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Where Inequality Is Worst In The United States

Fri, 03/21/2014 - 08:01

Perhaps no issue looms over American politics more than worsening  inequality and the stunting of the road to upward mobility. However, inequality varies widely across America.

Scholars of the geography of American inequality have different theses but on certain issues there seems to be broad agreement. An extensive examination by University of Washington geographer Richard Morrill found that the worst economic inequality is largely in the country’s biggest cities, as well as in isolated rural stretches in places like Appalachia, the Rio Grande Valley and parts of the desert Southwest.

Morrill’s findings puncture the mythology espoused by some urban boosters that packing people together makes for a more productive and “creative” economy, as well as a better environment for upward mobility. A much-discussed report on social mobility in 2013 by Harvard researchers was cited by the New York Times, among others, as evidence of the superiority of the densest metropolitan areas, but it actually found the highest rates of upward mobility in more sprawling, transit-oriented metropolitan areas like Salt Lake City, small cities of the Great Plains such as Bismarck, N.D.; Yankton, S.D.; Pecos, Texas; and even Bakersfield, Calif., a place Columbia University urban planning professor David King  wryly labeled “a poster child for sprawl.”

Demographer Wendell Cox pointed out that the Harvard research found that commuting zones (similar to metropolitan areas) with less than 100,000 population average have the highest average upward income mobility.

The Luxury City

Most studies agree that large urban centers, which were once meccas of upward mobility, consistently have the highest level of inequality. The modern “back to the city” movement is increasingly less about creating opportunity rather than what former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called “a luxury product” focused on tapping the trickle down from the very wealthy. Increasingly our most “successful cities” have become as journalist Simon Kuper puts it, “the vast gated communities where the one percent reproduces itself.”

The most profound level of inequality and bifurcated class structure can be found in the densest and most influential urban environment in North America — Manhattan. In 1980 Manhattan ranked 17th among the nation’s counties in income inequality; it now ranks the worst among the country’s largest counties, something that some urbanists such as Ed Glaeser suggests Gothamites should actually celebrate.

Maybe not. The most commonly used measure of inequality is the Gini index, which ranges between 0, which would be complete equality (everyone in a community has the same income), and 1, which is complete inequality (one person has all the income, all others none).  Manhattan’s Gini index stood at 0.596 in 2012, higher than that of South Africa before the Apartheid-ending 1994 election. (The U.S. average is 0.471.) If Manhattan were a country, it would rank sixth highest in income inequality in the world out of more than 130 for which the World Bank reports data. In 2009 New York’s wealthiest one percent earned a third of the entire municipality’s personal income — almost twice the proportion for the rest of the country.

The same patterns can be seen, albeit to a lesser extent, in other major cities. A 2006 analysis by the Brookings Institution showed the percentage of middle income families declined precipitously in the 100 largest metro areas from 1970 to 2000.

The role of costs is critical here. A 2014 Brookings study showed that the big cities with the most pronounced levels of inequality also have the highest costs: San Francisco, Miami, Boston, Washington, D.C., New York, Oakland, Chicago and Los Angeles. The one notable exception to this correlation is Atlanta. The lowest degree of inequality was found generally in smaller, less expensive cities like Ft. Worth, Texas; Oklahoma City; Raleigh, N.C.; and Mesa, Ariz. Income inequality has risen most rapidly in the bastion of luxury progressivism, San Francisco, where the wages of the 20th percentile of all households declined by $4,300 a year to $21,300 from 2007-12. Indeed when average urban incomes are adjusted for the higher rent and costs, the middle classes in metropolitan areas such as New York, Los Angeles, Portland, Miami and San Francisco have among the lowest real earnings of any metropolitan area.

Rural Poverty

But cities are not the only places suffering extreme inequality. Some of the nation’s worst poverty and inequality, notes Morrill, exist in rural areas. This is particularly true in places like Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, Appalachia and large parts of the Southwest.

Perhaps no place is inequality more evident than in the rural reaches of California, the nation’s richest agricultural state. The Golden State is now home to 111 billionaires, by far the most of any state; California billionaires personally hold assets worth $485 billion, more than the entire GDP of all but 24 countries in the world. Yet the state also suffers the highest poverty rate in the country (adjusted for housing costs), above 23%, and a leviathan welfare state. As of 2012, with roughly 12% of the population, California accounted for roughly one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients.

With the farm economy increasingly mechanized and industrial growth stifled largely by regulation, many rural Californians particularly Latinos, are downwardly mobile, and doing worse than their parents; native-born Latinos actually have shorter lifespans than their parents, according to a2011 report. Although unemployment remains high in many of the state’s largest urban counties, the highest unemployment is concentrated in the rural counties of the interior. Fresno was found in one study to have the least well-off Congressional district.

The vast expanse of economic decline in the midst of unprecedented, but very narrow urban luxury has been characterized as “liberal apartheid. ” The well-heeled, largely white and Asian coastal denizens live in an economically inaccessible bubble insulated from the largely poor, working-class, heavily Latino communities in the eastern interior of the state.

Another example of this dichotomy — perhaps best described as the dilemma of being a “red state” economy in a blue state — can be seen in upstate New York, where by virtually all the measurements of upward mobility — job growth, median income, income growth — the region ranked below long-impoverished southern Appalachia as of the mid-2000s. The prospect of developing the area’s considerable natural gas resources was welcomed by many impoverished small landowners, but it has been stymied by a coalition of environmentalists in local university towns and plutocrats and celebrities who have retired to the area or have second homes there, including many New York City-based “progressives.”

Where Inequality Is Least Pronounced

According to the progressive urbanist gospel, suburbs are doomed to be populated by poor families crowding into dilapidated, bargain-priced former McMansions in the new “suburban wastelands.” Suburbs, not inner cities, suggests such urban boosters as Brookings Chris Leinberger, will be the new epicenter of inequality, even though the percentage of poor people, as shown above, remained far higher in the urban core.

Yet , according to geographer Morrill, in comparison with urban cores, suburban areas remain heavily middle class, with a high proportion of homeowners, something rare inside the ranks of core cities.The average poverty rate in the historical core municipalities in the 52 largest U.S. metro areas was 24.1% in 2012, more than double the 11.7% rate in suburban areas. Between 2000 and 2010, more than 80% of the new population.

in America’s urban core communities lived below the poverty line compared with a third of the new population in suburban areas, although the majority of poor people lived there, in large part because they are also the home to the vast majority of metropolitan area residents.

An analysis by demographer Wendell Cox of American Community Survey Data for 2012 indicates that suburban areas suffer considerably less household income inequality than the core cities. Among the 51 metropolitan areas with populations over 1 million, suburban areas were less unequal (measured by the Gini coefficient) than the core cities in 46 cases.

The Racial Dynamic

There is also a very clear correlation between high numbers of certain groups — notably African Americans but also Hispanics — and extreme inequality. Morrill’s analysis shows a huge confluence between states with the largest income gaps, largely in the South and Southwest, with the highest concentrations of these historically disadvantaged ethnic groups.

In contrast, Morrill suggests, areas that are heavily homogeneous, notably the “Nordic belt” that cuts across the northern Great Lakes all the way to the Seattle area, have the least degree of poverty and inequality. Morrill suggests that those areas dominated by certain ethnic backgrounds — German, Scandinavian, Asian — may enjoy far more upward mobility and less poverty than others.

Some, such as UC Davis’ Gregory Clark even suggest that parentage determines success more than anyone suspects — what the Economist has labeled “genetic determinism.” None of this is particularly pleasant but we need to understand the geography of inequality if we want to understand the root causes of why so many Americans remain stuck at the lower ends of the economic order.

This story originally appeared at

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 Great Skills Gap Myth

Thu, 03/20/2014 - 22:38

One of the great memes out there in trying to diagnose persistently high unemployment and anemic job growth during what is still, I argue, the Great Recession is the so-called “skills gap”. The idea here is that the fact that there are millions of unfilled job openings at the same time millions of people can’t find work can be chalked up to a lack of a skills match between unemployed workers an open positions. To pick one random example out of many, here’s the way US News and World Report put it last year:

Some 82 percent of manufacturers say they can’t find workers with the right skills. Even with so many people looking for jobs, we’re struggling to attract the next generation of workers. The message about the opportunities in manufacturing doesn’t seem to be reaching parents and counselors who help guide young people’s career ambitions.

We face two major problems – a skills gap and a perception gap. Today’s modern, technology-driven manufacturing is not your grandparents’ manufacturing, yet for many, talk of the sector evokes images from the Industrial Revolution.

What’s interesting about this is that the “skills gap” continues to have tremendous resonance in public policy discussions I come across although it’s very easy to find many mainstream press articles that challenge it. So I want to take my shot at the problem.

Is there a skill gap? In select cases I’m sure there’s a mismatch in skill, but for the most part I don’t think so. I believe the purported inability of firms to find qualified workers is due largely to three factors: employer behaviors, limited geographic scope, and unemployability.

Employer Behaviors

Let’s be honest, it’s in the best interest of employers to claim there’s a skills gap. The existence of such a gap can be used as leverage to obtain public policy considerations or subsidies. So there’s a self-serving element.

But beyond that, several behaviors of present day employers contribute to their inability to hire.

1. Insufficient pay. If you can’t find qualified workers, that’s a powerful market signal that your salary on offer is too low. Higher wages will not only find you workers, they also send a signal that attracts newcomers into the industry. Richard Longworth covered this in 2012. He explains that companies have refused to adjust their wages due to competitive pressures:

In other words, Davidson said, employers want high-tech skills but are only willing to pay low-tech wages. No wonder no one wants to work for them….So why doesn’t GenMet pay more? In other words, why doesn’t it respond to the law of supply and demand by offering starting wages above the burger-flipping level? Because GenMet is competing in the global economy. It can pay more than Chinese-level wages, but not that much more.

In other words, this company in question doesn’t have a skill gap problem, they have a business model problem. They aren’t profitable if they have to pay market prices for their production inputs (in this case labor). It’s no surprise firms in this position would be seeking help with their “skill gap” problem – it’s a backdoor bailout request.

2. Extremely picky hiring practices enforced by computer screening. If you’ve looked at any job postings lately, you’ll note the laundry list of skills and experience required. The New York Times summed it up as “With Positions to Fill, Employers Wait for Perfection.” Also, companies have chopped HR to the bone in many cases, and heavily rely on computer screening of applicants or offshore resume review. The result of this automated process combined with excessive requirements is that many candidates who actually could do that job can’t even get an interview. What’s more, in some cases the entire idea is not to find a qualified worker to help legally justify bringing in someone from offshore who can be paid less.

3. Unwillingess to invest in training. In line with the above, companies no loner want to spend time and money training people like they used to. I strongly suspect most of those over 50 machinists and such we keep hearing about learned on the job. Why can’t companies simply train people in the skills they need? When I started work at Andersen Consulting in 1992, we weren’t expected to have any specific skill. Instead, they were looking for general aptitude and spent big to train us in what we needed to know. In a sense, outside of some professional services fields, today’s companies, despite their endless talk about talent, don’t actually recruit talent at all. They are recruiting people with specific skills and experience. That’s a very different mindset.

4. Aesthetic hiring. This one I think is specific to select industries, but in some fields if you don’t have the right “look”, you’re going to find it difficult. For example, the NYT Magazine just today has a major piece called “Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem” talking about this very issue. Hip, cool startups see their working environment and culture as critical to success. And that’s true, but those cultures aren’t very inclusive, which is why many Silicon Valley firms are continuously under fire for various forms of discrimination. When they’re trying to be the hot new thing, the last thing an app startup wants is some 55 year old dude with a pocket protector cramping their style, no matter how much of a tech guru he might be.

Limited Geographic Scope

You frequently see the skills gap phrased in terms of specific geographies. For example, a state. Rhode Island has X number of unemployed people and Y number of unfilled jobs. So what do we do to match them up?

This type of thinking is too limited. I attended an hour brainstorming session on the Rhode Island skills gap a while back and not once did anyone suggest anything that crossed the state boundary. One person mentioned these technical high schools in Boston that produce grads with exactly the skills the market is needing. His idea was that Rhode Island needed to create these types of institutions. Not a bad idea, but I was struck that nobody thought about sending these Rhode Island employers who can’t find workers on the one hour drive to Boston to go hire some of those grads directly out of Boston’s high schools. Problem solved. And maybe while bringing some young, fresh blood into the state to boot.

Similarly, no one ever suggested that an unemployed person in Rhode Island might seek work out of state. Realistically, America has often solved unemployment problems through migration. People need to be willing to move to where the job opportunities are. In fact, if you look at the highly educated people who might say telling people to move in order to find work is evil awful, they are actually the most mobile people there are. Clearly the highly skilled see the value in pursuing opportunity through migration. We need to extend the same opportunity to those who are currently stuck in place.


A third problem is that a significant number of adults in this country are simply unemployable. If you’re a high school dropout, a drug user, etc. you are going to find it tough slogging to find work anywhere, regardless of skills required.

Watching the Chicagoland documentary and seeing what kids in these inner city neighborhoods face, a lack of machine tool or coding skills is far from the problem. Similar problems are now hitting rural and working class white communities where the economic tide has receded. Heroin, meth, etc. were things that just didn’t exist in my rural hometown growing up – but they sure do now.

These aren’t skill problems, they are human problems. And the answer isn’t simply job training. These problems are much, most more complex and they are incredibly difficult to solve. They need to be tackled by very different means than a job skills problem.

If you want more info that documents that there is no skills gap, google around and find plenty of economists crunching the numbers to show that’s the case. But I hope this gives you a sense of some of the trends that explain why there can be persistent unemployment with many job openings without recourse to a skills gap to explain it.

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.

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No Fundamental Shift to Transit: Not Even a Shift

Wed, 03/19/2014 - 22:38

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is out with news of higher transit ridership. APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy characterizes the new figures as indicating "a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities.” Others even characterized the results as indicating "shifting consumer preferences." The data shows either view to be an exaggeration.

1935 and 2013

This is hardly a reliable time for making judgments about fundamental shifts or shifts in consumer preferences. Economic performance has been more abysmally abnormal only once in the last century –during the Great Depression – than at present.

The last year, 2013, is the sixth year in a row that total employment, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics was below the peak year of 2007 (Figure 1). This run of dismal job creation was exceeded only between the Great Depression years of 1929 and 1936 in the last 100 years (Note 1). From World War II until the Great Recession, the maximum number of years that employment fell below a previous peak was two, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks (2001 to 2003). The Great Recession may have ended, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, but the Great Malaise continues as the economy is performing well below historic levels. Judgments about fundamental shifts and consumer choice today are not more reliable than they would have been in the Great Depression year of 1935.

Transit's Market Share: Stuck in Neutral

But more importantly, there is no shift to transit.  APTA is right to point out that transit ridership has grown faster than vehicle travel in the United States since 1995. Nonetheless, transit's share of urban travel has barely budged, because its 1995 share of travel was so small. This is indicated by Figure 2, which compares the overall market share of transit to that of cars and light trucks from 1995 to 2013. Indeed, the top of Figure 2 (the 100 percent line) is virtually indistinguishable from the personal vehicle share over the entire period. The bottom of the chart (the zero percent line) is virtually indistinguishable from the transit share. This is not the stuff of fundamental shift.

Commuting: The Story is Not Transit

A similar pattern of little or no change is indicated by the commuting (work access) data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Over the past five years, as with virtually all the years since such data has been collected, the overwhelming majority of new commuters have driven alone (Figure 3). Indeed, transit has not taken a single net automobile off the road since 1960, and not in the last five years. Between 2007 and 2012, 93 percent of the additional commuters drove alone (Note 2). The drive alone market, which might have been thought to be saturated, actually rose from 76.1 percent to a 76.3 percent market between 2007 and 2012.

The biggest change has been the continuing loss in carpool use, which dropped from 10.4 percent to 9.7 percent from 2007 to 2012. It is estimated that nearly 450,000 passengers left carpools (excluding drivers), approximately 1.8 passengers for each additional commuter using transit (250,000).

The largest gain from 2007 to 2012 was in working at home, including telecommuting. Working at home increased from 4.1 percent to 4.4 percent. In actual numbers, working at home added 1.9 times the increase in transit commuting. Its change in market share was greater than that of transit in 42 of the 52 major metropolitan areas. Surprisingly, this includes New York, with its incomparable transit system (by US standards).

Transit's share of commuting inched up only 0.1 percentage points between 2007 and 2012. This is so small that if this rate of annual increase were sustained for 50 years, transit's commute market share would  edge up to only 6 percent (Figure 4), approximately transit's 1980 market share (doubling to 10 percent would require 130 years). The latest data indicates both gains and losses for transit, with market shares up in 28 major metropolitan areas and down in 24.

Transit Losses

In Atlanta, with the nation's second largest Metro (subway) system built since 1975, a declining overall employment base was accompanied by a loss of 13,000 transit commuters, at the same time that there was an increase in working at home of 19,000.

In Portland, considered by many around the world to be an urban planning Utopia, the data is hardly favorable. Since 1980, the last year with data before the first of five light rail lines and one commuter rail line opened, transit's market share has dropped from 8.4 percent to 6.0 percent. While spending billions of dollars on rail, working at home – which involves little or no public expenditure – increased by triple the number of people drawn to transit. And things have not changed materially, even during the claimed "fundamental shift." In the last five years, the working at home increase is more than double that of transit.

In Los Angeles, ridership at the largest transit agency continues to languish below its 1985 peak, despite having opened 9 light rail, Metro, and rapid busway lines and adding more than 1.5 million residents. Even this decline may be under-stated because of how transit counts passengers. Each time someone steps on a transit vehicle, they are counted (as a boarding). A person who transfers between two or three buses to make a trip counts as two or three boardings, which is what the APTA data reports.

When rail is added to a transit system, bus services are reconfigured to serve the rail system. This can mean many more boardings from transfers without more passenger trips. This potential inflation of ridership is likely to have occurred not only in Los Angeles, but in all metropolitan areas that added rail systems.

