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Tracking America's 'Hidden Millennials'

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 22:38

When it comes to attracting the hip and cool, Southern California, long a cultural trendsetter, appears to be falling behind – at least in the view of the national media. Articles about where millennials are, or should be, going rarely mention anywhere in this region as a top choice.

Rather than hang out at the beach or enjoy poolside ambience, the conventional wisdom is that the millennial generation – those born after 1983 – would rather go anywhere else. Southern California is not on a list of the top 12 regions (although San Diego gets a mention) for millennials, published in the Huffington Post. Other “best” lists and similar compilations invariably highlight New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, Texas, Raleigh, N.C., and Boston, but rarely SoCal.

What numbers tell us

But sometimes, before succumbing to conventional wisdom, one has to look at the numbers. We examined the percentages of millennials – we took the ages 20-29 – and their growth in all 52 major U.S. metropolitan areas. To our surprise, Los Angeles-Orange County scored very high – No. 5 – with a 15.5 percent share. That’s well above the 14 percent total nationally. San Bernardino-Riverside, at 15 percent, ranked ninth.

This research placed Southern California well ahead of such supposed youth magnets as Seattle, Boston, New York and San Francisco, whose population is actually under-represented in terms of millennials. Nor, despite the social media bubble, are things shifting to the denser “hip,” “cool” cities so widely celebrated in the media. In fact, with the exception of Seattle, the Los Angeles area’s rate of millennial growth far outstripped that of Austin, New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco.

Southern California turns out to be more of a youth magnet than one might think. In terms of millennials’ share of population growth, San Bernardino-Riverside ranked second of 52 metro areas, adding 50,000 millennials, an 8.3 percent increase since 2010. Los Angeles and Orange counties – older, settled areas with far lower population growth – together registered 18th, adding 90,000 twenty-somethings since 2010. That’s the most of any metropolitan area, including New York.

Reality and Perception

What accounts for this gap between perception and reality? One key factor lies with the media, which, outside Hollywood, has abandoned Southern California. Like many shrinking industries, news media is consolidating in a few strongholds – New York, Washington and, increasingly, San Francisco. Reporters from these cities tend to like (at least for now) dense, urban, transit-dependent places. Many of their friends do, too,rejecting “sprawling, car-dependent cities.” Like it or not, that sums up Southern California.

Yet, the common assertion that most millennials hate suburbs, cars and “sprawl” may be yet another urban myth promulgated by developers, planners and their handmaidens in the media. It turns out that the percentage of twenty-somethings nationally living in the denser core counties in 2013 is slightly lower than in 2010. The vast majority of millennials, roughly 70 percent, live well outside the core counties, and their numbers grew overall by three times as much over the past three years.

In fact, virtually all the densest core areas – New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston – lost millennials. Everybody’s favorite millennial destination, Portland, Ore., experienced the second-greatest loss of population ages 20-29 in its core county, surpassed only by St. Louis.

It appears that being part of a “sprawling area,” in fact, does not discourage millennial growth. The fastest-growing millennial regions – San Antonio, the Inland Empire, Orlando, Fla. – are all renowned for spreading out. Instead of living in high-density areas, these millennials reside in apartments and homes distant from the core; many, perhaps one in three, are still at their parents’ houses.

We refer to them as the “hidden millennials.” They are not the high-profile Brooklyn hipsters and their imitators nationally; nor are they attached to the social media oligarchy around San Francisco. They live far from the iPads of the reportorial class and the promotors of the “hip and cool” urban gospel. They are, for all intents and purposes, invisible in the minds of most media.

One last thing to keep in mind. Many of these hidden millennials are working-class and minorities. One possible explanation for Southern California’s millennial surge lies with large Hispanic communities, which for three decades have maintained a considerably higher birth rate than that of non-Hispanic whites. Nationally, Latinos constitute 20 percent of millennials, compared with 13 percent of U.S. residents over age 30. In Southern California, Latinos account for slightly over half of twenty-somethings and 37 percent of older cohorts.

Where do Southern California millennials Live?

The widely embraced “back to the city core” mantra attributed to millennials is partially true but definitely overstated, particularly in Southern California. To be sure, from 2000-10, Downtown Los Angeles gained more than 4,200 twenty-somethings, an impressive 25 percent increase. But these gains were essentially offset by losses of more than 17,000 in the areas bounded by the South Bay, Southeast L.A. County, West L.A. and the Santa Monica Mountains. As we have seen in many American regions, strong gains of millennials in the core have been counterbalanced by a loss of younger people in the surrounding areas.

In contrast, the big growth has occurred in places that are not usually associated with hip youth culture. The biggest percentage increases in millennial populations – far higher than for Downtown L.A. – have occurred in various Inland Empire communities, as well as Valencia, the Victor Valley, Irvine and Coachella. In actual numbers, the predominance of these outlying areas is overwhelming. Irvine’s and South Orange County’s gain of more than 19,000 millennials stands out, not to mention the Inland Empire’s gain of 95,000 or even the nearly 20,000 who have appeared in far-flung Valencia-Antelope Valley. Southwestern Riverside County (Temecula-Murrieta-Perris) gained nearly 50,000, the largest of any area subregion.

Overall, millennial growth in the urban core, with the exception of Downtown L.A., is very slow or even negative. It is also negligible in extra-expensive areas of the Westside and coastal Orange County; high rents and housing prices make these areas increasingly off-limits to all but the most well-heeled millennials. Policymakers, often obsessed with the urban core and its hipster denizens, need to recognize this varied millennial geography. Most of the next generation are not hanging out in cool Hollywood cafes but in malls in the outer periphery or in middle- and upper-middle-class, family-friendly enclaves such as Valencia or Irvine.

These millennials may be “hidden” but servicing their needs and desires deserves a far more concerted effort by policymakers. This means such things as looking to the periphery for expanding parks, cultural events and educational opportunities that may persuade these millennials to stay and help rebuild this region’s economy.

The demographic future of Southern California will not be determined primarily on Spring Street or Rodeo Drive but across, literally, hundreds of communities, often far-flung, where the bulk of our twenty-somethings reside.

This piece 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. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available for pre-order atAmazon and Telos Press. 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.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, a St. Louis public policy consultancy, and a former member of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission.

A Look at College Degree Migration

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 22:38

Net migration of people to or from metro areas is reported annually by the Census Bureau and widely discussed.  Less well known is that their American Community Survey (ACS) provides migration figures broken down by characteristics such as race, age, income, and educational attainment. This lets us drill into finer grained details about who is moving where.

Here is a map of net migration of people with a bachelor’s degree or higher, based on data from the 2007-2011 ACS, with blue indicating net migration gains and red net migration losses:

Net domestic migration of adults age 25+ with a bachelor’s degree or higher by metropolitan area. Source: 2007-2011 ACS with rollups and mapping via Telestrian

Unsurprisingly, this data correlates with overall net migration. For example, at first glance it might seem odd that a metro area like New York would be a net loser of people with college degrees. It lost a net of nearly 29,000 of them, highest net outflow in the country. But the New York metro as a whole lost almost two million people to domestic migration during the 2000s.  Given that, it would be surprising indeed if the region didn’t lose people with degrees. It’s similar for runners-up in the loss department Los Angeles (-11,000) and Chicago (-9,500).

The list of leaders is unsurprisingly headed by Austin, Texas (+9,500), Dallas (+9,200) and Phoenix (+9,200) and other population boomtowns. But there are some areas that punch above their weight versus overall migration, such as #5 Portland (+7000) and #9 Washington, DC (+5000). These cities are known as talent magnets and this data points in that direction. Their net in-migration is disproportionately highly educated.

I have rounded the numbers above because this data is based on samples with a margin of area. Keep in mind when reviewing the tables below with detailed statistics not to read into this a false degree of precision.

Regions like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago can take heart from the fact that they are still among the top destinations of in-migrants with college degrees.


Metro Area



New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA



Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV



Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA



San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA



Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI



Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX



Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA



Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH



Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX



Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ


Domestic In-Migration, Adults 25+ with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Source: 2007-2011 ACS with rollups and analysis via Telestrian

Unfortunately for them, even higher numbers of people left.


Metro Area



New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA



Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA



Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV



Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI



San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA



Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH



Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA



Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD



Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX



Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL


Domestic Out-Migration, Adults 25+ with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Source: 2007-2011 ACS with rollups and analysis via Telestrian

This in part reflects the status of America’s tier one cities as talent refineries. People move there after school when young, but then leave after they get older and have been upskilled by their experiences – and when their life priorities change.  We should expect cities like New York to have a lot of churn.

A place like New York can also take solace in the fact that its migration loss of the college degreed was better than for those with lesser educational attainment.  Metro New York has 37% college degree attainment, but college grads only accounted for 28% of net migration losses. This is good news from the standpoint of retaining highly educated people, but raises the question of why New York is not so attractive to those without degrees.

While each metro area has its own nuanced story to tell in migration, on the whole this report shows that the migration of the educated overall appears to be following that of the population as a whole. This means increasing numbers of people with college degrees moving to lower-cost Sunbelt boomtowns and other metros with rapidly expanding populations.

Here is a complete ranking of net migration for adults with college degrees for all metro areas greater than one million people.


Metro Area

Net Migrants


Austin-Round Rock, TX



Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX



Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ



Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX



Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA



Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO



Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA



Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA



Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV



Raleigh, NC



Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL



San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX



Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA



Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC



San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA



Jacksonville, FL



Kansas City, MO-KS



Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN



Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA



Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN



Oklahoma City, OK



Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD



New Orleans-Metairie, LA



Richmond, VA



Birmingham-Hoover, AL



Salt Lake City, UT



Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV



Pittsburgh, PA



Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN



Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN



Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI



Columbus, OH



San Diego-Carlsbad, CA



Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC



Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI



Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT



Memphis, TN-MS-AR



Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY



St. Louis, MO-IL



Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL



Rochester, NY



Providence-Warwick, RI-MA



Cleveland-Elyria, OH



San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA



Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL



Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH



Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD



Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI



Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI



Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA



New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA



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.

The Problem with Megacities

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 22:38

This is the introduction to a new report from the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University. The report was authored by Joel Kotkin with contributions from Wendell Cox, Ali Modarres, and Aaron M. Renn. Download the full report here (pdf).

No phenomenon more reflects the sheer power and appeal of urbanism than the rise of megacities, which we define as an urban area with more than 10 million residents (defined as areas of continuous urban development). Until recent decades there were only three — Tokyo and New York, joined by a third, Mexico City, only in 1975. Now the megacity has become a global phenomenon that has dispersed around the planet. There were 29 such cities in 2014 and now account for roughly 13% of the world’s urban population and 7% of the world’s total population (Figure 1).

Urban boosters such as Harvard’s Ed Glaeser suggest that megacities grow because “globalization” and “technological change have increased the returns to being smart.” 2 And to be sure, megacities such Jakarta, Kolkata (in India), Mumbai, Manila, Karachi, and Lagos — all among the top 25 most populous cities in the world — present a great opportunity for large corporate development firms who pledge to fix their problems with ultra-expensive hardware. They also provide thrilling features for journalists and a rich trove for academic researchers.

Like Mr. Glaeser, many Western pundits find much to celebrate about the megacities mushrooming in low-income countries. To them, the growth of megacities is justified because it offers something more than unremitting rural poverty. But surely there’s a better alternative than celebrating slums, as one prominent author did recently in Foreign Policy bizarrely entitled “In Praise of Slums”3.

As demonstrated in our new paper on global cities developed with the Civil Service College of Singapore, many of these emergent megacities in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world lack of an economic basis sufficient to substantially compete beyond their national or nearby regional markets. As a result, the rise of megacities in the developing world may be laying the foundation for an emerging crisis of urbanity, where people crowd into giant cities that lack of the economic and political infrastructure to improve their lives. At the end of this paper, we try to suggest that they may be better solutions that steer growth to smaller cities and towns, and even seek out ways to improve the life in rural villages.

Download the full report here (pdf).

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. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available for pre-order atAmazon and Telos Press. 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 People Designing Your Cities Don't Care What You Want

Sun, 08/17/2014 - 22:38

What is a city for?

It’s a crucial question, but one rarely asked by the pundits and developers who dominate the debate over the future of the American city.

Their current conventional wisdom embraces density, sky-high scrapers, vastly expanded mass transit and ever-smaller apartments. It reflects a desire to create an ideal locale for hipsters and older, sophisticated urban dwellers. It’s city as adult Disneyland or “entertainment machine,” chock-a-block with chic restaurants, shops and festivals.

Overlooked, or even disdained, is what most middle-class residents of the metropolis actually want: home ownership, rapid access to employment throughout the metropolitan area, good schools and “human scale” neighborhoods.

A vast majority of people — roughly 8o percent — prefer a single-family home, whether in the city or surrounding communities. And they may not get “creative” gigs at ad agencies or writers collectives, but look instead for decent-paying opportunities in fields such as construction, manufacturing or logistics. Over the past decade, these jobs have been declining rapidly in “luxury cities” like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

In contrast, such jobs, which pay $60,000 to $100,000 annually, have been growing — particularly as the industrial and energy sectors have recovered — in cities like Houston, Austin, Nashville and Salt Lake City. These locales also feature housing, relative to incomes, that is more affordable.

