation’s settlement patterns - from the initial cultural hearths of Yankee New England and Tidewater Virginia; through the river and canal era; the railroad era; the industrial era; the interstate highway and suburban era; to the decline of the Rust Belt, and the triumph (for the time being) of the Sunbelt - and beyond.

The list tells the story of the relative decline of many cities - places like Providence (1790-1980); Dayton (1830-1990); and Des Moines (1880-2000), which were ranked in the top 100 for decades, have shrunk to one degree or another, and eventually fell off the list, but remain significant-sized urban centers today.

It also tells the story of the absolute decline of many cities - places like St. Louis, Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland - formerly huge cities that all once ranked in the top 10, which have now lost over half of their population.  All five of these cities remain in the top 100, but they are all suffering from the seemingly intractable problems that come with massive abandonment and disinvestment - fiscal instability, poverty, inequality, and a frayed civic and social fabric.  Here in 2014, their collective future, especially in their current form, is increasingly uncertain.

And that - looking toward the future - is why this topic is truly important. Examining this information is about far more than a trivial jaunt down memory lane.  What does it tell us about the future of our cities?

For one, there is this question: Does any of this even matter?

Is the size of our central cities even important? Aren’t city boundaries arbitrary and meaningless?  Isn’t it the surrounding metropolitan region that really counts?

Well, it’s a complicated story.  For years, pundits, prognosticators, and policy wonks have been telling us that the age of the central city is over; that it is the region that is important.  Economies are based on regional job markets, they say, and improvements in transportation and communications are making local places (even large ones) increasingly irrelevant.

The fact that economies are regional is true - as far as it goes.  But like anything viewed through one lens only, it does not tell the whole story.

Are regions important? Of course. But so are places.  Like so many other things in the realm of urban public policy, this is not a binary, either/or, choice.

Indeed, at the same time that we are being told by one set of pundits about the irrelevance of our cities, we have another set of pundits telling us that this is, in fact, a new golden age for our cities.

Cities entered a long cyclical downturn following World War II, they tell us, but they are now on the rebound, and are experiencing an unparalleled renaissance. Property values are increasing, Millennials are moving to our downtowns, and previously declining neighborhoods are coming back to life, replete with upscale shops, bistros, and pubs. 

But this doesn’t tell the whole story, either. For every gentrifying formerly shrinking city like New York, Washington, and San Francisco, and for every sprawling boom town like San Jose, Charlotte, or Columbus; there is a St. Louis, a Cleveland, and a Detroit; and there is a Gary, a Flint, and a Youngstown.

What does the future hold for these cities?  What about the giant places full of the mind-boggling, post-apocalyptic decay and dysfunction that comes with literally losing one million residents, like Detroit?  

And what about the mid-sized places, like Flint, that may not have the assets or the resources to ever turn the corner.  Will they continue to die a slow, agonizing death, and literally disappear?  Or will they continue on in a shadow-form, serving as a cautionary tale, and inhabiting some type of uniquely American, urban equivalent of purgatory?  

Or can they be restored - if not, perhaps, to their former glory, to at least something that is stable, equitable, and workable for those that remain?

This post is full of more questions than answers.  It is an inherently complicated topic.

Big Questions for the Rust Belt

While it is true that cities have grown and declined (and sometimes grown again) throughout American history, it is also true that we have never before experienced the unprecedented population decline that some of our largest cities have experienced over the past 60 years, especially those in the Rust Belt.

Rust Belt cities have experienced the triple whammy of structural economic decline (the outsourcing of manufacturing); continued regional outmigration (to the Sunbelt); and continued suburbanization (in a region with a strong tradition of local government and a deep antipathy toward consolidation).  All three of these things make the shrinkage of its cities unique, from a historic standpoint.

When a large city loses over half of its population, whether that equates to one million people (Detroit); 500,000 people (Cleveland); or 100,000 people (Youngstown), there are very real consequences for the very real residents that remain.  Even if these particular cities were experiencing widespread regional prosperity and economic growth (they are not), it would not fundamentally change the social and economic reality for city residents living with the consequences of widespread abandonment in these places.

Regardless of what some advocates of regionalism might say, city boundaries are not arbitrary and meaningless.  Although some may claim that shrinking cities are no big deal as long as the metropolitan region overall is growing, central cities will continue to profoundly matter, especially to the people (often disproportionately poor) that remain.

Municipal boundaries are not irrelevant, whatever the regionalists may tell you.  Economies may be regional, but in most of the nation’s fastest declining cities, government is not.  Municipal boundaries affect taxation, land use policy, public safety, education, public infrastructure, and the delivery of social services. 

When a city’s population declines precipitously, the proportional demand for the public services that it provides shrinks less than its population, with the end result that its residents end up paying more in taxes, for less in services.  Even if this were not the case, it is expensive and (politically speaking) exceedingly difficult to scale-back and shrink long-term capital investments in public infrastructure – as “shrinking cities” like Detroit and Youngstown have discovered.  

What goes on within a given city’s actual municipal boundaries has incredibly important ramifications for its tax base; its employment base; the performance of its schools; the distribution of everyday amenities like grocery stores, shops, and restaurants; the delivery of public services; and less tangible, but equally important things like its sense of place and its sense of itself.  As cities are abandoned, decline, and become hollowed out, access to social and economic opportunities diminishes along with the population:  the jobs disappear, the doctor’s offices disappear, the grocery stores disappear – relocated, often, to a distant and increasingly inaccessible locale.  To pretend as though the economic and social well being of city residents is not directly impacted by population decline is to turn a blind eye to reality itself.

But it is not just city residents that are affected by decline.  The health of the entire region suffers as a result.  The shrinking tax and resource base of City “A”, is not simply counteracted by economic growth in nearby cities “B” and “C”.  In a region anchored by a declining central city surrounded by dozens of separate municipalities, the redundant duplication and proliferation of local government services (education, public safety, public utilities, transportation infrastructure, social services) ends up costing all taxpayers more. 

The worst-case scenario is a shrinking central city and a shrinking region with an overall population decline, coupled with continued central city abandonment and continued outward expansion.  In a region like this, there is not only more costly “stuff” (redundant public services and physical infrastructure) than there needs to be, but there is more “stuff” with ever fewer taxpayers to pay for it.

And while the conventional wisdom may be that regional, not local, economies are what matter, it is important to understand that regions comprised of dozens of separate local jurisdictions do not typically behave very effectively as “regions”.  It is not impossible for them to do so, but it is exceedingly difficult. 

So why don’t we just go ahead and combine everything?  Problem solved, right?

Not so fast. 

It has always been interesting to me that the Sunbelt is the region of the country that tends to have the fewest number of local governments, the most liberal annexation laws, and is home to most of the cities that have undergone major city/county consolidations (such as Jacksonville, Nashville, Augusta, Lexington, and Louisville). 

This wasn’t always the case.  Philadelphia consolidated with its neighboring suburbs (some of the largest cities in the country at the time) in 1854, and New York City did the same thing (merging with Brooklyn – then the nation’s 4th largest city, and the other three boroughs) in 1898.

From a public policy standpoint, most of the South and the West is typically regarded as “conservative”; while much of the Northeast and Midwest is viewed as “liberal”.  In this stereotypical telling of the tale, conservatives are supposed to belaissez-faire in terms of urban planning and public policy and are supposed to reflexively favor the local over the regional.

Yet it is precisely in the “conservative” South and West where the people have been most willing to change the model of government and public service delivery to align with modern social and economic realities.  Effective government and accountability is still viewed as extremely important, but voters have recognized the benefits of having less duplication and more efficient delivery of services, as well as the regional cohesion and political power that annexation and consolidation can bring with them.

Urban development patterns and public policy decisions on infrastructure are often different in the Sunbelt as well – especially in the West.  New development tends to be denser and more compact than it does in the Rust Belt.  Not many people know that “car crazy” Los Angeles is actually the most densely populated urban area in the United States, or that “sprawling” Las Vegas ranks 10th.  The Los Angeles “suburb” of Santa Ana is twice as densely populated as the “city”of Cleveland.

Some of this has to do with the fact that scarce water supplies don’t allow for scattershot suburban development, and some of it has to do with an increasingly urban ethos that has evolved, especially in California, over the past 50 years.  Cities and urban residents are not viewed with the same degree of mistrust, suspicion, and disdain that they are viewed with in the Rust Belt.

So, the Sunbelt is usually posited as an economic success story, especially in comparison with the Rust Belt.

But the questions remain:  Was it due to less duplication of local government?  Was it in spite of it?  Or did it have nothing to do with it one way or the other?

No one really knows for sure.

There is little doubt in my mind that some of the reason for the growth and economic prosperity of Sunbelt cities, and for the corresponding decline of Rust Belt cities, is the failure of most Rust Belt cities to adjust their local government paradigms to reflect modern economic realities. 

One only need contrast Cleveland with Columbus, or Detroit with Indianapolis to at least get a general sense of the divergent paths that several pairs of Rust Belt cities have taken, and to make some general comparisons between their regional economic outcomes.

But, these comparisons are not “apples to apples”, either, and it is extremely problematic to claim that the key to Columbus’ economic success (in comparison with, say, Cleveland) has solely been due to its aggressive annexation of nearby communities.

But, with Columbus sitting as the 15th largest city in the U.S. today, and continuing to attract new residents, and with Cleveland dropping from 5th to 45th, and continuing to lose population, it is probably fair to say that it had something to do with it.

If Rust Belt cities had annexed or consolidated with surrounding communities earlier, they would be larger and more cohesive today, and it is probably fair to say that they would have more political clout at the state and national level.  They also could have been better positioned to shape how their surrounding regions grew – into something denser, more compact, more cohesive, and less duplicative of public services and infrastructure.

Could have, would have, should have. That horse has largely left the barn.

Today, it is a fair question to wonder how effective (never mind politically feasible) it would actually be to retroactively superimpose the Sunbelt model upon Rust Belt cities.  Making Buffalo look and function like Charlotte, on paper, would be very different from making it look or function like Charlotte, in reality. 

In most Rust Belt cities today, the fact of the matter is that the incoherent and incohesive development patterns have already occurred, the infrastructure has already been duplicated, and the social and economic mismatches and inequities already exist. 

These problems need to be addressed, but clumsily imposing a model that has appeared to work throughout much of the Sunbelt, without taking the time to understand how it would work here, might not be the answer for our region.  It might just be trying to force a very ineffective square peg into a very politically infeasible round hole.

So, what will the future hold for our cities?  How can we knit them and their surrounding regions together to create an effective, politically feasible, governing framework that works for all of our residents, rich and poor, black and white, urban and suburban? 

I don’t know, but I know that it has to do with starting small, working on fundamentals, building trust, inspiring hope, and building authentic relationships between real people. 

It is the urban policy question of the 21st Century in the Rust Belt, and it is something that urban advocates, political leaders, policy wonks, and everyday citizens will need to grapple with for the rest of my lifetime.

Now, for the Maps…

The maps below tell the story of how the 100 largest U.S. cities have changed decade-by-decade since the first census in 1790. Please note that only cities over 2,500 are included, so several of the maps from the earliest census years show less than 100 cities.  The 10 largest cities in each census year are labeled.  

Due to the scale of these maps, Alaska and Hawaii are not shown (Honolulu and Anchorage both rank in the top 100 today).

Below each map you will find a short description of some of the historic, demographic, economic, and transportation trends that were in play at the time of each census. I have also included a breakdown of how many cities in each region of the country ranked in the top 100.

For more detailed information on the 100 largest cities, census-by-census, please click here

1790 - Northeast (18); Midwest (0); South (6); West (0)

In the immediate aftermath of the American Revolution, all of the the largest cities are concentrated along the eastern seaboard.  At the time of the first census, New York City ranked as the nation’s largest - a title that it will go on to hold for the next 220 years; and likely - in perpetuity.  Philadelphia, Boston, Charleston, and Baltimore round out the top five.

1800 - Northeast (24); Midwest (0); South (9); West (0)

As the 19th Century dawns, the largest cities continue to be clustered along the eastern seaboard as the brand-new nation begins to expand slowly inland. The nation’s new capital, Washington, D.C., joins the list, ranking 31st.  

1810 - Northeast (34); Midwest (1); South (11); West (0)

This census marks the beginning of the era of ascendance for the great inland river cities, such as New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati.  These cities will serve as key centers of trade and commerce as the interior frontier of the new nation begins to be settled.

1820 - Northeast (43); Midwest (1); South (17); West (0)

The inland river cities, like Louisville, continue to grow and expand.  The importance of waterways increases further as the canal era dawns, literally putting places like Utica on the map.

1830 - Northeast (59); Midwest (6); South (25); West (0)

Places throughout the industrial northeast, especially in New England, now firmly dominate the list of the nation’s largest cities. The canals throughout New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio begin to spur new settlement and industry in places like Buffalo, Rochester, and other smaller cities immediately west and east of the Appalachians. The river cities continue to grow rapidly, as Cincinnati enters the top 10, and St. Louis joins the list.

1840 - Northeast (67); Midwest (10); South (23); West (0)

The Great Lakes region begins to develop, thanks to the canals, as Detroit, Cleveland, and Chicago join the list. This region will begin to serve as a staging area for the people and goods needed to develop the areas west of the Mississippi.  The Northeast, bolstered by new immigrants from Ireland, remains the urban heart of the nation. 

1850 - Northeast (64); Midwest (12); South (24); West (0)

The canal system reaches its mature peak, as strategic locations on the Great Lakes and inland rivers and canals, such as Milwaukee, Memphis, and Syracuse flourish. St. Louis enters the top 10.  The relative importance of the eastern seaboard begins to diminish, especially in the South, as the Ohio and Mississippi rivers begin to rival it in importance. Charleston drops out of the top 10 for the first time since 1790.