Transit Gains

At the same time, gains are being made in some metropolitan areas. Ridership has risen more strongly in transit's six "legacy cities," the municipalities (not metropolitan areas) of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington. Between 2007 and 2012, 68 percent of the additional transit commuting occurred to employment locations in these six municipalities. This is higher than the 55 percent of national transit commuting that these areas represented in 2012. The much larger share being attracted by these areas in the last 5 years is an indication that transit ridership, already highly concentrated in just a few places, is becoming even more concentrated.  Further, 50 percent to 75 percent of commuters to the corresponding six downtowns reach work by transit.

Rational Consumer Behavior

Even when the nation finally emerges from the Great Malaise, only vain hope will be able to conceive of a large scale consumer preference driven shift toward transit. The rational consumer will not choose transit that is slower or less convenient than the car. Where transit access is impractical or impossible, people will use cars. This is the case for most trips in all US metropolitan area, as the Brookings Institution research cited below indicates

The Brookings Institution research indicated that the average employee in the nation's major metropolitan areas are able to access fewer than 10 percent of jobs in 45 minutes. This is not only a small number of jobs, but it is a travel time that is approximately twice that of the average employee in the United States (most of whom travel by car).

More funding for transit cannot solve this problem. The kind of automobile competitive transit system needed to provide rational consumer choice between cars and transit would require annual expenditures rivaling the total personal income in the metropolitan area, as Jean-Claude Ziv and I showed in our 2007 11th World Conference on Transport Research paper (2007). It is no wonder that not a single comprehensive automobile competitive transit system exists or has been seriously proposed in any major US or Western European metropolitan area (Note 3).  Transit is about the largest downtowns and the largest urban cores.

Unbalanced Coverage

All of this appears to have escaped many media outlets, which largely parroted the APTA press release. For example, The New York Times, CBS News, the Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune were as parish newsletters commenting on a homily by the priest, for their failure to report both sides. A notable exception was USA Today, whose reporter consulted outsider Alan Pisarski (who has written for Pisarski placed the APTA figures in historical context and expressed reservations about restoration of the transit commuting share numbers of 1980 or before. 

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.

Photograph: DART light rail train in downtown Dallas (by author)


Note 1: Current Employment Statistics Survey data, 1939 to 2013. 1913 to 1938 estimated from data in Historical Statistics of the United States: Bicentennial Edition.

Note 2: The source for the commuting data is the American Community Survey of the Census Bureau, which indicates an employment level in 2012 that is higher than in 2007. The Current Employment Statistics Survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates a decline.

Note 3: I would be pleased to be corrected on this. In 2004, we issued a challenge on this subject, and while there were some responses, none met the required criteria (see The criteria are repeated below:

To identify an actual system or propose a system that provides the following in an urban area of more than 1,000,000 population:

· Transit choice (automobile competitive public transport service) for at least 90 percent of trips and passenger kilometers in the particular urban area.

· Automobile competitiveness is defined as door to door trip times no more than 1.5 times automobile travel time.

The description of any system not already in operation should also include an estimate of its cost, capital and annual operating.

City of Villages

Tue, 03/18/2014 - 19:04

Los Angeles is unique among the big, world-class American cities. Unlike New York, Boston, or Chicago, L.A. lacks a clearly defined core. It is instead a sprawling region made up of numerous poly-ethnic neighborhoods, few exhibiting the style and grace of a Paris arrondissement, Greenwich Village, or southwest London. In the 1920s, the region’s huge dispersion was contemptuously described—in a quotation alternately attributed to Dorothy Parker, Aldous Huxley, or H. L. Mencken—as “72 suburbs in search of a city.” Los Angeles’s lack of urbane charm led William Faulkner to dub it “the plastic asshole of the world.” But to those of us who inhabit this expansive and varied place, the lack of conventional urbanity is exactly what makes Los Angeles so interesting. My adopted hometown is the exemplar of the modern multipolar metropolis: less a conscious city than a series of alternatives created by its climate, its diversity, and a congested but still-functional system of freeways that historian Kevin Starr calls “absolute masterpieces of engineering.”


Transplants from the East Coast make great sport of belittling Los Angeles as an adolescent New York or a second-rate Chicago. Developers and city boosters, eager to counter that image, placed their hopes on big projects such as the region’s ultraexpensive rail system. Yet billions of investment dollars have done almost nothing to increase the L.A. Metro’s ridership, which remains stuck at 6 percent of city population. By contrast, a majority of New Yorkers and about a quarter of Chicagoans use their cities’ public transportation. Critics also (rightly) depict the downtown residential revival as a misguided attempt to create a mini-Manhattan. That’s not in the cards: downtown L.A.’s 50,000 or so residents—about on par with San Fernando Valley neighborhoods such as Sherman Oaks and suburban areas such as San Bernardino County’s Eastvale—are a drop in the bucket for a region of some 18 million people. And despite billions in direct and indirect public subsidies, downtown boasts barely 3 percent of the region’s jobs. In the minds of most Angelenos, the only reason to go downtown is for jury duty or the occasional sporting or cultural event.

626 Night Market, at the Santa Anita track

The “real” L.A., as experienced by most residents, exists at the neighborhood level. Spread across the region, a multiplicity of neighborhoods offers an unusual variety of housing options in a great global city. Gardener Aurelio Rodriguez and his family choose to live in Sylmar, where he keeps a lush half-acre filled with fruit trees, tropical plants, and aging farm equipment, while remaining within the Los Angeles city limits. It’s the kind of place where pedestrians need to keep an eye out for more than just cars. Like Juan, some residents amble through the narrow streets on horseback.

Juan on horseback in Sylmar

Los Angeles’s myriad little villages are enjoying a new surge of interest. City politics are at a low ebb—with voter turnout in 2013 the tiniest ever for a contested citywide election—yet neighborhood groups proliferate, including some 90 neighborhood councils. People may not be passionate about what goes on at City Hall, but they care deeply about where they live.

I live in Valley Village, a tree-lined corner of Los Angeles made up of single-family houses built on lots that range from 5,000 to 20,000 square feet. Enclosed between four major thoroughfares, my part of Valley Village manages to be both diverse and highly cohesive—a city within a city. Crime tends to be limited to petty thefts from cars. Monthly neighborhood-watch meetings draw middle-class families as well as gay and childless couples. Armenians and orthodox Jews live side by side. The local markets have an ethnic flavor. At the Cambridge Farms supermarket on Burbank Boulevard, signs are posted in English and in Hebrew. Oxnard Boulevard has an Armenian feel, with a functioning lavash bakery and restaurants selling kabobs.

“We fell in love with the neighborhood once we got settled in,” says Grettel Cortes, who lives in a modest house several doors down with her husband, Efraim, and her three young children, Gaea, Eva, and Benjamin. “There’s a great family feeling here. If I need something, I ask Patty across the street. It’s a great place for kids to grow up.” Cortes manages the neighborhood’s heavily trafficked Shutterfly site. A recent article about a coyote devouring a local cat was big news for weeks.

The hot topic in Valley Village these days is the rise of the McMansions. New homes are going up on a scale that feels out of sync with the neighborhood’s low-rise character. One of the larger parcels has sprouted a gigantic, two-and-a-half-story monstrosity that neighbors have christened “the hotel.” During construction, the property’s owner chopped down several trees, some of which may have been protected by city ordinances. Only relentless protests from the locals kept him from further destruction.

“We love the neighborhood but hate the mansionization,” notes Tim Coffey, a 30-year resident whose wife, Chary, led the fight to save the trees. “To us, chopping down trees ruins what this place is all about.”

Despite the McMansions, Valley Village has remained mostly unchanged since I moved here over a decade ago. The area’s appeal lies in the quality of its private spaces—backyards, front yards, gardens—and its neighborliness: people actually say hello to strangers on the street. The many trees also provide an ecosystem for a vast array of birds, from hawks to hummingbirds, as well as various mammals, including raccoons, opossums, and, as we now know, the occasional coyote.

As neighbors, we share a fierce determination to protect and preserve our shaded enclave. Yet the people here are not your stereotypical suburbanites. Chary, for example, sells her own line of lingerie. Grettel is a website developer. Many others work in the entertainment industry. Studios such as Disney, CBS Radford (where Seinfeld was produced), NBC, Universal, and Warner Brothers are all a ten- to 15-minute drive away. Many of my neighbors work from home, including a voice-over artist, a scriptwriter, several actors and musicians, and even a magician. It turns out that Hollywood people want many of the same things from a neighborhood that the rest of us do.

Grettel Cortes’s neighbor Patty

Blind Melon guitarist Brad Smith

Native Mississippian Brad Smith, a successful songwriter and performer with the band Blind Melon, sees Valley Village as a refuge from the insanity of the entertainment business. Brad and his wife, Kim, a Michigan native, like the homey and familiar feel. They have lived here since 2000 and are raising a young daughter, Frankie. They have a dog and a trampoline out back. “In L.A., a lot of places seem like you can live there but never leave the car,” he says as he strums a tune in his backyard. “But here, it’s different. You come home from tour, and you come to a neighborhood with dogs, cats, and kids. It makes living in the big city far more palatable, even for someone from a small town.” This is one of L.A.’s enduring charms: the option to live in a quiet neighborhood in the heart of an important city.

Los Angeles is constantly reinventing itself, combining and recombining people and neighborhoods from the ground up. Out of its crazy quilt of ethnic enclaves, new districts arise all the time, often spontaneously, notes Thomas Tseng, a native of the suburban San Gabriel Valley and a student of urban planning. Take the neighborhood now known as “Little Osaka,” which follows along Sawtelle Boulevard in West Los Angeles. Forty years ago, when I lived there, the area was home mostly to working-class Japanese and Mexican families. The few modest restaurants were far from fashionable, mostly offering ethnic home-style cuisine. But over the past few years, Tseng says, many of the old families—as well as investors from Korea, Taiwan, and China—have opened new restaurants, bars, and clubs in the neighborhood. Far from the downtown hotspots and the Hollywood scene, Little Osaka’s streets bustle with young people, a majority of them Asian. Many live in the area or attend nearby UCLA. “There was nothing planned,” says Tseng, who has been getting his hair cut and belly filled in the area for years. “It just happened.”

Little Osaka

Little Osaka

Even more impressive is the 626 Night Market in the parking lot of the Santa Anita Track. Every month, some 160 food vendors descend on the place. You can get everything from preserved fertilized eggs to sea-urchin rice balls (my favorite), lamb skewers, stinky tofu, and grilled squid. Up to 40,000 people gather in this monthly celebration of L.A.’s entrepreneurial grassroots food scene. After all, Los Angeles invented the food truck—the perfect analogy for a city perpetually on the road and spanning hundreds of neighborhoods.

Los Angeles may lack the kind of dynamic urban core that we associate with traditional great cities. But to most of its residents, the city is an urban feast on a gourmet scale. We wouldn’t trade it for the world.

This story originally appeared at The City 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.

The Reinvention of Sanford, Florida

Mon, 03/17/2014 - 22:38

Sanford, Florida was in the midst of reinventing itself. Then the calamity of Trayvon Martin’s violent death turned this sleepy Florida town into a poster child for everything that's wrong with the state. Now that the media frenzy has moved on to other troughs, the residents must sweep up the mess. As is often the case, compassion and healing have been operating quietly in the background. Two years after the tragedy, this healing process is being highlighted through a grant by Ashoka University to document the lives and faces of the people of this small, historical town. The Sanford Project was begun by a group of students and artists to capture the unique culture and character of the city, and to turn around perceptions of Sanford.

Led by Olivia Zuk, a recent graduate of nearby Rollins College, The Sanford Project recently exhibited its results at 'Say It Loud', a pop-up gallery space in nearby Orlando. “The media willfully misinterpreted Sanford,” she said, “and we decided that it was critical to overcome the passing controversy and focus on the true nature of this Central Florida town”. During an internship last summer in New York City, total strangers, Europeans as well as Americans, approached her about its lurid reputation. Ms. Zuk’s eyes flashed as she added, “I had had enough. This is my backyard and it needs to be properly defined, and this ugliness put behind us.” When she returned from New York, she received a grant to create a media circus, this time of her own design.

The Sanford Project quickly attracted eight other students. A startling photographic odyssey captured humanistic portraits of the town’s residents, overcoming its caricature status and reminding viewers of Sanford's real people. Seeking to go out of their comfort zone, the collaborators accepted invitations into churches homes, businesses and communities, gathering intimate stories and the personal reflections of Sanford’s residents, including memories of the celery-farming days of the 1940s and before.

While the individual stories and images are remarkable, what is more remarkable is that these students, on their own, chose to reach out to collaborate with Sanford’s residents. And even more remarkable than this gesture is the fact that they were most often greeted with pride and acceptance. “We did not force it,” explained participant Destiny Deming, “but as the project progressed we all felt more at home in a city that several of us aren't even natives of.”

Lauren Cooper, another participant, said, “I didn't get turned down to speak with a single person, or hear any outcry to critique our cause. That silence, ironically, speaks.” The quality of this small town is probably not unique, and belies the illusion that our big cities are our greatest triumph. Olivia Zuk and her students found, instead, a triumph in the humanity that came out of this effort to re-connect with the small town.

The project's images, video, and documentary will be coming home to Sanford later this spring. Building solidarity built between the city and the small, peripheral town must be done to rebuild a state of compassion and shared ownership out of the ashes of our greed-driven, cynical culture. The Sanford Project takes the necessary first step, and although the pathway is long, the first step is the hardest.

Participant Aaron Harriss described The Sanford Project as “suburban white kids from Orlando interested in historic African American communities”. The sardonic, self-deprecating comment belies his generation’s interest in localized connectivity over and above the “official” storyline of a community. Rocked by charges of racism, and guilty by association, Central Floridians were stung by the Trayvon Martin publicity. Few rose to speak, or set the story straight, however, until Olivia Zuk and her Sanford Project team stepped in.

“Being from the millennial generation, most of us working on the project learned about the segregation of white people and black people pretty early on,” reflected Ms. Zuk after interviewing a Sanford resident. Segregation was a story told like a history lesson, at arm’s length, and for many suburban white kids this might be close enough. But Zuk took with her a multiracial team of Lauren Cooper, Destiny Deming, Christopher Garcia, Leila Gray, Aaron Harriss, Angelica Milan, Victor Rollins and Lauren Silvestri.

They sat with African-Americans, heard stories of racism, participated in the African-American culture of Sanford, and supported the local Martin Luther King Day parade. They learned more about the city than many of the region's occupants knew: Sanford’s history, like that of many small towns, conceals some darker episodes, such as the story of Goldsboro, an African-American town that was forcibly incorporated into the larger town of Sanford in 1911. But it has many joyful tales, also, stories of beating the odds. The surrounding celery and orange fields have been eclipsed by the theme parks, but Sanford sustains itself as a town with a desirable quality of life.

Lingering in the twilight of its agricultural boom, Sanford today is off Central Florida's beaten path; it's about a 40 minute ride from downtown Orlando. Its historic downtown and surrounding residential community is beautiful, but its population has struggled to grow.

A reinvention was long overdue. Then, in stepped the media, reinventing Sanford in the wake of young Martin’s tragic death: small southern town, fill in the rest of the blank. This condemnation, inevitable in today’s city-worshipping culture, seems all too pat. Caught off guard, perhaps, Sanford was unable to push back at a media framework in which you are either a darling or a pariah, but never anything in between.

The millennial generation’s nonhierarchical view of society, symbolized by The Sanford Project, is a pathway out of the good-or-evil, red-and-blue polarization that we continually encounter. Increasingly, however, these black-and-white cartoons ring hollow and empty, unable to withstand scrutiny.

Is this cycle unbreakable? The students and artists who have captured Sanford’s character through images and stories have started the hard work to do just that. Millennials, like the generations that preceded them, may someday come to accept this either/or view of the world. For now, however, efforts like the Sanford Project — efforts that are not profit-driven, but rather socially driven — are rebuilding our squandered moral capital.

Richard Reep is an architect with VOA Associates, Inc., and an artist who has been designing award-winning urban mixed-use and hospitality projects, domestically and internationally, for the last thirty years. He is Adjunct Professor for the Environmental and Growth Studies Department at Rollins College, teaching urban design and sustainable development, and is president of the Orlando Foundation for Architecture. He resides in Winter Park, Florida with his family.

Photo by Destiny Deming of children outside of their Sanford home.

Taking the Main Street Off-ramp

Sun, 03/16/2014 - 21:35

To some, the $19 billion paid by Facebook for the Silicon Valley start-up What's App represents the ultimate confirmation of the capitalist dream. After all, these riches are going first and foremost to plucky engineers whose goals are simply to make life better for the public. Got a problem with that?

Yes, actually. Sure, people should be rewarded, even lavishly, for their innovations. But $19 billion for 50-something people in a company with no profits and no prospects of having any, at least in the short term? Is this app worth more than Southwest Airlines, or Sony, or scores of other companies with thousands of employees and decades' worth of profits? Put another way, the $19 billion makes Vladimir Putin's now-defunct bailout of Ukraine seem puny. Ukraine, the homeland of What's App's CEO, if you don't remember, is a country of 46 million people.

Yet, this is the form of capitalism that we now have, one tilted so heavily to the few well-connected souls, whether on Wall Street or among the chummy “directors club” keiretsu of Silicon Valley. But the heart and soul of free enterprise – small and medium-size companies – remain in the doldrums. They are producing jobs at rates lower than those before the most-recent recession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, firms with less than 50 employees are adding jobs at rates well below 2007 levels. Drivers of the recovery early in the prior decade, they have become laggards as larger firms have expanded modestly.

Indeed, by 2013, smaller firms, those with less than 100 employees, added far fewer jobs than in the decade before. In previous recoveries, small firms led the way, but in the post-2007 recovery, these grass-roots companies continued to lose ground. In 1977, Small Business Administration figures show, Americans started 563,325 businesses with employees. In 2009, they started barely 400,000.