Of course, few urbanists wax poetic about Dallas or Des Moines. They lack Brooklyn’s hipster charm, and often maintain some of the trappings of the suburbs. But these “opportunity cities” offer what Descartes called “an inventory of the possible” — urbanity as an engine of upward mobility for the middle and working classes.

Ever since the Great Recession, many in America’s urban-focused pundit class have written off these cities, particularly in the Sunbelt, as places where the “American dream” has gone to die. Yet over the past 30 years, and now again, virtually all of the fastest-growing American metropolitan areas were located in the  West or the South. In 2012, nine of the ten fastest-growing large metropolitan areas were in the Sunbelt, including big Texas cities like Austin, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, along with Denver, Raleigh and Phoenix. In 2013, Houston alone had more housing starts than the entire state of California.

At the same time, immigrants — traditionally the most determined seekers of upward mobility — are now also flocking to places like low-cost Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, which ranked second to New York in the last decade as a destination for the foreign-born. Immigrants are even heading in large numbers to locales such as Charlotte and Nashville, where foreign-born populations have doubled over the past decade. Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly given the prevailing tone of media coverage, these cities also have enjoyed generally faster growth in both college graduates and people ages 20 to 29  than New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco or Los Angeles.

These trends can also be seen in population projections. The U.S. Conference of Mayors study predicts that Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston will grow to be nearly as large as Chicago by 2042. If the same growth rate were to continue through 2050, both Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston would be ahead of Chicago by 2050.

To a large extent, this growth is fueled by middle-class movement to regions that offer both better economic prospects and more affordable housing prices. Before 1970, housing prices were largely even, relative to incomes, across the nation. Today, in large part due to regulatory and tax policies, they differ by as much as two to three times between  cities like Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, on the one hand, and New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Then there is the critical issue of employment. Since 2008, Houston has added more than 185,000 jobs and Dallas 115,000, more than New York, which is much larger. Los Angeles and Chicago still remain well below their 2008 employment levels.

It is also often alleged that these are primarily “crummy,” low-income jobs, but the opportunity cities have generally enjoyed strong mid-skilled growth and, over the past decade, also higher levels of STEM jobs. Since 2001, Houston has led the nation’s large metropolitan areas in the percentage growth of net STEM jobs; Dallas-Fort Worth and Phoenix have expanded these jobs more than San Francisco, even accounting for the current social media bubble. Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago have suffered a net loss since 2001.

Perhaps most important of all, these are overwhelmingly the places where people choose to start families and raise children. All 10 of the cities (metropolitan areas) with the largest shares of children 0-14 years of age are opportunity cities, with Salt Lake City, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Riverside-San Bernardino and San Antonio taking the top five positions. On the other hand, luxury cities, such as San Francisco, New York, Boston, Seattle and Miami, tend to rank in the bottom third, according to American Community Survey data.

Meanwhile, cities like New York and San Francisco continue to reflect the media’s preferred form of urbanism, first articulated by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg that, to survive, a city must be primarily “a luxury product,” a place that focuses on the very wealthy whose surplus can underwrite the rest of the population.

“If we can find a bunch of billionaires around the world to move here, that would be a godsend,” Bloomberg, himself a multibillionaire, suggests. “Because that’s where the revenue comes to take care of everybody else.”

This reliance on the rich, notes a Citigroup study, creates a “plutonomy,” an economy and society driven largely by the wealthy class’s investment and spending.

Luxury cities, increasingly, are less places of aspiration than geographies of inequality. New York, for example, is by some measurements the most unequal of major U.S. cities, with a level of inequality that approximates South Africa before apartheid. New York’s wealthiest 1 percent earn a third of the entire municipality’s personal income — almost twice the proportion for the rest of the country.

Other luxury cities exhibit somewhat similar patterns. A recent Brookings report found that virtually all the most unequal metropolitan areas – with the exception of Atlanta and Miami — are luxury regions, including San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Smaller luxury cities such as San Francisco are generally the ones gentrifying fastest, notes a recent Cleveland Fed study. They also tend to be, as urban analyst Aaron Renn has noted, “white cities,” with relatively small and often shrinking populations of historically disadvantaged minorities. San Francisco’s black population, for example, is roughly half of what it was in 1970. In the nation’s whitest major city, Portland, African Americans are being driven out of the urban core by gentrification, partly supported by city funding. Similar phenomena can be seen in Seattle and Boston, where long-existing black communities are gradually disappearing.

What this all suggests is that the future of American urbanism cannot follow the trajectory of luxury cities that, by their very nature, are difficult places for the vast majority of the population to live. Instead, the new role models — including for the hard-hit cities of the Rustbelt — will be found in those regions that have been able to provide the basic elements of middle-class aspiration: decent jobs, affordable housing and the chance to start a growing business.

For years, Rustbelt cities have pegged their aspirations on mimicking “luxury cities.” But now local scholars, like Cleveland State’s Richey Piiparinen, believe these areas need to follow the opportunity city model. He points out that lower costs and a more family-friendly appeal is allowing Cleveland to attract more young, educated people to their region than they now send to places like Chicago or New York

To achieve an urbanism that works for most Americans, cities need to develop a very different focus, emphasizing such things as affordability, middle-class jobs and opportunity. No doubt the luxury city model will continue to flourish in places, particularly for the well-heeled, but this paradigm is not applicable to most places, or most people.

This piece originally appeared at The Washington Post.

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. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available for pre-order at Amazon and Telos Press. 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

Integrating Immigrants: Outcomes Not Attitudes Matter

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 22:38

Many modern economies struggle with integrating foreign-born into their labor markets. In particular, low-skilled immigrants from poor countries experience high unemployment and a range of related social problems. Much has been written about the extent of the problem. In many Western European cities, entire communities of migrants are living in social and economic exclusion. The state of poverty is often persists among their children.

But although the problem is widely acknowledged, the cause of it remains an issue of vivid debate. One line of reasoning is that modern job markets are increasingly knowledge-based. Technological changes have reduced the availability of simple jobs. The supply of the low‑skilled workforce often becomes higher than the demand for it. A limited number of jobs exist at the formal or informal minimum wage levels in various modern economies. Foreign‑born individuals, who often have weak social networks and language skills, find it particularly hard to obtain these jobs.

Another related explanation is that welfare states hinder integration. High taxes and generous public benefit systems reduce the incentives for work. Families with children can experience a situation where their actual incomes are only slightly, if at all, increased when a parent transitions to work. In addition, rigid labor market regulations can make it difficult for outsiders to enter the labor market.

A third view is that the problem is rooted mainly in discrimination and open racism. Immigrants are simply not given a chance to prove themselves since employers chose not to hire them. Direct and indirect racist structures hinder the success of immigrants and their children.

It is difficult to conclusively say which explanations are more relevant than the others. But we can look at the relation between discriminatory viewpoints and the labor market success of migrants. This is made possible by the World Value Survey, an ambitious project to map the prevalence of different attitudes around the world.

Recently the result of latest survey, conducted between the years 2010 and 2014, has been made available. One of the questions included in the survey was how many who would not like to have neighbors which were immigrants or foreign workers. Another was how many who thought that when jobs are scarce, employers should give priority to natives over immigrants.

As shown below, the prevalence of these answers vary greatly between seven modern economies for which data have been released so far. In Germany and the Netherlands for example a fifth of the population express that they would not like to have foreign-born neighbors. The same view is shared by less than four percent of the Swedish population. Likewise, about half of the public in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Spain believed that employers should give priority to natives over foreign-born when jobs are scarce. In Germany and the Netherlands about four in ten hold the same view, compared to 14 percent in Sweden.

Would not like foreign-born neighbors

Employers should give priority to natives

Unemployment difference low-educated foreign-born versus low-educated natives

Unemployment difference high-educated foreign-born versus high-educated natives


























New Zealand










 Data from World Value Survey 2010-2014. Unemployment difference from OECD data over “Indicators of integration of immigrants and their children”, given for the years 2009-2010.  Rounded to two significant digits.


However, there is no clear link between tolerance for foreign-born as either neighbors or in the labor market on one hand, and actual labor market success on the other. Sweden, where the public expresses the most tolerant viewpoints, could be expected to be characterized by good labor market outcomes for immigrants. However, Sweden is next  to spain is  characterized with the biggest gap in employment between foreign-born and natives. This relation holds regardless if we look at the difference between low-educated or high-educated people with foreign-born and native backgrounds respectively.

The US on the other hand, has merely 1.4 percentage point higher unemployment amongst high-educated foreign-born compared to natives with similar educational background. Amongst the low-educated in the US the difference is 8.9 percentage points in favor of the foreign-born. At the same time, the share in the US who would not like to have foreign-born neighbors is almost twice as high as in Spain and fully four times as high as in Sweden.

Perhaps it is difficult to find a strong link since the number of countries included is so small. In order to broaden the sample, we can look at the 2005-2009 edition of the World Value Survey. In that survey the question relating to foreign-born neighbors, but not that of allocation of jobs, was asked. The graph below shows the relation between the share who would not like to have foreign-born neighbors on one hand, and the difference in unemployment on the other. 

Source for attitudes towards foreign-born neighbors: World Value Survey 2005-2009. Source for difference in unemployment: OECD data over “Indicators of integration of immigrants and their children”, given for the years 2009-2010. 

The relation between attitudes and employment prospects are not what one would expect. If anything, the countries in which fewest people do not want foreign-born neighbors are also those in which differences in unemployment are the highest. This does not necessarily mean that countries with the different attitude do better. Canada, Australia and New Zealand are nations where a relatively small share has anything against foreign-born neighbors. The same countries have good labor market outcomes for the foreign-born. In Australia and New Zealand, low-skilled individuals with a foreign-born background have slightly lower unemployment than similar natives. In Canada the difference is minute between the two groups.

Given these outcomes it is difficult to conclusively say what factors that favor integration and what obstacles that stand in the way of integration. It could, for example, be argued that the people in countries such as Sweden are giving politically correct responses. These responses do not necessarily have to translate to the discrimination actually faced by immigrants on a daily basis. At the same time, it is clear that the Anglo-Saxon countries are succeeding in integration. This could be attributed to having English as their main language. It could also be attributed to market-based systems with strong incentives for work and relatively free labor markets. In short, attitudes, at least as reported by the World Value Survey, do not seem to explain the differences in integration. Although all enlightened countries should strive for the tolerant views expressed in countries such as Sweden, this does not guarantee well‑functioning integration.

Dr. Nima sanandaji is a frequent writer for the New Geography. He is upcoming with the book "Renaissance for Reforms" for the Institute of Economic Affairs and Timbro, co-authored with Professor Stefan Fölster.

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The World's Most Influential Cities

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 22:38

In the past century, the greatest global cities were generally the largest and centers of the world’s great empires: London, Paris, New York and Tokyo. Today size is not so important: Of the world’s 10 most populous cities, only Tokyo, New York and Beijing are in the top 10 of our ranking of the world’s most important cities. Instead, what matters today is influence.

To rank the world’s global cities, I worked with urban geographer Ali Modarres, former Accenture analyst Aaron Renn and demographer Wendell Cox. We have attempted to go beyond some of the standard methods of evaluating the global importance of cities, which include assessing the concentration of support services available for multinationals, such as financial and accounting firms, or the size of the overall economy. Efficiency and access to capital and information, we believe, is more critical to being an important global city than number of jobs, and regional GDP is a false measure, since it doesn’t reflect whether the source is domestic or global economic activity.

In order to quantify cities’ global influence, we looked at eight factors: the amount of foreign direct investment they have attracted; the concentration of corporate headquarters; how many particular business niches they dominate; air connectivity (ease of travel to other global cities); strength of producer services; financial services; technology and media power; and racial diversity. (Click here for a more detailed description of our methodology.) We found those factors particularly important in identifying rising stars that, someday, might challenge the current hegemony of our two top-ranked global cities, London and New York.

Inertia and smart use of it is a key theme that emerged in our evaluation of the top global cities. No city better exemplifies this than London, which after more than a century of imperial decline still ranks No. 1 in our survey. The United Kingdom may now be a second-rate power, but the City’s unparalleled legacy as a global financial capital still underpins its pre-eminence.

Ranked first in the world on the Z/Yen Group’s 2013 Global Financial Centres Index, which we used for our list, London not only has a long history as a dominant global financial hub, but its location outside the United States and the eurozone keeps it away from unfriendly regulators. Compared to New York, it is also time-zone advantaged for doing business in Asia, and has the second best global air connections of any city after Dubai, with nonstop flights at least three times a week to 89% of global cities outside of its home region of Europe.