1860 - Northeast (60); Midwest (17); South (21); West (2)

As the Civil War dawns, railroads begin to surpass the canals in importance, as new cities like San Francisco, St. Paul, and Atlanta join the list.  The nation’s largest cities will become increasingly dependent upon the railroads for the next 100 years.  For the first time, Midwestern cities begin to rival eastern seaboard cities in importance, as Chicago enters the top 10, joining Cincinnati and St. Louis.  But the Northeast remains the nation’s urban powerhouse, as Philadelphia consolidates with its neighboring suburban towns to become the nation’s second largest city and New York’s closest, but still distant, rival. 

1870 - Northeast (54); Midwest (26); South (18); West (2)

New Midwestern cities like Kansas City, St. Joseph, and Omaha flourish as important gateway railroad terminals from which the Great Plains and the remainder of the West will eventually be settled. The South begins a long period of urban and economic decline following its defeat in the Civil War. The cities of the West Coast begin a period of rapid settlement, as San Francisco enters the top 10.

1880 - Northeast (48); Midwest (27); South (20); West (5)

Westward settlement spreads rapidly via railroad across the Great Plains, the West, and Texas, as new cities like Minneapolis, Des Moines, Denver, Salt Lake City, and San Antonio join the list.

1890 - Northeast (45); Midwest (29); South (18); West (8)

The nation’s manufacturing heartland and industrial base begins to shift from New England to the Great Lakes, as Youngstown join the list, Cleveland enters the top 10, and Chicago surpasses Philadelphia as the nation’s second largest city. The West Coast begins to grow rapidly, as Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland all join the list, along with Dallas; setting the stage for the eventual domination of the nation’s urban landscape by California and Texas.

1900 - Northeast (46); Midwest (26); South (21); West (7)

As the 20th Century dawns, after nearly four decades of economic decline, the South turns the corner and begins its economic recovery as new industrial cities like Birmingham and Houston join the list.  Mid-sized cities in the Great Lakes region, like Akron, begin to grow rapidly, as a new wave of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe settles throughout this rapidly industrializing part of the country. With railroads now linking the nation from coast-to-coast in several different corridors, the American settlement frontier officially disappears. New York City consolidates with nearby towns and with cross-river rival, Brooklyn, the nation’s 4th largest city, to reach a population of 3.5 million, and achieves unparalleled domination of the nation’s urban hierarchy.

1910 - Northeast (45); Midwest (27); South (19); West (9)

The Great Lakes region continues to thrive as its cities grow larger and more prosperous, and Pittsburgh enters the top 10. Cincinnati drops out of the top 10, but remains a vibrant and expanding urban center. Southern cities, like Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, and Jacksonville join the list, giving Florida a top 100 city for the first time.

1920 - Northeast (40); Midwest (29); South (21); West (10)

Smaller industrial cities in the Great Lakes region, like Canton and Flint, thrive as the steel and automotive industries explode, and Detroit, “The Motor City”, enters the top 10. Charleston drops out of the top 100 for the first time since 1790. Southern California, poised to eventually become the nation’s prototypical urban region, begins its period of automobile-age ascendance as San Diego joins the list, and Los Angeles enters the top 10. 

1930 - Northeast (36); Midwest (29); South (23); West (12)

Industrialization in the Great Lakes region reaches its apex in overnight boom towns like Gary, as the region becomes the manufacturing center not only of North America, but of the entire world. The Sunbelt’s period of growth begins in earnest, as cities in California and Florida, like Long Beach, Miami, and Tampa expand rapidly.  In contrast, a period of long, steady decline ensues in smaller industrial cities throughout the Northeast, in general, and New England, in particular.

1940 - Northeast (33); Midwest (28); South (27); West (12)

The preceding decade is a difficult one for the nation’s cities.  Very few cities grow in the immediate aftermath of the Great Depression. Northern industrial cities are hit particularly hard, but some southern cities, like Charlotte, begin to flourish.

1950 - Northeast (28); Midwest (27); South (31): West (14)

For the first time, the South surpasses the Northeast as the region with the most cities in the top 100, as Austin and Baton Rouge join the list. Pittsburgh drops out of the top 10, as industrial decline in the Northeast accelerates after a brief uptick during the war. Washington, D.C. enters the top 10, due in large part to the expansion of the federal government during the Great Depression and World War II.  Phoenix joins the list at #99, presaging the rapid development of the desert Southwest in the coming decades; a small desert crossroads at the beginning of the 20th Century, it will end the century as the nation’s sixth largest city.

1960 - Northeast (19); Midwest (28); South (35); West (18)

Both suburbanization and deindustrialization become major factors in central city decline, especially in the North, where major cities are hemmed in by adjacent cities and towns, and are therefore unable to expand via annexation. The long tradition of town, borough, and township government throughout the entire North stymies efforts to consolidate governments into units that better reflect modern realities. Boston drops out of the top 10 for the first time since 1790. The expansion of the Interstate Highway System takes its toll, especially on mature Northern cities, by opening up outlying areas for suburban development, and by displacing business and residents in the urban core.  Most cities throughout the Midwest have now reached both the peak of their population and their industrial development.  In the coming years, they will increasingly follow the pattern established in the Northeast 30 years earlier, as the region begins to transition from the “Great American Manufacturing Belt” to the “Rust Belt”.  In contrast, the Sunbelt continues to enjoy explosive growth, as Houston enters the top 10, and San Jose, Tucson, Albuquerque, and Honolulu join the list. 

1970 - Northeast (16); Midwest (28); South (35); West (21)

Anaheim, Santa Ana, and Riverside join the list, as Southern California continues to attract new immigrants, both foreign and domestic, in record numbers.  The largest Southern and Western cities continue to grow even larger, as Dallas joins the top 10. The industrial Midwest begins to experience a period of rapid decline, as St. Louis drops out of the top 10. 

1980 - Northeast (12); Midwest (24); South (38); West (26)

Colorado Springs and Las Vegas join the list, as the interior West continues to grow rapidly.  The growth of the West extends to Alaska, as Anchorage makes the list for the first time.  Even the suburbs of sunbelt cities, like Arlington, Texas, and Aurora, Colorado begin to surpass established Northeastern and Midwestern central cities in population. San Diego and Phoenix join the top 10. Midwestern cities continue to deindustrialize rapidly, and begin losing population at a truly alarming rate. Suburbanization, white flight, and the inability to annex or consolidate with outlying areas make the problem of industrial decline even worse, as Cleveland drops out of the top 10. 

1990 - Northeast (9); Midwest (21); South (40); West (30)

Cities throughout the Sunbelt continue to grow in size, prominence, and influence, as Los Angeles surpasses Chicago as the nation’s second largest city.  Three of the nation’s 10 largest cities are now located in Texas, as San Antonio joins the top 10.  Sunbelt “boomburbs” continue to explode as cities like Mesa, Arizona; Garland, Texas; and Fremont, California join the list, displacing older eastern cities like Syracuse, Worcester, and Providence, which drops out the top 100 for the first time since 1790.

2000 - Northeast (9); Midwest (20); South (40); West (31)

The previously established patterns of Rust Belt decline and Sunbelt expansion begin to stabilize, although many Rust Belt cities continue to lose population at an alarming rate.  Dayton drops out of the top 100 for the first time since 1830. Sunbelt boomburbs continue to grow rapidly, as Plano, Texas; Glendale, Arizona; Scottsdale, Arizona; and Irving, Texas all reach the top 100.  

2010 - Northeast (8); Midwest (17); South (39); West (36)

The Sunbelt achieves complete dominance of America’s urban landscape, as 6 of the nation’s 10 largest cities are now located in California and Texas. Rust Belt cities like Cleveland, which experienced a slight respite from decline throughout the 1990s, begin a new period of free-fall, as the housing market collapses in the late 2000s.  Detroit drops out of the top 10.  Akron drops out of the top 100.  Sunbelt cities continue to eclipse their Rust Belt counterparts, as Reno, Orlando, Winston-Salem; Henderson, Nevada; Chula Vista, California; and Irvine, California all reach the top 100.

This post originally appeared in Jason Segedy's Notes From the Underground on April 14,, 2014.

Segedy is the Director of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study, the Metropolitan Planning Organization serving Akron, Ohio.  As a native of Akron, and as an urban planner, he has a strong interest in the future of places throughout the Great Lakes region, and in the people that inhabit them.

Detroit: A Chip off the Old Bulb

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 22:38

Seven months after the announcement, it still seems like the largest municipal bankruptcy filing (at least up to this point) is the stuff of legend—the culminating event, after successive blunders.  The apex.  Or the nadir. No doubt those of us living here are guilty of a degree of chauvinism as we experience how it plays out firsthand, but it’s easy for anyone with even moderate media curiosity to see how much the city has hogged the headlines.  It may be for all the wrong reasons, but Detroit is prominent once again.

Yet it was only weeks—if not days—after the declaration made international news that, in order to convey to the world the magnitude of the city’s financial woes, journalists honed in on more mundane failures—failures that, by virtue of their banality, were all the more shocking.  Locals have known about them for ages.  A portfolio of abandoned public school real estate larger than many cities’ functional school systems.  An absence of snowplows, even after heavy storms.  A stonewall of silenced civil servants, hogtied from effectively carrying out duties by daily uncertainty about the security of those same jobs.  The virtual absence of any emergency response, resulting in two-hour waits for an ambulance or a police call.

But the one that crowds out the rest, no doubt at least partially due to its ubiquity and ordinariness, is the persistent non-functionality of those streetlights.  One of the editorialists for the Free Press has branded it “the city’s deepest embarrassment”.  By most estimates, up to 40% are out on any given night.  Anyone passing through can tell when crossing into the city limits for this exact reason: even huge stretches of the interstates are black, although they’re state or federal highways.  It’s hard to determine if these shadowy streets originate from a cash-strapped DPW’s inability to replace the bulbs—which obviously require periodic maintenance—or an oversight that far precedes the checkered Kilpatrick administration, when the city’s fiscal woes first garnered national attention.  All it takes is a trip down Mack Avenue on the city’s east side to postulate that the problem is a half-century in the making.

Silhouettes of streetlights punctuate the dusky penumbra, but even at a distance, the shape of these lights seems odd.  Antiquated?  Probably.  And a closer view confirms it.

To be frank, I can’t recall seeing lights like this before anywhere else in the country, and I’m well-traveled across some of the more economically deprived pockets.  From the baroque iron filigree work of the stanchion to the acorn shape of the light itself, my guess is this streetlight comes from an inventory that most cities had fully retired over three decades ago.  And there’s probably good reason for that: this one is broken.

And so is another one half a block away.

About half of the lights along this stretch of Mack use this design, and most are cracked.  A big distended bulb offers more surface area encased in glass—more space for something to wrong.  Whether hit by flying debris hit or (my suspicion) deliberately smashed by a passer-by, this streetlight is almost definitely non-operational.  And the visible hardware is only half the problem: inside that quaint, clunky bulb (your grandmother’s streetlight) is—or was—a mercury vapor lamp. Detroit is one of the few cities that still depends heavily on this less efficient, increasingly obsolete method of illumination; most other large cities have replaced their inventory with superior metal halide lamps.   USA Today also noted that Detroit and Milwaukee share the dubious distinction of being the only large cities that still deploy series circuits for much of the streetlight network, meaning that if one transformer box breaks down, the whole strip of lights goes dark, like an old string of Christmas tree lights.  While the Mack Avenue streetlight featured above remains attached to a wood, other lights in the city append to metal poles, presumably the same age as the lights themselves, characterized by rust, peeling paint, and sometimes even open cavities at the base.  The whole contraption has seen better days.

But viewing these cracked eggs through a cultural lens can help temper some of the scorn.  They might not work well as modern lamps and they’re much easier to vandalize, but they’re relics—they’re curiosity items.  And they’re particularly eye-catching along Mack Avenue because there are so many of them, yet they’re still interspersed with more contemporary designs.  This cool pic doesn’t win awards for clarity, but it still shows the juxtaposition of old and new streetlights, through their silhouettes.

Or on opposite sides of the street.

And on a depopulated residential street not so far from Mack, a different kind of lighting style emerges—perhaps not as old-fashioned but still an oddity.

Perhaps a style and technology that never caught on?

The irony of the 1950s-era (or maybe even 1940s) lighting that lingers on in Detroit is that, in a broader spatial context, it exemplifies technological advancements playfully defying shifts in taste culture for a particular design.  On Mack Avenue, ancient streetlights bespeak a broke, ineffective government.  And yet, elsewhere in the metro, they convey something else.

Forgiving the quality of the photo, it’s still easy to see a similar style of lighting to the ones on Mack Avenue, but this time they’re impeccable.

But this is the comfy suburb of Livonia, presumably part of a streetscape improvement along a thoroughly auto-oriented corridor of strip malls and big boxes.  And they no doubt were a deliberate choice from the Public Works Department because they look good—providing a vintage, old-timey feel.  Apparently they don’t worry in Livonia about ne’er-do-well pedestrians throwing rocks at these distended bulbs.  Maybe it’s because Livonia has few ne’er-do-wells….and even fewer pedestrians.  But even some of the economically healthier neighborhoods within Detroit have caught the bug, replacing older streetlights with a newly vintage design, like these twin lamps in Midtown, near Woodward Avenue.