This is not just a story of clueless mom-and-pops left behind by progress. Business start-ups, long a key source of new jobs – as a portion of all businesses – have declined from 50 percent in the early 1980s to 35 percent in 2010.

Many people who once had decent incomes and may have owned, or hoped to start, a business have slipped to the economic lower rungs. Their decline is not widely mourned in the academic, financial or media worlds. Last year, one Financial Times columnist contended that the middle class, “after a good run” of some two centuries, now faces “relative decline” and even extinction. Not that this trend disturbed the author, who noted that “classes come and classes go” and that, when the middle orders disappear, about the only ones sorry to see them go might be the “middle classes themselves. Boo hoo.”

Like the yeoman farmer, the artisan and the shopkeeper during the 19th century's Gilded Age or in Victorian England, millions of smaller business entrepreneurs are threatened with what I call “proleterianization,” that is, a descent from the relatively secure, property-owning class to the permanently insecure masses, living paycheck to paycheck. This process is driven largely by powerful economic forces, such as technological change and globalization, but has been exacerbated by the actions of the political class.

Much of the blame starts with Federal Reserve policy, which has been totally designed to favor high-risk investments – like What's App – at the expense of the more modest savers along Main Street. The winners in the era of low interest rates and the Fed's bond-buying binge have been venture capital firms, hedge funds and Wall Street investment banks. Capital has not been flowing to consumers, or smaller firms, noted one top former manager. The Fed has lost “any remaining ability to think independently from Wall Street,” asserts Andrew Huszar, who managed the Federal Reserve's $1.25 trillion agency mortgage-backed security purchase program.

Fed policy, through TARP, bailed out the big banks, which generally are loath to loan money to small businesses, but has done little for smaller banks, who generally do make such loans, and which have continued to contract. The rapid decline of community banks, for example, down by half since 1990, has hit small-business people most directly, as those institutions have been a traditional source of small-business loans.

All these problems have been made worse by a tide of new regulations, notably the Affordable Care Act, which, like most top-down systems, most hurts the middle class. When Obamacare took effect in 2013, it was the small-business owners and the self-employed who suffered the brunt of health insurance cancellations and higher premiums. In addition, the ever-growing net of regulations, covering everything from labor to the environment, has placed a far greater burden on smaller firms than their larger counterparts.

2010 SBA report found that federal regulations cost firms with less than 20 employees more than $10,000 a year per employee, while bigger firms paid roughly $7,500 per employee. The biggest hit to small business is environmental regulations, which cost small firms 364 more percent than large ones. Small companies spend an average $4,101 per employee on such regulations, compared with $1,294 at medium-size companies (20 to 499 employees) and $883 at the largest companies. This has come over a period when many of the key costs faced by the business-owning middle class – house prices, health insurance, utilities and college tuition – have all soared.

Given these conditions, it's not surprising that small-firm owners are about the most alienated large constituency in America, according to Gallup. Yet, their once-considerable clout has faded, particularly among Democrats, who have found new allies within Silicon Valley, much of Wall Street and, most of all, a growing, connected clerisy of government workers, academics, high-end professionals and much of the media.

Progressive theorists, such as Ruy Teixeira, have suggested that, in the evolving class structure, the rise of a mass “upper-middle class” consisting largely of professionals, tech workers, academics and high-end government bureaucrats, allows Democrats to win without the support of shopkeepers or even industrial workers.

Such people may turn to the GOP, or elements of the Tea Party, but neither of those groups really addresses their needs. Mainstream Republicans remain fundamentally loyal to those big-business and the money powers that still tolerate them. The Tea Party, sadly, now captive to the well-financed hard Right, has diverted its attention from crony capitalism to tired social issues like gay marriage and immigration. In doing so, the Tea Party has unwittingly alienated many small businesses, notably those owned by minorities, women and gays.

This political calculus is devastating to the interests of smaller firms. Main Street may remain the symbol of the American Dream, and it represents “the human face” of capitalism. It is roughly three times as popular as unions, big business, banks and, of course, the political class itself.

Yet, for all its popularity, Main Street increasingly is in danger of becoming an off-ramp from the American Dream. It may be celebrated in countless political speeches, but, for the most part, gets ignored in the legislative process, being unable to compete against better-organized, and better-funded, business, labor and issue-oriented lobbies.

Main Streeters, to preserve themselves and provide for their children, need to develop, for lack of a better word, a kind of class consciousness. They must understand that, in today's world, what's good for Facebook, Google or General Electric may not necessarily be good for them. Indeed, policies that encourage shoving billions into the hands of the few – whether pinstriped Wall Street sharpies or hoodie-wearing techies – will not leave much on the table for those small-scale entrepreneurs now finding themselves increasingly on the fringe of American capitalism, looking in.

This story originally appeared at 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.

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East of Egan: Success in California is Not Evenly Distributed

Sat, 03/15/2014 - 22:38

The New York Times ran a Timothy Egan editorial on California on March 6.  The essay entitled Jerry Brown's Revenge was reverential towards our venerable Governor.  It did, however, fall short of declaring Brown a miracle worker, as the Rolling Stone did last August.  These and other articles are part of an adoring press's celebratory spasm occasioned by the facts that California has a budget surplus and has had a run of strong job growth.

Egan at least pauses in his panegyrical prose to mention that all is not perfect in California:

Without doubt, California has serious structural problems, well beyond the byzantine hydraulic system that allows the state to flourish. For all the job growth, the unemployment rate is one of the highest in the nation. It has unsustainable pension obligations, a bloated public-employee sector led by the prison guard union. And it is so expensive to live here that clashes over the class divide are threatening to get nasty.

That's not the worst of it.  Before going there, though, let's consider Brown's most celebrated achievement, a budget surplus. 

California has a budget surplus because of a temporary income tax on its highest earning citizens and because of large capital gains reaped during an amazing year for stocks.  The S&P 500 was up almost 30 percent last year, an event unlikely to be repeated.  California's tax revenues are excessively dependent on a relatively few wealthy tax payers.  This makes revenues extremely volatile.  When these tax payers do well, Sacramento is flush with cash.  When the high end tax payers don't do well, Sacramento has very serious problems.

By increasing California's reliance on a few wealthy tax payers, Brown's tax increase made California's revenues more volatile.  The ongoing bull stock market would have generated higher tax revenues for California without the tax increase.  It generated even more with the tax increase.  When a bear market comes, the state will again face deficits.  This is one reason that Standard and Poors ranks California's credit as second worst in the country, only above Illinois.

So far, to his credit and in stark contrast to what we saw in the dot-com boom under Gray Davis, Jerry Brown has, with the exception of his pet project, the high-speed train, effectively resisted the legislature's knee-jerk impulse to increase long-term spending commitments.  What he has not done is perhaps more important: addressing California's other financial issues, the ones that are contributing to California's dismal credit rating.

California has had several quarters of stronger-than-the-nation job growth, but is still 113,500 jobs below the level in 2007; in contrast Texas is 844,300 jobs above that number.  

Nor can it be sure that growth will continue. Unfortunately, the day after Egan's celebratory essay, California's Economic Development Department announced that the state had lost 31,600 jobs in January.  That's an initial estimate, and it will be changed, but it's hard to tell which direction.  The data released with that estimate appear to be a bit of a mess and are internally inconsistent.  We've asked for some clarification.

Regardless of the most recent data point, California's job performance has been better than expected, and we should all be thankful for that.  However, comparison with the United States average is not the only metric.  Comparison with California's potential is the correct metric, and there California is underperforming in a big way.  Given all of its advantages, California should be leading the nation in job creation and opportunity.

California has been averaging about 27,000 new jobs a month over the most recent 12 months for which we have data.  It should be averaging at least 40,000.  This would be slightly more than Texas' average of 33,900,.  But, it still represents only 3.2 percent job growth, well below Texas' 3.7 percent job growth rate.

The state is sitting over estimated oil reserves that are about four times as large as the Bakken Shield, a major contributor to North Dakota's boom.  Any serious effort to tap that resource would generate huge numbers of jobs.  Many of those jobs would be high wage positions for less educated workers who were hurt the most by the recession.

California has many advantages over North Dakota, or Texas for that matter, besides oil.  These are well known and include location between Pacific Rim producers and the world's largest consumer market, ports, workforce, and climate.  Even without oil, we should be doing better.  Policy though, particularly environmental policy, is restraining the state's job creation.

Egan makes a big deal of migration.  Here is his first paragraph (emphasis is his):

Let’s review. Just a few years ago California was a punching bag for conservative scolds — a failed state, profligate with its spending and promiscuous with its ambition. Ungovernable. And everybody’s leaving.

Later, he returned to the topic:

Third, the great exodus never happened. Since the dawn of the recession, the state has added about 1.5 million people — almost three Wyomings. And yes, 67,702 people moved from California to Texas in 2012. But 43,005 people moved from Texas to California. (Population growth is not necessarily a good thing, especially in this overstuffed state, but that’s another topic).

This is really curious.  A whopping 57 percent more people moved from California to Texas than moved from Texas to California, which was the case for decades.  This is an argument that people aren't leaving California?  California's population is up 1.5 million?  California's population growth is mostly a result of California's fertile young people.  Census data show that California's domestic migration has been negative for over 20 consecutive years.   It may not be The Great Exodus, but it's a reversal of about a 150 year of migratory trend.

Then there is poverty and unemployment.  Poverty, unemployment and lack of opportunity are why California's domestic migration data is negative.  Lack of opportunity may be hard to measure, but we have lots of data on unemployment and poverty.   Some examples:

  • San Bernardino has the second highest poverty rate of any major U.S. metropolitan areas.  Only Detroit is worse.
  • California, with about 12 percent of the U.S. population, has 34 percent of U.S. welfare recipients.
  • Two California counties, the geographically separated Colusa and Imperial, have unemployment rates over 20 percent.
  • Thirty-one of California's 58 counties have unemployment rates in double digits.

The geographic distribution of California’s poverty is one reason many people fail to understand California.  Most of California’s poverty is concentrated in regions where the political class ---or wayfaring editorialists --- seldom venture.  It's mostly inland, not where most of California's elite live or travel.  If you stay on the 101 corridor, or hug scenic Route 1, it’s easy to avoid.  You can find it, but you have to have eyes that are open to it, and it helps if you get off the beaten path. 

Egan wrote his piece in Santa Barbara, where life can be as good as it gets, particularly for the affluent and boomers who bought their homes decades ago.  But, the city of Guadalupe in Santa Barbara County could give him a taste of how the other half lives. Just take a look sometime: it’s about as hardscrabble a town as the Texas town in the movie “The Last Picture Show”.

California's poverty is harder to ignore along the 99, but is even more evident in roads like 33 which winds along the eastern side of the coastal range.  Go there, and you will find it hard to believe that you are still in the United States, much less California.  There you will find grinding, hopeless poverty more reminiscent of the Third World than the center of the economic jobs.

A high speed train won't help these people.  Neither will Silicon Valley tech jobs, even if they don’t shrink in the inevitable social media shakeout.  Neither will Sacramento, apparently.  Until we start doing something for the state's huge and struggling working and middle class, and that means creating opportunity for them, we should refrain from congratulating ourselves and each other for our good work.

Bill Watkins is a professor at California Lutheran University and runs the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting, which can be found at A slightly different version of this story appeared in CLU Center for Economic Research and Forecasting's September, 2013 California Economic Forecast.

Work Access in the Non-centered San Francisco Bay Area

Fri, 03/14/2014 - 22:38

The San Francisco Bay Area (San Jose-San Francisco combined statistical area or CSA) has a superior access to work systems, including its important work at home element. The freeway system provides primary access between all points, importantly supplemented by arterial streets, and accounts for nearly 70 percent of all work trips. There are more types of transit than in other metropolitan regions (metro, street car, commuter rail, light rail, ferry, and cable car) and generally with a higher level of service. The Silicon Valley virtually defines information technology and is behind the huge increase in working at home, much of it telecommuting.

The recently released American Community Survey five-year file provides the opportunity to examine state of employment access in all Bay Area municipalities

Employment Access by Car

Like every major metropolitan area in the United States, more people use cars or light trucks (for simplicity called "cars" in this article) to get to work than any other mode of transport. In the Bay Area, 68 percent of commuting is by car. Cars provide the overwhelming majority of work access to jobs in 11 of the Bay Area's 12 counties. This ranges from 80 percent in Alameda County (secondary core municipality Oakland is the county seat) to 91 percent in San Joaquin County, which was recently added to the San Jose-San Francisco CSA (Figure 1). In the 12th county, San Francisco, cars provide work access for nearly equal to that of transit, walking and cycling combined (both approximately 46 percent).

Employment Access from Home

Working at home continues to grow and, to an even greater extent than car travel, is relatively evenly distributed throughout the 12 Bay Area counties. The highest percentage is in Marin County, at 9.6 percent. The combination of a technology friendly regional environment and horrific traffic on the primary commuting routes to most of the Bay Area (US-101 and the Golden Gate Bridge) probably drive this figure higher. Contra Costa County and Santa Cruz County also have a high work at home shares, at 7.3 percent and 7.1 percent respectively. This is than 50 percent above the national rate.

Most surprisingly, however, the lowest work at home share in the Bay Area is in Santa Clara County, the very heart of Silicon Valley. This is slightly less than the national average. Another surprise is counties on the periphery of the Bay Area also have small work at home shares. Sonoma, Napa and San Joaquin counties have work at home shares of under 5.0 percent.

Outside the core cities of San Francisco and Oakland, more than 1.5 times as many employees work at home (including telecommuting) than access work by transit (Figure 2).

Employment Access by Transit

The Bay Area remains monocentric only in aerial photographs and transit market share. San Francisco is served by one of the nation's busiest metro (subway or underground) systems in the nation, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), which carries over 400,000 one-way rides daily. BART was the first of the major post-World War II rapid transit systems in the United States and was followed by other fully grade separated Metro systems in Washington and Atlanta and individual lines in Los Angeles.

As we indicated in Transit Legacy Cities, most of the transit commuting (55 percent) in the United States is to just six core municipalities, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, and San Francisco. Approximately 60 percent of commuting to those cities is to the downtown areas, which are also the largest in the United States. Yet these legacy cities, with a majority of the nation's transit commuting, account for only six percent of the nation's employment.

Nearly two-thirds of Bay Area transit commuters work in the city of San Francisco and that figure rises to more than 70 percent, including the city of Oakland, with its strong downtown. Yet, these two core cities have only 21 percent of employment in the Bay Area. The downtowns of both core cities are well served by transit, including BART and radial surface transit systems. Buses serve downtown Oakland, while buses, trolley buses (electric buses), street cars and cable cars are focused on downtown San Francisco.

The Non-Centered Metropolis

Even with a regional Metro system, the Bay Area has developed in a strongly dispersed and polycentric form. Polycentricity is represented by edge cities (suburban office centers) such as Walnut Creek (with a BART station), the San Francisco Airport office area (not generally walkable from any rapid transit) and in the Silicon Valley (San Mateo and Santa Clara counties). Even more, however, employment is dispersed well beyond even these nodes.  Authors Robert Lang and Jennifer LeFurg have called this phenomenon "edgeless cities," though their other term, the "non-centered metropolis," says it better.

Outside the San Francisco-Oakland core, the commuting pattern in the Bay Area is little different than in the rest of the nation (as is also the case in New York, outside the urban core). Nearly 80 percent of the Bay Area's jobs are outside the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, however only 4.0 percent of commuters use transit to jobs located outside these cores. Among municipalities other than San Francisco and Oakland with BART stations, work access by transit is 5.1 percent, only slightly higher than the national average (which includes all urban and rural areas). Commuting by transit is even lower (3.0 percent) to jobs in outside municipalities with BART stations (Figure 3).

Among the municipalities with BART stations and favorable "jobs-housing balances," only San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley (home of the University of California) attract more transit commuters than the national average. Walnut Creek illustrates the problem of regional transit commuting to suburban locations. Walnut Creek has a strong suburban office center and a stronger jobs-housing balance than all BART municipalities but much smaller Colma. Yet, only 3.5 percent of commuters who work in Walnut Creek used transit to get to work (Figure 4).

Overall, outside the core cities of San Francisco and Oakland, approximately 20 times as many people commute to jobs by car as by transit.

The Illusion of Monocentricity

With transit's failure to carry large numbers of workers to jobs throughout the Bay Area (not just to the two older core municipalities), planners have switched strategies. Now the focus is on urban villages (transit oriented development), by which people and jobs will be located close together, reducing the need for long automobile commutes. The adopted regional plan, "Plan Bay Area" imagines people living in transit oriented developments and walking, cycling or using transit to get to employment. However, former principal planner of the World Bank Alain Bertaud says that this "urban village model exists only in the mind of urban planners" and worse, that "it contradicts the economic justification of large cities:  the efficiency of large labor markets." (see: Urban Planning 101) That means a lower standard of living and more poverty.

The reality for the Bay Area and for metropolitan areas around the world is that transit is structurally incapable of replacing the automobile for the bulk of the workforce. The fundamental problem is that no transit system can attract drivers to jobs by offering travel times competitive with the automobile (Note). Transit can compete to some downtowns, but downtowns have only a small minority of employment. Outside of those, trip patterns are simply too dispersed for transit to serve as well as cars. Monocentric cities, to duplicate Bertaud's logic, exist "only in the mind of urban planners."

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: In 2003, I issued a challenge to identify an existing or proposed transit system design that would achieve automobile competitiveness throughout a metropolitan area of more than 1,000,000 in Western Europe or the United States (see: Smart Growth Challenge: Transportation Choice for All, Not Just a Few [Automobile Competitiveness]). No complete responses were received. This is not surprising. In 2007, Professor Jean-Claude Ziv and I authored a paper for the 11th World Conference on Transport Research (2007 WCTRS) that estimated such a system could cost as much as the total gross domestic product of any such metropolitan area each year).