A preferred domicile for the global rich, London is not only the historic capital of the English language, which contributes to its status as a powerful media hub and major advertising center, but it’s also the birthplace of the cultural, legal and business practices that define global capitalism.London hosts the headquarters of 68 companies on the 2012 Forbes Global 2000 list and is a popular location for the regional HQs of many multinationals. (Our HQ ranking component, in which London ranks third, is based on GaWC’s 2012 Command and Control Index, which factors in company size and financial performance, as well as total number of Forbes Global 2k HQs).

Beyond these traditional strengths, London has become Europe’s top technology startup center, according to the Startup Genome project. The city has upward of 3,000 tech startup sas well as Google’s largest office outside Silicon Valley.

nearly four times that of second place Tokyo New York, which comes in a close second in our study (40 points to London’s 42), is home to most of the world’s top investment banks and hedge funds, and the stock trading volume on the city’s exchanges is and more than 10 times that of London.

Like London, New York is a global leader in media and advertising, the music industry (home to two of the big three labels), and also one of the most important capitals of the fashion and luxury business. With iconic landmarks galore, international visitors spend more money in New York each year than in any other city in the world.

The Challengers And Those Slowly Fading

London and New York are clearly the leaders but they are not the hegemonic powers that they were throughout much of the 20thcentury, and their main competitors are now largely from outside Europe. Paris may rank third in our survey, but it is way below New York and London by virtually every critical measure, and the city’s future is not promising given that France, and much of the EU, are mired in relative economic stagnation.

Rather than a true indication of global reach, Paris’ high ranking is partly the product of the city’s utter domination of the still sizable French economy and the concentration of virtually all the country’s leading companies there (it ranks fifth on GaWC’s Command and Control Index with 60 HQs of Forbes Global 2K companies).

Elsewhere, Europe boast a veritable archipelago of globally competitive cities — Munich, Rome, Hamburg — but none is large enough, or unique enough, to break into the top 10 in the future. East Asia is likely to place more cities at the top of the list.

For most of the last century, Tokyo has been Asia’s leading city. It is still the world’s largest city, with the largest overall GDP. In her seminal work on world cities, Saskia Sassen placed it on the same level as London and New York. Tokyo’s limitations resemble those of Paris — its high ranking stems partly from the extreme concentration of domestic companies — and it will be handicapped in the future by a severe demographic crisis, a lack of ethnic diversity and very determined regional rivals.

China’s Global Cities

China’s share of the world economy has grown from 5% in 1994 to 14% in 2012.The combined volume of trading on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges already exceeds that of Tokyo, and Shenzhen’s volume is approximately three times that of nearby Hong Kong.

Hong Kong still enjoys greater freedom than the rest of China and remains the largest financial center in the Asia-Pacific region, ranking third in the world after London and New York. The vast majority of the world’s major investment banks, asset managers, and insurance companies maintain their Asia-Pacific headquarters in the former British colony.

But its preeminence is being threatened by Shanghai, traditionally Hong Kong’s chief rival, and Beijing. We ranked China’s capital eighth, ahead of Shanghai (19th). With the advantage of being the country’s all-powerful political center, Beijing is the headquarters of most large state-owned companies and is home to the country’s elite educational institutions and its most innovative companies.

But right now the leading global city in East Asia is Singapore, which ranks fourth on our list. With a relatively small population of just over 5 million, Singapore’s basic infrastructure is among the best on the planet. Like Hong Kong, it also benefits from a tradition of British governance and law, one reason the World Bank ranked its business climate the world’s best; China ranked 96th. Singapore’s justice system is ranked 10th in the world in The Rule of Law Index.

That is all drawing in international business: Singapore places first among global cities in our ranking of foreign direct investment, with a five-year average of 359 greenfield transactions. It’s a favored location in many industries for Asia-Pacific headquarters; a study by the consultancy Roland Berger named Singapore the leading location for European companies to establish an Asia-Pacific HQs.

Singapore vies with Hong Kong as the financial center of Asia, ranking fourth in the world in that category.

Global Capital of the Middle East

Much of what we see in the media about Middle Eastern cities are scenes of destruction and chaos. Yet in a relatively quiet corner of the Arabian Peninsula, Dubai is ascending, ranked seventh on our list. Its globalization strategy hinges largely on its expanding airport, which includes the world’s largest terminal and an even larger airport under construction. It ranks first in the world in our air connectivity ranking, with nonstop flights at least three times a week to 93% of global cities outside of its home region.Its hub location and business-friendly climate have made it a favorite for companies looking to establish a Middle East headquarters or point of presence. As a crossroads of humanity, Dubai is unparalleled among global cities for its diversity: 86% of its residents are foreign born.

North America

Our rankings rewarded cities that are both ethnically diverse and, in some cases, dominate a critical industry. This is what we refer to as a “necessary city,” a place one must go to conduct business in a particular field, or to service a particular region of the world.

This focus on the “necessary” city led to what will no doubt be a controversial result: a 10th place ranking for the San Francisco Bay Area, on the strength of its central role in the tech industry, tied on our list with Los Angeles and Toronto. The Bay Area did not even make the top 20 in the 2014 A.T. Kearney rankings, which placed both Chicago and Los Angeles in the top 10.

Not long ago Los Angeles, North America’s second-largest metro area, saw itself as a potential rival to New York and a legitimate world city. Hollywood is nearly synonymous with the American entertainment industry and is by far the world’s largest in terms of revenue and influence. Last year the industry enjoyed exports of almost $15 billion.

But L.A.’s share of entertainment employment is shrinking and its former second industry, aerospace, has declined significantly, losing over 90,000 jobs since the end of the Cold War. Several key companies have decamped from the metro area in recent years — Nissan, Occidental Petroleum, Toyota — for more business-friendly places.

The situation is arguably worse in Chicago, which ties for 20th. The Windy City first rose to world prominence after overcoming rival St. Louis in the late 19th century. It boasts one of the world’s most diverse economies, but has not developed strong dominance in any industry. Chicago is an also ran in media and technology and, outside of commodities, is no longer a major global financial center.

The big winner today is the Bay Area, which overwhelmingly dominates the list of technology leaders; not only is the metro area home to a glittering array of tech standouts, companies based elsewhere in the U.S., and in other countries, feel compelled to site operations there. Even a penny pinching retailer like Wal-Mart is growing its Silicon Valley presence.

Other North American cities with a growing global footprint include 10th ranked Toronto, tied with Los Angeles and Bay Area. Toronto, as the economic capital of Canada, has becomes a focus for international investment into that stable and resource rich country. It is also among the most diverse cities on the planet — 46 % of its population is foreign born.

Rising Stars

In North America up and comers include No. 14 Houston, with its domination of the U.S. energy industry, a huge export sector and an increasingly diverse population. The Washington, D.C., metro area ranks 16th, a testament to the capital’s growth as an aerospace and technology center.

Overseas, other urban centers that could move up in the future include No. 16 Seoul, Shanghai and No. 20 (tie) Abu Dhabi. But outside of Dubai no other cities in our top 20 come from the developing world. The Indian megacities Delhi and Mumbai rank in the low 30s along with Johannesburg in South Africa. In Latin America, the place to watch is No. 23 Sao Paulo. But until these areas can develop adequate infrastructure — from roads, transit and bridges to relatively non-corrupt judicial systems — none can be expected to crack the top 10, or even 20, for at least a decade.

For the time being, the future of the global city belongs not to the biggest or fastest growing but the most efficient and savvy, and those with a strong historical pedigree. This raises the bar for all cities that wish to break into this elite club.

No. 1: London

FDI Transactions (5-Year Avg.): 328
Forbes Global 2000 HQs: 68<
Air Connectivity:  89%*
Global Financial Centres Index Rank: 1

* The air connectivity score is the percentage of other global cities outside the city’s region (e.g., for London, cities outside of Europe) that can be reached nonstop a minimum of three times per week.

No. 2: New York

FDI Transactions (5-Year Avg.): 143
Forbes Global 2000 HQs: 82
Air Connectivity:  70%
GFCI Rank: 2

No. 3: Paris

FDI Transactions (5-Year Avg.): 129
Forbes Global 2000 HQs: 60
Air Connectivity:  81%
GFCI Rank: 29

No. 4: Singapore

FDI Transactions (5-Year Avg.): 359
Forbes Global 2000 HQs: N/A
Air Connectivity:  46%
GFCI Rank: 4

No. 5: Tokyo

FDI Transactions (5-Year Avg.): 83
Forbes Global 2000 HQs: 154
Air Connectivity:  59%
GFCI Rank: 5

No. 6: Hong Kong

FDI Transactions (5-Year Avg.): 234
Forbes Global 2000 HQs: 48
Air Connectivity:  57%
GFCI Rank: 3

No. 7: Dubai

FDI Transactions (5-Year Avg.): 245
Forbes Global 2000 HQs: N/A
Air Connectivity:  93%
GFCI Rank: 25

No. 8 (TIE): Beijing

FDI Transactions (5-Year Avg.): 142
Forbes Global 2000 HQs: 45
Air Connectivity:  65%
GFCI Rank: 59

No. 8 (TIE): Sydney

FDI Transactions (5-Year Avg.): 111
Forbes Global 2000 HQs: 21
Air Connectivity:  43%
GFCI Rank: 15

No. 10 (TIE): Los Angeles

FDI Transactions (5-Year Avg.): 35
Forbes Global 2000 HQs: N/A
Air Connectivity:  46%
GFCI Rank: N/A

No. 10 (TIE): San Francisco Bay Area

FDI Transactions (5-Year Avg.): 49
Forbes Global 2000 HQs: 17
Air Connectivity:  38%
GFCI Rank: 12

No. 10 (TIE): Toronto

FDI Transactions (5-Year Avg.): 60
Forbes Global 2000 HQs: 23
Air Connectivity:  49%
GFCI Rank: 11

Remaining Cities City Region Rank








North America








Washington Metropolitan Area

North America





Abu Dhabi

Middle East



North America






North America





Dallas-Fort Worth

North America








São Paulo

South America



Middle East



North America





Kuala Lumpur
















North America






North America


Tel Aviv

Middle East


Mexico City

North America






North America


Buenos Aires

South America






North America



Middle East





Ho Chi Minh City










This piece originally appeared at Forbes.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available for pre-order atAmazon and Telos Press. 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: "City of London skyline at dusk" by jikatu - Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Boomers: Moving Further Out and Away

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 22:52

There have been frequent press reports that baby boomers, those born between 1945 and 1964, are abandoning the suburbs and moving "back" to the urban cores (actually most suburban residents did not move from urban cores). Virtually without exception such stories are based on anecdotes, often gathered by reporters stationed in Manhattan, downtown San Francisco or Washington or elsewhere in urban cores around the nation. Clearly, the anecdotes about boomers who move to suburbs, exurbs, or to outside major metropolitan areas are not readily accessible (and perhaps not as interesting) to the downtown media.

Yet there is a wide gulf between the perceived reality of the media stories and what is actually occurring on the ground, as is indicated by comprehensive sources. The latest available small area data shows that baby boomers continue to leave the urban cores in large numbers. They have also left the earlier suburbs in such large numbers that their population gains in the later suburbs and exurbs have been insufficient to stem boomer movement out of the major metropolitan areas to smaller cities and rural areas.

These conclusions are drawn from an analysis of population at the zip code tabulation area (ZCTA) among those 35 to 54 years of age in 2000 and the same cohort in 2010 (then 45 to 64 years of age). This small area analysis avoids the exaggeration of urban core data that necessarily occurs from reliance on the municipal boundaries of core cities (which are themselves nearly 60 percent suburban or exurban, ranging from as little as three percent to virtually 100 percent). This is described in further detail in the "City Sector Model" note below.

Overall Trend

The national population of the baby boomer generation declined 1.82 million between 2000 and 2010, a 2.2 percent loss (the result of an inevitably increasing death rate from the aging of cohorts). A small increase of 350,000 (1.0 percent) outside the largest cities was more than offset by a 2.17 million loss in the major metropolitan areas (over 1 million population), where the decline was of 4.7 percent.

Boomers and the Urban Core

The largest percentage loss occurred in the functional urban cores, which experienced a decline of 1.15 million baby boomers, a reduction of 16.7 percent. The functional urban cores are defined by the higher population densities that predominated before 1940 and a much higher dependence on transit, walking and cycling for work trips (further details are provided in the "City Sector Model" note below). In 2000, baby boomers accounted for 14.9 percent of the major metropolitan area population, a figure that declined to 13.0 percent by 2010 (Figure 1).

The losses were pervasive. Among the 24 major metropolitan areas with functional urban core populations above 100,000, all experienced reductions in their baby boomer population shares. The average share reduction was approximately 12 percent.

Not surprisingly, the leading urban core magnets of New York and San Francisco did the best, losing 4.3 percent and 5.8 percent of their boomer population share between 2000 and 2010. Providence, Los Angeles,and Boston rounded out the best five.