This inversion of taste cultures pervades streetscapes across the country, where everything old is new again, in order to exploit nostalgia among a generation that never really experienced a normative walkable environment—a landscape that was still the standard during the era when city crew first installed those acorn mercury vapor lamps.  We’re seduced by nostalgia and novelty; a hybrid of the two is doubly sweet.  Just go to the French Quarter in New Orleans, where a city equally negligent in modernizing its utilities now capitalizes on this same inertia—the flickery gas lanterns that once were a backwater embarrassment are now ambiance.  Detroit isn’t yet so lucky to take similar advantage of its obsolete lighting (and the fact that most streets like Mack are a hodgepodge of styles doesn’t help), but that doesn’t mean that an emergent cultural voice won’t someday call those lights “genuine retro”, and the preached-upon choir will be listening.

The periodic “freshening” of basic urban infrastructure is only partly due to necessity, as it may very well be in Detroit.  But a great deal simply has to do with keeping up with the joneses, resulting in often needlessly costly capital investments.  For example, the standard for pedestrian signals at intersections now typically involves a “countdown” timer, telling pedestrians exactly how many seconds they have left to cross.  While useful, are these timer boxes essential?  Regardless, public works departments are rapidly phasing out the single-box approach for these new timer-boxes, with little evidence of public advocacy one way or another (despite the fact that the public inevitably is paying for most of these replacement costs).  From decorative viaducts to Day-Glo yellow road caution signs, jurisdictions hell-bent on an infrastructural one-upmanship should look to Detroit as an inverse exemplar—what might happen when profligacy goes perpetually unchecked.  Unless, of course, these granny-and-gramps streetlights become hip and cool again, in which case the Motor City might have the last laugh.

This post originally appeared in American Dirt on February 27, 2014.

Eric McAfee is an itinerant urban planner/emergency manager who fuses his cross county (and trans-national) travels and love of contemporary landscapes into his blog, American Dirt, where a different version of this article appeared.

Large Urban Cores: Products of History

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 22:38

Urban cores are much celebrated but in reality most of the population living in functional urban cores is strongly concentrated in just a handful of major metropolitan areas in the United States. This conclusion is based on an analysis using the City Sector Model, which uses functional characteristics, rather than municipal jurisdictions, to analyze urban core and suburban components of metropolitan areas.

Functional Classifications of Metropolitan Areas

The City Sector Model allows a more representative functional analysis of urban core, suburban and exurban areas, by the use of smaller areas, rather than municipal boundaries.

The nearly 9,000 zip code tabulation areas of major metropolitan areas are categorized by functional characteristics, including urban form, density, and travel behavior. There are four functional classifications, the urban core, earlier suburban areas, later suburban areas and exurban areas. The urban cores have higher densities, older housing and substantially greater reliance on transit, similar to urban cores that existed before the post-World War II automobile oriented suburbanization. Exurban areas are beyond the built up urban areas. The suburban areas constitute the balance of the major metropolitan areas. Earlier suburbs include areas with a median house construction date before 1980. Later suburban areas have later median house construction dates.

Concentrating in New York and A Few Other Areas

As is so often the case on dense urbanization, the statistics are dominated by New York urban core which accounts for 42 percent of the total urban core population for the whole country. The New York metropolitan area, with 19.6 million people represents roughly six percent of the country’s population but its urban core –some 10.2 million strong – is larger than the total population of every metropolitan area in the nation other than Los Angeles (12.8 million).

New York's dominance is not surprising, reflecting its unique history and development.  Four of the core city's five boroughs (Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx) have higher population densities than any municipality more than one-one hundredth its size in the United States. Significantly, unlike most major metropolitan areas, New York's functional urban core stretches well beyond the core city, and includes more than 2,000,000 residents outside New York City.

Another 36 percent of the nation’s urban core population is in six metropolitan areas, though none reaches a population close to that of New York (Figure 1). Chicago is second, with an urban core population of 2.4 million. Four other urban cores exceed 1,000,000 population, including Boston (1.6 million), Philadelphia (1.5 million), Los Angeles (1.3 million) and San Francisco (1.1 million). The seventh largest urban core is in Washington, at 900,000. These seven metropolitan areas include the six transit legacy cities (municipalities), which account for 55 percent of the transit work trip destinations and 99 percent of the increase in urban core transit commuting in the United States over the past 10 years.(Los Angeles is not classified as a transit legacy city).

After Washington, the size of urban cores drops off markedly with the next 45 largest metropolitan areas accounting for only 22 percent of the urban core population. Cleveland ranks eighth at 460,000, Baltimore is ninth at 440,000, and Minneapolis-St. Paul is 10th with 420,000 urban core residents. Perhaps surprisingly, Providence, which is the nation's 38th largest metropolitan area, ranks 11th in urban core population, at 410,000 residents. Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Buffalo, and St. Louis round out the top 15, with between 320,000 and 370,000 urban core residents (Figure 2).

Another 9 metropolitan areas have urban core populations exceeding 100,000:Detroit, Seattle, Cincinnati, Portland, Hartford, New Orleans, Rochester, Kansas City, and Louisville.

Urban Cores over 100,000 Population

Approximately 97 percent of the urban core population lives in the 24 major metropolitan areas with more than 100,000 urban core residents. Between 2000 and 2010, the urban core populations in these areas dropped from 25.3 percent to 24.0 percent of their respective metropolitan populations. The continued decentralization of these metropolitan areas is illustrated by a loss in the earlier suburban areas and gains in the later suburban areas and exurban areas (Figure 3).

By comparison, only one percent of the population was in the urban cores of the other 28 major metropolitan areas (fewer than 100,000 residents in the urban core).

New York had by far the largest percentage of its total metropolitan population in the urban core, at 52 percent. Boston ranked second, with 34 percent of its population in the urban core. Buffalo, which was ranked only 47th in metropolitan area population, was third in urban core population share (29 percent). Chicago and San Francisco had 26 percent of their population in the urban cores, followed by Providence and Philadelphia at 25 percent (Figure 4).

Description of the Largest Urban Cores

There is substantial variation in the geographical extent of the largest urban cores relative to their corresponding historical core municipalities. This is described below and illustrated in the just published Demographia City Sector Model Metropolitan Area Maps.

As would be expected, New York's urban core includes nearly all of the city of New York. Virtually all of Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens are in the urban core, though only parts of Staten Island are included. The urban core extends into New Jersey, with nearly all of Hudson County (including Jersey City) included, the core of Essex County (including Newark) and the city of Elizabeth (in Union County). The urban core and extends into Long Island's Nassau County, including Hempstead, Valley Stream, Rockville Center and other areas. To the north, the urban core extends to parts of Westchester County (such as Yonkers, Pelham, Mount Vernon and New Rochelle). Interestingly, many of these areas, such as in western Nassau County, parts of Essex County and southern Westchester County are also suburban in form, but are classified as urban core because of high transit market shares, higher densities or pre-war development.

Chicago's urban core, the second largest, extends beyond but also excludes parts of the city of Chicago. The urban core extends into adjacent areas, such as older “suburban” Evanston, Oak Park and Cicero. There is also a significant urban core in northwestern Indiana, centered on East Chicago and Hammond.

Boston's urban core extends far outward from the city of Boston, including much of the area inside Route 128 (Interstate 95). This area also includes cities such as Cambridge, Everett, Somerville, Quincy, Medford, Waltham, and Lynn.

Philadelphia's urban core is largely confined to the city of Philadelphia, with extensions into Delaware County, Pennsylvania and Camden County, New Jersey.

The urban core of Los Angeles is principally in the area extending from Hollywood to parts of East Los Angeles and south to the Interstate 105 freeway. However, much more of the city of Los Angeles is not in the urban core. The urban core also includes parts of Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Pasadena and Glendale.

The urban core of San Francisco includes most of the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, as well as much of Berkeley, Albany, and Emeryville.

Washington's urban core includes most of Washington (the District of Columbia) and extends into Arlington and Alexandria in Virginia and has a large extension into Montgomery County, Maryland, including areas such as Bethesda and Silver Spring.

Urban Cores Compared to Historical Core Municipalities

A comparison of functional urban core populations to the populations of historical core municipalities indicates the problem of relying on jurisdictional (municipal) boundaries for urban core analysis. Functional urban core and historical core municipality populations vary significantly (Figure 5). The greatest differences are in Boston and Louisville. Boston's functionalurban core population is 2.52 times that of the historical core municipality (Boston). Louisville's functional urban core population is only one-sixth that of the historical core municipality (Louisville).

Providence is second to Boston in its ratio of urban core population to that of historical core municipality at 2.29. The city of Providence had only 178,000 residents in 2010. (Among historical core municipalities, only Hartford was smaller at 125,000). Washington has an urban core population 1.49 times that of the historical core municipality, while New York and Buffalo had urban cores 1.25 times the population of their historical core municipalities.

Among urban cores with more than 100,000 population Kansas City, Los Angeles, Portland, and New Orleans follow Louisville with the lowest ratios to historical core municipality populations (from 24 percent to 37 percent). In each of these cases, the urban core's low ratio is the result of substantial annexations or large areas or the settling of large rural territories that had been previously included in the municipal limits (such as Los Angeles and New Orleans).

Urban Cores: Products of History

Indeed, nothing distinguishes the major metropolitan areas with larger urban core populations from the rest than history, In1940, just before the great mobility and suburbanization revolution, there were 23 metropolitan areas in the United States with wore than 500,000 population. The major metropolitan areas with the 19 largest urban cores in 1940 were all among the 23 with more than 500,000 population in 1940. Out of the 24 major metropolitan areas with more than 100,000 urban core residents in 2010, 21had more than 500,000 population in 1940 (only Hartford, Rochester and Louisville had smaller populations).

Conversely, only two of the 28 major metropolitan areas in 2010 with fewer than 100,000 functional urban core residents had more than 500,000 residents in 1940, and they were among the smaller (Houston with 528,000 and Atlanta with 518,000).

Urban cores were not planned, but rather were the result of consumer trendsin a time of much lower household incomes and much more restricted personal mobility. Many of the very centers of urban cores are reviving, but overall core growth continues to lag behind that of metropolitan areas. Moreover, there are no significant new ones.Urban cores, as much as anything, are a product of history.


Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He was appointed to the Amtrak Reform Council to fill the unexpired term of Governor Christine Todd Whitman and has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.


Illustration: Core of the New York metropolitan area (City Sector Model map)

Success and the City: Houston's Pro-growth Policies Producing an Urban Powerhouse

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 06:30

David Wolff and David Hightower are driving down the partially completed Grand Parkway around Houston. The vast road, when completed, will add a third freeway loop around this booming, 600-square-mile Texas metropolis. Urban aesthetes on the ocean coasts tend to have a low opinion of the flat Texas landscape—and of Houston, in particular, which they see as a little slice of Hades: a hot, humid, and featureless expanse of flood-prone grassland, punctuated only by drab office towers and suburban tract houses. But Messrs. Wolff and Hightower, major land developers on Houston's outskirts for four decades, have a different outlook.

"We may not have all the scenery of a place like California," notes the 73-year-old Mr. Wolff, who is also part owner of the San Francisco Giants. "But growth makes up for a lot of imperfections."

A host of newcomers—immigrants and transplants from around the United States—agree. The city's low cost of living and high rate of job growth have made Houston and its surrounding metro region attractive to young families. According to Pitney Bowes,PBI +2.11% Houston will enjoy the highest growth in new households of any major city between 2014 and 2017. A recent U.S. Council of Mayors study predicted that the American urban order will become increasingly Texan, with Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth both growing larger than Chicago by 2050.

Houston's economic success over the past 20 years—and, more remarkably, since the Great Recession and the weak national recovery—rivals the performance of any large metropolitan region in the U.S. For nearly a decade and a half, the city has added jobs at a furious pace—more than 600,000 since early 2000, and 263,000 since early 2008.

The much more populous greater New York City area has added 103,000 jobs since 2008, and Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, Atlanta and Philadelphia remain well below their 2008 levels in total jobs. Los Angeles and Chicago, like Detroit, have fewer jobs today than they did at the turn of the millennium.

Many of Houston's jobs pay well, too. Using Praxis Strategy Group calculations that factor in the cost of living as well as salaries, Houston now has among the highest, if not the highest, standard of living of any large city in the U.S. The average cost-of-living-adjusted salary in Houston is about $75,000, compared with around $50,000 in New York and $46,000 in Los Angeles.

Since 2001, the energy industry has been directly responsible for an increase of 67,000 jobs in Houston, and it now employs more than 240,000 people in the area. These include many technical positions, one reason the region now boasts the highest concentration of engineers outside Silicon Valley. The jobs should keep coming: University of Houston economist Bill Gilmer estimates that $25 billion to $40 billion in new petrochemical facilities is on its way to Greater Houston.

Houston also has seen a surge in mid-skills jobs (usually requiring a certificate or a two-year degree) in fields such as manufacturing, logistics and construction, as well as energy. Many of these jobs pay more than $100,000 a year. And according to calculations derived from the Bureau of Labor Statistics by the Praxis Strategy Group's Mark Schill, since 2007 Houston has led the 52 major metropolitan areas in creating these jobs, at a rate of 6.6% annually. In contrast, mid-skills jobs have declined by more than 10% in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco, which have not been friendly to such industries.

Houston's growth is more than oil-industry luck; it reflects a unique policy environment. The city and its unincorporated areas have no formal zoning, so land use is flexible and can readily meet demand. Getting building permits is simple and quick, with no arbitrary approval boards making development an interminable process. Neighborhoods can protect themselves with voluntary, opt-in deed restrictions or minimum lot sizes.

The flexible planning regime is also partly responsible for keeping Houston's housing prices relatively low. On a square-foot basis, according to Knight Frank, a London-based real-estate consultancy, the same amount of money buys almost seven times as much space in Houston as it does in San Francisco and more than four times as much as in New York. Houston has built a new kind of "self-organizing" urban model, notes architect and author Lars Lerup, one that he calls "a creature of the market."