Photo: Bart A car Oakland Coliseum Station

The U.S. Cities Profiting The Most In The Stock Market And Housing Boom

Thu, 03/13/2014 - 13:47

If anything positive can be said for the current tepid economic recovery, it has been very good to those who invest in the stock market or own real estate.

Property owners have been able to reap higher rents and sale prices, and the stock market has soared while the overall economy has registered only modest gains. However, only a precious few have benefited from the bull market on Wall Street. According to Pew Research, only 47% of American households own some stock, down from nearly two-thirds in 2007.

And of those who do own equities, the upper crust control the lion’s share. As of 2010, the wealthiest 20% of U.S. households held 91.7% of all U.S. stock; the top 5%, a shade over two-thirds; and the top 1% controlled 35%.

While incomes for the middle and working class have stagnated in the recovery, the booming stock market helped swell the income of the top 1% by 31.4% through 2012. Overall, the rich now account for 50% of the country’s wealth, more than at any time since 1917, when the income tax was introduced, and well above the level in 1928, at the end of the Roaring Twenties stock boom.

Just as the current asset-driven recovery has had disparate impacts depending on social class, it has affected different regions in divergent ways. To gauge which areas have benefited the most from asset inflation, Mark Schill, head of research at Praxis Strategy Group, looked at the percentage of income derived from rents, dividends and interest in the nation’s 52 largest metropolitan areas and 100 most populous counties.

The Codger Economy

The top of our list is dominated by areas where retirees and aging boomers, particularly the more affluent, are concentrated. Some 57% of Americans aged 50 to 64 own stock, according to Pew, twice as high a percentage as those under 30. People over 55 control well over half the nation’s wealth.

Also as they reach retirement, seniors are less likely to be earning income from wage and salary work, further driving up the share of income from rents, interest and dividends in retirement hot spots. The most well-to-do retirees are the most likely to become migratory snow birds, clustering in the nation’s warmest climes.

This includes the top five metro areas on our list, led by the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area, where roughly 26.5% percent of income was earned this way in 2012, compared to a national average of 18.2%.

It’s followed by Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla., and San Diego-Carlsbad, Calif.

These trends are even more evident when we look at the nation’s 100 largest counties. The top of the list is dominated by wealthy retirement counties, led by Palm Beach, Fla., where a remarkable 39.8% of income comes from stocks, rents and interest payments. It’s followed by two other affluent Florida counties: Lee (39.6%), whose largest city is Cape Coral, and Pinellas (29.1%), which is the home county for both St. Petersburg and Clearwater. Other retirement counties at the top of the list include No. 7 Broward (Ft. Lauderdale) and Pima, Ariz., which contains the city of Tucson.

Superstar Cities

The surge of profits for investors also boosts incomes in some of the metro areas whose economies have done the best overall in the asset-driven recovery. This is most marked in the San Francisco Bay area, which added more billionaires  last year than anyplace else in the country.

San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward ranks sixth on our metro area list, with 20.7% of residents’ income coming from rents, dividends and interest, and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara comes in seventh (19.3%). This places them well ahead of traditional centers for plutocrats, such as Boston-Cambridge-Newton (16th) and, remarkably, the home of Wall Street, the primary beneficiary of asset inflation, New York-Newark-Jersey City (23rd).

Our counties list offers a more precise map of where asset-driven wealth is, showing that much of it is concentrated in the suburban reaches. Although much of the hype about new billionaires revolves around San Francisco, the real star in the Bay Area is somewhat more prosaic San Mateo County (fifth on our county list), home to tech giants such as Genentech and Oracle , and seven of the 10 largest venture capital firms in the Bay Area. In contrast, San Francisco County ranks 36th.

This diversion in the patterns of where investors and rentiers congregate can also be seen in the sprawling metropolitan area that contains the nation’s financial capital, the 19 million-person New York region. Greater Gotham is home to a remarkable four of the top 15 counties on our list, starting with No. 4 Fairfield County, Conn., a major center for the hedge fund and private equity industries, followed by two affluent suburban counties, Westchester (ninth) and Nassau (13th).

Among the five boroughs only one, No. 14 Manhattan (New York County) ranks in the upper echelon, while three outer boroughs — Queens, Brooklyn (Kings County) and the Bronx — are in the bottom 15 of the 100 largest counties. The heavily minority and poor Bronx ranks last.

Strongest Economies At The Bottom

Not surprisingly, many of the metropolitan areas at the bottom of our ranking are older Rust Belt towns, such as Cleveland-Elyria (44th) and Detroit (46th). These are places where poverty is more concentrated and much of the money has moved away, often to Sun Belt locales such as Florida.

However, the bottom of our list also features many of the nation’s most dynamic economies, including Raleigh, N.C. (43rd); Dallas-Ft. Worth-Arlington, (45th); Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, N.C. (47th); Columbus, Ohio, (49th); and third to last and second to last among the 52 biggest metro areas, Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas, and Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro-Franklin, Tenn.

This appears to be largely a function of age. All these fast-growing areas are also thosemost attractive to young families  with children. These people are drawn primarily by the good prospects for wage employment — needed to support their families and buy houses — and are less likely to depend on rentier profits. Clipping bond coupons may play a big role in some economies, largely on the East and West Coasts, and notably Florida, but far less in those areas that are growing the old-fashioned way, by working for a paycheck.

Income from Interest, Dividends, and Rent 52 Largest U.S. Metropolitan Areas Rank Area Population 2012 Share of Income from interest, dividends, & rent United States (Metropolitan Portion) 267,664,440 18.2% 1 Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL 5,762,717 26.5% 2 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 2,842,878 24.6% 3 San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 3,177,063 21.9% 4 Jacksonville, FL 1,377,850 21.5% 5 Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC 1,699,925 21.3% 6 San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 4,455,560 20.7% 7 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 1,894,388 19.3% 8 Richmond, VA 1,231,980 19.2% 9 San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 2,234,003 19.0% 10 Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV 2,000,759 19.0% 11 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 13,052,921 18.8% 12 St. Louis, MO-IL 2,795,794 18.6% 13 Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA 2,196,482 18.6% 14 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 5,860,342 18.5% 15 Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 2,223,674 18.5% 16 Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH 4,640,802 18.5% 17 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 1,214,400 18.4% 18 Austin-Round Rock, TX 1,834,303 18.4% 19 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 3,552,157 18.2% 20 Rochester, NY 1,082,284 18.1% 21 Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO 2,645,209 18.1% 22 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 2,289,800 18.1% 23 New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 19,831,858 17.9% 24 Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD 2,753,149 17.9% 25 Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 9,522,434 17.4% 26 New Orleans-Metairie, LA 1,227,096 17.4% 27 Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 1,566,981 17.3% 28 Salt Lake City, UT 1,123,712 17.1% 29 Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY 1,134,210 17.0% 30 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 3,422,264 16.7% 31 Providence-Warwick, RI-MA 1,601,374 16.7% 32 Oklahoma City, OK 1,296,565 16.6% 33 Kansas City, MO-KS 2,038,724 16.6% 34 Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 4,329,534 16.4% 35 Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 6,018,800 16.2% 36 Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 4,350,096 16.2% 37 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 5,457,831 16.2% 38 Birmingham-Hoover, AL 1,136,650 16.2% 39 Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI 1,005,648 16.0% 40 Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN 2,128,603 15.9% 41 Pittsburgh, PA 2,360,733 15.8% 42 Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN 1,251,351 15.7% 43 Raleigh, NC 1,188,564 15.7% 44 Cleveland-Elyria, OH 2,063,535 15.4% 45 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 6,700,991 15.2% 46 Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI 4,292,060 14.8% 47 Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC 2,296,569 14.4% 48 Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN 1,928,982 14.3% 49 Columbus, OH 1,944,002 13.3% 50 Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 6,177,035 13.3% 51 Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN 1,726,693 12.8% 52 Memphis, TN-MS-AR 1,341,690 12.7% Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis Analysis by Mark Schill, Praxis Strategy Group

Income from Interest, Dividends, and Rent Top & Bottom 25 Among the 100 Largest U.S. Counties Rank County Population 2012 Share of Income from interest, dividends, & rent 1 Palm Beach, FL 1,356,545 39.8% 2 Lee, FL 645,293 39.6% 3 Pinellas, FL 921,319 29.1% 4 Fairfield, CT 933,835 25.4% 5 San Mateo, CA 739,311 24.4% 6 Lake, IL 702,120 23.8% 7 Broward, FL 1,815,137 23.0% 8 St. Louis, MO 1,000,438 22.8% 9 Westchester, NY 961,670 22.5% 10 Pima, AZ 992,394 22.0% 11 Hillsborough, FL 1,277,746 21.9% 12 San Diego, CA 3,177,063 21.9% 13 Nassau, NY 1,349,233 21.7% 14 New York, NY 1,619,090 21.7% 15 Honolulu, HI 976,372 21.4% 16 El Paso, CO 644,964 21.3% 17 Montgomery, MD 1,004,709 20.9% 18 Norfolk, MA 681,845 20.5% 19 Ventura, CA 835,981 20.3% 20 Travis, TX 1,095,584 20.2% 21 Bergen, NJ 918,888 20.2% 22 Middlesex, MA 1,537,215 20.1% 23 Fairfax, Fairfax City + Falls Church, VA 1,155,292 20.0% 24 Orange, CA 3,090,132 19.7% 25 Baltimore, MD 817,455 19.7% 76 Snohomish, WA 733,036 14.8% 77 Mecklenburg, NC 969,031 14.8% 78 Worcester, MA 806,163 14.7% 79 Suffolk, MA 744,426 14.6% 80 Collin, TX 834,642 14.5% 81 San Bernardino, CA 2,081,313 14.5% 82 Gwinnett, GA 842,046 14.4% 83 Marion, IN 918,977 14.2% 84 Jackson, MO 677,377 14.2% 85 Kern, CA 856,158 14.1% 86 Queens, NY 2,272,771 14.0% 87 Tarrant, TX 1,880,153 14.0% 88 Franklin, OH 1,195,537 13.9% 89 Wayne, MI 1,792,365 13.8% 90 Macomb, MI 847,383 13.7% 91 Shelby, TN 940,764 13.6% 92 Harris, TX 4,253,700 13.2% 93 Denton, TX 707,304 13.2% 94 Davidson, TN 648,295 12.8% 95 Kings, NY 2,565,635 12.8% 96 Will, IL 682,518 12.8% 97 Hudson, NJ 652,302 12.7% 98 Philadelphia, PA 1,547,607 12.5% 99 Hidalgo, TX 806,552 11.1% 100 Bronx, NY 1,408,473 11.1% Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis Analysis by Mark Schill, Praxis Strategy Group


This story originally appeared at

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.

Miami photo by Wiki Commons user Comayagua.

Deutschland on the Pacific?

Wed, 03/12/2014 - 22:38

California and Germany may not immediately come to mind as a doppelganger, but they do share several characteristics, particularly when it comes to their attitudes toward energy production and consumption.

Both “States” have large populations which seem to agree that the world will be a better place if renewable sources of energy are given precedence over hydrocarbon based options in powering their economies.

For both, this translates into an emphasis on preferentially using wind and photovoltaic sources. Initiatives include 1) the use of state and federal financial support for building and operating renewable generation and 2) preferential access to the grid for exporting the net power produced.

On the “regulation” side the two “States” differ substantially.     

California is relatively tough on coal based generation – long a major source of power to Los Angeles through Utah – while encouraging additional load following natural gas powered generation. Despite the shutdown of the nuclear plant at San Onofre, California is also viewed as being relatively tolerant of nuclear generation which does provide copious quantities of “base load” electric power without measurable amounts of air pollution. Of course California also likes hydropower when – during wet years – they can get it.

Germany also likes wind, solar and hydro generation, but nuclear power units? Not so much. The draconian nuclear shutdown is a reaction Japan’s Fukushima disaster. However, the unrelated shutdown of natural gas plants in favor of coal based generation is a big surprise. By comparison, Japan, which really has a nuclear generation problem, is running their gas plants hard while trying to restart at least some of their existing nuclear units.

The German natural gas plant cutbacks stem from the relatively high price of Russian sourced natural gas under long term contract. Such gas is simply unaffordable given the mandated subsidies charged to utilities. Ironically, Germany’s political and regulatory priorities have had the unintended consequence of encouraging the use of older coal based generation. Germany does have access to affordable coal as well as to existing power infrastructure that can use it. Due to the lack of politically viable alternatives, Germany is relying on their least attractive option.

Power supply and demand is not created equal

Residential power consumption varies significantly over the typical 24 hour day as people wake up, take showers, eat breakfast, go to work, return home, watch TV or play with their computers, and then go to bed. This is overlaid by seasonal needs for electrically powered air conditioning or heating units as well as by demand from industrial consumers. Output needs to vary directly with consumption.

They do this by dispatching power from two different classes of equipment, “base load” and “load following”. (Think fixed and variable output). The time of daily peaks and troughs vary for each utility, but peaks generally occur in the late afternoon with troughs are observed in the late evening or early morning hours. The difference between the peak and trough can vary by a factor of three. Because electric power can’t be stored, utilities need the capability to follow the demand load by using generators capable of changing output quickly, hence “load following generation”. Gas turbines and hydropower are both good examples of load following generators. The other category “base load” is typically provided by nuclear and coal fired units. These power plants run 24/7 and cannot alter their output in the short term. They are capital intensive but can produce power at relatively low unit costs as long as they maintain full output. Because of pollution issues, coal powered generation is least welcome in California.

Industrial power clients tend to be major consumers of base load power as their manufacturing plants run “24/7” and their need for variable power is much lower than that of the residential sector. Adding together industrial, residential, and commercial minimum demand defines the capacity need for base load generation. Adding together the maximum needs for all categories of load following capacity provides the utility’s total capacity requirement. The difference between the maximum and the minimum defines the need for load following capacity.

California Dreaming

There is at least one other category of power generation. We call it “intermittent”. By that, we mean a power source whose output cannot be predicted, such as wind and solar. Adding socially desirable, but intermittent, renewable power generation to a utility’s supply mix requires that the utility also acquire more predictable supplies, as the utility now needs to react to uncertainty of supply as well as to uncertainty of demand. As a state, California has been able to add new renewable sources, albeit with the result of higher residential rates.

Germany has also added significant amounts of intermittent power to the supply mix, with wind turbines in the North and solar panels in the South. However, the economic impact of these additions has been much more severe for residential rate payers. Germany’s “Energiewende” policy has resulted in multiyear, double digit increases in power prices as the residential sector as well as the “non-energy intensive” industrial sector bear the cost of the experiment.

Because Germany is, uber alles an export led economy, with exports representing 24% of GDP, the planners of the renewables initiative initially exempted large, energy intensive industry from paying the higher rates. Logically enough, they concluded that high power prices would compromise Germany’s ability to compete internationally. More recently, a new coalition government has proposed that, in the interest of “political peace in the family”, these previously exempt energy intensive industrial consumers must now bear part of the high costs of the energy transition. The industrial reaction has been to vote with their feet. BASF announced a multiyear investment program that assume the majority of new capital spending will occur outside of Germany, indeed outside of Europe.

Physician, Heal Thyself

Some economists have argued that Germany should simply purchase additional load following power from better-endowed neighbors. In fact, to some extent, that has occurred with Germany purchasing spot power from France and other neighboring countries. However, Germany’s attempts to sell surplus renewable power back to these same neighbors has been less than successful. This is because intermittent renewables are only available when the wind blows or when sunlight is available, not when the neighbors actually need the power. Germany’s neighbors, who have not yet bought in entirely to the new religion, do not have the ability to rapidly reduce their own domestic production in order to accommodate unpredictable foreign (German) surpluses. As a result, the Germans are exporting grid instability to their neighbors.

With no other options, German utilities have resorted to using coal in order to create power to compensate for the variability in renewable output. American hands are not exactly “clean” as we have become a major supplier of steam coal to Germany, coal we no longer need to burn in US based power plants.

Bipolar personalities and orphan power

“Energiewende”, a national policy intended to accelerate the use of renewables and to reduce both CO2 emissions and particulate air pollution, has instead produced the unintended consequence of multiyear increases in pollution levels. It has caused higher prices to be paid for power in order to accomplish this dubious result. At the same time the policy has irritated Germany’s partners on the European Grid by producing intermittent power when it isn’t needed. I have to believe that Germany’s engineering class foretold this result...Too bad the politicians weren’t listening.

Power to the People

Back in California, the state government has been figuratively wringing its hands over the potential for the development of shale gas. Californians like to use natural gas, most of it imported from other western states and Canada. Ordinarily they would love to have a new local source of supply. However, the problem for California is that much of the state is dry during the best of times and, from a water standpoint, this is not the best of times.

Low snow and rain levels are producing a “double whammy” for the state’s economy. While the legislature passed laws that legalize fracking, the implementation of enabling regulations has run afoul of the incremental need for water, either surface or subterranean, to support the fracking process. In a state renowned for its water wars between urban and rural interests, a new incremental need for water, even with the benefit of additional gas supply, is not good news.  

For Germany, the solution is a bit more intractable. The energy intensive manufacturers in Germany   are now being threatened by a political compromise that has them also paying for the higher costs of renewable penetration of the German power market. The government has now recognized that the residential polity can no longer bare the “unsustainable” higher costs of Energiewende without help from heavy industry.

The result is that their export oriented manufacturing economy is about to export itself to areas with a more welcoming attitude to affordable and sustainable energy supply.  Here on the US Gulf Coast the response is “Y’all come on down!”

German companies as diverse as BASF and Volkswagen have announced new and expanded production facilities along the US Gulf Coast (also known as “The American Ruhr”). As long as German political authorities continue to pander to their fantasies, they will have no choice. Of course we will continue to ship them all the coal they can buy. The Germans have a word for political fantasy that grounds on economic reality. They call it “Realpolitik”.