Among the 24 metropolitan areas with the largest functional urban cores, Detroit experienced the largest proportional boomer loss, at 21.2 percent. Kansas City, Washington, and Minneapolis-St. Paul lost from 17 percent to 19 percent, proportionally, of their boomer urban core populations. Despite its reputation for core renewal, Portland experienced an approximate 15 percent proportional loss of its urban core boomers, along with Milwaukee and Cleveland (Figure 2).

Boomers and the Earlier Suburbs

The reduction in baby boomer population was even greater in the earlier suburban areas (those with median house construction dates of 1979 or before). The 2.33 million earlier suburban population loss was double that of the functional urban core loss, but because of this population is much larger than the functional cores, the overall drop was a smaller 11.1 percent. Nonetheless, the earlier suburbs continue to house the largest share of major metropolitan boomers. This fell, however, from 45.3 percent in 2000 to 42.2 percent in 2010.

Combined, the urban cores and earlier suburbs lost 3.48 million boomers between 2000 and 2010.

Boomers and the Later Suburbs and Exurbs

In contrast, the later suburban areas (median house construction date 1980 or later) added approximately 750,000 baby boomers, for an increase of 6.8 percent. The later suburbs also experienced an increase in their share of major metropolitan boomers, rising from 24.0 percent in 2000 to 26.9 percent in 2010.

The exurban gain was greater than the later suburbs in percentage terms (7.7 percent) but less in population gain (560,000). This was enough to increase the exurban share of boomers from 15.8 percent in 2000 to 17.9 percent in 2010. Indeed, the exurban areas of the 24 major metropolitan areas with urban cores over 100,000 population all did better in attracting or retaining boomer populations than both the urban cores and the earlier suburbs.

Overall there was a 5.0 percentage point transfer of boomer share from the functional urban cores and earlier suburbs to the later suburbs and exurbs, reflecting their more than 1.3 million gain between 2000 and 2010.

Boomers and the Nation

Moreover, the data indicates that boomers are leaving the major metropolitan areas to move to smaller cities or even to rural areas. In contrast with the 2.17 million major metropolitan area loss, areas outside the major metropolitan areas added 350,000 boomers between 2000 and 2010. In 2000, smaller cities and rural areas housed 44.4 percent of the boomer population. By 2010, the smaller city and rural share had risen to 45.8 percent (Figure 3). By contrast, over the same period, the major metropolitan areas increased their proportion of the US population, from 54.5 percent in 2000 to 54.9 percent in 2010.

America's downtowns (generally a smaller area than the larger urban cores), have done much better in recent years, as they have become safer and as a "100 year flood" of economic retrenchment has reduced many to renting rather than buying. Yet, overall, urban cores have done less well, with Census Bureau data showing that the population gains within two miles of largest municipality city halls being more than offset by losses in the two to five mile radius between 2000 and 2010. These loses are not limited to the overall population, but extend to share losses among Millennials and population losses among the boomers.

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.


City Sector Model Note: The City Sector Model allows a more representative functional analysis of urban core, suburban and exurban areas, by the use of smaller areas, rather than municipal boundaries. The more than 30,000 zip code tabulation areas (ZCTA) of major metropolitan areas and the rest of the nation are categorized by functional characteristics, including urban form, density and travel behavior. There are four functional classifications, the urban core, earlier suburban areas, later suburban areas and exurban areas. The urban cores have higher densities, older housing and substantially greater reliance on transit, similar to the urban cores that preceded the great automobile oriented suburbanization that followed World War II. Exurban areas are beyond the built up urban areas. The suburban areas constitute the balance of the major metropolitan areas. Earlier suburbs include areas with a median house construction date before 1980. Later suburban areas have later median house construction dates.

Urban cores are defined as areas (ZCTAs) that have high population densities (7,500 or more per square mile or 2,900 per square kilometer or more) and high transit, walking and cycling work trip market shares (20 percent or more). Urban cores also include non-exurban sectors with median house construction dates of 1945 or before. All of these areas are defined at the zip code tabulation area (ZCTA) level.

California Drought: How To Share An Emergency

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 08:08

California has big troubles. It hasn’t rained for two years. Our reservoirs are almost depleted. Our aquifers are being overdrawn. Forecasts for next winter’s rain, which were optimistic not long ago, have become increasingly pessimistic.

Of course, everybody knows California is in a drought. So, California is doing things. We have education programs. We have shaming apps and neighbors reporting on neighbors. We have fines for water wasters. We have Water Cops. We have the Lawn Dude.

Still, Californians underestimate the drought’s total cost.

The drought’s environmental costs are especially underappreciated. It is an environmental disaster. When water gets tight, fish, birds, and other wildlife suffer. We see increasing numbers of confrontations between snakes and predators, like mountain lions and bears, and people. Animals l ose most of these confrontations. In some areas, we are losing entire riparian and wetland ecosystems.

Ocean water is intruding into coastal groundwater basins. Nitrate and sulfate levels in drinking water are rising, and in some areas exceed levels permitted by public health standards.

Even the land is changing. Persistent aquifer overdrafts are causing land to sink. Infrastructure and buildings, breaking under the strain of sinking land, will need to be rebuilt or repaired. All these factors increase the costs of the drought. Worse, once an aquifer is collapsed, it can never be restored. Our storage capacity is permanently reduced. Persistent aquifer overdrafts may even increase the frequency of earthquakes.

Over-drafting of aquifers needs to stop. Riparian and wetland habitats need to be maintained. The price that water users pay should reflect all costs.

California’s current response is increasing the drought’s costs. Education programs are expensive. So are water cops and the systems to prosecute and punish profligate water users. And yet, water usage has not significantly decreased.

Some costs are immeasurable. A society with water cops driving around looking for people watering their lawns, where neighbors shame each other on social media or report neighbors to authorities, starts to look oppressive. The mutual trust necessary for an efficient and well-ordered society starts to erode.

The damage could be far less. Nixon made the OPEC oil shocks worse by capping prices and using coercive government tools to reduce demand. This is exactly what California is doing with water. Demand exceeds supply. The price to users is too low.

It would be simpler to let water prices rise to a market-clearing price. This would quickly reduce aquifer overdrafts, while leaving sufficient water to support ecosystems and the species they support. It would also mean that most Californians would see prices increase a lot.

This proposal tends to drive people crazy, yet we allocate few resources the way we allocate water.

Consider that life-giving resource, coffee. Between January and April of 2014, coffee bean prices increased 72 percent on global markets. The United States retail price rose about 33 percent. The price increases reflected a drought in Brazil. Coffee consumers did not need to have detailed information about South American weather patterns. The price provided all they needed to know.

Consider gasoline, too. In a market where powerful cartels manipulate global supplies, the price of gasoline conveys detailed signals about the state of global supply. Whether a large refinery in California is temporarily shuttered, or political unrest roils a Middle East oil producer, consumers can stay abreast of changing conditions by observing price changes at the pump.

Why not with water?

Many people object on fairness grounds, arguing that water is a necessity, and market prices would deny that necessity to poor people. Others object on legal grounds, arguing that our water prices are a complex result of history, legal precedent, and sometimes contradictory laws. Still others object to leaving some water for animals and plants while people suffer.

The fairness argument is easy to dismiss. The price that matters is the price of the last gallon sold. We could easily give everyone some minimum allocation of water for free (or nearly-free) and then charge a market-clearing price for everything beyond that.

Voilà! Problem solved. No oppressive government measures.

This system is employed in Tucson, Arizona. There, steep block pricing has allowed the city to allocate scarce water to vitally important uses. One need only compare an image of Tucson homes to one of Phoenix homes to see the strategy’s effectiveness. In Phoenix, where flat-rate pricing is used, you occasionally see residential landscaping a Seattle home owner would envy. In Tucson, it’s all cactus and rock gardens.

The argument against leaving water for plants and animals relies on the concept that people are more important than other living things. We don’t need to debate that. It’s only important in a situation where human life is at stake, and California's water situation is not a threat to mankind. Twenty-first century America is fabulously wealthy. Leaving some water for the critters may cost us, but we can pay it and still have a standard of living that most of mankind throughout history would have envied.

The legal objection is also easy to challenge. Fortunately for all of us, California's water laws weren't brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses, and, like the Commandments, they are routinely violated. Most of California's water law, with the exception of transfer and resale legislation, is pretty good. The problem is that it isn't being enforced.

Assertion of the existing laws can improve the situation. Only 23 of California’s approximately 400 groundwater basins have undergone "adjudication". Generally, adjudicated basins are models of efficient allocation. Water prices in these jurisdictions are connected to supply and demand and are also, predictably, significantly higher than in non-adjudicated basins.

There are two important issues with California's water laws that need to be addressed. One relates to owners of agricultural land; they are entitled to "reasonable and beneficial use" of water under the land. This is called an "overlying right." Unfortunately, they’re not allowed to sell or transfer the water to other users. This needs to change.

Another is that the California Environmental Quality Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the State Water Resources Control Board prevent the building of the infrastructure that's required to move water. About 75 percent of California’s supply of water originates north of Sacramento, while 75 percent of California’s demand for water originates south of Sacramento. Water needs to move, and the California State Water Project is insufficient to allow local and regional transfers. Northern Colorado and parts of Oregon provide examples of regions that effectively transfer water between users.

Asserting California's existing water laws and changing inefficient parts of those laws are revolutionary ideas, and a first-order political challenge. To do so would require leadership and courage, two characteristics that are almost non-existent in American political leadership. It's worth the effort. It would fundamentally improve California's future.

Unfortunately, it could take five to ten years, a time frame not conducive to managing today’s emergency. Californians need to understand that we have a crisis, and we need to act now.

Matthew Fienup teaches graduate econometrics and works for the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting at California Lutheran University, where he specializes in applied econometric analysis and the economics of land use. He is currently working on his PhD at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California Santa Barbara. He holds a Masters Degree in Economics from UCSB. Bill Watkins is a professor at California Lutheran University and runs the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting, which can be found at

Flickr photo by M. Dolly, California Garden: "Hacking out the lawn and replacing it with drought tolerant and native plants... Best decision ever! Shown here: Abutilon palmeri - Indian Mallow, and Salvia mellifera - Black Sage."

Transforming Kokomo: No Need to Move Mountains

Mon, 08/11/2014 - 22:38

Across the country—but particularly in the heavily industrialized Northeast and Midwest—smaller cities have confronted the grim realities of the unflattering “Rust Belt” moniker, and all of its associated characteristics, with varying degrees of success.  With an aging work force, difficulty in retaining college graduates, and a frequently decaying building stock, the challenges they face are formidable.  Cites from between 30,000 and 80,000 inhabitants typically boomed due to the exponential growth of a single industry, and, in many cases, the bulwark of that industry left the municipality nearly a half century ago, for a location (possibly international) where the cost of doing business is much cheaper. Essentially, everything the smaller Rust Belt cities had to offer is completely tradable in a globalized market; the resources that provided the town’s life blood are either depleted or are simply to expensive to cultivate further.

Reinvention is the only condition likely to save many of these cities from persistent economic contraction, but, with an overabundance of retirees and older workers, these towns lack the collective civic will that could be expected in larger communities with more diversified economies.  An absence of young people intensifies (and, to a certain extent, justifies) the low level of civic investment in one’s own community; after all, if a resident is six months from retirement, how likely is it that he or she would support public investments intended to improve quality of life for twenty or thirty years into the future? For that matter, how likely will a population of retirees remain engaged to encourage or challenge major private sector investments as well?

By no means am I intending to denigrate needs and ambitions of the senior population; I’m merely observing that a stagnant Rust Belt city with this demographic profile will demonstrate vastly different priorities from a city rife with young families.  While every Rust Belt city large and small must avoid obsolescence that results from the spoils of globalization, the smaller cities—which have tended to be dominated in the past by a single thriving industry—are less likely to claim alternative sectors and labor pools if their primary manufacturing lifeblood fails.  A dying city of 80,000 may not exert the same impact within a region (particularly in the densely populated Midwest and Northeast) that a city of 500,000 would, but it is far more of black eye for the state than a town of 2,000 that has lost its raison d’être.  This conclusion is obvious.  Many of these small cities must reordering of their economies comprehensively; while the state, the county, or private foundations may offer some outside help, the constituents of these cities themselves are typically the best equipped to understand how their city should evolve.  Unfortunately, many of these communities aren’t yet even aware of the need for this reinvention, let alone which avenue to pursue in order to achieve it.

It is with no small amount of reassurance that I can assert that Kokomo, Indiana is not one of these latter cities.

No Rust Belt complacency on display here in the City of Firsts.  Though a recently as 2008 it was on Forbes’ list of America’s Fastest Dying Towns, a recent visit shows much more evidence than I’ve seen of some comparably sized cities in the region that the civic culture is neither resting on its laurels nor wringing its hands about how much better things used to be.  In fact, one of the Indianapolis Star’s leading editorialists, Erika Smith, recently visited the city, and, after receiving a tour from the Mayor, was pleasantly surprised by how proactive it has been in implementing precisely the type of quality-of-life initiatives largely perceived as necessary to help a historically blue-collar city stave off a brain drain or descend into irrelevancy.