Housing-market flexibility has also benefited some of the city's historically neglected areas. The once-depopulating Fifth Ward has seen a surge of new housing—much of it for middle-income African-Americans, attracted by the area's long-standing black cultural vibe and close access to downtown as well as the Texas Medical Center. Rather than worry about gentrification, many locals support the change in fortunes. "In Houston, we don't like the idea of keeping an image of poverty for our neighborhood," explained Rev. Harvey Clemons, chairman of the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation. "We welcome renewal."

Houston's explosive economic growth has engendered another kind of boom: a human one. Between 2000 and 2013, Greater Houston's population expanded by 35%—while New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago grew by 4% to 7%. According to a 2012 Rice University study, Greater Houston is now the most ethnically diverse metro region in America, as measured by the balance between four major groups: African-American, white, Asian and Hispanic. "This place is as diverse as California," notes David Yi, a Korean-American energy trader who moved to Houston from Los Angeles in 2013. "But it is affordable, with good schools."

The growth-friendly attitude is what holds everything together in Houston, and it will be crucial whenever the next slowdown comes—when oil prices could drop, say, to below $100 a barrel. It remains to be seen whether a large influx of newcomers to Greater Houston from the ocean coasts will clamor, as they have elsewhere—notably, in Colorado—for a more controlled, high-regulation urban environment. For now, though, most Houstonians see the city as a place that works—for minorities and immigrants, for suburbanites and city dwellers—and few want to fix what isn't broken.

This article first appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Tory Gattis is a Social Systems Architect, consultant and entrepreneur with a genuine love of his hometown Houston and its people. He covers a wide range of Houston topics at Houston Strategies - including transportation, transit, quality-of-life, city identity, and development and land-use regulations - and have published numerous Houston Chronicle op-eds on these topics.

Houston photo by

Growth, Not Redistribution the Cure for Income Inequality

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 22:38

Ever since the publication this spring of Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the 21st Century,” conservatives and much of the business press, such as the Financial Times, have been on a jihad to discredit the author and his findings about increased income inequality in Western societies. Some have even equated growing attacks on inequality with anti-Semitism, with at least one Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Tom Perkins, comparing anti-inequality campaigners to Nazis.

For their part, progressives have taken to embracing the book like acolytes who have found a new gospel for their talking points. Paul Krugman predictably describes the bookas “the most important economics book of the year – and, maybe, the decade.”

Piketty’s book is neither the Sermon on the Mount nor the “Communist Manifesto.” Its findings are, to be sure, far from conclusive, and may well have omitted some relevant points. The French economist’s solutions, as we will discuss, are also wanting. But conservatives, and business interests, should not see these shortcomings as a “get out of jail free” card on the pressing issues of class, inequality and reduced upward mobility.

Conservatives, Businesses Need to Wake Up

There are numerous measurements of reduced upward mobility from many other sources, notably the Federal Reserve, which are based on different data sets. Virtually all the conclusions are stark: The middle-class share of the economy is dropping as the vast majority of new dollars flow into the hands of a relative few.

During the recovery from the Great Recession, income among the three middle quintilesdropped by 1.2 percent, while those of the top 5 percent of incomes grew by over 5 percent. This represents the acceleration of a long-term trend. Overall, the middle 60 percent of Americans have seen their share of the national pie fall from 53 percent in 1970 to barely 45 percent in 2012.

More important, still, may be perceptions. Conservative economists can scoff at Piketty’s findings, but more and more Americans are alienated from the current economic system. For many, according to a 2013 Bloomberg poll, the American Dream seems increasingly out of reach. This opinion prevails by a 2-1 margin among Americans, rising to 3-1 among those making under $50,000 a year, but also is held by a majority earning over $100,000.

At the same time, Americans, by more than 2-1, believe they enjoy fewer economic opportunities than did their parents and feel they will experience far less job security and disposable income. They also see growing ties between powerful business interests and government, with the vast majority feeling that government contracts go to the well-connected. Less than one-third believe the country operates under a free-market system.

For business and for free-market conservatives these attitudes have consequences.Nearly 60 percent of the public, notes Gallup, favor some steps to increase the redistribution of wealth, almost twice as many who felt the current system was “fair.” Sentiments in this direction are even stronger among millennials, with some surveys suggesting that the majority are even sympathetic to socialism. Business needs to learn this lesson: Capitalism can only be sustained if it achieves a semblance of social democratic aims; without this, the system loses credibility and is seen as more oppressive than liberating.

Good news for Democrats

All this could be considered good news for Democrats, particularly the party’s left wing, which has gained growing sway over the party, particularly in urban areas. But there’s this problem with the Obama record: Rather than a shift to a more broad distribution of income, some 95 percent of the income gains during President Obama’s first term went to barely 1 percent of the population while incomes declined for the lower 93 percent of earners. As one writer at the left-leaning Huffington Post put it, “The rising tide has lifted fewer boats during the Obama years – and the ones it’s lifted have been mostly yachts.”

Leftist reaction to this failure has been building in recent years, not only during the Occupy movement, but in the increasingly open criticism of the Obama approach by populist – as opposed to gentry – liberals. Progressives, such as Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have made it clear that, on this issue, at least, the administration has had few, if any, answers.

Searching for Solutions

This leads us into what could be “terra incognita.” Over the past several decades, we have seen two basic approaches to economic policy. One approach can be called “trickle down,” with tax cuts designed particularly to provide incentives for investors.

Obama has tried a different approach, imposing higher taxes on upper-income professionals and small-business owners (while not touching the lower capital-gains rate for the very rich) as well as a regulatory regime particularly tough on firms without a strong lobbying presence.

The failure of the Obama approach convinces some of the Left that the solution lies with the expanded “social state” advocated by their new guru, Piketty, steps which, they hope, will forcibly redistribute wealth. Like Piketty, they seem to feel that economic growth, traditionally a prime source of social uplift, is little more than an “illusory” solution.

In reality, redistribution by the state would certainly help some, notably lower-income workers, but it’s doubtful it would improve material conditions for much of the middle class or the poor. Such a state is unlikely to increase upward mobility. The 50-year “war on poverty” in the United States, for example, initially helped reduce the percentage of the poor, but has achieved few gains since the 1960s.

Despite $750 billion spent annually on welfare programs, up 30 percent since 2008, a record 46 million Americans were in poverty in 2012. Indeed, racial and ethnic economic disparities have grown under Obama.

In much the same way, the European welfare state – held up as an exemplar by many progressives – has fallen on hard times, attracting the lowest levels of political support in several decades. Certainly, it holds little hope for young people, whose interests wane before a government increasingly focused on the growing ranks of pensioners. Overall unemployment rates in Europe are generally higher than in the U.S., and particularly for the young, where joblessness reaches 20 percent and higher in some countries. Indeed, much of the continent’s youth are widely described as “the lost generation.”

Pervasive inequality and limited social mobility have been well-documented in larger European countries, including France, which has among the world’s most-evolved welfare states. The same is true in Scandinavia, often held up as the ultimate exemplar of egalitarianism. The Nordic countries have much to recommend them, but they, too, face rapidly growing inequality. Indeed, over the past 15 years, the gap between the wealthy and other classes has increased in Sweden four times more rapidly than in the United States.

Ultimately, expanding welfare states, which can ameliorate class inequality, also depress economies and create the conditions for social stagnation. Indeed, as New Deal architect Franklin Roosevelt warned, a system of unearned payments, no matter how well-intended, can serve as “a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit” by reducing people’s incentives to better their lives.

In contrast, significant gains in poverty reduction, among those employed, at least, have come when both the economy and the job market expand, as occurred during both the Reagan and Clinton eras. Clearly, as both of these presidents recognized, the best antidote to poverty remains a robust job market. As Mike Barone has pointed out, the best economic results for the middle class have come under either free-market leaders like Reagan or Margaret Thatcher, or moderate liberals, like Clinton or Tony Blair.

What we need, then, is a new focus on economic growth, accompanied by tax changes that both allow marginal rates to fall while equalizing capital gains with income taxes. This would lower the increasingly onerous burden on small businesses and middle-class families, and spark more grass-roots “up from the bottom” growth. It would also shift the economic paradigm away from speculative investment and toward rewarding work and enterprise. Critically, it could slow, perhaps reverse, the precipitous drop in labor force participation rates, particularly among young Americans, a harbinger of Europeanization in the worst sense.

We should neither dismiss the issue of inequality, as many conservatives might wish to, or take the wrong steps to address it. Americans need to have a serious debate on how to confront the most important issue of our times – the growing class divide – with not just ceaseless rhetoric from the political class that, for the most part, to recall Shakespeare’s “MacBeth,” “is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

This article first appeared in the Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Michael Lind's New Paradigm and the "End" of Social Conservatism

Sun, 07/13/2014 - 22:38

Michael Lind has released a new essay titled “The Coming Realignment” in The Breakthrough Journal, one of the most innovative magazines around today. He predicts that social conservatism as we know it will fade away, but that does not mean we will have political consensus; only that the terms of engagement may change.

Lind suggests will be two camps, one he calls “liberaltarian” based in the denser urban areas that he calls “Densitaria”; the other, “populiberalism,” will flourish in more  loosely settled suburban areas he calls “Posturbia.” He contends that Densitaria will be primarily occupied by wealthy urbanites and their poor, often immigrant servants, while Posturbia, being dominated by the single family home, will occupy the middle ground. It may not be accessible to the poorest, and not very desirable to the richest; but it will be, however, racially diverse. In many regions  already, suburbs are now more diverse than core cities.

Neither of these cultures will be hostile to the welfare state, but they will have different preferences about what to expect from it. Densitaria will support the means tested welfare programs that have been called “welfare” in American political discourse, but it will want to control their costs, and will want to put restrictions on things that damage the health of potential welfare clients, like smoking and getting fat.  The Posturbians will favor the type of welfare that comes out of the New Deal, which in American political discourse has not been called “welfare”; non-means tested programs like Social Security and Medicare and other forms of social insurance, public libraries and schools, and other government programs available to all and not just the “poor.” The Republican Party could actually become representative of either camp, depending on how things go.

I would remark that polls of Millennials seem to indicate that opposition to abortion and euthanasia continue to resonate, even as other forms of social conservatism, such as opposition to gay marriage fade; the effect of social liberalism will primarily mean that sexual abstinence will not be considered by future pro-lifers the ideal solution to unwanted pregnancy, and they will not be opposed to contraception. Hopefully, pro-lifers will not automatically link up with one of the two camps but will operate in both; but the Densitarian concern with controlling the costs of welfare may make them reluctant to accept restrictions on abortion and euthanasia.

On the other hand, if Posturbians develop an obsession with “overpopulation,” which is a very dated concern but still heard among some secular conservatives (perhaps because what growth we have is increasingly non-white), and are obsessed with keeping their neighborhoods from becoming Densitarian when it comes to school vouchers and tax credits, which I consider a matter of social justice. However, these reforms may actually have more appeal to Densitarians, depending on how the quality of government schools in Posturbia is perceived.

Lind says “the property-owning majorities of Posturbia are likely to be more sensitive to restrictions on what property owners can do with their property” than Densitarians, who will mostly rent or live in condos anyhow, and largely live off Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate industries. I am not so sure. In most of Posturbia, as opposed to small towns or rural areas, “property values” are set not by what you can do with your property, but from what surrounds it; and because of this, and because of not wanting to be densified, the Posturbians will probably favor stringent regulations on the use of their neighbors’ property. Also, they will not be abandoning the automobile, but they will want restrictions on the use of land to keep too many other cars from crowding the roads that they use.

But not everything about the Posturbians will be restrictive. They are expected to be a lot more open to fracking and to other things that will enable them to have the affordable energy supplies that they need. I think the class divisions in Posturbia will be a little greater than Lind thinks; the 1% will probably not be there, but fair numbers of the top 20% will be there, and if not the poorest of the poor, fair numbers of the bottom 40%. I personally believe that class hatred in America is not between the poorest and the richest – class resentment tends to be directed mainly at the classes (or income brackets, often misunderstood by Americans to be classes) just above and below one’s own. The desire to “soak the rich”, except among the near-rich, arises not from resentment but from fantasy, the belief that “the rich” have enough resources to bear most of the burden of society without raising taxes on the rest. They do not, although I admit they have more than they used to.

I’m not sure where I would end up in such an alignment. My preference will be swayed most by which alternative is better for the poor and for the marginalized among us.

Howard Ahmanson of Fieldstead and Company, a private management firm, has been interested in these issues for many years.

There Will Be No Real Recovery Without The Middle Class

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 12:46

What if they gave a recovery, and the middle class were never invited? Well, that’s an experiment we are running now, and, even with the recent strengthening of the jobs market, it’s not looking very good.

Over the last five years, Wall Street and the investor class have been on a bull run, but the economy has been, at best, torpid for the vast majority of the population. Despite blather about our “democratic capitalism,” stock ownership is increasingly concentrated with the wealthy as the middle class retrenches. The big returns that hedge funds, real estate trusts or venture capitalist receive are simply outside the reach of the vast majority.

A recent study by the Russell Sage Foundation suggests these patterns of inequality, which have been developing over the last several decades, have become more pronounced in the post-Recession years. In 2013 the wealth of those at the 90th and 95thpercentiles was actually higher than 10 years ago. Everyone else is lower.

The labor market may be strengthening, with the unemployment rate falling to 6.1% last month, but too many of the new jobs are low wage or part time. They aren’t providing the kick the economy got in the last, more broad-based expansion from robust consumer spending.