Eric Smith is a Professor of Practice at the A.B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University. He serves as the Associate Director of the Tulane Energy Institute. He is a Chemical Engineer and has an MBA from the A. B. Freeman School at Tulane University. 

Renewable energy photo from

Welcome to Chicagoland

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 22:38

As part of his plan to boost sagging ratings at the network, CNN chief Jeff Zucker commissioned an eight part reality series about Chicago and its mayor called Chicagoland that premiers tonight at 10pm ET. The show is produced by the same people who did the Brick City series about Newark Mayor Cory Booker, with support from mega-star executive producer Robert Redford.

Rahm and the Media

Given that Brick City seems to have only helped Booker’s reputation, cynics in Chicago have already noted the fact that show’s producers are represented by the William Morris Endeavor Agency, which just so happens to be the home of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s brother Ari. This is as much because of as in spite of a well-publicized move by directors Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin to ask the agency to recuse themselves from representing them when it comes to the show.

Trailer for CNN series “Chicagoland” – click here if the video does not display.

One need not believe in such a conspiracy to see this show as yet another example of Rahm’s media power – and his fearlessness in pursuing high profile opportunities to get his message out even in venues where he’s not in complete control. Rahm has had significant success in getting high profile national and global attention – for example, a glowing profile from NYT columnist Thomas Friedman – since taking office. He didn’t shy away from getting out there even when a spike in murders made global headlines Chicago of the type Chicago didn’t want – a time when many mayors would have crawled into their bunkers. And although he’s been in office a while now, Rahm fatigue seems not to have set in. Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg has a lengthy piece on him in the March issue of Esquire with the colorful title of “And Now For the Further Adventures of Rahm the Imapler.” The Financial Times recently ran a mostly positive piece called “Rahm Emanuel: Mayor America.” It even includes a high production quality six and a half minute video that will give you a flavor of it (if the video doesn’t display, click here):

With his ambition for Chicago as a global city, Rahm clearly sees global media as the ones that really count. Chicago’s status as a media center afterthought means few out of town reporters actually know that much about the city, hence Rahm has a huge opportunity to shape the message. This must infuriate the local media, which to a great extent Rahm is free to ignore because of his ability to go direct at the national and global level. Chicagoland should thus be seen as part of Rahm’s global media push, both for Chicago and for himself.

Reality TV vs. Journalism

The series is probably as good for Rahm and the city as it could possible get. Certainly the problems – high crime, poor schools, and labor troubles – are not glossed over. But given that they’ve been well publicized globally, it’s hard to imagine how they could be without sacrificing all credibility. Within the context of realism, this is a big win for the city.

Whether it’s a big win for journalism is another story. Like most modern documentaries or reality TV shows, Chicagoland is non-fiction in a sense, but also heavily scripted and edited to provide a compelling narrative. This makes for great TV drama and characterizations, but whether it represents truth as a reporter would tell it is much more doubtful.

Just as one example, the producers clearly had extensive access to Rahm and he’s frequently shown as concerned about crime, battling with unions, boosting the local economy, talking to school kids and even mentoring an inner city kid he brought on as an intern. But is that a fair representation of how Rahm Emanuel spends his time? The Chicago Reader did a two part series analyzing Rahm Emanuel’s schedule and published a two part series about it called “The Mayor’s Millionaire Club” (see part one and part two). They show that access to Rahm is heavily dependent on your wealth, influence, and donations. Yet that doesn’t come through in Chicagoland at all. Instead when the occasional powerful people are shown, they are always doing a good turn for the city, such as a group of tech executives donating products to schools.

I’m not suggesting this series should have been a bulldog investigative piece. However, I strongly suspect that CNN’s actual journalists will be seething at seeing their network and its relatively strong reputation being used for what is clearly not the type of work they themselves would undertake. Right or wrong, the CNN brand carries an expectation of a certain type of journalistic standard that the Sundance Channel (where Brick City originally ran) doesn’t. Right now on CNN’s Chicagoland page there’s an ad for Anderson Cooper 360. Something tells me that were Anderson Cooper in charge of Chicagoland, it would look quite different.

Compelling Drama and Characters

However, taken on the terms of a Sundance series, Chicagoland succeeds, and my guess is that Rahm will be overall pleased. The show sets up the drama by structuring the series as battles between opposing forces. In the first couple episodes, this is the battle between Rahm and Chicago Public Schools leadership on the one hand, and the teachers union and some affected parent groups on the other over plans by CPS to shutter 50 schools. Frankly, I thought it overly portrayed Chicago as if it were Newark. The segments were introduced by short positive vignettes of some aspect of Chicago (like the Stanley Cup playoffs), followed by more extensive coverage of the school closing dispute, and educational and crime problems in Chicago’s impoverished South Side. It would be like doing a flyby of Times Square before doing a deep dive on some of the worst blocks in Newark. While I myself have written on the two Chicagos theme, I was feeling that Chicago was being unfairly stigmatized.

I need not have worried. After the initial focus on the school closing dispute, the focus shifts. The drama is now between the good guys (basically every single person featured in the show) and the bad guys (gangsters and such who exist almost entirely offscreen, or so we’re led to believe). Almost without exception, the good guy characters are shown as 100% white knight types. Instead of positive vignettes followed by something Newarkesque, there’s a more balanced take in time allocation and the threads start merging across the two Chicagos. The show also starts laying the Chicago sales job on with a trowel. In Chicagoland’s coverage of things like the food scene, the music scene, the comedy clubs, or even footage of Rahm protesting a neo-Nazi march back in the 70s as a teenager, it’s hard to see how this could have been any more positive in its portrayal of the city if it had been produced directly by the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. This is a huge win for the city.

The show also manages to create several compelling characters. One of them is the surgeon who leads the trauma unit at Cook County Hospital, a job I certainly would not want. How that guy manages to balance family life in Roscoe Village (my old neighborhood) with the reality of what he deals with every night at his job is beyond me.

But the star of the show is clearly Elizabeth Dozier, principal at Fenger High School in the South Side neighborhood at Roseland. She’s shown fighting not only to only educate her students, but keep them safe over the summer, and even invest in their lives after graduation when they get in trouble. (Dozier trying to help a former student who’s in jail for robbery realistically shows the need for “retail” 1:1 or N:1 investment in the lives of specific troubled people, not just programs, to make a real difference in a troubled person’s life – and even so the difficulty in seeing life change happen). Her obvious passion and dedication in the face of tough odds clearly come through. Yet even here there’s a sense of manufacture. Dozier is a young, attractive, stylish black professional who not only runs a South Side High School, but also gets personal face time with Rahm, knows Grant Achutz of Alinea, and hangs out with Billy Dec on his boat. How much of this A-list hob-nobbing was happening prior to Chicagoland coming to town I wonder? Regardless, it makes for compelling TV.

While I have my quibbles, I think on the whole Chicagoland is an enjoyable watch that will end up being good for the city and the mayor. Just don’t go in expecting journalism. This is first and foremost reality TV style drama. With that caveat in mind, I recommend watching it.

Takeaways From the Chicagoland

Watching Chicagoland made me think again two bigger picture issues.

First, in watching gangs take revenge on each other in an endless cycle of retaliation that literally stretches on for years and in which no one can actually recall the original offense, I was reminded of Hannah Arendt writing on the role of forgiveness:

Forgiveness is the exact opposite of vengeance, which acts in the form of re-acting against an original trespassing, whereby far from putting an end to the consequences of the first misdeed, everybody remains bound to the process, permitting the chain reaction contained in every action to take its unhindered course. In contrast to revenge, which is a natural, automatic reaction to transgression and which because of the irreversibility of the action process can be expected and even calculated, the act of forgiving can never be predicted; it is the only reaction that acts in an unexpected way and thus retains, though being a reaction, something of the original character of action. Forgiving, in other words, is the only reaction which does not merely re-act but acts anew and unexpectedly, unconditioned by the act which provoked it and therefore freeing from its consequences both the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven. The freedom contained in Jesus’ teachings of forgiveness is the freedom from vengeance, which incloses both doer and sufferer in the relentless automatism of the action process, which by itself need never come to an end.

Forgiveness is not the only way to put a stop to a cycle of revenge. Arendt posits official punishment as another. But forgiveness is clearly the fastest and surest route. Until either the police are able to impose order and mete out genuine justice, or the grieving family and aggrieved gang compatriots of these murder victims are able to forgive and forswear vengeance, the cycle is unlikely to ever end.

I don’t want to judge too harshly teenagers in a ghetto living out the only life script they’ve ever known. But what’s our excuse? We too often live out in miniature the same process ourselves. How often do most of us forgive genuine wrong done against us, even of a much less consequential nature? Tune into the internet any day of the week and see untold amounts of shrieking over some offense or another, real or imagined. I suspect the vast majority of us would be behave no differently from those gangbangers in similar circumstances. We are blessed not to be there, however. But will we use that privileged position to end or perpetuate cycles of wrong in our own lives?

Secondly, Chicagoland made me think about the bigger picture of leadership in our cities and the major problems they face. I voted for Rahm as mayor, for three reasons. 1) I saw him as like his mentor Bill Clinton, namely someone to whom getting elected and staying in power is more important than pushing any ideological agenda. In short, I saw him as a pragmatist, not an ideologue with a policy ax to grind like Bill de Blasio. 2) Rahm spent a lot of time outside of Chicago. He’s got a global perspective and a global network that’s critical in this era. He’s also got the gravitas to interact at the highest levels of power in America, which is something few mayors can say. 3) Rahm has no natural constituency in Chicago. So if he wants to be re-elected, he needs to perform. He clearly has future political ambitions, and flaming out as mayor wouldn’t be helpful in pursuing them.

Looking back, while I’ve criticized Rahm for an excessive focus on the elite, I believe my judgment then was correct and on the whole I think he’s done a decent job in a very difficult situation. Apropos of point #3, if Chicago thinks differently, the popular and competent Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is waiting in the wings. Whatever you think of his neoliberal policies, it’s clear Rahm is an actual leader, one with a ton of intelligence, drive, power, and the will to get things done.

Yet watching Chicagoland, it’s evident that even leadership ability of Rahm’s caliber struggles mightily with the city’s huge challenges. Chicago has a massive fiscal hole, and a very serious problem with a two tier society that has left vast tracts of the city behind. It’s by no means certain that Rahm will be able to make Chicago soar in the way that Daley did in the 90s, or even get re-elected if a there’s any stumble and a credible candidate like Preckwinkle gets into the race.

When I think about the difficulties in solving the problems in Chicago, which has not only Rahm’s leadership but a massively successful global city economy in the Loop and hundreds of thousands of well-heeled residents, it makes me pause. If Chicago struggles with its problems, how much more so other cities facing similar or worse problems but with much weaker leadership and no global city money and firepower? It really makes me wonder if a lot of places are simply going to die a slow death barring some lucky break from a change in the marketplace.

This ultimately is what I’d challenge the residents of other cities to think about when watching this show. Look at Chicago and what it is dealing with. Think about your own problems and your resources for combating them vis-a-vis Chicago. If that doesn’t make you sober up, I’m not sure what will.

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.

Bubble Trouble in Silicon Valley

Mon, 03/10/2014 - 22:38

Third-generation venture capitalist Tim Draper believes he has a solution for California's problems that will make the Silicon Valley safe for its wealthy: secession. In a recent interview, Draper suggested that California be divided into six states, including one dominated by the Valley and its urban annex, San Francisco.

By jettisoning California's deeply troubled components – the Central Valley, the Inland Empire, Los Angeles – the Silicon Valleyites can create their own enclave, where incomes will be far higher – $63,288 per capital compared with the $46,477 for the whole state. If adopted, Draper's proposal would mean our self-styled cognitive leaders wouldn't have to deal with interior California's massive poverty, double-digit unemployment, farmer demands for scarce water supplies or manufacturers seeking reasonable energy prices.

Yet, for some in the Valley, Draper's proposals don't go far enough. Another venture capitalist recently suggested that the Valley do away with this whole United States thing entirely and form its own Republic. “We need to run the experiment, to show what a society run by Silicon Valley looks like,” venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya argued.

The notion here is that Silicon Valley might do best if detached from the limitations of American citizenship, with firms essentially running their own countries from islands or man-made, offshore facilities, as proposed by libertarian investor Peter Thiel. What the Valley wants, then, is to be left alone – unencumbered by the masses – so that the clever crowd can live with low taxes, in a perfectly socially liberated environment, but without the encumbrances that come with having to worry about the less-cognitively gifted.

“People,” as technology author Jaron Lanier has noted, “are the flies in Moore's Law's ointment.”

This can be seen in the growing pushback over such things as massive wealth accumulation for dubiously useful ventures, and egregious privacy violations. The luxurious Google employee buses shuttling in and out of San Francisco are resented by some residents stuck riding the often poorly maintained, sometimes awful Muni.

One top venture capitalist, Thomas Perkins was so upset over what he sees as scapegoating of the rich that he compared their condition to Jews in Nazi Germany. His directness upset some, but may have expressed more of what is really thought by smoother, younger, more PC-conscious executives.

This is more than simply the usual case of rich people being out of touch. These are not media constructs like Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton but very powerful, incredibly wealthy people who increasingly are a dominant force in California and national politics. Yet, their political positions often have a “let them eat cake” character. And to be sure, some new oligarchs lean right, mostly on the libertarian side, but these are a distinct minority. The notion of some in the Republican Party who see the Valleyites as saviors is nothing short of delusional.

For the most part, executive and workers at firms such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter are strong proponents of every politically correct idea from climate change legislation to opposing the expansion of suburbia and favoring gay marriage. Yet they are also becoming the wealthiest entities in the nation; besides GE, a classic conglomerate, the largest cash hoards now belong to Apple, Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle and Google, all of which sometimes have more dollars on hand than the U.S. government. Seven of the eight biggest individual winners from stock gains in 2013 were tech entrepreneurs. They were led by Amazon's Jeff Bezos, who added $12 billion to his paper wealth; Mark Zuckerberg, who raked in an additional $11.9 billion; and Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who each gained roughly $9 billion.

Given their phenomenal wealth, one observer compared Silicon Valley politics to those of a mall outlet selling Che Guevara t-shirts. They no doubt nod their heads when President Obama speaks of economic inequality, but when it comes to doing something about it, their general response is: Nevermind.

However they color themselves politically, the oligarchs live above and apart from the rest of society – and, like Draper, want to keep it that way. Their desire to separate from the hoi polloi is natural and stems, in part, from their notion of being a class apart from mere mortals. “We live in a bubble, and I don't mean a tech bubble or a valuation bubble. I mean a bubble as in our own little world,” Google CEO Eric Schmidt boasted to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2011. “And what a world it is. Companies can't hire people fast enough. Young people can work hard and make a fortune. Homes hold their value. Occupy Wall Street isn't really something that comes up in a daily discussion, because their issues are not our daily reality.”

Certainly, politically correct gestures, like support for climate change legislation, don't change this calculus. Google executives, for example, urge the middle class and working class to pay for subsidized, expensive energy – which they also invest in – but maintain their own fleet of private planes.

The distinct sets of rules for oligarchs and everyone else extends even to the most personal issues. Yahoo's Marissa Mayer, a former Google executive, banned telecommuting options for employees – particularly critical for those unable to house their families anywhere close to Yahoo's ultrapricey Sunnyvale home town. Yet, Mayer, pregnant at the time, saw no contradiction in building a nursery in her office.

Nor can it be said that the Valley elite gives at the office. Rather than “share the pain,” tech firms are notorious for not paying much in the way of taxes, including taxes on their properties. Facebook, for example, paid no taxes in 2012, despite making a profit of over $1 billion. Apple, which the New York Times recently described as “a pioneer in tactics to avoid taxes,” has kept much of its cash hoard as part of its basic corporate strategy.

Individuals like Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates have voiced support for higher taxes on the rich, yet Microsoft has saved nearly $7 billion on its U.S. tax bill since 2009 by using loopholes to shift profits offshore, a Senate panel said in a recent report. As former congressman Barney Frank noted recently, Microsoft and other tech titans “have as good a record of tax evasion as anybody.”

Such miserliness also extends to private philanthropy. There is no equivalent financed by Silicon Valley of anything comparable with the energy-industry-financed Texas Medical Center, nor can we expect any of the tech elite to leave behind anything so durable as the Carnegie libraries. For all their loud advocacy on environmental and education issues, the Valleyites are generally considered miserly when it comes to charity, as only four of the top 50 charitable contributors in 2011 came from the tech sector.

They may give big to the elite universities, like Stanford, but they seem oddly unengaged in the struggles of the vast working-class population around them: Poverty rates in the Valley's home of Santa Clara County since 2001 have soared from 8 percent to 14 percent, a jump of 75 percent. The self-proclaimed “capital of Silicon Valley,” the city of San Jose,notes urban geographer Jim Russell, is beginning to resemble a post-industrial “rust belt” city. To expect the Valley elite, ensconced in superpricey Palo Alto or San Francisco, to concern themselves with the Central Valley, beyond the Diablo Range to the east, is beyond wishful thinking.

Remarkably some people, on both the right and left, believe that the Valley's tech community should reform the nation, and recreate the government in their image. True, the likes of Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell do not inspire much confidence, but a society run by the tech lords would be very cold, and highly stratified.

Silicon Valley's problem, as author Jaron Lanier has put it, “is people.” Ultimately, human beings will resent being transformed into little more than digits in a Google algorithm that is then sold to advertisers. Most Americans reject being looked down on by a group that, given accidents of birth, access to money, social networks or even high intelligence, wishes not to share a state, or even a nation, with those who have less. That these attitudes now emanate from people who consider themselves both progressive and uniquely enlightened is not only hypocritical, but almost qualifies as obscene.

This story originally appeared at 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.

Boeing’s Long Shadow

Sun, 03/09/2014 - 22:38

The recent wrangling over decisions on where to build the next version of Boeing’s 777 has left a residue of bitterness and rancor around the Puget Sound region. Were the Machinists forced to give too much? Were the taxpayers squeezed too far? While views will differ on those questions, one thing is clear: jobs lost at Boeing are very difficult, if not impossible to replace.