I, too, recently received the Kokomo tour, followed by a meeting with Mayor Greg Goodnight, and I can also recognize some of the city’s most impressive achievements at shaking off the post-industrial malaise that saddled the city with double-digit unemployment rates as recently as a few years ago.  Since then, the city has introduced a trolley system at no charge to users; prior to this initiative, the city had had no mass transit for decades.  The Mayor pushed successfully to annex 11 square miles in the town’s periphery, therefore elevating the population by about 10,000 people.  The Mayor’s team worked to convert all one-way streets in Kokomo’s downtown to two-ways, recognizing that accommodating high-speed automobile traffic in a pedestrian-oriented environment only detracts from the appeal.  The team has restriped several miles of urban streets to incorporate bike lanes, and it has converted a segment of an abandoned rail line into a rail-with-trail path, branding it by linking it to the city’s industrial heritage. They have deflected graffiti from several bridges and buildings through an expansive and growing mural project.  They have upgraded the riverfront park with an amphitheatre and recreational path. They have introduced several sculptural installations, the most prominent of which is the KokoMantis, a giant praying mantis made entirely of repurposed metal and funded privately.  And my personal favorite: with the support of the City, the school superintendent has integrated a prestigious International Baccalaureate (IB) program to the public school system, including an international exchange program for young men from several foreign countries (a girls’ program should arrive in the next year or two) who live in a recently restored historic structure in Kokomo’s walkable downtown, attending demanding courses that bolster their chances of admittance in a coveted American university.  Most impressively, the City of Kokomo has achieved all of this without incurring any public debt in the past year.

Obviously the individuals offering me this tour are going to make sure their Cinderella is fully dressed for the ball, and I recognize that not a small amount of the securing of certain infrastructural projects and transportation enhancement grants requires a political savvy that the current civic leadership has in abundance.  And I don’t want to rehash Ms. Smith’s article, which more than effectively chronicles this approach at a macro level.  In addition, Erika Smith recognizes, as do I, that very few of these initiatives (the IB foreign exchange program notwithstanding) are really particularly earth-shattering.  But when most other similarly sized cities in the Midwest seem to be engaged in a race to the bottom, luring new industry through generous tax breaks (often initiated at the state level), Kokomo seems to recognize that a town lacking any amenities outside of low cost of living has to compete with dozens of other cities in Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania, and elsewhere in Indiana, that offer the exact same brand.  Whether this investment yields a long-term return remains to be seen, but it certainly demonstrates the right gestures necessary to instill civic stewardship in a place whose decades of job loss have seriously scratched its mirror of self-examination.

What ultimately struck me about Kokomo—which Erika Smith only touched upon—was the level of design sophistication evident in some of these civic projects.  I need only focus on a single location in the city, in which two particularly laudatory techniques are on display.  At the intersection of Markland Avenue and Main Street, just south of downtown, the Industrial Heritage Trail begins its journey southward.  Here’s a view as the trail terminates at its junction with those two streets, looking northwestward:

Here is a view in the other direction:

Continuing a bit further in this direction, one encounters this painted wall:

And, pivoting slightly to the left, another mural that is still in progress:

This photo series identifies two amenities that stand out for the astute decision-making that apparently took place during the implementation.  The Industrial Heritage Trail clearly operates a railway corridor, but it is not a rail-trail.  Unlike the more common rail-trail conversion, this Kokomo trail did not incorporate the removal of the original rail infrastructure.  The Rails to Trails Conservancy would label this approach a rail-with-trail, indicating that the trail shares the railway easement, typically separated by fencing.  Rail-trails such as the Monon Trail in metro Indianapolis are still the more common practice. However, a growing number of communities are embracing rail-with-trails, not only because they obviate the need for costly removal of rails, ties, and ballast, but they reserve the rail infrastructure for the possibility that a railroad company may reactivate the line in the future.  If the sponsors of Kokomo’s Industrial Heritage Trail had removed the infrastructure, the possibility of ever reintroducing rail along the corridor would be virtually nil.  As it stands, the only conceivable disadvantage to rail-with-trails is that, in the event a rail company reintroduces train service, its close proximity to the path may prove hazardous to bicyclists or pedestrians.  Otherwise, the decision to retain the railway not only helped to diversify options, it most likely saved a considerable amount of money.

The other smart decision was the site selection for those murals.  The ones featured in the photos above are part of a growing mural campaign that the City of Kokomo introduced, and every one that I recall shows real foresight in the locational decisions. What makes them so good?  The murals in the photos above front a public right-of-way, minimizing if not completely precluding the chance that later development will conceal them.  I blogged a few years ago about an excellent mural in Indianapolis that showed wonderful care and craft in the entire implementation process…except where the conceivers chose to locate it.  Not only did they paint on a cheap, cinder-block building that will likely tumble down if market pressures encourage new development in the neighborhood, but the mural also faces a vacant lot which is large enough to host a new structure that would block it completely, no doubt frustrating the community and pitting them against a developer.

Compare this to Kokomo’s murals.  Here’s one a little further south on the Industrial Heritage Trail:

Again, it fronts the trail itself—not a chance that a developer will try to block it.  And here’s another along a bridge underpass for the recently completed trail along the Wildcat Creek:

The original intention of the mural was to repel vandals at spot that previously suffered from it frequently; this approach has proven successful in locations across the country. But it also sits in a park along a new greenway, so it should remain in perpetuity. Granted, Indianapolis has plenty of murals along retaining walls and buildings that front the aforementioned Monon Trail.  Those, too, should survive far into the future.  But in recent years, the City of Indianapolis has encouraged countless murals on the side walls of commercial buildings—sites where a blank wall faces a parking lot, where a building once stood.  While these bare walls often scream for some ornamentation to help distract from what used to be there (another adjoining building), in many instances the parking lots will likely fall under increasing development pressure in upcoming years.  Will the locals thwart development in order to save the mural?  This remains to be seen, and I don’t want to base too much of an analysis on speculation.  But it’s hard to deny that these public art investments seem less astute than the once I witnessed in Kokomo.

One could argue that Kokomo is merely taking advantage of the fact that it is jumping into the game relatively late; it benefits by learning from the mistakes of others.  But decisions that stand the test of time also contribute their fair share to foster civic goodwill. Taxpayers are rarely too forgiving of poorly conceived projects, and several successive blunders, no matter how small they may be, demonstrate poor accountability.  Only time will determine the return on investment, but Kokomo certainly has a leg up on many of its competing small cities,  My suspicion is, if these projects stimulate the discussion and enthusiasm for proactive leadership that they suggest (Mayor Goodnight was re-elected last year by a landslide), the citizens of Kokomo are only beginning to stoke the fire.

This post originally appeared in American Dirt on November 16, 2012.

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

In the Future We’ll All Be Renters: America’s Disappearing Middle Class

Sun, 08/10/2014 - 12:14

An Excerpt from Joel Kotkin’s Forthcoming book The New Class Conflict available for pre-order now from Telos Press and in bookstores September, 2014.

In ways not seen since the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century, America is becoming a nation of increasingly sharply divided classes. Joel Kotkin’s The New Class Conflict breaks down these new divisions for the first time, focusing on the ascendency of two classes: the tech Oligarchy, based in Silicon Valley; and the Clerisy, which includes much of the nation’s policy, media, and academic elites.

The Proleterianization of the Middle Class

From early in its history, the United States rested on the notion of a large class of small proprietors and owners. “The small landholders,” Jefferson wrote to his fellow Virginian James Madison, “are the most precious part of a state.” To both Jefferson and Madison, both the widespread dispersion of property and limits on its concentration—“the possession of different degrees and kinds of property”—were necessary in a functioning republic.

Jefferson, admitting that the “equal division of property” was “impractical,” also believed  “the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind” that “legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property.” The notion of a dispersed base of ownership became the central principle which the Republic was, at least ostensibly, built around. As one delegate to the 1821 New York constitutional convention put it, property was “infinitely divided” and even laborers “expect soon to be freeholders” was a bulwark for the democratic order.

This notion of American opportunity has ebbed and flowed, but generally gained ground well into the 1960s and 1970s.  The very fact that the United States was more demographically dynamic, notes Thomas Piketty, naturally reduced the role of inherited wealth compared to Europe, most notably in France,  where population growth was slower.  Mass prosperity hit a high point in America in the first decades after the Second World War, the period where the country achieved its highest share of world GDP at some forty percent.  By the mid-1950s the percentage of households earning middle incomes doubled to 60 percent compared with the boom years of the 1920s. By 1962 over 60 percent of Americans owned their own homes; the increase in homeownership, notes Stephanie Coontz, between 1946 and 1956 was greater than that achieved in the preceding century and a half.

But today, after decades of expanding property ownership, the middle orders—what might be seen as the inheritors of Jefferson’s yeoman class—now appear in a secular retreat.  Homeownership, which peaked in 2002 at nearly 70 percent, has dropped, according to the U.S. Census, to 65 percent in 2013, the lowest in almost two decade.  Although some of this may be seen as a correction for the abuses of the housing bubble, rising costs, stagnant incomes and a drop off of younger first time buyers suggest that ownership may continue to fall in years ahead.

The weakness of the property owning yeomanry comes at a time when other classes, notably the oligarchs and the Clerisy, have gained power and influence. Over twenty years ago Christopher Lasch argued that “the new class” was arising that “begins and ends with the knowledge industry.”  For this group, the rest of society, he suggested, exists only “as images and stereotypes.” Progressive theorists, such as Ruy Texerira, have suggested that, in the evolving class structure, the traditional middle and working class is of little importance compared to the rise of a mass “upper middle class” consisting largely of professionals, tech workers, academics, and high-end government bureaucrats.

The Economic Decline of the Yeomanry

All this suggests what could be seen as the proletarianization of the yeoman class. In the four decades since 1971 the percentage of those earning between two thirds and twice the national median income has shrunk, according to Pew, from over sixty to barely fifty percent of the population. While middle class incomes have fallen relative to the upper income groups, house prices and health insurance, utilities and college tuition costs have all soared.

This reflects some very dramatic changes in the nature of the employment market. For over a decade, job gains have been concentrated largely in the low-wage service sector, such as in retail or hospitality, which alone accounted for nearly sixty percent of job gains; in contrast middle income positions actually have been declining. Meanwhile, taxes on corporate profits, which are at an all time high, have fallen to near historic lows.

This trend has continued even in the recovery.  Between 2010 and 2012, the middle sixty percent of households, did worse not only than the wealthy, but even the poorest quintile between 2010 and 2012.  In the years of the recovery from the Great Recession the middle quintiles income dropped by 1.2 percent while those of the top five percent grew by over five percent. Overall the middle sixty percent have seen their share of the national pie fall from 53 percent in 1970 to barely 45 percent in 2012. Of roughly one in three people born into middle class households, those earning between the 30th and 70th percent of income now fall out of that status as adults.

This decline, not surprisingly, has engendered a dour mood among much of the yeomanry. For many, according to a 2013 Bloomberg poll, the American dream seems increasingly out of reach; this opinion was held by a margin of two to one among all Americans, and three to one among those making under $50,000, but also a majority earning over $100,000 annually. By margins of more than two to one, more Americans believed they enjoy fewer economic opportunities than their parents, and will experience far less job security and disposable income. This pessimism is particularly intense among white working class voters, and large sections of the middle class.

Many people who once had decent incomes, and may have owned or hoped to own a house or start a business have slipped to the lower rungs of the economy. In the past decade, the number of people working part-time and receiving such benefits as food stamps has expanded well beyond inner cities and impoverished rural hamlets.  Many of the long-term unemployed are older, and often somewhat well-educated workers, who have fallen from the middle class over the past decade. The curse of poverty has also expanded more into suburban locations; something widely cited by the urban-centric Clerisy, but further confirms the yeomanry’s stark decline.

The Assault on Small Business

Perhaps nothing reflects the descent of the yeomanry than the fading role of the ten million small businesses with under 20 employees, which currently employ upwards of forty million Americans. Long a key source of new jobs, small business start-ups have declined as a portion of all business growth from 50 percent in the early 1980s to 35% in 2010. Indeed, a 2014 Brookings report, revealed that small business “dynamism”,  measured by the growth of new firms compared with the closing of older ones, has declined significantly over the past decade, with more firms closing than starting for the first time in a quarter century.

Instead of stemming from the grassroots, the recovery after the latest crash was led, unlike in previous expansions, by larger firms while small company hiring remained relatively paltry. Self-employment rose, but increasingly this took the form of sole proprietorships as opposed to expanding smaller companies with employees. By 2013, smaller firms with under one hundred employees added far fewer jobs than in the prior decade. Unlike prior post-war recoveries, since 2007, grassroots companies did not lead the way out of recession and continued to lose ground compared with larger companies that either could afford the costs or avoid the taxes imposed by, the Clerical regime.