Wage growth has been weak, rising 2.5% annually since 2009, according to Bloomberg, compared with a 4.3% annual rise from 2001 to 2007. Consumer spending, which makes up roughly 70% of the economy, has expanded an average 2.2% since the recession ended, behind the 3% advance in the prior expansion.

And many working-age people are still sitting discouraged on the sidelines – the labor force participation rate remains the lowest since 1979.

People in marginal or part-time jobs are not likely to drive consumer spending. Instead we have seen the emergence of a new, top-heavy consumer market. Since 1992 the top 5% of households have increased their share of total spending to almost 40%, up from 27% in 1992.

Former Citigroup economist Anjay Kapur has described this situation as a “plutonomy,” in which the economy is increasingly based on the global wealthy and their tastes and predilections.

Meanwhile broader consumer confidence remains weak. Last year some two-thirds of Americans polled by the Washington Post and the Miller Center said they felt life had become tougher over the last five years compared to just 7% who thought theirs had improved. Pollsters also have found almost two-thirds of parents felt their children would do worse in life, a stunning shift from far more optimistic readings back in 1999.

The Housing Market

Historically housing has been the primary asset held by the middle and working class. Despite government efforts to keep mortgages affordable, post-crash, growth has been slow, and much of the buying restricted to investors, including major financial interests. Particularly damaging, there has been a marked decline in the “trade up market” and even more so, sales to first-time buyers, whose share of the market has declined to under 30%, well below the historic average of 40%. This reflects the weak economy, tighter lending standards, and, for younger customers, the heavy burden of student loans.

Some on Wall Street hope to profit from a perceived shift in America to a “rentership society.” Housing more of the population in rental apartments would do little to improve social mobility, as people end up working not for their own equity but to pay the mortgage of their landlords. Nor can the economic payoff from apartment construction come close to that of single-family homes. According to the National Association of Home Builders, building 100 new single-family homes adds 324 jobs to the average metropolitan economy in the year of their construction and 53 jobs annually in the following years. This compares to 122 jobs per 100 new apartments in the year of construction and 32 in the following years. With home starts at less than a third their 2005 level, lack of construction employment also deals a body blow to one of the primary sources of higher-paying blue collar jobs.

The Emasculation Of Small Business

In previous recoveries, small businesses have provided much of the spark and job creation. Not so this time. Small business start-ups have declined as a portion of all business growth from 50% in the early 1980s to 35% in 2010, while its share of employment dropped down from 20% to 12%. Indeed, a 2014 Brookings report revealed that small business “dynamism,” measured by the growth of new firms compared with the closing of older ones, has declined significantly over the past decade, with more firms closing than starting for the first time in a quarter century.

Nor is the future prognosis too good. The rise of the regulatory state, including the Affordable Care Act and higher taxes, amplified in deep blue states such as California, has hit smaller businesses hard. The gradual culling of smaller banks, traditional lenders to entrepreneurs, and the growing concentration of assets in the “too big to fail” banks, historically unfocused on the needs of small companies or individual proprietors, suggests credit may remain tough for grassroots entrepreneurs.

Needed: A New Paradigm

The recession and the weak recovery have taught us you cannot have strong economic growth without the participation of the vast majority of Americans. We’ve run an experiment under Bernanke, Bush and Obama to pump up the economy from above, and what we’ve done is squash the aspirations of those middle orders, particularly small business and the self-employed.

This issue should be at the center of the political debate.  I would welcome suggestions from the right and left about how best to restart a broad-based economic recovery. The best ideas may come from across the spectrum, such as flatter taxes, supported by many conservatives, as well as new spending on major infrastructure projects as improved roads, rivers and ports that generally come from more liberal groups.

The good news is the fundamentals for a broader-based prosperity, including the creation of high-paying blue-collar jobs, remain in place. Progress is already evident in the energy and some manufacturing-oriented regions. Restarting the housing sector — particularly the single-family home component — would do wonders for middle and working class people in many regional economies, as can be seen, for example, in Houston, where more homes will be built this year than in the entire state of California. Nationwide, the gap between  between demand and potential housing, according to the NAB, is roughly 1 million homes, which translates into close to 3 million jobs.

How to drive growth to these and other productive sectors may require not only changes in government policy but also reacquainting the investor class with the virtues of long-term growth, productivity and the revival of the mass economy. Perhaps once they do investors might earn something other than intense dislike from the rest of the population.

This story originally appeared at Forbes.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

The California Economy: A Strength Vs Weakness Breakdown

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 22:38

Part two of a two-part report. Read part 1.

The problem with analyzing California's economy — or with assessing its vigor — is that there is not one California economy. Instead, we have a group of regions that will see completely different economic outcomes. Then, those outcomes will be averaged, and that average of regional outcomes is California's economy. It is possible, even likely, that no region will see the average outcome, just as we rarely see average rainfall in California.

California's Silicon Valley region continues to be a source of innovation, economic vigor, and wealth creation. But the Silicon Valley, named because silicon is the primary component of computer chips, no longer produces any chips. The demands for venture capital are also changing, with the demand for cash falling because new products often take the form of apps instead of something that is manufactured. This type of investing doesn't need the infrastructure that the Silicon Valley provides. Increasingly, other communities such as Boston, Northern Virginia, and Houston are becoming centers of technological innovation.

Workers recognize the changes. They may not know the reasons, but they know the impacts, and they are voting with their feet. Domestic migration — migration between states, — is a good measure of how workers see opportunity. California's domestic migration, in a dramatic reversal of a 150-year trend, has now been negative for over 20 consecutive years. That is, for over 20 years more people have left California for other states than have come to California from other states. Workers simply haven't seen opportunity in California. How can this be? Why would people be leaving when jobs are being created in the Silicon Valley?

The Silicon Valley jobs are rather specific. They require higher skill sets than most workers possess. One consequence is that the Silicon Valley's prosperity hasn't helped California's other workers much. We are left with a situation where California's tech firms search worldwide for workers, while California workers search for work.

It didn't have to be this way. High housing prices and environmental regulations, a result of state policies, have driven away the jobs that could be performed by typical California workers. Those jobs are now in Oregon, Texas, or China.

A short distance away, in California's Great Central Valley, there is poverty as persistent, deep, and widespread as anyplace in the United States. A recent report shows that California has three of the 20 fastest growing US cities in terms of jobs. It has four in the bottom 20.

For a while, at least, the differences between California's fastest growing regions and its slowest (or declining) areas will grow. In general, coastal areas will see more rapid economic growth than inland ones. Even within these broad regions, there will great heterogeneity. Bakersfield, boosted by a booming oil sector, will see stronger growth than Stockton. San Jose, with its thriving tech sector, will see far more growth than Santa Barbara or Monterey. Furthermore, the best performer among California's inland cities will probably see faster growth than the slowest growing coastal city.

On average, California's economic growth will be far below its potential. In most of the state it will be disappointingly low to dismal, as California's economy is held back by well-meaning but seriously flawed regulations. At the same time, a few super-performing cities may see spectacular growth, at least for a few years.

Eventually, even California's most vibrant economies will slow, gradually strangled by the lack of affordable housing and of an infrastructure necessary to move people from affordable housing to their jobs. People are willing to drive very long distances daily in pursuit of the twin goals of income security and the American dream of a home in the suburbs. The traffic on Highway 14 between Palmdale and Los Angeles reminds us of this twice every working day. But, they need roads, and affordable housing within commuting distance.

Different growth rates and different levels of economic vitality will exacerbate the vast gulf that exists between California's wealthiest communities and its poorest. Inequality will increase as California's fabulously wealthy become ever wealthier, and California's poor suffer in surprising silence, living on whatever aid we give them, denied the hope and the basic dignity that comes from a job.

Domestic outmigration will increase, but the people who leave won't be California's poorest. Instead, young middle-class people will lead the exodus, as they move to wherever opportunity is more abundant. This, of course, will further increase California's inequality and decrease its economic vitality.

We will also see an increase in consumption communities. Already, many of California's coastal communities are reflexively averse to any new activity that actually creates value, opting instead to become ever more exclusive playgrounds for the very rich. These communities will see rising home prices as they restrict new units, and will see rising demand, a result of ever greater concentrations of wealth worldwide and the unmatched amenities available in Coastal California.

By contrast, some inland areas will see declining home values and eventually declining populations, as the lack of opportunity drives potential home buyers to places like Phoenix and Houston.

For many of us, this is a depressing forecast, and it is fair to ask whether or not it is inevitable. It isn't. Few things are. At a statewide level, I hope that representatives of California's large and growing minority communities demand policies that support the opportunity that previous generations of Californians enjoyed. Absent such demands, California's policies are unlikely to change.

At a local level, cities would do well to eliminate all policies that contribute to economic stagnation. When a business is making locational decisions, it reviews lists of positive and negatives for the candidate communities. No place has only positives, and few places have only negatives. California cities are endowed with one huge positive: California is a wonderful place to live. That's not enough, though. A city would do well to minimize the list of negatives.

For businesses, an aggressive minimum wage is a negative, as it raises costs. Uncertainty and delay in a city's response to an economic proposal increases the risk and costs of proposals. It's a negative. So is unaffordable housing, as it increases wage demands and makes it harder for businesses to recruit top talent. The best way for a city to encourage the supply of affordable housing is to allow new-home development.

Finally, areas of economic blight increase crime, raise city costs, reduce city revenues, and are unattractive to businesses considering moving to or expanding in an area. Cities need to be flexible in responses to proposals for these areas. Our work at CERF convinces us that we will need less commercial space in the future. Therefore, almost any proposal for dealing with these areas is preferable to inflexible adherence to existing zoning or plans.

California cities are constrained by California policy. That doesn't mean that California cities are without tools for economic development. Almost any California city — no matter which region it is in — is a better place to live than almost any city in, say, Texas. If that can be leveraged by minimized costs, flexibility, and creativity in adapting to the needs of job-creating businesses, a California city, even today, can assist businesses creating opportunity for its citizens

This is the second part of a two-part report. Bill Watkins is a professor at California Lutheran University and runs the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting, which can be found at

Flickr photo by Aude Lising: The Central California Coast, viewed from the Pacific Coast Highway -- one of California's unmatched amenities.

The California Economy: When Vigor and Frailty Collide

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 22:38

Part one of a two-part report

California is a place of extremes. It has beaches, mountains, valleys and deserts. It has glaciers and, just a few miles away, hot, dry deserts. Some years it doesn't rain. Some years it rains all winter. Those extremes are part of what makes California the attractive place that it is, and, west of the high mountains, California is mostly an extremely comfortable place to live.

Today, we have some new extremes. Some of our coastal communities are as wealthy as any in the world. At the other extreme, we have some of America's poorest communities. San Bernardino, for example, has America's second-highest poverty rate for cities with population over 200,000.

From the beginning, we've had the fabulously wealthy. For the first 140 years after gold was found, California was a place where people could find, or, more correctly, build, success. The new part is the poverty. It used to be that the poor were mostly newcomers, people who hadn't yet had time to show that they had what it takes. Today, our poverty is dominated by families who have been here a long time. While San Bernardino certainly has some newcomers, it is mostly a city of native Californians.

The change became visible in the early 1990s. Many analysts will tell you that the change was caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resulting peace dividend, which led to a dramatic downsizing of America's defense sector, once a major component of California's economy.

I believe the way to think about this is that the downsizing of the defense sector exposed the weaknesses in California's economy, as opposed to causing them. Sure, the downsizing had an economic impact. California lost hundreds of thousands of jobs. But the defense sector eventually bounced back and again became a source of good jobs. The problem is that it bounced back someplace else. It didn't come back in California. In fact, it continues to decline in California.

The decline in California's economic opportunities began way before the 1990s. As the 1960s progressed, Californians, or at the least the ones making decisions, changed their priorities. California's spending for infrastructure had once consumed between 15 and 20 percent of the State's budget. It precipitously fell to five percent or below.

In the '50s and early '60s, governors Goodwin Knight and Pat Brown presided over a fabulous investment boom in universities, highways, water projects and the like. None of their successors has even attempted anything on that scale. The profound prosperity that accompanied and followed California's investment boom hid the impacts of subsequent policy changes for decades.

The decline in public capital spending wasn’t the cause of our changed priorities. It was the change in priorities that caused the change in spending. It is as if we decided that we were wealthy enough, and that future spending would be on social and environmental programs. If we weren't looking for economic growth, why invest?

At California Lutheran University's Center for Economic Research and Forecasting, we've created a vigor index. It's composed of net in-migration, job creation, and new housing permits, each equally weighted. It is quite sensitive to changes in economic opportunity. For example, in 2000, North Dakota had the nation's lowest score, 0.9, and Nevada led the nation with a score of 24.1. By 2013, North Dakota led the country with a score of 20.0, while Nevada had seen its index value fall to only 6.4.

In the following chart, we show California's index (red bars) compared to that of Texas, Oregon, and Tennessee, from 1980 through 2013.

California is apparently different than the comparison states. The Tennessee, Oregon, and Texas indexes have behaved more similarly to each other than to California since the late 1980s. Texas' index behaved uniquely in the early 1980s, because of its dependency on oil and the long-term decline in oil prices that occurred during the 1980s.

California appears to be different than the other states throughout the period, but the nature of the difference has changed. Prior to the late 1980s, California tended to outperform the others. For example, its score didn't decline nearly as much as the others during the early 1980s recession. Given California's resource endowment, we think this is natural.

Since 1990, though, California's vigor index has generally remained below those of Texas, Tennessee, and Oregon. Indeed, since 1990, California's score has rarely exceeded the score of any of the comparison states, and it has never led them all.