In the Seattle region we can easily forget how insanely fortunate we are to have Boeing Commercial Airplanes located here. As much as we love to talk about software, gaming, life sciences, internet commerce and other 21st century industries, Seattle owes its status as a large and prosperous metropolitan area almost entirely to the economic base established by Boeing fifty years ago.

And if we can avoid becoming another San Francisco, with high levels of income inequality, outrageous housing prices, a shrinking middle class and a consequent increase in social tensions, we will owe Boeing for that too.

Maybe we paid too much for the 777. But the alternative – Puget Sound minus Boeing – is a frightening idea. Ever since the Boeing Bust of 1969, Seattle area leaders have been trying to diversify the region's manufacturing economy, and with few major successes. The reason for this is obvious: our location in the upper left hand corner of the map.

Manufacturing industries tend to locate near their customers and suppliers to minimize transportation costs. Puget Sound is simply too far from national markets to make sense as a location for heavy industry. By the 1950s, the region had maxed out its potential in timber, fishing and shipping, and the economy stagnated. The manufacturing boom that followed World War II largely passed the region by, and in 1957 a prominent businessman accurately described the Northwest as "America's most important colony."

Then came Boeing's entry into the commercial jet aircraft business. Prior to World War II Boeing had served as a sort of R&D shop for the U.S. government, developing innovative military and airmail planes that never sold very well. Boeing developed the first modern commercial transport, the 247, which was immediately eclipsed by the Douglas DC-3. Boeing had some commercial success, but was still a minor player in the propeller age.

After World War II the military stopped buying B-17 and B-29 bombers, for obvious reasons, and Boeing fell into a slump. It gradually revived itself with the successful B-47 and B-52 jet bomber programs. But it was another military program--developing a jet powered refueling tanker that could keep up with the new jet bombers--that was the key. That tanker airframe was repurposed into the 707, an aircraft that revolutionized civilian air transport and led to the transformation of the Puget Sound economy.

With commercial jet aircraft factories, the region finally had a large, scalable manufacturing industry that did not depend on low transportation costs. In fact, the products deliver themselves! With the success of the 707 Boeing began a very aggressive strategy, launching four new airplane programs during the 1960s: the 727, 737, 747 and the ill-fated SST. Before the bust of 1969, Boeing employed well over 100,000 people in the region, accounting for nearly all the net job growth of the decade.

Since then, Boeing's Puget Sound area employment has fluctuated between 60,000 and 110,000. And although it is gradually shrinking as a share of the economy, Boeing provides one thing that fewer and fewer industries can offer: large numbers of secure, high-paying blue collar jobs. Boeing investments are measured in decades, and even with recent give-backs, the machinists enjoy a very nice compensation package. The layer of middle class employment at Boeing is what makes the Puget Sound region different from San Francisco, and holds the line against our evolution into a Superstar City.

Yes, Boeing's tactics have wounded pocketbooks and left a bad taste in the region's mouth. And its status as a largely Midwestern company (just try to find any Northwest connections on its board) further diminishes the emotional tie. But we cannot lose sight of the value it brings. There is simply no better industry around which to build a regional economy and we are incredibly lucky to have it here. So we'll swallow some pride and hold tight to a company that every region in the world would kill to get its hands on.

The Seahawks 12th Man paint job that Boeing workers put on a brand new 747 freighter just before the Super Bowl brought back a glimpse of the Boeing connection that we used to take for granted. The challenge for Boeing and for regional leaders is to rebuild that connection. In Seattle we will always live in the "Jet City."

Michael Luis is a consultant in public affairs and communications, based in the Seattle area, and is the author of Century 21 City: Seattle’s Fifty Year Journey from World’s Fair to World Stage. He also serves as councilmember and Mayor of the city of Medina, Washington. He can be reached at

Seattle photo courtesy of

Drought Stokes California's Class War

Sat, 03/08/2014 - 21:27

As all the Californians who celebrated the deluge of rain that fell the week before last know, it did not do much to ameliorate the state’s deep drought. We are likely to enter our traditionally dry spring, summer and fall in a crisis likely to exacerbate the ever greater estrangement between the state’s squabbling regions and classes.

There are two prevailing views about how to deal with the drought. Farming interests in the Central Valley want the state to fund construction of additional water storage capacity so that the 700,000 acres of some of world’s richest farmland now fallowed by steep water cutbacks can be put back into production.

The predominant view embraced by the media and ruling political class identifies the drought as yet another manifestation of relentless global warming, which means the focus should be on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Greens balk at the idea of massive new spending on water storage for the agriculture sector, the state’s biggest water user, advocating instead for more conservation. New dams and reservoirs would have high environmental impacts, they argue, and their benefits may not justify the costs.

Yet many believe more storage is precisely what the state needs, including Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and the state Assembly’s Democratic leadership, under pressure from Republicans and Central Valley Democrats, recently added $1 billion in funding for water storage projects to a draft water bond proposal.

The southern part of the state, which tends to be drier than the north, has managed to avoid the worst of the drought by investing in its own storage facilities, something the more green-oriented north largely has avoided.

“Pat Brown understood you had to build capacity and store a lot of water,” former Salinas Mayor Dennis Donahue, a lifelong Democrat and radicchio grower, told me. “As a state we have decided not to build capacity that we could have built. To make this a morality tale about climate change is an insult to the 40% of people who are unemployed in some of our rural towns.”

California’s drought has become a national partisan issue, but storage is hardly a Tea Party or libertarian obsession. Hard-hit farming regions, in fact, are not calling so much for less government, but an expansion of water facilities largely owned and operated by state and federal agencies.

Their strongest arguments are economic and, equally important, basic social justice. California produces upwards of of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, and the economy of the interior, and much of the central coast, revolves around agriculture. The interior region suffered the brunt of the Great Recession in California but now must endure the lost of some $5 billion in farm-related revenues; 11 of the 20 metropolitan areas with the highest unemployment in the countryare already located in the interior region of the Golden State.

Not surprisingly many in the interior and rural parts of California see themselves as victims of wealthy coastal counties, whose economies have been bolstered by rising stock prices and absurd home valuations in Silicon Valley. These people regard high-priced water, like expensive energy, as a relatively minor inconvenience. San Francisco actually depends as much or more as any place in California on imported water, but rich urbanistas do not make their living from growing food, manufacturing or logistics. For them, high prices for resources is a kind of moral penance for lives that contribute to the threat of global warming.

At the same time, the basic claim that California’s drought is an inevitable product of warmer temperatures seems a stretch. Anyone somewhat familiar with California water issues — as I have been for the better part of 40 years — knows that the state has a history of alternating wet and dry periods dating back hundreds of years. Indeed, while the most recent rains may not augur a new, wetter period, statewide precipitation has now rebounded to levels much closer to historic parameters.

To be sure, human-caused environmental degradation is real and must be acknowledged, but it’s clear that  droughts have occurred, in California and elsewhere, for thousands of years. Some have lasted for a century or more. The worst dry periods, according to tree records, took place in the 1500s, somewhat before the first SUV hit the road. The 1860s saw massive rains and flooding throughout the state, followed by a severe drought that almost wiped out the state’s cattle industry.

In the last century, California suffered from severe droughts in the 1920s, the late 1970s and again in the 1990s; all ended when rainfall resumed in subsequent years. Even over a period in which greenhouse gas concentrations were increasing dramatically, three California droughts began and ended in much the same way.

More generally, the notion that the United States is entering an era of deep and abiding water shortage also remains dubious. A 2008 federal report on climate and drought concluded that the last decade was not as dry as either the 1930s or the 1950s.

Just a few years ago climate activists were claiming that a major drought throughout the Southeast was a clear harbinger of howglobal warming would affect everyone. Similar claims have been made for a recent drought in the Midwest. According to the U.S. drought monitor map, neither the southeast nor the vast majority of the heartland suffers from serious drought conditions. Indeed over the last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the percentage of the country suffering any drought at all has dropped from 66% to close to 50%.

To be sure there needs to be more attention paid — in California and elsewhere — to water issues and conservation, as many greens suggest. But  that’s  no reason to abandon prudent water management, like storage, in the belief that massive desertification is inevitable. California’s Inland leaders are simply calling for  retrofitting and improving water facilities, many of which were built a half century ago, and create additional wet-period storage capacity. If it does not, a large part of the state’s heartland will return to a  desert more by fiat than climate, leaving behind a huge, largely unemployable, and predominately Latino underclass.

Fortunately, not all is lost. For all his sometimes obsessive concern on climate change, Governor Jerry Brown has proposed major improvements in the state water system, much of which was built by his father. In this, he has been willing to challenge the green interests, who inevitably will try to block any new facilities. In the past, even Brown has found changing any of California’s complex environmental laws very difficult given the power of the green lobby, particularly within the courts and the regulatory agencies.

Clearly the  more reasonable water conservation measures urged by the environmentalists should also be adopted. Vast lawns and golf courses watered from the Sierra make little sense in a state whose population and economic centers are totally dependent on imported H20. Yards consume more than half of California’s urban water supply; using more drought resistant plants — my family is replanting our front yard with desert cover — and expanding already available, highly treated recycled water for exterior irrigation are commonsense changes cities and towns throughout the southwest should pursue. Agriculture, which uses more that 75% of the state’s water supply, must also become more conservation-oriented.

Water-hungry crops, like rice and perhaps even cotton, may need to be phased out. More use should be made of drip irrigation, which is employed extensively in other dry climates such as Israel. A greater emphasis on California’s unique advantages for specialty crops like nuts, green vegetables and fruits inherently makes more sense than growing water-hungry crops in competition with more water-rich locales.

But unless Brown can fashion a compromise, the drought will continue to serve as propaganda fodder for the climate change community while promoting the demise of yet another basic industry, joining fossil fuel energy and, increasingly, manufacturing. This assault on tangible industries  devastates scores of poorer, less media-savvy communities. The social results of such an approach is already apparent in the state: the highest poverty rate in the nation and one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients. It may seem moral to link this drought to warming for the sophisticates who control California, but from here, the whole approach seems pretty cold indeed.

This story originally appeared at

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.

Los Angeles aqueduct photo by

Will London Embrace the Monaco Model?

Fri, 03/07/2014 - 22:38

London’s goal — admirable for any city of medieval invention — is to drive the private car underground and replace it with a web of mass transit, suburban trains, bike lanes, taxi stands, and walkways. All of those are well calibrated to an urban grid that consists of mews, squares, and quirky side streets with names like Shoulder of Mutton Alley.

Despite the winds and rains, I recently pedaled all over London and came to the conclusion that it has an excellent chance to get past the automobile era. It could be Europe’s city of tomorrow, one that moves forward with its work/life balance on a human scale. Its future as Europe’s finance center, though, and its real estate forecast, as well as the outlook for its pubs, remain open questions.

I enrolled in Mayor Boris Johnson’s shared bikes — it took a few credit card swipes — and headed off to the City, London's financial district, which lies north of London Bridge.

Will London remain one of the world's top finance centers? The continuing economic crisis, the threat of the U.K. pulling out of the European Union, Scottish independence, and strict new regulations could all spell doom for its merchant banking.

The City’s accommodating genius is that while it is as established as the House of Lords or the East India Company, it is, among other things, a go-go offshore financial center — the Cayman Islands with bowler hats.

Neither continental European nor American nor Asian, London straddles all three markets, funneling money from one part of the globe to another. By comparison, Frankfurt, Paris, Zurich, and Amsterdam are staid regional financial centers. Only New York can give it a run for its money.

At G8 meetings Prime Minister David Cameron bemoans corporate-shell tax dodging and come-by-chance balance sheets, but when he gets home he might as well don a visor and leather sleeves. London is a casino cashing in the chips of a capital-intensive world.

During the Crimean crisis, London has been all for economic sanctions, provided, however, that they don't hurt the City, where Russian oligarchs still get their phone calls returned.

While I was there, London experienced its wettest January since 1670. But one of the city's virtues is that it copes well with bad weather. Houses and hotels are short walks to shops and trains. In most London neighborhoods you will pass many restaurants, drug stores, newsstands, and pocket supermarkets. On television, England was sinking; in London, it was business as usual.

The pleasure of London on a bike is that its very quickly reduced to an overlapping series of small towns, with such well known names as Chelsea, Fulham, Soho, Sloane Square, Lancaster Gate, and Hampstead Heath.

Fewer pubs were in evidence. I read later that about 1400 have been closing every year around England, victim to archaic licensing laws and restrictive franchising, not to mention the iPhone culture that does not cozy up with a pint to dank interiors with ersatz slot machines and pinball games. Industrial Britain has become a service economy, and the servers prefer bistros, bars, and Pret A Manger.

A downside to London is that the world’s happy money has made its property market an international savings bank, where apartments routinely sell for $6 million and some hotels (not mine) cost $700 a night.

Nevertheless, the excellent Tube, buses, commuter trains, and Boris bikes make it easier to stay in less fashionable quarters and connect to the bright lights. London has spent billions on upgrading its railroad stations, which soon will be the iron standard in Europe. By contrast, Moscow is choking on its gridlocked exhaust fumes, Paris prefers tourism to trade, and Berlin still has a hole in its heart.

When I lived in London in the 1970s, King’s Cross had the air of New York’s Port Authority bus terminal, and St. Pancras appeared only to offer connecting service to The Slough of Despond. The renovated St. Pancras International, where Eurostars depart for Paris, Brussels, Lille, and Avignon, is alive with spoken French, fresh croissants, trendy restaurants, and a five-star hotel. With a soaring glass interior, King's Cross could be an Asian airline terminal.

The East End and Canary Wharf still feel like warehouse districts, although now the only cargoes are winking screens in trading rooms. Nevertheless, it is easy to imagine in the next fifty years a second London growing up around the Thames docklands. It has the infrastructure in place — trains, an airport, businesses, nearby housing stock, and open spaces — to support a major city, one part Venice with canals, another part Shanghai with skyscrapers.

The risks to London’s future are political. Insular Tories could lead Britain out of the European Union, the British pound could become a second-tier currency, and the city’s cost structures could make it only an amusement park for Russian oligarchs and Arab sheiks, not the working or middle classes. Call it the Monaco Model.

Still, I would bet on London’s sustainability at all levels of a city’s food chain… if only because it is so eccentrically welcoming to bikes, banks, brokers, and bookstores.

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.

Photo of King's Cross by Matthew Stevenson

High Tech Leaves NYC Behind

Thu, 03/06/2014 - 22:38

Is New York City ready to contest in high-tech against Silicon Valley? Fuggedaboutit.

Gotham is so far behind in every conceivable measurement — from engineering prowess to employment and venture funding — that even the idea is somewhat ludicrous.

While Madison Alley has marketed the city’s tech prowess before, going back to when owners of lower Manhattan real estate promoted “Silicon Alley,” the action has been elsewhere.

And while some urban boosters such as Richard Florida and Bruce Katz predict that new tech centers will not be the traditional suburban nerdistans, but instead the dense places where “smart” people cluster, there’s reason to be skeptical.

To some extent, their ideas do apply in San Francisco, though mostly because of its proximity to the people and, more importantly, the venture capital in nearby Silicon Valley. It may even apply to Seattle, where large tech companies like Microsoft and Amazon are based.

But most tech employment has continued to be concentrated in suburban locations. Even as the social media boomlet has created a few high-profile urban firms, core counties nationwide actually lost about 1.1% of their tech jobs over the last decade, while more peripheral areas gained 3.5%.

Despite a few modest successes, New York has not produced any business that approaches the top five firms of social media. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google and LinkedIn are all based in the Valley or its urban satellite city, San Francisco.

Crucially, New York remains a laggard in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (or STEM) employment, with slightly fewer tech jobs per capita than the national average, or a third as many as Silicon Valley.

And it’s not only the Bay that New York is behind — it also trails less hyped locales such as San Diego, Raleigh, Portland, Seattle, Houston and Dallas.

New York’s most glaring weakness is a lack of engineering talent. Behind venture capital, the greatest asset of Silicon Valley is its huge proportion of engineers, roughly 45 out of every 1,000 workers. Other high concentrations can be found in such varied burgs as San Diego, Boston, Houston and Denver.

While the coming Cornell Technion may start to change that dynamic, Gotham has a long way to climb. Right now its concentration is 78th out of 85 metros — just behind Omaha.

And it’s been headed in the wrong direction. Between 2001 and 2011, the New York area ranked a dismal 44th out of 52 metropolitan areas in tech growth, losing a net 84,000 jobs.

Even as things picked up after 2009 with the social-media boom, tech employment here expanded about one-tenth as quickly as in Silicon Valley, as well as Columbus, Salt Lake City and Raleigh. Growth in Seattle was eight times faster.

Without deep engineering talent, regions have a difficult time adjusting to technological changes that periodically reshape the high-tech industry. Silicon Valley is already beginning to move beyond social media; Google and Apple are focused increasingly on building their own pipes to move their content, and expanding into other promising tech fields from household appliances, electric cars and robotics to space exploration. New York simply does not have the engineering heft to make this transition.

Inevitably, the social media boomlet, like the previous dotcom version, will slow, as companies merge and start moving operations to less expensive areas such as Salt Lake City, Denver, Austin and even Columbus, Ohio. Urban tech firms, particularly in media-drenched places like New York, nearly collapsed when the last bubble burst, with Silicon Alley hemorrhaging 15,000 of its 50,000 information jobs between 2000 and 2005.

What’s more, the new tech oligarchs are gaining at the expense of New York’s traditional media industries and their elites. Since 2001, the book publishing industry, dominated by New York, has contracted nationally by 17,000 jobs. Newspapers lost 190,000 positions and magazines 50,000 in that same span. But internet publishing, dominated by the Bay Area, expanded by 77,000 jobs.

Given the cultural tepidness of Silicon Valley, the oligarchs may still exploit talent in places like New York or LA, where artists concentrate. But while New Yorkers talk a good game, money, power and control are shifting away, perhaps permanently, to the left coast.