This decline in entrepreneurial activity marks a historic turnaround.  In 1977, SBA figures show, Americans started 563,325 businesses with employees. In 2009, they started barely 400,000 Business start-ups, long a key source of new jobs, have declined as a portion of all businesses from 50 percent in the early 1980s to 35% in 2010.

There are many explanations for this decline, including the impact of offshoring, globalization and technology.  But some reflects the impact of the ever more powerful Clerical regime, whose expansive regulatory power undermines small firms. Indeed, according to a 2010 report by the Small Business Administration, federal regulations cost firms with less than 20 employees over $10,000 each year per employee, while bigger firms paid roughly $7,500 per employee.  The biggest hit to small business comes in the form of environmental regulations, which cost 364% per employee more for small firms than large ones. Small companies spend $4,101 per employee, compared to $1,294 at medium-sized companies (20 to 499 employees) and $883 at the largest companies, to meet these requirements.

The nature of federal policy in regards to finance further worsened the situation for the small-scale entrepreneur.  The large “too big to fail” banks received huge bailouts, but have remained reluctant to loan to small business. The rapid decline of community banks, for example, down by half since 1990, particularly hurts small businesspeople that depended on loans from these institutions.

The Descent of the Yeomanry, with Cheers from the Clerisy

Despite America’s egalitarian roots, the prospect of mass downward mobility has been embraced widely by some business oligarchs and much of the Clerisy. The future being envisioned is one dominated by automated factories and computer-empowered service industries that will continue to pressure both jobs and wages in the future. In this scenario, productivity will rise, but wages may stagnate or decline. This leads some to propose that the American middle and working classes has become economically passé. Steve Case, founder of America Online, has even suggested that future labor needs can be filled not by current residents but by some thirty million immigrants.

Arguably the first group to feel the downward pressure has been blue collar workers, whose lot has declined over the past few decades. After World War Two, as the United Autoworkers’ Walter Reuther noted, “the union contract became the passport to a better life” that was creating “a whole new middle class.” But with the shifting of industry overseas and the decline of private sector unions, the path for blue collar workers to enter the middle class has become more difficult.

Although they often claim to defend the middle class, the political stance adapted by the Clerisy, as well as the tech oligarchs and the investors, tends to worsen this trajectory. Environmental concerns impose themselves most against basic industries such as fossil fuels, agriculture and much of manufacturing. These employ many in highly paid blue-collar fields, with average salaries of close to $100,000. In the last decade, top U.S. firms, notes the liberal Center for American Progress, have cut almost three million domestic jobs.  Automation also leads to the diminution of traditional white collar professions as well as the shift of high-end service jobs offshore.

Overall, it has become increasingly common to regard the middle class as threatened and even doomed. Indeed, as early as1988 Time magazine featured a cover story on the “declining middle class,” which at that time was considerably more healthy than today. After the great recession, the American blue-collar worker has been pitied, but certainly not helped by the clerisy, which believes that there is no hope for manufacturing or similar outmoded jobs in an information age. Blue collar workers were described in major media as “bitter,” psychologically scarred” and even an “endangered species.” Americans, noted one economist, suffered a “recession” but those with blue collars endured a “depression.”

This perspective extends across ideological lines.  Libertarian economist Tyler Cowen suggests that an “average” skilled worker can expect to subsist on little but rice and beans in the future U.S. economy. If they choose to live on the East or West Coast, they may never be able to buy a house, and will remain marginal renters for life. Left-leaning Slate in 2012 declared that manufacturing and construction jobs, sectors that powered the yeomanry’s upward mobility in the past, “aren’t coming back. Rather than a republic of yeoman, we could evolve instead, as one left-wing writer put it, living at the sufferance of our “robot overlords,” as well as those who program and manufacture them, likely using other robots to do so.

Contempt for the middle class is often barely concealed among those most comfortably ensconced in the emerging class order. Financial Times columnist Richard Tomkins declared that the middle class, “after a good run” of some two centuries, now faces “relative decline” and even extinction. This historical shift towards mass downward mobility elicited only derision, not concern: “Classes come and classes go” and that when the middle orders disappears about the only ones that will be sorry to see them go might be the “middle classes themselves. Boo hoo.”

The Rise of the Yeomanry

This reversal in class mobility and the slowing diffusion of property ownership in America, if not addressed, threatens to undermine the country’s traditional role as beacon of opportunity. Equally important, the diminution of the middle orders threatens one of the historic sources of economic vitality and innovation.

The roots of America’s middle class reflects the critical role such small holders have played throughout history.  Dynamic civilizations tend to produce more than their share of “new men.”  But nowhere was this middle class ascendency more dramatic than in Europe, first in Italy and later in northern Europe. 

Initially, this was a comparatively small, outside group, with much of the activity conducted by outsiders such as Jews and, later, Christian dissenters. They were the driving force of the expanding capitalist  market, the creators of cities and among the primary beneficiaries of economic progress. Peter Hall quotes a historian of 15th Century Florence:

Apprentices became masters, successful craftsmen

became entrepreneurs, new men made fortunes in

commerce and money-lending, merchants and bankers

enlarged their business. The middle class waxed more

and more prosperous in a seemingly inexhaustible boom.

These “new men,” which included some landless peasants, gradually overthrew the old  artisan-like traders, eventually supplanted the aristocracy, and in some instances, the royal families as well. In most cases, their ascendency, although at times exploitative, generally promoted the expansion of both freedom and individual choice. They also were among the first commoners to seek out land, often in the periphery, in part as a business decision, but also to mimic the lifestyles of the traditional aristocracy.

As occurs in every economic transition some benefited some at the expense of others. Some “new men” from peasant and artisan backgrounds rose, but many others became part of an impoverished proletariat. Many urban artisans lost their jobs to machines, but many others used their expertise to move into the middle class, often through technical innovations that, in the words of the French sociologist Marcel Mauss, constituted “a traditional action made effective, ”notably in agriculture, metallurgy and energy.

As a colony of Britain, the Americans reflected that island’s rapid ascendancy  of small holders in the 17th and 18th Century, which linked liberation from feudalism with a less hierarchical order and the dispersion of ownership. The rise of the yeoman class in Britain was particularly critical in foreshadowing the evolution of America. These small landowners played a critical role in the overthrow of the monarchy under Cromwell, and consistently pushed for greater power for those outside the gentry. 

Yet ultimately many paid a great price for liberal reform, allowing for enclosures of what had been communal pasture; in the process productivity rose.  Some benefited, becoming gentry themselves, while many smallholders lost their lands, and flowed into the towns where they joined the swelling proletariat. Others, notably large merchants, bought political influence and marriage into old families. By 1750, according to Marx, the Yeomanry had disappeared, a claim denied by some who believed this class persisted, albeit weakened, well into the 19th Century.

The American Model

Many of these displaced yeoman found a more opportune environment in America, where diffusion of ownership, as both Jefferson and Madison noted, remained central to the very concept of the nation.  Small holders served, in the words of economic historian Jonathan Hughes, as  “the seat of Republican government and democratic institutions.”

America’s focus on dispersed ownership was further enhanced by government actions throughout the country’s history.  In contrast to their counterparts in Britain, the yeomanry in the United States enjoyed access to a greater, and still largely economically underutilized land mass, as well as a persistently growing economy. “In America,” de Tocqueville noted, “land costs little, and anyone can become a landowner.”

The Homestead Act was signed by President Lincoln in 1862. By granting land to settlers across the Western states, Lincoln was extending the notion of what historian Henry Nash Smith described as a  “agrarian utopia” ever further into the continental frontier. Yet in reality the Homestead Act, which offered for a $.25 registration fee $1 per 160 acres proved more symbolic than effective, impacting perhaps at most two million people in a nation over 30 million. Railways, using their land grants, actually sold more land than the government gave away.

The westward expansion of the Republic created huge opportunities for expansion of land ownership.  Jefferson wanted the land sold to the public to be a source of one-time revenue and a permanent holding for the buyer.  In many ways, at least until the 1890s, a far higher proportion of Americans owned land—almost 48%—than countries such as Britain where ownership was far more concentrated. These lands, not surprisingly, also became the source of often wild speculative booms and busts, both on the agricultural frontier and the burgeoning cities.

Many factors ultimately undermined the first old agrarian Jeffersonian dream. Capitalist-led industrial growth shifted the proportion of the population living in cities. Only 5 percent in 1790, it rose to almost 20 percent in 1850, and nearly 40% by 1900. The new order, as in England, also weakened the position of the old artisanal professions, which often made up the ranks of the small scale owners; in many cases they were replaced by women, children and new migrants, from the countryside or from abroad. They became, as the British reformist paper The Morning Star wrote, “our white slaves, who are toiled onto the grave, for the most part silently pine and die.”

The movement into cities, and the industrial economy, turned many workers from owners to renters. In the new industrial centers, it became far harder to start a business or own property. Even white collar workers often lost out as the instrumental economic rationality of capitalism displaced a more locally focused economy based on tradition, religion and small-scale production.

In the United States, conditions were generally less gruesome than in Britain or the rest of Europe,  but this did not slow the tendency towards ever great concentration of ownership. The rise of great entrepreneurs like Morgan, Vanderbilt, and Carnegie drove parts of the economy into the hands of  a relative handful of people. This concentration of power and land ownership engendered a powerful protest in both rural and urban areas. Henry George’s influential Progress and Poverty, published in 1879, maintained that “the ownership of land” was the “fundamental fact” determining the social, political and “moral condition of a people.” Land, he asserted, should be owned by the public and government funded by rents.

George’s approach appealed to a population that was seeing land ownership slipping from their grasp. Even on the land, as farming itself modernized, there was a gradual shift , as  farms mechanized and markets became more global, toward tenancy; by 1900 one in three American farmers were landless tenants. The concentration of property ownership continually grew from the 1870s on well into the 1920s.

By the early 20th century, as the original rustic yeoman dream was weakening, there was increased pressure for change from the growing urban population. Much of the pressure came from  a middle and upper-middle class who felt threatened by the concentration of ownership and political power in the hands of the industrial and financial oligarchies.

The Homeownership Revolution

As the nation moved from its agricultural roots, the yeoman class interest in property would find a new main expression in the form of homeownership. This would represent an opportunity both to escape the crowded city or, for the migrant from rural areas, live in a less dense urban environment. This drive was supported by both conservatives and New Dealers, who promulgated legislation that expanded homeownership to record levels. “A nation of homeowners,” Franklin Roosevelt believed, “of people who own a real share in their land, is unconquerable.”

The great social uplift that occurred then, coming to full flower after the Second World War, saw a working class—not only in America but in Europe and parts of east Asia—now enjoying benefits before available only to the affluent classes.  In 1966, author and New Yorker reporter John Brooks observed in his The Great Leap: The Past Twenty-Five Years in America, that, “The middle class was enlarging itself and ever encroaching on the two extremes—the very rich and the very poor.” Indeed, in the middle decades of the 20th Century, the share of income held by the middle class expanded while that of the wealthiest actually fell.

New Deal legislation—the Housing Act of 1934, creation of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Federal National Mortgage Association, or Fannie Mae—set the stage for the great housing boom of the 1950s. This was further augmented by the GI bill, which also provided low-interest loans to returning veterans.  The success of the private financial and construction interests who benefited from this boom, suggests author Eric John Abrahamson, was largely fostered by what he describes as a “planned” economy that consciously sought to expand ownership both during the New Deal and particularly in ensuing decades. Almost half of suburban housing, notes historian Alan Wolfe, depended on some form of federal financing. This egalitarian impulse was in part driven by people returning from WW II and Korea, many of whom benefited from the GI Bill.

This resulted in an unprecedented dispersion of property ownership. This process was aided by a strong economy and the expansion of automobile ownership, which greatly expanded the yeomanry’s mobility. Increasing numbers of the middle class and even working class people become homeowners, sparking an enormous surge in home building. By 1953, the number of Americans owning their own homes climbed to twenty-five million, up from eighteen million in 1948. A country of renters was transformed into a nation of owners. Between 1940 and 1960 non-farm homeownership rose from 43 percent to over 58 percent. It was an accomplishment of historic proportions, notes historian Abrahamson, of “a transformed Jeffersonian vision.”

New Class Conflict Over the form and Nature of Growth

In recent decades, this vision of widening prosperity and property ownership has become increasingly threatened, as most evidenced by the housing bust of 2007-8. It also has come under increased attack from among the ranks of the clerisy. To be sure, many of those who bought homes in the last decade were not economically prepared, as some analysts suggest. But in the wake of the housing bust, the attack on homeownership expanded to include not only planners and pundits, but even parts of the investment community have seen in the yeomanry’s decline an opportunity to expand the base of renters for their own developments.