The index also shows that California's investment in infrastructure during the 1950s and 1960s helped drive economic opportunity for two decades. It took two decades without any investment before we saw the consequences of the decision to not invest.

Recently, California has seen budget surpluses and faster job growth than the average American state. The forces for the status quo now claim that this confirms the wisdom of their policies. They are wrong.

California's budget surpluses are a product of a temporary tax, and an incredible bull market in equities. Our dependence on a highly progressive income tax means that California's fiscal condition swings on the fortunes of a small group of wealthy individuals.

Equity markets have been amazing over the past few years. The Dow has increased by over 10,000 since it bottomed out on March 9, 2009, and it appears to be divorced from economic activity. It increases on good news and bad, propelled by an unprecedented monetary expansion. Right now, California's largest taxpayers are reaping huge profits in the stock markets, and California is reaping huge windfalls in its tax revenues.

Someday, the market gains will cease, or worse reverse. Someday, too, the temporary tax will expire. California's surpluses will wash away like sand on a beach. The state will face a new crisis, a result of a progressive tax structure where revenues swing on paper profits and losses, not on economic activity.

As for our job gains being better than the average state's, California should not be average.

Employment should be far higher than it is. Even the weak job growth we've seen is largely a legacy of a previous age. California has the world's best venture capital infrastructure, partly because of the investment previous generations of Californians made in the university system. It is also, in part, a result of chance.

An amazing period of innovation was initiated in Coastal California by a few incredibly talented individuals, who were funded by a few far-sighted capitalists. It was one of those rare coincidences that happen from time to time and change the world. The eventual result was the Silicon Valley and economic powerhouses such as Intel, HP, Apple, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and many more.

Another result was the creation of a private, capitalist, vibrant infrastructure. It takes time and vast sums of money before a new idea generates profits. Product design is just the first step. An organization needs to be created to produce and sell the product. Factories need to be designed. Marketing plans need to be put in place.

No inventor or entrepreneur can be expected to have all of the necessary skills or money to turn an idea into a profitable firm. So, an infrastructure appeared. The Silicon Valley's world-leading venture capital markets and the support structure to enable the fabulous innovation and economic value created there was not the result of any government program or initiative. It was the spontaneous result of lots of people driven to innovate and profit from those innovations. It was capitalism at its very best.

California's Silicon Valley became the place for talented young people to turn great ideas into reality. It was also the place to go if you had money and wished to invest in vibrant, risky new technologies, or if you knew how to design factories, how to market products, how to build organizations, or how to finance rapid growth. The infrastructure that arose is supporting California today. This amazing capitalist engine of jobs, innovation and wealth is the source of most of California's economic vigor. But it is a legacy that will eventually slip away, unless California changes its priorities.

This is the first part of a two-part report. Bill Watkins is a professor at California Lutheran University and runs the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting, which can be found at

Flickr photo by mlhradio. A California extreme: Mountains on The Trona-Wildrose Road, at the edge of the Panamint Valley. One of the most remote deserts in North America, in one of the most remote corners of California; the salt flats of Panamint Valley to the west, and Death Valley to the east.

Dispersing Millennials

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 22:38

The very centers of urban cores in many major metropolitan areas are experiencing a resurgence of residential development, including new construction in volumes not seen for decades. There is a general impression, put forward by retro–urbanists (Note 1) and various press outlets that the urban core resurgence reflects a change in the living preferences of younger people – today's Millennials – who they claim are rejecting the suburban and exurban residential choices of their parents and grandparents.

There is no question that the millennial population has risen in urban cores in recent years. Yet the growth in the younger population in urban cores masks far larger increases in the same population group in other parts of major metropolitan areas and in the nation in general.

Functional Analysis of Metropolitan Areas

This article continues a series examining the 52 major metropolitan areas (those with more than 1,000,000 residents) using the City Sector Model, which allows a more representative functional analysis of urban core, suburban, and exurban areas, by using smaller areas, rather than using municipal boundaries. The City Sector Model thus eliminates the over-statement of urban core data that occurs in conventional analyses, which rely on historical core municipalities, most of which encompass considerable suburbanization.

The City Sector Model classifies 9,000 major metropolitan area zip code tabulation areas using urban form, density, and travel behavior characteristics. There are four functional classifications: the urban core, earlier suburban areas, later suburban areas, and exurban areas. The urban cores have higher densities, older housing and substantially greater reliance on transit, similar to the urban cores that preceded the great automobile oriented post-World War Two suburbanization. Exurban areas are beyond the built up urban areas. The suburban areas constitute the balance of the major metropolitan areas. Earlier suburbs include areas with a median house construction date before 1980. Later suburban areas have later median house construction dates (Note 2).

20-29s and the Urban Core

The age band best approximating millennials for the period of 2000 to 2010 is people of from 20 to 29 years of age.

Between 2000 and 2010, the total population of 20-29's living in the functional urban cores increased by 300,000, from 4.3 million to 4.6 million from 2000 to 2010. Yet, the share of 20-29s living in the urban cores actually declined over the decade.

In 2000, 20.2 percent of the major metropolitan area 20- to 29-year-old population was in the urban core. By 2010, it had dropped to 19.3 percent, a 4.4 percent share reduction. This happened because the 300,000 increase in 20-29s in the urban core was dwarfed by the overall 2.6 million increase in the same age group throughout the major metropolitan areas. As a result, only 12 percent of the 20-29 population growth was in the urban core, 40 percent below its 2000 share.

While 80 percent of the 20-29s lived outside the urban cores in 2000, 88 percent of the 20-29 population growth was outside the urban core between 2000 and 2010 (Figure 1). Overall, the suburban and exurban millennial population grew nearly 8 times than in the urban core.

The 20-29s and the Balance of Major Metropolitan Areas

The trend among the 20-29s also tended away from the areas adjacent to the urban cores. These tend to be   earlier suburban areas (generally with median house construction dates before 1980). Between 2000 and 2010, the share of 20-29s living in the earlier suburbs fell from 46.1 percent to 42.0 percent. This was double the urban core loss noted above (4.4 percent), at 8.9 percent.

At the same time, millennials, long said to hate suburbs, have embraced dispersion. The more recently built suburban areas saw their share of 20-29s rise from 20.6 percent to 24.4, an 18 percent gain. A smaller gain was registered in exurban areas, where the share of 20-29s rose from 13.2 percent to 14.3 percent; an 8 percent share gains (Figure 2).

The net effect from 2000 and 2010: a full five percent more of all 20-29s in major metropolitan areas lived in the later suburban and exurban areas, while 5 percent fewer lived in the urban cores and earlier suburbs. The later suburbs and exurbs added 1,500,000 more 20-29s than the urban core and earlier suburbs.

Millennials and the Nation

The numbers of 20-29s continued to increase in the rest of the nation’s small towns and cities, as well as rural areas. In 2000, approximately 44.6 percent of the 20-29 population lived outside the major metropolitan areas. In the next decade, these areas added 20-29s at a lower rate (40.9 percent of the increase), yet this was enough to keep the share of 20-29s at 44.2 percent. In 2010, more than four times as many 20-29s lived outside the major metropolitan areas as lived in the urban cores. Between 2000 and 2010, the growth in 20-29's living outside the major metropolitan areas was almost six times the growth in the urban cores (Figure 3).

Overall, only 7 percent of the growth in the 20-29 age group was in the functional urban cores between 2000 and 2010. That left 93 percent of the growth to be outside the urban core (Figure 4).

Consistency with Other Research

The trend among the 20-29s in the urban core may seem surprising. However, it is consistent with an analysis of 2000-2010 data by the US Census Bureau, which indicated that the population gains within two miles of the city halls of the largest cities were more than offset by losses in the ring between two and five miles from City Hall. While the gains in the course of the urban cores are impressive, they are much smaller when considered in the context of the entire urban core and even smaller in the context of the entire metropolitan area.

More recent data suggests the dispersion of Millennials is continuing. According to Jed Kolko, Chief Economist at Millennials located in larger numbers in suburban areas  than in the urban cores between 2012 and 2013 (more recent data for the city sector analysis is not yet available) 

Dispersing, But Not Quite as Quickly

Essentially what we see here is myopic prejudices of contemporary journalism. More than 300,000 new 20-29 residents in the urban cores was more than enough to be noticed by analysts and reporters, since that's where many of them spend much of their time. Moreover, the share of 20-29s living in urban cores dropped less than one-half the rate for all ages in the urban core.

Simply put, despite the conventional wisdom, 20-29s are not abandoning the suburbs and exurbs for the urban core. The data indicates that the 20-29s have been more inclined to choose the urban core than other age groups, but not enough to prevent their overwhelming numbers living in suburban and exurban communities. Nor has this inclination been sufficient to counter the continuing relative decline in the urban core among the 20-29s.


Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He was appointed to the Amtrak Reform Council to fill the unexpired term of Governor Christine Todd Whitman and has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Note 1: The term retro-urbanist is applied to the currently popular strain of urban planning that favors urban cores over the rest of the urban area and metropolitan area (the suburbs and exurbs).

Note 2:. The previous articles in this series are:

From Jurisdictional to Functional Analyses of Urban Cores & Suburbs

The Long Term: Metro American Goes from 82 percent to 86 percent Suburban Since 1990

New York, Legacy Cities Dominate Transit Urban Core Gains

Functional v. Jurisdictional Analysis of Metropolitan Areas

City Sector Model Small Area Criteria

Confessions of a Rust Belt Orphan

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 22:48

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Northeast Ohio

Go to sleep, Captain Future, in your lair of art deco
You were our pioneer of progress, but tomorrow’s been postponed
Go to sleep, Captain Future, let corrosion close your eyes
If the board should vote to restore hope, we’ll pass along the lie

-The Secret Sound of the NSA, Captain Future

As near as I can tell, the term “Rust Belt” originated sometime in the mid-1980s. That sounds about right.

I originated slightly earlier, in 1972, at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio, Rubber Capital of the World. My very earliest memory is of a day, sometime in the Summer of 1975, that my parents, my baby brother, and I went on a camping trip to Lake Milton, just west of Youngstown. I was three years old. To this day, I have no idea why, of all of the things that I could remember, but don’t, I happen to remember this one. But it is a good place to start.

Image Source: Wikipedia: Change in total number of manufacturing jobs in metropolitan areas, 1954-2002. Dark red is very bad. Akron is dark red.

The memory is so vivid that I can still remember looking at the green overhead freeway signs along the West Expressway in Akron. Some of the signs were in kilometers, as well as in miles back then, due to an ill-fated attempt to convert Americans to the Metric system in the 1970s. I remember the overpoweringly pungent smell of rubber wafting from the smokestacks of B.F. Goodrich and Firestone. I recall asking my mother about it, and her explaining that those were the factories where the tires, and the rubber, and the chemicals were made. They were made by hard-working, good people – people like my Uncle Jim – but more on that, later.

When I was a little bit older, I would learn that this was the smell of good jobs; of hard, dangerous work; and of the way of life that built the modern version of this quirky and gritty town. It was the smell that tripled Akron’s population between 1910 and 1920, transforming it from a sleepy former canal-town to the 32nd largest city in America. It is a smell laced with melancholy, ambivalence, and nostalgia – for it was the smell of an era that was quickly coming to an end (although I was far too young to be aware of this fact at the time). It was sometimes the smell of tragedy.

We stopped by my grandparents’ house, in Firestone Park, on the way to the campground. I can still remember my grandmother giving me a box of Barnum’s Animals crackers for the road. She was always kind and generous like that.

Who were my grandparents? My grandparents were Akron. It’s as simple as that. Their story was Akron’s story. My grandfather was born in 1916, in Barnesboro, a small coal-mining town in Western Pennsylvania, somewhere between Johnstown, DuBois, and nowhere. His father, a coal miner, had emigrated there from Hungary nine years earlier. My grandmother was born in Barberton, in 1920. Barberton was reportedly the most-industrialized city in the United States, per-capita, at some point around that time.

They were both factory workers for their entire working lives (I don’t think they called jobs like that “careers” back then). My grandfather worked at the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company. My grandmother worked at Saalfield Publishing, a factory that was one of the largest producers of children’s books, games, and puzzles in the world. Today, both of the plants where they worked form part of a gutted, derelict, post-apocalyptic moonscape in South Akron, located between that same West Expressway and perdition. The City of Akron has plans for revitalizing this former industrial area. It needs to happen, but there are ghosts there…

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings, 
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay 
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare 
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias

My grandparents’ house exemplified what it was to live in working-class Akron in the late 1970s and early 1980s. My stream-of-consciousness memories of that house include: lots of cigarettes and ashtrays; Hee-HawThe Joker’s Wild; fresh tomatoes and peppers; Fred & Lamont Sanford; Archie & Edith Bunker; Herb Score and Indians baseball on the radio on the front porch; hand-knitted afghans; UHF/VHF; 3, 5, 8, and 43; cold cans of Coca-Cola and Pabst Blue Ribbon (back when the pop-tops still came off of the can); the Ohio Lottery; chicken and galuskas (dumplings); a garage floor that you could eat off of; a meticulously maintained 14-year-old Chrysler with 29,000 miles on it; a refrigerator in the dining room because the kitchen was too small; catching fireflies in jars; and all being right with the world.

I always associate the familiar comfort of that tiny two-bedroom bungalow with the omnipresence of cigarette smoke and television. I remember sitting there on May 18, 1980. It was my eighth birthday. We were sitting in front of the TV, watching coverage of the Mount St. Helens eruption in Washington State. I remember talking about the fact that it was going to be the year 2000 (the Future!) in just twenty years. It was an odd conversation for an eight year old to be having with adults (planning for the future already, and for a life without friends, apparently). I remember thinking about the fact that I would be 28 years old then, and how inconceivably distant it all seemed. Things seem so permanent when you’re eight, and time moves ever-so-slowly.