This story originally appeared at the New York Daily News.

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 by Mike Lee

Urban Planning 101

Wed, 03/05/2014 - 22:38

Former World Bank principal planner Alain Bertaud has performed an important service that should provide a much needed midcourse correction to urban planning around the world. Bertaud returns to the fundamentals in his "Cities as Labor Markets."

Bertaud begins by reminding us that without well functioning labor markets, cities will not be successful. This requires mobility, which he defines as "the ability to move quickly and easily between locations within a metropolitan area" and "the ability to locate one’s house or one’s firm in any location within a metropolitan area." This mobility, he maintains, is indispensable in facilitating growth of the city.

There is just one exception, according to Bertaud. These are retiree cities, which do not principally rely on mobility for their growth. Yet, Bertaud notes that these are themselves products of the much more numerous conventional cities, where mobility has facilitated growth and in which future retirees accumulate the resources that permit migration to the retirement cities.

There are also the planned cities for government, such as Brasilia and Washington. Bertaud contends that they have become successful because "more diversified labor market "was grafted " onto the government activities."Before that, however: "The ‘cost is no object’ concept presided over their construction and insured their initial survival as they were financed by taxes paid by the rest of the country." This should give pause to nations, especially in the developing world proposing to build and thereby divert resources from improving the lives of people (see;  Unmanageable Jakarta Soon to Lose National Capital?).

Imaginary "Urban Villages"

Bertaud insists on the importance of cities as unified labor markets. Metropolitan areas will be hampered in their development and innovation to the extent that they are fragmented.

He is particularly critical of planning attempts to create "urban villages" within the unified labor markets (metropolitan areas). He contends that: "The urban village model” implies a systematic fragmentation of labor markets within a large metropolis and does not make economic sense in the real world."

Bertaud does not accept the notion that:

"... everybody could walk or bicycle to work, even in a very large metropolis. To allow a city to grow, it would only be necessary to add more clusters. The assumption behind this model is either that urban planners would be able to perfectly match work places and residences, or that workers and employers would spontaneously organize themselves into the appropriate clusters."

He is concerned at the "prevalence of this conceit in many urban master plans," which he characterizes as "utopian trip patterns."

According to Bertaud, the urban village "model does not exist in the real world because it contradicts the economic justification of large cities: the efficiency of large labor markets." The cold water of reality is that "... the urban village model exists only in the mind of urban planners."

Uncontained Self-Contained Satellite Towns

He supports his claim. Seoul's satellite communities were intended to be self contained towns (urban villages), in which most residents both lived and worked. Yet, most of the workers employed in the satellite towns live in other parts of the metropolitan area. At the same time, most of the residents of the satellite  work in other parts of the Seoul metropolitan area. He cites Stockholm regulations requiring neighborhood jobs – housing balances as having no impact on shortening commute distances even when such a balance is achieved.

My own research using 2001 census data indicated that the London area new towns, also intended to be populated principally by people who work in them, had average work trip travel distances more than their diameter (See: Jobs-Housing Balance and Urban Villages in Southeast England). This means that large numbers of people were traveling to work outside the towns. In London as in Seoul, the planners can conceptualize the self-contained satellite towns, but it is beyond them to force the behaviors to make them work.

Similarly misguided efforts elsewhere, from the San Francisco Bay Area and other California metropolitan areas to Montréal and beyond are destined for similar failures.

Commuting and the City

Bertaud cites research by Remy Prud'homme and ChoonWong Lee at the University of Paris showing that the efficiency of cities tends to increase up so long as a large share of the commutes are less than 60 minutes, though optimal efficiency occurs at shorter commute distances. Lest there be any misunderstanding, American cities have average commute times of approximately 25 minutes, according the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, not the hour or two hour journeys of urban legends.

Defining the City

This large commuting radius makes it clear that Bertaud does not accept the distorted urban definition that would, for example, define the urban form to not extend beyond the borders of New York City, or worse beyond the Hudson, East and Harlem Rivers – the boundaries of the island of Manhattan. If the city is limited to dense cores, then the "half urban" world recently announced won't be here for many decades. The city is the metropolitan area – the labor market, which extends to the far reaches of the commuting shed.

The Bottom Line

According to Bertaud, 

"Increasing mobility and affordability are the two main objectives of urban planning. These two objectives are directly related to the overall goal of maximizing the size of a city’s labor market, and therefore, its economic prosperity." 

That brings us back to first principles. Cities are about people. Planning is justified to the extent that it facilitates the aspirations of people. The city requires prosperity, which Bertaud shows in a much needed first installment of Urban Planning 101.

Wendell Cox is a Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris and the author of “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life.


Note: Alain Bertaud's "Cities as Labor Markets," was published by the Marron Institute on Cities and the Urban Environment at New York University and is intended to be a chapter in his forthcoming book, tentatively titled Order without Design.

The Evolution of Red and Blue America 1988-2012

Tue, 03/04/2014 - 22:38

David Jarman of Daily Kos Elections provides an excellent analysis of the absolute change in the Democratic and Republican vote for president from the 1988 through the 2012 elections, together with valuable tables and maps. The maps, tables, and narrative clearly demonstrate that, while the map looks mostly red as if Republicans were the big winners, the reality is that the Democrats were the beneficiaries of vastly more added votes, because of Democrats’ stupendous domination of the denser, bigger, metropolitan territory. For example, Los Angeles County by itself provided a Democratic gain of 1.2 MILLION, while the largest Republican gain was Utah county, Utah (Provo) with a paltry 90,000 gain. Republicans dominate the vast non-metropolitan expanses, Democrats the urban cores.

But the title of the piece, “Democrats are from cities, Republicans from exurbs”, is not quite right. Density is only one factor in elections; Democrats did quite well in much of exurbia as well as much of suburbia, relegating Republicans to rural, small city, non-metropolitan America. But the story is as much one of social change as of city versus country. Not only the big central cities, but their suburbs and even exurbs have evolved to house the more socially liberal population, with issues of race, women’s rights, and sexuality converting many middle and upper class to the Democratic side, even while rural small town America and much of the South remain socially conservative and supportive of Republicans.

This analysis extends Jarman’s findings by disaggregating the net change in the D and R vote by first looking at the degree of change in the Democratic share of the presidential vote from 1988 to 2012 and second by classifying by the change by such categories as:

  • increased R vote shares, 1,
  • declining R votes, 2,
  • shift to Democratic to Republican,3,
  • increased D vote shares, 4,
  • decreased D vote shares, 5,  and
  • 6, a shift from Republican to a Democratic majority

This permits a more subtle geographic evaluation of the evolution of Red and Blue America. I want to thank the Daily Kos Elections which generously provided the necessary data files. This analysis considers only the vote for president, as the story of votes for congress is complicated by gerrymandering and other issues.

Change in the Democratic vote by type of change (see Table 1)

Table 1: Net Change by Type of Change Number of Counties 2012 %D 1988 %D Change in D% 88-12 net change County Type (Code) 1411 30.8 39.8 -9 -4,605,125 1 Total 448 40.3 55.1 -14.5 -1,517,300 3 Total 108 55.8 57.2 -1.4 -62,214 5 Total -6,184,639 R gain 274 71.1 58 12.8 8,835,866 4 Total 313 59.7 42.9 16.4 8,917,699 6 Total 572 42.4 35.3 7.1 463,743 2 Total 18,217,308 D gain 12,032,669 Net D Gain

Almost half of all counties, 1411, experienced Democratic declines and net Republican gains, totaling  a  net change of 4,605,000, with the Democratic share dropping nine points from 39.8% to 30.8%.  Next in importance for Republicans was the gain of 1,517,000 votes in 448 counties taken from the Democratic column in 1988, with a decline in the Democratic share from 55.1% to 40.3%, a big drop of 14.8 points.  Finally a smaller number of counties, 108, remained Democratic but with a declining share (type 5), giving Republicans a small net gain of 62,000. These Republican gains totaled 6,184,000 and look impressive on a US map.

But what the Democrats lose in vast America, they make up in the crowded parts. Although their increased shares took place in only 274 counties, the gains were populous enough to provide the Democrats with a massive gain of 8,836,000 total votes. The D share rose an impressive 12.5 points from 58.8% to 71.1%. (This exceeds even the R share in the R gaining counties). But even this big number was exceeded by the gain of 8,918,000 in the again fairly small number of counties which switched from Republican to Democratic, with a change in share up 16.4 points from 46.1% D to 59.3%. Finally the Democrats gained a net 464,000 votes in 572 counties carried by Republicans but by a lesser margin than in 1988, with the D share rising from 35.3% to 42.4%.  Overall the net Republican gains of 6,184,000 were surpassed by Democratic gains of 18,717,000 for a net D growth of 12,032,000, a rise in the D share of 5.9 points from 46.1% in 1988 to 52.6% in 2012.

Change By State

A short look at the state level is interesting (Table 2).  Sixteen states became even more Republican, with a net gain of 2,681,000.  Most important in total numbers is the southwestern set of  TX, OK, LA, and AR (1,143,000), then the northern mountain states of UT,ID, WY, and MT (477,000), followed by the Great Plains states of ND,SD, NE, KS, and MO (376,000), and the Appalachian set of TN  and KY (488,000). To the latter should be added West Virginia, 210,000, the only state which switched from Democratic to Republican and an apt example of the non-big-metropolitan and ideological shift in the US electorate.  Only one state, Iowa, experienced a small Democratic decline.

Nine states became even more Democratic, but sixteen switched from Republican to Democratic, and thus spurring the major numeric and geographic manifestation of the 1988-2012 realignment, a total of 15,342,000.  Combining the Democratic states into subregions reveals the overwhelming importance of greater northeastern Megalopolis, yielding a net vote gain of 5,660,000 and of the “Left Coast” with 4,115,000, both dwarfing the total Republican gains. And the gains in the Great Lakes of 2,740,000, northern New England of 443,000, and the southern Mountain states of 431,000 were significant. Finally the major change in the South Atlantic region is notable, with a gain of 1,383,000 in SC, NC, GA, and FL, even though all but Florida remained Republican. At the individual state level California is dominant, 3,367,000, followed by NY-NJ. For Republicans Texas dominated with 578,000 followed by much smaller Utah with 268,000.

County level

The first two maps are the traditional red and blue (sort  of) choropleth maps, showing in Map 1 change in the share voting Democratic and in Map 2, the type of change. Map 3 depicts via graduated circles the absolute net change by counties, like the similar map in the Jarman article.

Percent change in the Democratic and Republican shares, 1988-2012, Map 1

Somewhat over half the territory of the US experienced Republican gains, in red shadings, but on average, the populations of the counties are smaller than for the Democratic counties in the blue shades. The dominant swath of red in the center third of the country from TX and LA north through the Dakotas and MN is impressive, but also prominent is the extension across the border south from MO and southern IL to KY, WV and into western PA, and then the northwestern extension to the mountain west, as far as the Cascade range. The most extreme Republican gains were in the two cores of southern Appalachia and eastern TX and OK into LA, plus UT. Most are non-metropolitan. A few most extreme R gains were in Knott, KY, 50%, Cameron, LA, 45, Mingo and Logan, WV, 44 and 43, and Kent, TX, 43%.

Democratic gains were far more concentrated: in the northeast, in the urban Great Lakes, in much of FL, in the Black Belt of the south, in the metropolitan Left Coast, and in the southern mountain states. The highest gains were in central and suburban-exurban counties in the northeast, the west coast, and Great Lakes, and also in non-metropolitan northern New England. Lower Democratic gains were common beyond the big metropolitan cores or on the edges of the Black Belt in the south.  A few of the more extreme Democratic increases were in Clayton, GA, 51%, Rockdale, GA, 33, both suburban Atlanta, Osceola, FL, 31, Prince George, MD, 30, and Hinds, MS (Jackson), 28%. 

Kind of change, 1988-2012, Map 2

The 1411 counties becoming even more Republican (type 1) certainly dominate the interior Plains from Canada to the Gulf and the interior, mainly non-metropolitan far northwest. There are a few counties (typically university counties) in this heartland with counties still red, but less so in 2012. The dominant areas for Republican decline (type 2) are found in the Great Lakes states, in the non-metropolitan, often exurban edges of Megalopolis (NY, PA, NJ, MD, VA). Other areas of Republican decline include rural areas in the interior west, especially areas with environmental attractions and/or increasing Latino populations, and even in parts of the traditional south, such as MS, FL, SC,NC, and VA.

Most notable are such long term Republican strongholds as Orange, CA, Duval (Jacksonville), FL, and Maricopa, (Phoenix).  Counties which switched from Democratic to Republican (type 3) are first and most impressively in Appalachia from western PA, then including most of WV, and into western VA, central TN into northern AL, second in the TX-OK-AR-LA zone, almost totally non-metropolitan.

Areas of Democratic gains, type 4, darkest blue, require a close look at the map, as they are mainly the metropolitan cores, most notably Los Angeles, Cook, King (Seattle), much of the New York SMSA, San Francisco-Oakland, Detroit, and Philadelphia. However there are also many majority-minority counties: in the Black Belt across the south, in a few Hispanic areas along the Rio Grande, and Native American areas across the west. Highest Democratic share gains were in metropolitan CA,  FL, in exurban New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Chicago, northern New England and select amenity areas, popular with metropolitan migrants, even in WY and ID!

Democratic voter share declined (type 5) in  some urban cores, like Allegheny (Pittsburgh), but the most prominent areas are in farming and forestry  areas in the upper Midwest (IA, WI, MN, often adjacent to counties which switched from D to R), and traditionally D forest industry counties in OR and WA. Especially interesting are the counties switching from Republican to Democratic, type 6, most critical to understanding the connection to social liberalism. The most prominent area is northern New England and NY, and extending through Megalopolis snatching a large number of very populous suburban and EXURBAN counties (MA, CT, NY, NJ, MD, VA, PA).

A second large swath in territory and population is in CA, switching major metropolitan-suburban counties, and also increasingly Hispanic counties to the D column. This switching of suburban and exurban counties was also prevalent in CO, OR, WA, IL, and MI, as well as in parts of the south, e.g., FL and NC. Less visible is the shift of many university counties in most parts of the country. Last and increasingly important is the shift of rural environmentally attractive areas, mostly across the west, but also in the south Atlantic, upper New England and the upper Great Lakes, in part due to retirement of urban professionals. Some of the most important switches were Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Sacramento in CA; Miami and Orlando, FL; Oakland, MI; Suffolk, Bergen and Westchester (all exurban New York); Mecklenburg (Charlotte); and Marion, IN (Indianapolis).

Absolute change in the D and R vote, 1988-2012, Map 3

Map 3 plots the absolute size variation in the Democratic versus Republican change, via a simple blue versus red, to assist the reader in properly interpreting Maps 1 and 2. The map highlights the tremendous concentration of Democratic gains in the northeastern Megalopolis, metropolitan California, the big cities of the Great Lakes, and Florida, versus the much more widespread pattern  of Republican gains, extensive in area but small in voter magnitude across the Plains, Mountain states, and most notably, Appalachia .

Overall, what emerges is a picture far more subtle than simply cities versus exurbs. The bad news for Republicans is that most of their gains occur in rural areas with little population while the Democrats have consolidated their increases in more populous urban, suburban, and in some places exurban areas. Whether these trends spell the death knell for the GOP in the post-Obama period may turn on how they learn to appeal to the next generation of suburban and exurban voters – many of them Hispanic or Asian – as they enter their 30s, buy houses and start businesses. Economic issues could help here, but an emphasis on social issues, or simple anti-tax dogmatism could spell the GOP’s descent into permanent minority status.

Table 2: Greatest Changes by State State 2012% 1988% % Change Code Net change (000) TX 42 43.7 -1.7 1 -578 UT 25.4 32.6 -7.2 1 -268 KY 36 44.7 -8.7 1 -254 OK 33.3 41.6 -8.3 1 -253 TN 39.5 41.8 -2.3 1 -234 WV 36.3 52.4 -16.1 3 -210 WY 28.6 39.5 -10.9 1 -62 DE 59.6 43.5 16.1 4 114 VT 68.2 48.3 19.9 6 115 NV 53.3 39.2 14.1 6 141 NH 52.9 37.7 15.2 6 157 ME 57.8 44.3 13.5 6 171 WA 58.2 50.8 7.4 4 435 MA 61.7 54 7.7 4 516 VA 51.9 39.7 12.2 6 598 OH 51.5 43.9 7.6 6 643 MI 54.8 46 8.8 6 739 MD 62.6 48.5 14.1 6 756 IL 58.6 49 9.6 6 979 FL 50.4 38.8 11.6 6 1,036 NJ 59 43.1 15.9 6 1,068 NY 66.2 52.1 14.1 4 1,720 CA 61.9 45.2 16.7 4 3,367

Richard Morrill is Professor Emeritus of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Washington. His research interests include: political geography (voting behavior, redistricting, local governance), population/demography/settlement/migration, urban geography and planning, urban transportation (i.e., old fashioned generalist).

Energy Running Out of California

Tue, 03/04/2014 - 07:54

The recent decision by Occidental Petroleum to move its headquarters to Houston from Los Angeles, where it was founded over a half-century ago, confirms the futility and delusion embodied in California's ultragreen energy policies. By embracing solar and wind as preferred sources of generating power, the state promotes an ever-widening gap between its declining middle- and working-class populations and a smaller, self-satisfied group of environmental campaigners and their corporate backers.

Talk to people who work in the fossil-fuel industry, and they tell you they feel ostracized and even hated; to be an oil firm in California is like being a pork producer in an ultra-Orthodox section of Jerusalem. One top industry executive told me that many of his colleagues in California cringe at the prospect of being attacked by politicians and activists as something akin to war criminals. “I wouldn't subject my kids to that environment,” the Gulf Coast-based oilman suggested.