The ideal of homeownership, particularly in the suburbs, have long raised the ire of many  academics and intellectuals in particular . Some have sought to de-emphasize increased wealth and seek instead to embrace what they consider a more moral, even spiritual standard. This movement, not so far from old feudal concepts, had its earliest modern expression in E.F. Schumacher’s 1973 influential Small is Beautiful and the writings of London School of Economics’ E.J. Mishan.

Both writers rightly criticized the sometimes cruelly mechanistic nature of much technological change, but also revealed a dislike of the very kind of expansive growth that has lifted so many into the yeoman class after the Second World War, not only in America but in Europe and parts of East Asia. “The single minded pursuit for individual advancement, the search for material success,” Mishan wrote, “may be exacting a fearful toll on human happiness.”

In the search for an alternative, both writers looked not forward, but backwards.  Schumacher described “the good qualities of an earlier civilization”, that is, the old rural English society identified not so much with progressivism, or socialism, but the old Tory class order.

More recently, many advocates of slow, or no growth are finding inspiration in even less enlightened settings than old England. Some point to the small Himalayan kingdom of  Bhutan, the site of a 2014 pilgrimage by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber . This  “happiness”  poster child makes an odd exemplar for the 21st century. In contrast to the praise heaped on the tiny nation by Kitzhaber, one Asian development expert recently described the country  as ”still mired by extreme poverty, chronic unemployment and economic stupor that paints a glaring irony of the ‘happiness’  the government wants to portray.” In this “happiest place on earth” one in four lives in poverty, nearly forty percent of the population is illiterate and the infant mortality rate is five times higher than in the United States. It also has a nasty civil rights record of expelling its Nepalese minority of the country.  

Bhutan, of course, is a pastoral country, but some urbanists also increasingly apply their “happiness” ideal to cities, particularly poorer ones. Canadian academic Charles Montgomery, for example, celebrates  what he sees as  high levels of happiness in the city slums of developing countries. Montgomery points to impoverished Bogota, for example,  as “a happy city” that shows the way to urban development. If we can’t do a Bhutanese village, maybe we  can be compelled to evacuate suburbia for the pleasures of life in some thing that more reflects life in a crowded favela.  

Although this emphasis on happiness certainly has its virtues, and should be a consideration in how a society grows, lack of economic growth, and low levels of affluence, seems an unlikely way to make  people more content. Recent research, in fact, finds that, for the most part, wealthier countries are not only richer but happier than those assaulted by poverty. Indeed the happiest countries are not impoverished at all, according to the Earth Institute, but highly affluent countries led by Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden; the lowest ranked countries were all very low-income countries in Africa.

The argument against growth  has  gained currency with the rise of environmentalism, long focused, often with justification, on the negative impacts of economic expansion. This has engendered an understandable search for an alternative standard to measure societal well-being. Climate change campaigners such as The Guardian’s George Monbiot  than “a battle to redefine humanity” , essentially ending the era of “expanders” with that of “restrainers.” Some economists, particularly in Europe, have embraced the  notion of what they call “de-growth,” that is a planned, ratcheting down of mass material prosperity. 

Winners and Losers in the ‘Happiness’ Game

In any conflict over the preferred shape of society, there are winners and losers. The shift from a focus on growth to one on what is fashioned as sustainability has proven a boon both for the public sector, particularly those working in regulatory agencies and politicians who now have new ways to elicit contributors, and those parts of the private sector that work most closely with government. Other beneficiaries include connected investors, including many who benefit from “green” energy subsidies that, particularly when measured by their production of energy, are considerably higher than those secured over the past century by oil and gas interests.

The downsizing of growth, naturally, also appeals to many who already enjoy wealth, such as Ted Turner, who then promote anti-growth policies through their foundations, and, as a bonus,  get to feel very good about themselves. Other winners include the media Clerisy, notably in Hollywood–who propagandize such views while living in unimaginable luxury—as well as academics. The successful and well-compensated producer and director James Cameron complains about “ too many people making money out of the system” and warns that growth must stop to save the planet.

So who loses in the new anti-growth regime? Certainly these include large parts of the working class—farmworkers, lumberjacks, factory operatives, oil field workers and their families—who work in extractive industries most subject to regulatory constraints and higher energy prices. Particularly hard hit may well be young families who, perhaps forsaking the “slacker” life, now find their aspirations of a house and decent job blocked by the generally older, and better off, advocates for “happiness.”

Wall Street and “Progressives” find Common Ground

The rise neo-Feudalism, and the decline of the yeomanry is best understood as the consolidation of ownership in ever fewer hands. This process has been greeted with enthusiasm by financial hegemons, who have stepped in with billions to buy foreclosed homes and then rent them; in some states this has accounted for upwards of twenty percent of all new house purchases. Having undermined the housing market with their “innovations,” notably backing subprime and zero down loans, they now look to profit from the middle orders’ decline by getting them to pay the investment classes’ mortgages through rents.

In the wake of the housing bust, and the longer than expected weak economy following the Great Recession, many financial analysts have insisted that we were headed towards a “rentership society” as homeownership rates plunged from historic highs in the three years following the crash. Part of this shift has been exacerbated by the movement of large investment groups like Blackstone to buy up single family houses for rent, representing a kind of neo-feudalist landscape, where landlords replace owner occupiers, perhaps for the long-run.

The impact of the investor move into housing has had a negative effect on middle and working class potential buyers who find themselves frequently outbid by large equity firms.” There is the possibility that Wall Street and the banks and the affluent 1 percent stand to gain the most from this,” said Jack McCabe, a real estate consultant based in Deerfield Beach, Fla. “Meanwhile, lower-income Americans will lose their opportunity for the American Dream of building wealth through owning a home.”

But, however convenient these developments may prove to investors on Wall Street, for society and the future of the democracy, the concentration of ownership in fewer hands is highly problematical. Rather than the yeoman with his own place, and the social commitment that comes with it, we could be creating a vast, non-property owning lower class permanently forced to tip its hat—and empty its wallet—for the benefit of his economic betters.

One would expect that this diminution of the middle class would offend those on the left, which historically supported both the expansion of ownership and the creation of a better life for the middle class. Yet some progressives, going back to the period before the Second World War, have disliked the very idea of dispersed ownership; many intellectuals, notes Christopher Lasch, found  a society of “small proprietors” and owners “narrow, provincial and reactionary.”

Increasingly, the media and many urbanists, who see a new generation of permanent renters as part of their dream of a denser America, also embrace this vision as being more environmentally benign than traditional suburban sprawl.

The very idea of homeownership is widely ridiculed in the media as a bad investment and many journalists, both left and right, deride the investment in homes as misplaced, and suggest people invest their resources on Wall Street, which, of course, would be of great benefit to the plutocracy. One New York Times writer even suggested that people should buy housing like food, largely ignoring the societal benefits associated with homeownership on children and the stability communities.  Traditional American notion of independence, permanency and identity with neighborhood are given short shrift in this approach.

This odd alliance between the Clerisy and Wall Street works directly against the interest of the middle and aspiring working class. After all, the house is the primary asset of the middle orders, who have far less in terms of stocks and other financial assets than the highly affluent. Having deemed high-density housing and renting superior, the confluence of Clerical ideals and Wall Street money has the effect on creating an ever greater, and perhaps long-lasting, gap between the investor class and the yeomanry.

This piece 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. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available for pre-order at Amazon and Telos Press. 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.

Why Do We Care About Transportation Mode Share?

Fri, 08/08/2014 - 22:38

The New York Times ran an op-ed piece that helpfully demonstrated the pitfalls of lifestyle arguments in favor of urbanism, namely that they are annoying to everyone but the people making the argument.

The boys, like their father, are lean, strong and healthy. Their parents chose to live in New York, where their legs and public transit enable them to go from place to place efficiently, at low cost and with little stress (usually). They own a car but use it almost exclusively for vacations.

“Green” commuting is a priority in my family. I use a bicycle for most shopping and errands in the neighborhood, and I just bought my grandsons new bicycles for their trips to and from soccer games, accompanied by their cycling father.

These arguments – whether they’re about physical health, or “diverse” or “vibrant” or “creative” communities, or whatever else – are, at bottom, about telling people that they are lacking, and that in order to improve themselves they should become more like the author. In the 1970s, when city dwellers felt superior mainly because of their supposed cultural capital and were telling middle-class suburbanites to loosen up a little, that might have been obnoxious but harmless. In our current situation – when the city dwellers making these arguments are the economic elite (the author of this particular piece, Jane Brody, lives in gentrified brownstone Brooklyn, I believe) – it’s a lot more sinister. Brody talks about commutes as if their length and form were something that most people could freely choose, rather than something imposed upon them by their wages and the price of housing and form of development of their metropolitan area. She makes this a story about personal morality, rather than the constraints we choose to put on people through public policy.

This is related, I think, to the study about mode share in U.S. cities that got passed around the urbanist blogosphere recently. In virtually every instance, the study was presented like a sports power ranking, with the winning cities being those with the least travel by car (“city of Chicago ranks sixth among large U.S. cities for percentage of people either biking, walking, or riding transit,” is a typical formulation of the lede).

But why, exactly, do we care about mode share? The pettiest possible answer is that we doconceive of cars v. transit/biking as a sort of culture war, just like many committed drivers have alleged, and what percentage of people choose to drive or do something else is how we measure whether or not we are winning. This, clearly, is not a particularly edifying possibility. A better answer might be that we really do want everyone else to be more like us – to reap the benefits of non-car commuting, from being healthier (although, contra Brody, I spent my subway commute today scarfing down a pound of spaghetti) to polluting less – and this tells us how many people are enjoying those perks.

That’s much more reasonable, but still problematic in that, like the Times piece, it strongly implies that the issue is individual choice, rather than the circumstances that constrain that choice. The people who write for places like Streetsblog know that circumstances matter, but for the casual reader, articles about mode share makes those issues a sort of specialists’ background.

That’s too bad, because mode share does convey some important information about constraints. If we assume that, allowing for some cultural margin of error, most people will choose to get to work via whatever method they find most efficient and comfortable, then we can determine roughly what percentage of people in any given city have decent access to transit – access that’s at least in the same ballpark of convenience as driving – just by looking at what percentage of people actually use it. Obviously there are complications to this: since one major inconvenience of driving is cost, cities with high poverty rates may have mode shares that exaggerate their transit’s effectiveness, for example. And since transportation choice is basically zero-sum on an individual basis – that is, all that matters is the relative efficiency of each mode – you could get a lot of people on transit by making driving truly hellish, without providing decent service. (Although in the American context, I think there are vanishingly few places where that would be an issue.)

Moreover, if we care about mode share as a proxy for service effectiveness, then beyond a certain point – say, a quarter, a third, whatever, of commuters – you’re kind of done. It doesn’t really matter. If New York City, with one of the most comprehensive transit systems in the world, can only get 50% of its commuters on buses and trains, then surely most of the distinction between it and, say, Asian cities with much higher transit mode shares isn’t the quality of their systems (although they may be of higher quality), but the increased misery of driving in ever-denser places. The issue stops being whether we can get from 40% to 45%, but whether subregions of the metropolitan area have strongly varying mode shares, suggesting that you can only get decent access to transit if you live in the right place. And, of course, that is in fact the case.

But if what really matters is service levels and access – if what we’re trying to accomplish is giving everyone a level of service where transit is a viable option, for reasons outlined here– then why not just measure that directly? Why not have widely-disseminated statistics about the percentage of people in every metropolitan region who can walk to a transit stop? Or make a bigger deal about the number of people who can reach some given percentage of metro area jobs via transit in a reasonable time frame? I almost never see those numbers in urbanist conversations, and to the extent that I do, they’re sort of ghettoized into the “social justice” urbanist subculture.

But these seem like relevant numbers for “mainstream” urbanists, too. In fact, they seem a lot better than mode share. Generalized public arguments in favor of transit projects are more likely to benefit from language that suggests they’ll provide options, rather than language that suggests the ultimate goal of the policy is to force people out of their cars. Because, in fact, that’s what public policy should be about: making transportation easier for more people, rather than moralizing about the perfectly legitimate choices that people make, given their circumstances.

This post originally appeared in City Notes on November 11, 2013. Daniel Hertz is a masters student at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.

Image from A metro bus in Madison, Wisconsin.

UN Projects 2030 US Urban Area Populations

Thu, 08/07/2014 - 14:17

The United Nations periodically publishes World Urbanization Prospects. One of the highlights is both historic and projected detailed population information for individual cities around the world. The publication provides perhaps the best summary of US urban area population trends since 1950 and also projects their population through 2030. The UN provides data for the 135 urban areas with an estimated population of at least 300,000 residents in 2014. Urban areas are the city in its physical form – the built up area (as opposed to cities in their functional or economic form, the metropolitan area, which includes economically connected territory outside the built up area, from the urban core to the suburbs to the periphery bordering farms and other rural land).