More often than not, when we visited my grandparents, my Uncle Jim and Aunt Helen would be there. Uncle Jim was born in 1936, in West Virginia. His family, too, had come to Akron to find work that was better-paying, steadier, and (relatively) less dangerous than the work in the coal mines. Uncle Jim was a rubber worker, first at Mohawk Rubber and then later at B.F. Goodrich. Uncle Jim also cut hair over at the most-appropriately named West Virginia Barbershop, on South Arlington Street in East Akron. He was one of the best, most decent, kindest people that I have ever known.

I remember asking my mother once why Uncle Jim never washed his hands. She scolded me, explaining that he did wash his hands, but that because he built tires, his hands were stained with carbon-black, which wouldn’t come out no matter how hard you scrubbed. I learned later, that it would take about six months for that stuff to leach out of your pores, once you quit working.

Uncle Jim died in 1983, killed in an industrial accident on the job at B.F. Goodrich. He was only 47. The plant would close for good about a year later.

It was an unthinkably tragic event, at a singularly traumatic time for Akron. It was the end of an era.

Times Change

My friend Della Rucker recently wrote a great post entitled The Elder Children of the Rust Belt over at her blog, Wise Economy. It dredged up all of these old memories, and it got me thinking about childhood, about this place that I love, and about the experience of growing up just as an economic era (perhaps the most prosperous and anomalous one in modern history) was coming to an end.

That is what the late 1970s and early 1980s was: the end of one thing, and the beginning of a (still yet-to-be-determined) something else. I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s because I was just a kid.

In retrospect it was obvious: the decay; the deterioration, the decomposition, the slow-at-first, and then faster-than-you-can-see-it unwinding of an industrial machine that had been wound-up far, far, too-tight. The machine runs until it breaks down; then it is replaced with a new and more efficient one – a perfectly ironic metaphor for an industrial society that killed the goose that laid the golden egg. It was a machine made up of unions, and management, and capitalized sunk costs, and supply chains, and commodity prices, and globalization. Except it wasn’t really a machine at all. It was really just people. And people aren’t machines. When they are treated as such, and then discarded as obsolete, there are consequences.

You could hear it in the music: from the decadent, desperately-seeking-something (escape) pulse of Disco, to the (first) nihilistic and (then) fatalistic sound of Punk and Post-Punk. It’s not an accident that a band called Devo came from Akron, Ohio. De-evolution: the idea that instead of evolving, mankind has actually regressed, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society. It sounded a lot like Akron in the late 1970s. It still sounds a little bit like the Rust Belt today.

As an adult, looking back at the experience of growing up at that time, you realize how much it colors your thinking and outlook on life. It’s all the more poignant when you realize that the “end-of-an-era” is never really an “end” as such, but is really a transition to something else. But to what exactly?

The end of that era, which was marked by strikes, layoffs, and unemployment, was followed by its echoes and repercussions: economic dislocation, outmigration, poverty, and abandonment; as well as the more intangible psychological detritus – the pains from the phantom limb long after the amputation; the vertiginous sensation of watching someone (or something) die.

And it came to me then 
That every plan 
Is a tiny prayer to Father Time

As I stared at my shoes
In the ICU
That reeked of piss and 409

It sung like a violent wind
That our memories depend
On a faulty camera in our minds

‘Cause there’s no comfort in the waiting room
Just nervous paces bracing for bad news

Love is watching someone die…

-Death Cab For Cutie, What Sarah Said

But it is both our tragedy and our glory that life goes on.

Della raised a lot of these issues in her post: our generation’s ambivalent relationship with the American Dream (like Della, I feel the same unpleasant taste of rust in my mouth whenever I write or utter that phrase); our distrust of organizations and institutions; and our realization that you have to keep going, fight, and survive, in spite of it all. She talked about how we came of age at a time of loss:

not loss like a massive destruction, but a loss like something insidious, deep, pervasive.

It is so true, and it is so misunderstood. One of the people commenting on her blog post said, essentially, that it is dangerous to romanticize about a “golden age”; that all generations struggle; and that life is hard.

Yes, those things are all true. But they are largely irrelevant to the topic at hand.

There is a very large middle ground between a “golden age” and an “existential struggle”. The time and place about which we are both writing (the late 1970s through the present, in the Rust Belt) is neither. But it is undoubtedly a time of extreme transition. It is a great economic unraveling, and we are collectively and individually still trying to figure out how to navigate through it, survive it, and ultimately build something better out of it.

History is cyclical. Regardless of how enamored Americans, in general, may be with the idea, it is not linear. It is neither a long, slow march toward utopia, nor toward oblivion. When I look at history, I see times of relative (and it’s all relative, this side of paradise) peace, prosperity, and stability; and other times of relative strife, economic upheaval, uncertainty, and instability. We really did move from one of those times to the other, beginning in the 1970s, and continuing through the present.

The point that is easy to miss when uttering phrases like “life is hard for every generation” is that none of this discussion about the Rust Belt – where it’s been, where it is going – has anything to do with a “golden age”. But it has everything to do with the fact that this time of transition was an era (like all eras) that meant a lot (good and bad) to the people that lived through it. It helped make them who they are today, and it helped make where they live what it is today.

For those that were kids at the time that the great unraveling began (people like me, and people like Della) it is partially about the narrative that we were socialized to believe in at a very young age, and how that narrative went up in a puff of smoke. In 1977, I could smell rubber in the air, and many of my family members and friends’ parents worked in rubber factories. In 1982, the last passenger tire was built in Akron. By 1984, 90% of those jobs were gone, many of those people had moved out of town, and the whole thing was already a fading memory. Just as when a person dies, many people reacted with a mixture of silence, embarrassment, and denial.

As a kid, especially, you construct your identity based upon the place in which you live. The whole identity that I had built, even as a small child, as a proud Akronite: This is the RUBBER CAPITAL OF THE WORLD; this is where we make lots and lots of Useful Things for people all over the world; this is where Real Americans Do Real Work; this is where people from Europe, the South, and Appalachia come to make a Better Life for themselves; well, that all got yanked away. I couldn’t believe any of those things anymore, because they were no longer true, and I knew it. I could see it with my own two eyes. Maybe some of them were never true to begin with, but kids can’t live a lie the way that adults can. When the place that you thought you lived in turns out not to be the place that you actually live, it can be jarring and disorienting. It can even be heartbreaking.

We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives.

-Tyler Durden, Fight Club

I’m fond of the above quote. I was even fonder of it when I was 28 years old. Time, and the realization that life is short, and that you ultimately have to participate and do something with it besides analyze it as an outside observer, has lessened its power considerably. It remains the quintessential Generation X quote, from the quintessential Generation X movie. It certainly fits in quite well with all of this. But, then again, maybe it shouldn’t.

I use the phrase “Rust Belt Orphan” in the title of this post, because that is what the experience of coming of age at the time of the great economic unraveling feels like at the gut-level. But it’s a dangerous and unproductive combination, when coupled with the whole Gen-X thing.

In many ways, the Rust Belt is the “Generation X” of regions – the place that just doesn’t seem to fit in; the place that most people would just as soon forget about; the place that would, in fact, just as soon forget about itself; the place that, if it does dare to acknowledge its own existence or needs, barely notices the surprised frowns of displeasure and disdain from those on the outside, because they have already been subsumed by the place’s own self-doubt and self-loathing.

A fake chinese rubber plant
In the fake plastic earth
That she bought from a rubber man
In a town full of rubber plans
To get rid of itself

-Radiohead, Fake Plastic Trees

The whole Gen-X misfit wandering-in-the-Rust Belt-wilderness meme is a palpably prevalent, but seldom acknowledged part of our regional culture. It is probably just as well. It’s so easy for the whole smoldering heap of negativity to degenerate into a viscous morass of alienation and anomie. Little good can come from going any further down that dead-end road.

Whither the Future?

The Greek word for “return” is nostosAlgos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.

Milan Kundera, Ignorance

So where does this all leave us?

First, as a region, I think we have to get serious about making our peace with the past and moving on. We have begun to do this in Akron, and, if the stories and anecdotal evidence are to be believed, we are probably ahead of the region as a whole.

But what does “making our peace” and “moving on” really mean? In many ways, I think that our region has been going through a collective period of mourning for the better part of four decades. Nostalgia and angst regarding the things that have been lost (some of our identity, prosperity, and national prominence) is all part of the grieving process. The best way out is always through.

But we should grieve, not so we can wallow in the experience and refuse to move on, but so we can gain a better understanding of who we are and where we come from. Coming to grips with and acknowledging those things, ultimately enables us to help make these places that we love better.

We Americans are generally not all that good at, or comfortable with, mourning or grief. There’s a very American idea that grieving is synonymous with “moving on” and (even worse) that “moving on” is synonymous with “getting over it”.

We’re very comfortable with that neat and tidy straight, upwardly-trending line toward the future (and a more prosperous, progressive, and enlightened future it will always be, world without end, Amen.)

We’re not so comfortable with that messy and confusing historical cycle of boom-and-bust, of evolution and de-evolution, of creation and destruction and reinvention. But that’s the world as we actually experience it, and it’s the one that we must live in. It is far from perfect. I wish that I had another one to offer you. But there isn’t one on this side of the Great Beyond. For all of its trials and tribulations, the world that we inhabit has one inestimable advantage: it is unambiguously real.

“Moving on” means refusing to become paralyzed by the past; living up to our present responsibilities; and striving every day to become the type of people that are better able to help others. But “moving on” doesn’t mean that we forget about the past, that we pretend that we didn’t experience what we did, or that we create an alternate reality to avoid playing the hand that we’ve actually been dealt.

Second, I don’t think we can, or should, “get over” the Rust Belt. The very phrase “get over it” traffics in denial, wishful thinking, and the estrangement of one’s self from one’s roots. Countless attempts to “get over” the Rust Belt have resulted in the innumerable short-sighted, “get rich quick” economic development projects, and public-private pyramid-schemes that many of us have come to find so distasteful, ineffective, and expensive.

We don’t have to be (and can’t be, even if we want to) something that we are not. But we do have to be the best place that we can be. This might mean that we are a smaller, relatively less-prominent place. But it also means that we can be a much better-connected, more cohesive, coherent, and equitable place. The only people that can stop us from becoming that place are we ourselves.

For a place that has been burned so badly by the vicissitudes of the global economy, Big Business, and Big Industry, we always seem to be so quick to put our faith in the Next Big Project, the Next Big Organization, and the Next Big Thing. I’m not sure whether this is the cause of our current economic malaise, or the effect, or both. Whatever it is, we need to stop doing it.

Does this mean that we should never do or dream anything big? No. Absolutely not. But it does mean that we should be prudent and wise, and that we should tend to prefer our economic development and public investment to be hyper-nimble, hyper-scalable, hyper-neighborhood-focused, and ultra-diverse. Fetishizing Daniel Burnham’s famous “Make no little plans…” quote has done us much harm. Sometimes “little plans” are exactly what we need, because they often involve fundamentals, are easier to pull-off, and more readily establish trust, inspire hope, and build relationships.

Those of us that came of age during the great economic unraveling and (still painful) transition from the Great American Manufacturing Belt to the Rust Belt might just be in a better position to understand our challenges, and to find the creative solutions required to meet them head-on. Those of us that stuck it out and still live here, know where we came from. We’re under no illusions about who we are or where we live. I think Della Rucker was on to something when she listed what we can bring to the table:

  • Determination
  • Long-game focus
  • Understanding the depth of the pit and the long way left to climb out of it
  • Resourcefulness
  • Ability to salvage
  • Expectation that there are no easy answers
  • Disinclination to believe that everything will be all right if only we do this One Big Thing

When I look at this list, I see pragmatism, resilience, self-knowledge, survival skills, and leadership. It all rings true.

He wanted to care, and he could not care. For he had gone away and he could never go back any more. The gates were closed, the sun was gone down, and there was no beauty but the gray beauty of steel that withstands all time. Even the grief he could have borne was left behind in the country of illusion, of youth, of the richness of life, where his winter dreams had flourished.

“Long ago,” he said, “long ago, there was something in me, but now that thing is gone. Now that thing is gone, that thing is gone. I cannot cry. I cannot care. That thing will come back no more.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, Winter Dreams

So, let’s have our final elegy for the Rust Belt. Then, let’s get to work.

This post originally appeared in Jason Segedy's Notes From the Underground on November 2, 2013.

Segedy is the Director of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study, the Metropolitan Planning Organization serving Akron, Ohio.  As a native of Akron, and as an urban planner, he has a strong interest in the future of places throughout the Great Lakes region, and in the people that inhabit them.

One-party Rule is No Party in California

Sun, 07/06/2014 - 22:38

Forty years ago, Mexico was a one-party dictatorship under the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, hobbled by slow growth, soaring inequality, endemic corruption and dead politics. California, in contrast, was considered a model American state, with a highly regarded Legislature, relatively clean politics, a competitive political process and a soaring economy.

Today these roles are somewhat reversed, and not in a good way for the Golden State. To be sure, corruption remains endemic in Mexico, where the PRI ruled for some seven decades. But now, there is a vibrant, highly competitive political culture, with three strong parties and at least some movement toward economic reform. Thirty percent of Mexicans, according to Gallup, trust their federal government, a level not all that different than in the United States.

But if Mexico’s governance can be seen as at least gradually improving, it’s more difficult to reach that conclusion about the Golden State. California is now a one-party state, with increased corruption and little to no willingness to reform its creaky, scarily unbalanced economy. Californians, by a large margin, think things are getting worse, rather than getting better.