What matters here is not the hurt feelings of energy executives, but a massive lost opportunity to create loads of desperately needed jobs, particularly for blue-collar workers. The nation may be undergoing a massive “energy revolution,” based largely on new supplies of oil and, particularly, cleaner natural gas, but California so far has decided not to play.

In all but forcing out fossil-fuel firms, California is shedding one of its historic core industries. Not long ago, California was home to a host of top 10 energy firms – ARCO, Getty Oil, Union Oil, Oxy and Chevron; in 1970, oil firms constituted the five largest industrial companies in the state. Now, only Chevron, which has been reducing its headcount in Northern California and is clearly shifting its emphasis to Texas, will remain.

These are losses that California can not easily absorb. Despite all the hype about the ill-defined “green jobs” sector, the real growth engine remains fossil fuels, which have added a half-million jobs in the past five years. If you don't believe it, just take a trip to Houston, where Occidental is moving. Houston now has more new office construction, some 9 million square feet, than any region in the country outside New York; Los Angeles barely has 1 million. Indeed, most of the office markets that have performed best in reducing vacancies since 2009 – Pittsburgh, Denver, Houston and Dallas – are all, to some degree, driven by energy.

Everywhere you drive in Houston, now leading the nation in corporate expansions, one sees new office buildings. Last time I checked, I didn't see much in the way of a Solyndra, Fisker or other green-business headquarters being constructed anywhere in our Golden State. Energy is driving Houston's surge of some 50 new office buildings, led by ExxonMobil's campus, the second-largest office complex under construction in the U.S. (after New York's Freedom Tower).

Chevron, once Standard Oil of California, has announced plans to construct a second tower for its downtown Houston campus, yet another signal of how that company is shifting emphasis from its roots in the Golden State to the Lone Star State. Relocating employees will have many people with whom to reminisce about old times; both Fluor and Calpine, major energy-related firms, have already made the Texas two-step.

California clearly is squandering an opportunity to restart a large part of its economy. Texas energy has created some 200,000 new jobs over the past decade, while California has barely mustered 20,000. These energy jobs pay well, roughly $20,000 a year more than those in the information sector, according to EMSI. In 2011, this sector accounted for nearly 10 percent of all new jobs created in the nation. This has transformed much of the vast energy zone, from the Gulf to North Dakota. Houston, despite strong in-migration, now boasts an unemployment rate of 5.5 percent, almost four points below the jobless rate in Los Angeles.

What about “green jobs”? Overall, California leads in green jobs, simply by dint of size; but on a per-capita basis, notes a recent Brookings study, California is about average. In wind energy, in fact, California is not even in first place; that honor goes to, of all places, Texas, which boasts twice California's level of production.

Ironically, one reason for this mediocre performance lies in environmental regulationsthat make California a tough place even for renewables. Even the New York Times has described Gov. Jerry Brown's promise about creating a half-million new jobs as something of a “pipe dream.” Even though surviving solar firms are busy, in part to meet the state's strict renewable mandates, solar firms acknowledge that they won't be doing much of the manufacturing here, anyway.

The would-be visionaries who manage the state are selling Californians a lot of pixie dust. Barely 700,000 Americans work in green energy, including building retrofits, compared with 9 million in fossil fuels. Nationwide employment in solar and wind, meanwhile, is well under 200,000. Overall, officials with fossil-fuel-related companies predict 1.4 million jobs in the sector by 2030.

This predicament can't be blamed on California running out of oil and gas; some estimates of the state's oil and gas reserves as considerably larger than those of Texas. The Monterey Shale, located under the state's economically struggling midsection, holds, according to federal Energy Department estimates, almost two-thirds of the nation's total supply of shale oil. Tapping this source, notes a recent USC study, could bring as many as 500,000 new jobs to the state over the balance of this decade.

Despite a bounty of fossil fuels, including along the coast, California's oil production has continued to drop, and now ranks third among the states, behind No. 1 Texas, which has doubled its oil output in less than three years, and once-insignificant North Dakota. Californians have made a decision, based on green theology, that we don't want to produce much of the stuff.

Ordinary Californians bear the brunt of these policies, paying almost 40 percent above the national average for electricity. Rather than produce energy here, we appear set to import much of the oil and gas that, according to the state, still feeds well over 90 percent of California's energy consumption.

Particularly hard-hit has been California's once-vibrant manufacturing sector, which has not mounted anything like the recovery being experienced in other parts of the country. From 2010-13, the country added 510,000 jobs, while California produced fewer than 8,000. Electricity prices are particularly uncompetitive, roughly twice as high in California, as those in prime competitors such Texas, Nevada, Arizona – as well as the hydro-powered Pacific Northwest.

This has – discouraged manufacturers, such as Intel, from locating or expanding in the state. No surprise, then, that, just last week, it was revealed that the Lone Star State had also surpassed California in exports of high-tech goods.

The worst impact of this deindustrialization is felt by blue-collar California. Even San Jose, the Central Valley's traditional manufacturing hub, looks, as analyst Jim Russell suggests, more and more like a “rust-belt town.” Worse off still are the venerable agricultural and manufacturing regions, from the Central Valley to Los Angeles, where one person in five now lives in poverty. California's green energy fixations, notes economist John Husing, are widening an ever-growing chasm based on “geography, class and race.”

Despite these conditions, it's hard to imagine a reversal of our current energy costs. The grip of green interests and their corporate allies in places like Silicon Valley suggests Californians will continue to endure ever-higher energy prices, lagging construction and manufacturing as a regular feature of the economy. This may make the green clerisy in the state happy, but is likely to have the opposite effect on the rest of us and on our economy as it becomes ever more narrowly based and fragile.

This story originally appeared at 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.

Oil well photo by

Forget What the Pundits Tell You, Coastal Cities are Old News - it’s the Sunbelt that’s Booming

Sat, 03/01/2014 - 09:39

Ever since the Great Recession ripped through the economies of the Sunbelt, America’s coastal pundit class has been giddily predicting its demise. Strangled by high-energy prices, cooked by global warming, rejected by a new generation of urban-centric millennials, this vast southern region was doomed to become, in the words of the Atlantic, where the “American dream” has gone to die. If the doomsayers are right, Americans must be the ultimate masochists. After a brief hiatus, people seem to, once again, be streaming towards the expanse of warm-weather states extending from the southeastern seaboard to Phoenix.

Since 2010, according to an American Community Survey by demographer Wendell Cox, over one million people have moved to the Sunbelt, mostly from the Northeast and Midwest.

Any guesses for the states that have gained the most domestic migrants since 2010? The Sunbelt dominates the top three: Texas, Florida and Arizona. And who’s losing the most people? Generally the states dearest to the current ruling class: New York, Illinois, California and New Jersey.  Some assert this reflects the loss of poorer, working class folks to these areas while the “smart” types continue to move to the big cities of Northeast and California. Yet, according to American Community Survey Data for 2007 to 2011, the biggest gainers of college graduates, according to Cox, have been Texas, Arizona and Floria; the biggest losers are in the Northeast  (New York), the Midwest (Illinois and Michigan).

For the most part, notes demographer Cox, this is not a movement to Tombstone or Mayberry, although many small towns in the south are doing well, this is a movement to Sunbelt cities. Indeed, of the ten fastest growing big metros areas in America in 2012, nine were in the Sunbelt. These included not only the big four Texas cities—Austin, Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth, San Antonio—but also Orlando, Raleigh, Phoenix, and Charlotte.

Perhaps the biggest sign of a Sunbelt turnaround is the resurgence of Phoenix, a region devastated by the housing bust and widely regarded by contemporary urbanists as the “least sustainable” of American cities. The recovery of Phoenix, appropriately named the Valley of the Sun, is strong evidence that even the most impacted Sunbelt regions are on the way back. 

A look at the numbers on domestic migration undermines the claim that most Americans prefer, like the pundit class, to live in and near the dense Northeastern urban cores. People simply continue to vote with their feet. Since 2000, more than 300,000 people have moved to Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, and Charlotte; in contrast a net over two million left New York and 1.4 million have deserted the LA area while over 600,000 net departed Chicago and almost as many left the San Francisco Bay region. These trends were slowed, but not reversed, by the Great Recession.

The Sunbelt’s recovery seems likely to continue in the future. Immigrants, who account for a rising proportion of our population growth, are increasingly heading there. New York remains the immigrant leader, with the foreign-born population increasing by 600,000 since 2000 but second place Houston, a relative newcomer for immigrants, gained 400,000, more than Chicago and the Bay Area combined. The regions experiencing the highest rate of newcomers were largely in the south; Charlotte and Nashville saw their foreign-born populations double as immigrants increasingly beat a path to the Sunbelt cities.

The final demographic coup for the Sunbelt lies in its attraction for families. Eight of the eleven top fastest growing populations under 14, notes Cox, are found in the Sunbelt with New Orleans leading the pack. Generally speaking, roughly twenty percent or more of the population of Sunbelt metros are under 14, far above the levels seen in the rustbelt, the Left Coast, or in the Northeast.

This all suggests that the Sunbelt is cementing, not losing, its grip on America’s demographic future. By 2012 and 2017, according to a survey by the manufacturing company Pitney Bowes nine of the ten leading regions in terms of household growth will be in the Sunbelt.

If the population growth rates predicted by the US Conference of Mayors continue, Dallas-Ft. Worth will push Chicago out of third place among American metropolitan areas in 2043, with Houston passing the Windy City eight years later. Now seventh place Atlanta would move up to sixth place and Phoenix to 8th. Of America’s largest cities then, five would be located in the Sunbelt, and all are expected to grow much faster than New York, Los Angeles or the San Francisco area. Overall, the South would account for over half the growth in our major metropolitan areas in 2042, compared to barely 3.6 percent for the Northeast and 8.7 percent in the Midwest.

What drives the change? Not just the sun, but the economy, stupidos!

From the beginning of the Sunbelt ascendency, sunshine and warm weather have been important lures and this may even be more true in the near future. But the key forces driving people to the Sunbelt are largely economic—notably job creation, lower housing prices and lower costs relative to incomes.

Until the housing bust, states like Arizona, Nevada and Florida were typically among the leaders in creating new jobs but their performance fell off with the decline of construction. But other Sunbelt locales, notably Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma have picked up much of the slack. This resurgence has been centered in Texas, which created nearly a million new jobs between 2007 and 2013. In contrast, arch-rival California has lost a half a million.

Many other Sunbelt states have yet to recover jobs lost from the recession, but most of their big metros have shown strong signs of recovery. Since 2007 five of the seven fastest growing jobs markets among the twenty largest cities were in Sunbelt states. Looking forward, recent estimates of job growth between 2013 and 2017, according to Forbes and Moody’s project employment to grow fastest in Arizona, followed by Texas. Also among the top ten are several states hit hard by the Recession, notably Florida, Georgia and Nevada. No Northeastern state appeared anywhere on the list; nor did California.

For all its shortcomings, including what some may consider the overuse of tax breaks and incentives, the much-dissed Sunbelt development model continues to reap some significant gains. The area’s history of lagging economically has long spurred Sunbelt economic developers to utilize a policy of light regulation, low taxes and lack of unions to lure businesses to their area. Sunbelt states—Texas, Florida, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Arizona—dominate the ranks of the most business friendly states in the union, notes Chief Executive magazine, findings they often cite when courting footloose businesses.

The clear economic capital of the Sunbelt is now Houston, with some stiff competition from Dallas-Ft. Worth. Houston, the energy capital, now ranks second only to New York in new office construction and is the overall number one for corporate expansions. There are fifty new office buildings going up in the city, including Exxon Mobil’s campus, the country’s second largest office complex under construction (after New York’s Freedom Tower). Chevron, once Standard Oil of California, has announced plans to construct a second tower for its downtown Houston campus while Occidental Petroleum, founded more than fifty years ago in Los Angeles, is moving its headquarters to Houston.

Houston’s ascendance epitomizes the shift in the geographic and economic center of the Sunbelt. The “original in the Xerox machine” for Sunbelt style growth, Los Angeles’ rise was powered by new industries like entertainment and aerospace and oil, ever expanding sprawl and a strong, tightly knit business elite. Pleasant weather and Hollywood glitz still inform the image of Los Angeles, but under a regime dominated by government employee unions, greens and developers of dense housing, it suffers unemployment almost four points higher than Houston . Nine million square feet of space is currently being built in Houston, compared to just over one million in Los Angeles-Orange which has more than twice the population. It is not in the rising Sunbelt but in places like Southern California, where jobs lag amidst high costs, that the American dream now seems most likely to die.

Movin’ on Up

In Houston particularly but throughout the Sunbelt, job growth critically is not tied to cheap labor, but to  industries like energy which pay roughly $20,000 more than those in the information sector. According to EMSI, a company that models labor market data, energy has  generated some 200,000 new jobs in Texas alone over the past decade. Although Houston is the primary beneficiary, the American energy boom is also sparking strong growth in other cities, notably Dallas-Ft. Worth, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City.

Once dependent on low-wage industries such as textiles and furniture, the energy boom is pacing a  Sunbelt move towards generally better paying heavy manufacturing. Texas and Louisiana already lead the nation in large new projects, many of them in petrochemicals and other oil-related production. Of the biggest non-energy investments, three of the top four, according to the Ernst and Young Investment Monitor, are in Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina, which are becoming the new heartland of American heavy manufacturing, notably in automobiles and steel. Since 2010, Birmingham, Houston, Nashville and Oklahoma city all have enjoyed double digit growth in high paying industrial jobs that used to be the near exclusive province of the Great Lakes, California and the Northeast.

The Sunbelt resurgence is important in part because it offers some hope to millions of Americans who may not have gone to Harvard or Stanford, but have work skills and ambition. The region’s growth in what might be called “middle skilled jobs” that pay $60,000 or above has been impressive.

It may come as a surprise to some, but the Sunbelt is also pulling ahead in high tech jobs. In a recent analysis of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) job growth for Forbes we found that out of out of the 52 largest regions, the four most rapid growers over the past decade were Austin, Raleigh, Houston and Nashville, with Jacksonville, Phoenix and Dallas also in the top fifteen. In contrast New York ranked #36th out of 52 and Los Angeles, a long-time tech superpower, now a mediocre #38.

In another example of how much things are changing, when college students in the South now graduate, noted a recent University of Alabama study, they do go to the “big city” but their top four choices outside the state are in the Sunbelt—Atlanta, Houston,  Nashville, Tenn., and Dallas—and followed then by New York. The biggest net gains in people with BAs and higher are primarily in the sunbelt, led by Phoenix,   Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Austin, Houston and San Antonio; the biggest losers, according to Cox’s calculations, have been New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and, surprisingly given its reputation, Boston.

These trends may become more pronounced as the current millennial generation starts settling down into family life. Housing costs could prove a decisive factor. In terms of the median multiple, median housing cost as share of median household income, Sunbelt cities tend to be about half as expensive as New York, Boston or Los Angeles, and one third of the Bay Area.  

To be sure, many of the “best and brightest” will continue to flock to New York, the Bay Area or Los Angeles, but many more—particularly those without Ivy degrees or wealthy parents—may migrate to those places where their paycheck stretches the furthest. The Sunbelt, with its job growth, strong middle class wages and lows housing costs, is a good bet for the future.  

What will the future bring?

Prosperity, Herodotus reminded us, “never abides long in one place.” Certainly the Sunbelt economy could lose its current momentum but fortunately, having been schooled by the housing bust, many Sunbelt communities are increasingly focused on improving their basic economy—jobs, income growth, and skills-based education. Tennessee and Louisiana, for example, have led the way on expanding working training, and some of most ambitious education reform is taking place in New Orleans and Houston.

Yet, there are many threats to continued growth, both internal and external. Given his penchant for executive orders and his close ties to wealthy green donors, President Obama could take steps—for example clamping down on fossil fuel development—that could reverse the steady growth along the Gulf Coast. Any draconian shift on climate change policies would be most detrimental to the energy sector Sunbelt states.

But President Obama will not be in office forever. In the long run, the biggest threat to the Sunbelt ascendency is internal. Some fear that as more easterners and Californians flock to the area, they will bring with them a taste for the very regulatory and tax policies that have stifled growth in the states they left behind . Most worryingly, so called “smart growth” regulations could drive housing costs up, as occurred in Florida and several other states in the last decade, and erode some of the Sunbelt’s competitive advantage.

Perhaps the most immediate threat comes from the angry, reactionary elements on the right, who tend to be more powerful in the sunbelt than elsewhere. These groups, sometimes including the Tea Party, have taken   positions on issues like immigration and gay rights that local business leaders fear could deprive their regions of energetic and often entrepreneurial newcomers. Equally important, the right’s anti-tax orthodoxy, although perhaps not as devastating as the huge burdens placed on middle class individuals in the North and California, could delay critical outlays in transportation, parks and other essential infrastructure in regions that are growing rapidly. This is particularly true of education, a field in which most Sunbelt cities, while gaining ground, remain below the national average.

Whatever one thinks of the motivations of the green clerisy, there are clearly environmental measures, particularly in the Sunbelt’s western regions, that these cities need to enact to protect future growth. This includes reducing the amount of concrete that creates “heat islands,” expanding parks, and shifting to more drought resistant plants.

Fortunately, many leaders throughout the Sunbelt, particularly in its cities, are aware of these challenges, and are looking for ways to tackle them. This is driven not by the doomsday environmentalism common in California and Northeast, but grows instead out of a practical concern with stewarding critical resources and creating the right amenities to foster continued growth.

Combined with basics like lower housing costs and taxes, it’s a common optimism about the future that really underlies the resurgence now occurring from Phoenix to Tampa. The long-term shifts in American power and influence that have been underway since the 1950s have not been halted by the housing bust. Disdained by urban aesthetes, hated by much of the punditry, and largely ignored except for their failings in the media, the Sunbelt seems likely to enjoy the last laugh when it comes to shaping the American future.

This story originally appeared at The Daily Beast.

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.

Houston skyline photo by Bigstock.

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"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."

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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

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