We can call this trend PRI-ization, and nowhere is it more evident than in our state’s increasingly torpid politics. As there is no real competition for power or for ideas, voter turnout, at both the local and state levels, has plummeted to the lowest levels on record. June’s primaries attracted barely 25 percent of the electorate, while the Los Angeles County turnout was just over 17 percent.

When I voted this month in my San Fernando Valley precinct, I brought my 9-year-old daughter, but she didn’t get to see democracy in action. She saw an empty church basement with a bunch of pleasant election workers sitting around with not much to do.

This lack of voter enthusiasm could be explained, in part, by a lack of competition between the parties statewide. But it goes deeper than that; even the nominally nonpartisan recent Los Angeles mayor’s race, while highly competitive, also broke modern records for low turnout.

Monopolistic mess

Let’s be frank. California’s democracy is fading, the result of one-party politics, a weak media culture and a sense among many that politicians in Sacramento (or city hall) will do whatever they please once in office. As under the old PRI in Mexico, a lack of competitive politics has also bred the kind of endemic corruption with which California, in recent decades, was not widely associated.

The case of state Sen. Leland Yee, the Bay Area crusading liberal now accused of being a wannabe gun-runner, was just the most extreme example. If Yee is convicted and sent to jail, he might be joined by two Senate colleagues, one convicted of voter fraud and the other of bribery. The scandals have damaged the Legislature’s approval ratings.

Republicans and conservatives tend to blame such embarrassments on Democrats, just as the long out-of-power outsiders linked Mexico’s corruption to the PRI monopoly. But, in many ways, it reflects the dynamic, also seen in Republican-dominated states, such asMississippi, or in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, of those who see no threat to their monopoly taking license to steal or otherwise abuse the law.

Arguably more disturbing than petty corruption is the inability of our politicos, as during the PRI’s heyday, to confront serious challenges facing the state. Low voter turnouts basically mean politicians don’t have to answer to middle-class or working-class voters; instead, they listen mostly to outside special interests such as public employee unions, environmentalists and social-issue lobbies. Union members have an incentive to show up at the polls to protect their pay and pensions, and issue activists will vote for those who support their line. It just seems that the rest of us have given up.

Perhaps the biggest shift in California’s balance of power is in the diminished role of business. In the days when California produced contending political giants – like the late Govs. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown and Ronald Reagan – businesses lined up on both sides of the aisle, albeit more on the Republican side – but there also was a strong contingent of “business” Democrats.

Today, California business operates solely for the purposes of accommodating the economic agenda of an increasingly left-oriented Democratic Party; supporting an opposing party – or even more moderate Democrats – increasingly is no longer an option to influence policy.

Mainstream doesn’t matter

Indeed, one of the negative products of one-party politics has been an ever greater shift away from the political mainstream. With turnouts tiny and business largely gelded, the “base” of the ruling party tends to get its way. So, California gets to try being the greenest state in the land, even as much of the state lives in a virtual permanent recession. In the process, politics becomes ever more marginal, and ever less responsive to what is happening to the citizenry.

We see much the same on the local level. Los Angeles, even much of its establishment admits, is becoming a “city in decline,” with the highest job losses, some 3.2 percent, of any of the 32 largest U.S. metro areas since 1990. But L.A. city and county leaders have little stomach for the reforms that would be necessary to turn the region around, in large part because it might offend their public employee paymasters. Fixing the potholes mightplease neighborhood residents, but since they mostly don’t vote, who cares?

So instead of a tough problem solver, we have a mayor who likes to take “selfies” to show how “with it” he is, and a City Council that thinks ultraexpensive solar energy projectsand subsidizing Downtown hotels will actually turn around a torpid municipal economy. But such largesse will reward the special interests who build these systems, the unionized workers at the new hotels and speculators in Downtown real estate.

None of this will do anything to help the Valley, East L.A., Watts or even the Westside.

Chances for rebound?

Sadly, it’s hard to see how this trend will turn around soon. Tax and regulatory policies are making the state toxic for many businesses and middle-class families. The number of poor, state-dependent voters grows, and business, outside of a few sectors, is stagnant or in decline. In the glory days of California politics, Democrats and Republicans vied for suburban middle-class voters; now, they don’t have to bother.

This is all made worse by the descent of the Republicans into near irrelevancy. The GOP barely escaped nominating for governor a nativist, Tim Donnelly, who accused his Hindu opponent Neel Kashkari of wanting to import Shariah law. It might have occurred to Donnelly that Hinduism is very different from – and often in serious conflict with – Islamic fundamentalism.

Until the Republicans develop some basic sense and offer a compelling social and economic message for an increasingly diverse state, they will remain bit players.

Oddly, unless this trajectory is reversed, we may look back at this time and wax nostalgic about the Jerry Brown years; Brown may be a bit over-the-top on some issues, such as his dodgy high-speed rail plan, but at least he’s not mindlessly ideological.

Just wait four years, when a full-bore true believer, the glamorous Attorney General Kamala Harris, could well become governor and tries to remake this amazing, diverse state into a more impoverished version of California’s real political capital, San Francisco. If business finds getting along with the somewhat mercurial Brown to be, literally, taxing, they will find the more pure-left regime that may follow him a far more onerous task.

Ultimately, the only hope may come when the grand delusions of our political elites – financed by the social media bubble, the stock market and high-end real estate speculation – finally come crashing down. When there is no one left to tax, and no way to borrow more, and the shift elsewhere of high-wage employment too obvious, perhaps then middle-class and working-class Californians will demand alternatives to the status quo. At that point they might even find reasons to go to the polls again.

This article first appeared in the Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Photo: Troy Holden

Watch 220 Years of U.S. State Population Growth

Fri, 07/04/2014 - 22:38

Around this time of year, some of us can’t help but think of the history of this great nation. What was life like back in the days of the founding fathers, and how have they changed in the decades since? Using the population data of every Census since the first, which occurred in 1790, at we’ve put together an animation showing the growth of every state’s population from then till now. The states are in order of the date they became admitted, and you may notice that some were being counted prior to statehood. These states were at the time either U.S. territories, or part of another state.

The graphic shows the interesting pace of change in the United States - California is now the most populous state, but there were some interesting changes in tempo over the years. At one point New York and Pennsylvania were neck and neck for most populous, only to be quickly outpaced by California and later on, Texas. The sheer velocity of California's growth is also interesting to watch, as the state saw growth of more than 15 million residents in the past 50 years.

Floridians might be surprised to learn that the during first 80 years of statehood, their population only grew to less than one million, while the next 80 years saw an increase of 15 million! It remains one of the fastest growing states today and may pass New York to become the third most populous state by the next Census.

You can see the graphic below or at full size here

Sterling, the Clippers, and $2B of Monopoly Money

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 22:38

Is there a more crooked roulette wheel than the one that spins around in the circles of professional sports? I ask in the context of the punishment meted out to Donald Sterling, the in-limbo owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, who, for his commentaries about race in America, was banned from the league and might be “forced” to sell his team for $2 billion, about $1.5 billion more than it was worth before his girlfriend taped their tawdry talks.

On paper, let alone on the basketball court, the Clippers should be close to worthless—an inept franchise that has yet to win a championship in the 44 years of its existence, which began in Buffalo.

The magic of pro sports accounting, thanks to antitrust exemption from the US Congress, is that all team owners enjoy the perquisites of monopoly money, which entitles even the racist Sterling to billion-dollar pay days.

It makes sense that Sterling’s wife is trying to sell the Clippers to Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, who ought to know a thing or two about oligopoly.

Ballmer's bet is that the NBA’s cartel pricing will allow the team more revenue sharing from television, while paying less to the players, so that instead of paying 133 times earnings for a team earning about $15 million a year, he can reduce his paid premium to, say, 40 times earnings if the Clippers start earning $50 million annually.

Should the team acquisition simply be a rich man’s hobby, he can console himself for his losses by sitting court-side in Los Angeles with various starlets, although $2 billion is a lot to pay for a matchmaking subscription.

Nor is Ballmer alone among executives in celebrating the un-level playing fields of monopoly. The owners of major league teams in football and basketball have long understood that the points on the scoreboards are incidental to their business of collecting money, paid out by the cable television industry (another oligopoly), and from treating the workers as if they were (high-end) strip miners.

To be sure, many athletes in professional sports earn multimillion-dollar salaries. But they are paid as a coefficient of their ability to draw television ratings. Few other businesses in a country theoretically devoted to free enterprise are allowed to allot franchises as though they were noble fiefs, and to treat workers as indentured servants.

Even now, it takes years for baseball and football players to become free agents, and leagues impose salary caps, in theory to equalize competition, although in practice to save money.

If the movie or insurance businesses conducted a draft of prospective employees, Congress would cry foul and enforce an open and free labor market.

Not only can the professional leagues allocate talent as if at a slave auction, but they enjoy the further subsidy that colleges and universities (in basketball and football) operate their minor leagues at no cost to the professional owners.

On average, big-time universities earn about $50 to $100 million a year on their sports programs—much of that from basketball and football—but then become indignant when players, such as those at Northwestern University, suggest forming a union or ask for long-term healthcare benefits when they leave school programs with permanent injuries. Aren’t worthless degrees in something like social media enough reward?

Best of all, few of the operating costs are passed on to the beneficiaries, the peers of Donald Sterling, who unwrap their golden tickets even if their teams are losing or they are degrading the fan base.

With so much monopoly money to spread around among relatively few pro teams, owners can throw multimillion dollar, multiyear contracts blindly at athletes, who often look more like lottery winners than stars.

In the last two years, for example, the bloated New York Yankees have lavished C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriquez, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, and others more than $100 million a year, even though they have played in only a fraction of the games, or poorly.

During the last off-season, the Yankees committed another half a billion dollars to new free agents, including catcher Brian McCann, who as I write is batting an anemic .226.

In 2013 the iconic team reported a loss of $9.1 million, although Forbes listed the worth of the franchise at $2.5 billion, with annual revenues of $431 million. A closer look at the numbers, however, suggests the Yankees are a cable network (jointly owned with FOX) with a team, not the other way around.

Only monopoly economics allows the dimwitted Yankees to stay in business. Thanks to deductible ticket purchases by spendthrift corporate clients, the average seat at Yankee Stadium runs about $50, although the good seats cost over $200. The price of a monthly cable sports package in New York, at least for those that want a Yankees TV fix, can be another $1000 a year.

Were pro sports in the interest of the community and worthy of an antitrust exemption, anyone with a video camera could broadcast the games as a news event. Instead, the games are the property of the major league cartels, whose officials, acting as though they were OPEC magnates, allocate the product.

As if the pro sports honey pot needed anymore sweeteners, think, too, how easily many owners have extorted new stadiums from their home markets, in exchange only for agreeing to keep the team in the city. Or they skip town as soon as they're promised millions elsewhere.

According to several studies, some $17 billion in tax-exempt public funding has gone into stadium construction in recent years, another reason it’s impossible to lose as a team owner.

For the fans, the new $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium feels the same as the old one. But owners lobby for new, tax-subsidized ballparks, especially in the NFL, so they can increase the number of skyboxes; that money drops straight to the owner’s bottom line, avoiding the pools of revenue sharing.

Are there risks to owning these golden franchises? Pro football leagues will be hit with endless class-action lawsuits, until they can indemnify all current and past players with long-term disability in exchange for their primetime tackles and concussions. But I doubt these lawsuits will turn the NFL into flag football.

Another threat to pro sports could come from an end to monopoly pricing in the cable television industry. Once every phone and iPad is a handheld TV, will customers really pay Time-Warner $90 every month for 500 channels? Will there be networks with enough subscribers to pay billions to the major leagues? Will audiences continue to watch baseball on television if the stadiums are empty, as many are now?

Of course the best response to loutish team owners—among whom I suspect Donald Sterling is par for the course—would be to end the antitrust exemption and let the teams compete with other, newer teams and leagues. Why must pro sports be a regulated industry? Are they the equivalent of nuclear power?

Why can’t even small and medium-sized cities have teams? The community-owned Packers have flourished in Green Bay, and the United States is a country of Green Bays. As in European soccer, the major leagues could simply be the most successful teams, with the poor performers each year getting relegated to lesser divisions. The University of Alabama would move up, and the Jacksonville Jaguars would go down.

By those standards, the Los Angeles Clippers would long ago have been demoted to the California league, and their owner, one Donald Sterling, would not today be looking forward to a $2 billion check.

Matthew Stevenson, a contributing editor of Harper's Magazine, is the author of Remembering the Twentieth Century Limited, a collection of historical travel essays. His new book, Whistle-Stopping America, was recently published.

Flickr photo by David Jones: The Los Angeles Staples Center on a good night for the Clippers; they beat the Miami Heat 111-105.

Joel on

Watch the full sized video at

Watch Joel in this feature on the role of central planning in Los Angeles. View large version.

Interview on

"Greenurbia is the suburbs of the future. The suburbs of the 1950s were bedroom communities for people who commuted into the city. Today, there’s much more employment in the suburbs, and the big change is the number of people working full-time or part-time at home. Having people commute from one computer screen to another doesn’t make sense."

Read the full interview...

Sign up for Joel's Email Newsletter

Praise for The Next Hundred Million

Kotkin has a striking ability to envision how global forces will shape daily family life, and his conclusions can be thought-provoking as well as counterintuitive. It's amazing there isn't more public discussion about the enormous changes ahead, and reassuring to have this talented thinker on the case. — Jennifer Ludden, NPR national desk correspondent

Read more reviews...

Subscribe to New Articles with a Reader