US Urban Areas Since 1950

The United States has undergone an urban population revolution since 1950, the first year that urban areas were designated by the US Census Bureau. In 1950, two-thirds of the population of the urban areas in the UN list was located in the urban areas of the Northeast and the Midwest (including Washington & Baltimore). By 1990, the share had dropped to one half. The UN expects this trend to continue, projecting only 40 percent of the urbanized population to be in the Northeast and the Midwest by 2030 (Figure 1).

Not unexpectedly, this new urban landscape has produced substantial shifts in the rankings of urban areas. The top three cities remain the same, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago; Los Angeles overtook Chicago between 1950 and 1960. This was a stunning achievement, because during the 1950s, Chicago also was experiencing strong growth, adding approximately 1.2 million residents. This is approximately four times the 300,000 added in between 2000 and 2010. Los Angeles passed Chicago by adding 2.5 million residents, the largest 10 year increase of any city since 1950. Los Angeles continued to add more than one million residents per decade through 2000, but has since fallen into the sluggish growth pattern more identified with the Northeast and Midwest, adding less than 400,000 residents between 2000 and 2010.

From today's perspective, it may be surprising that New York grew strongly after 1950, adding 1.8 million residents in the 1950s and 2.0 million in the 1960s. After that, however, the population began declining and did not recover until the 1990s. Like Chicago and Los Angeles, despite the clear improvement in many areas, population growth was small in the last decade, at 550,000.

There has been little stability in the rankings of the rest of the top 10, with only two 1950s entries remaining. Philadelphia, which was ranked 4th in 1950 is now fifth. Boston was ranked 6th, but has fallen to 10th. Detroit was 5th ranked in 1950, and was 12th in 2010. San Francisco has fallen from 7th to 13th. The largest losses in ranking were Pittsburgh which fell 8th to 26th, St. Louis which dropped from 9th to 20th and Cleveland, which fell from 10th to 24th. 

New entrants Miami, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Washington and Atlanta have replaced these cities in the top 10.

The Largest Cities in 2030

The UN's population projections to 2030 indicate modest rankings changes from the present. The top 10 would remain the same, except that Boston would be replaced by Phoenix. As a result, only four of 1950s top ten remain in 2030 – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia (Figure 2). The rise of Phoenix is particularly impressive. In 1950, Phoenix had a population little more than 200,000. By 2030, it is projected to have 4.8 million residents.

Houston is expected to rise from the 7th largest urban area in 2010 to 4th largest in 2030. Houston would thus pass Miami, Philadelphia and in-state rival Dallas-Fort Worth. Miami and Philadelphia would each fall two positions.

By 2030, there would be 53 urban areas with more than 1,000,000 population, up from 41 in 2010. By comparison, there were only 12 cities with more than 1,000,000 residents in 1950. Seven of the new 1,000,000 cities  are located in major metropolitan areas as of 2010. New Orleans would be restored to the over 1,000,000 list, after having been knocked out by the 2005 Hurricane Katrina and Rita events. Buffalo, however, which is the only other urban area to have fallen below 1,000,000 population (in the 1980s), will not be restored to that level, according to the UN. In addition, Bridgeport, Tucson, Albuquerque, El Paso and McAllen would reach the 1,000,000 level by 2030. The addition of El Paso and McAllen would tie Texas with California, with each having six urban areas with more than 1,000,000 population.

Greater Growth in Smaller Cities

The UN anticipates that US growth will be less concentrated in the largest urban areas between 2010 and 2030. Overall, the population of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago is expected to grow less than 9 percent, less than one half their 19 percent 2010 overall share of the urban population reported by the UN. The other cities over 5 million and those between 2.5 million and 5 million would grow slightly less than their overall share of the population, as is indicated in Figure 3

The smaller population categories would grow faster than their population share. The cities with 1,000,000 to 2.5 million population would grow nearly 15 percent faster than their proportion of the population. Those with from 500,000 to 1,000,000 would grow nearly 20 percent more than their proportion of the population. The cities will fewer than 500,000 residents would capture nearly 50 percent more of their growth than their current population proportion.

Fastest Growing Cities

Only four of today's 50 largest cities would be among the 20 fastest growing from 2010 to 2030. Charlotte and Raleigh would rank 6th and 7th respectively, both growing approximately 72 percent. Austin would rank 11th, growing 59 percent and Las Vegas, at 14th, would grow 51 percent.

The largest percentage growth would be in smaller urban areas, especially in areas near much larger urban areas. The Woodlands would grow 170 percent, nearly five times that the rate of adjacent Houston, which would itself be the fastest growing urban area of more than 2,000,000 population (35 percent). Murrieta-Temecula and Victorville would grow 100 percent and 75 percent respectively, dwarfing the 36 percent of nearby Riverside San Bernardino. Kissimmee would double adjacent Orlando's growth rate, at 78 percent. Provo is expected to grow 69 percent, nearly three times the growth rate of nearby Salt Lake City. Santa Clarita and Lancaster would grow 64 percent and 55 percent respectively, much faster than their much larger neighbor, Los Angeles, at 9 percent.

South Florida cities Cape Coral (80 percent), Bonita Springs-Naples (52 percent) and Port St. Lucie (51 percent) by would grow at three to five times giant Miami.

The same pattern holds even in the Northeast Corridor. Poughkeepsie, at 32 percent, would grow nearly four times the rate of nearby New York, while Worcester would more than double the growth of Boston.

Fayetteville, Arkansas, an urban area that includes Bentonville, with the Wal-Mart headquarters, is the only urban area that is far from larger urban areas and projected to be among the fastest growing (80 percent). Fayetteville is more than 200 miles from both Kansas City and Oklahoma City.         

Continuing Dispersal

Of course, projections are no more than educated guesses. The emerging reality could be similar or radically different than the projections, as is always the case. Nonetheless, from the present vantage point, UN projections show continuing dispersal, as greater growth occurs in smaller urban areas, and continues to move outside the Northeast and Midwest.

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 on additional resources: The United States Conference of Mayors has published metropolitan area projections to 2042. Demographia World Urban Areasprovides urban land area and density estimates for all indentified urban areas of 500,000 population or more, with population data provided by the United Nations, national census authorities and other sources.

Photo by Mike Lee

Size is not the Answer: The Changing Face of the Global City

Wed, 08/06/2014 - 22:38

This is an exerpt from a new report published by Civil Service College of Singapore, authored by Joel Kotkin with contributions from Wendell Cox, Ali Modarres, and Aaron M. Renn.

Download the full report.

As the world urbanises and more megacities are created, some smaller, focused urban regions are becoming truly critical global hubs, unlike most larger cities, which are simply tied to their national economies. In a new ranking of global cities, CSC Senior Visiting Fellow Joel Kotkin argues that the truly global city is one that is uniquely situated to navigate the global transition to an information-based economy since the influence of industries such as media, culture or technology are the ones that will determine economic power in future. Kotkin also examines the fundamental challenge faced by cities as they achieve global status: the need to balance two identities, a global and a local one. "The world beckons, and must be accommodated, but a city must be more than a fancy theme park, or a collection of elite headquarters and expensive residential towers", he asserts.

In this urban age, much has been written and discussed about global cities.1 Yet, as the world urbanises and with more megacities (with populations of ten million or more) created, there is a growing need to re-evaluate which are truly significant global players and which are simply large places that are more tied to their national economies than critical global hubs. Similarly, it becomes more critical to consider the unique challenges faced by cities as they achieve world-wide status.

The term “world city” has been in use since the time of Patrick Geddes in 1915. In 1966, Peter Hall published his seminal work “The World Cities”. Hall’s world cities were all predominant cities in existing key nation-states. Later, the concept of “global cities”, based largely on concentrations of business service firms, emerged as the primary terminology describing such international centres.

Be it “world” or “global” cities, such cities have long based their pre-eminence on things such as cultural power, housing the world’s great universities, research laboratories, financial institutions, corporate headquarters, and existence of vast empires and their extended legacy. They also disproportionately attracted the rich, and served as centres of luxury shopping, dining, and entertainment. These world cities have exercised outsized global influence in a system dominated by nation-states.2

As a result, the discussion of global cities has focused primarily on megacities such as New York, Paris, Los Angeles, and Tokyo. This is not surprising, since the population of the world’s largest city has grown nearly six-fold since 1900 (London, in 1900, compared to Tokyo, in 2014). Smaller cities, such as Dubai, Houston, or the San Francisco Bay Area, have not been ranked as highly as they may have deserved.

Rethinking the Urban Hierarchy

We believe the traditional approach has underestimated the overarching importance of a region’s role in technology, media or its dominance over a key global industry.

This new appraisal also stems from the declining power of nation-states in a globalised economy. In 1900, the capitals of empire—London, Paris, Tokyo, Berlin and St. Petersburg—were also the largest cities, the predominant centres of world trade and the exchange of ideas. The exception was non-government anomaly, New York, which has remained North America’s premier city; in contrast, at least until recently, Washington was a relatively minor city.

Today, we are in a period like that of the Renaissance and early modern Europe, where global activity gravitates towards small, more trade-oriented cities, for example, Tyre, early Carthage, Athens, Venice, Antwerp, and Amsterdam and the cities of the Hanseatic League (each home to less than 175,000 people). These cities, for which trade was a necessity, were tiny compared not only to Constantinople (700,000 people), but also London and Paris (more than twice as the trading cities). Similarly, the early trade hubs of Asia were often not larger imperial capitals—such as Kaifeng and later Beijing in China— but smaller cities such as Cambay (India), Melaka (Malaysia) and Zaitun (now Quanzhou in China).

We are seeing smaller, focused urban regions that are achieving more than most larger cities. Compared to many of their larger counterparts, new and dynamic global cities, such as Singapore, Dubai, Houston and the San Francisco Bay Area, have become more influential in the world economy, as measured by critical factors like technology, media, culture, diversity, transportation access and degree of economic integration in the world economy. This “archipelago of technologically high developed city regions”, notes urban geographer Paul Knox, are replacing nation-states as emerging avenues of economic power and influence.

These new global hubs thrive not primarily due to their size, but as a result of their greater efficiencies. This can be seen in the location of foreign subsidiaries. For example, compared to Tokyo, Singapore now has more than twice as many regional headquarters; Singapore and Hong Kong also perform far better in this respect than Asia’s numerous, much larger but less affluent megacities. Global hubs are helped by their facility with English—the world’s primary language of finance, culture, and, most critically, technology. English dominates the global economic system from New York and London to Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai. This linguistic, digital and cultural2 congruence poses concerns for major competing cities, including those Russia and mainland China.

Download the full report.

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.

What College Gowns Bring to Towns

Tue, 08/05/2014 - 22:38

The college town, one of America’s most appealing and unique features, grew out of the Age of Reason, and the concept of a regional, liberal-arts college nurtured by a small town has been intertwined with American history. Today, with enrollment dropping, the small, private college seems to be going the same way as the typewriter, the newspaper and the independent bookstore. While some colleges struggle to survive, the institution of the college town lives in suspended animation, ready to support whatever form its major employer may take. One thing’s for sure: the reinvention of the post-college town is coming.

Here in Central Florida, the tradition of a liberal-arts college entwined with a small or medium-sized municipality is alive and well, for the moment. But trouble is brewing. While private institutions in Central Florida may not advertise their funding problems, the truth is plain to see. Rapid expansion of athletic programs, sure-fire profit centers for most schools, is underway at Rollins College, Stetson, and University of Tampa, and all are exploring other ways to reach more students, as well.

Florida’s public universities are not immune to budget problems, either. And their response to the financial crisis says much about the future of college towns everywhere.

Reinvention of the liberal arts college itself has been a cottage industry for the last several years. Student body diversification into “lifelong learning” (read: the lucrative retiree demographic), extensions, outreach campuses, and summer programs for primary and secondary schools has surged, as colleges try to open new markets. Bloated administrative costs have given rise to urgent fundraising and athletic programs, while an army of poorly paid adjunct professors shoulder an increasing burden of responsibility for the actual work of teaching. But, as Moody’s analyst Susan Fitzgerald has said about small, tuition-dependent colleges, they are in “a death spiral – this continuing downward momentum for some institutions [means] we’ll see more closures than in the past.”

The Economist magazine has compared colleges to newspapers. If their analogy were to hold true, of the 4,700 colleges and universities in the world, “more than 700 institutions would shut their doors.” Citing the rise of massive, open, online courses or MOOCS, the magazine suggested that the idea of a professor interacting face-to-face with students will become a luxury. Colleges seem destined to end up in the same tiresome boat as the rest of the digital world, where everything, ultimately, becomes a product on Amazon.

Uncertainty about the future has hastened the liberal arts school’s demise. In the darkest days of the recession we were told there was a STEM crisis: science, technology, engineering and mathematics were the fields that would get you a job. People ditched their liberal arts pursuits for more practical, employable ones, swearing off the indulgent frivolity of a philosophy course for a computer programming class. Panicking parents and students stampeded out of the gothic halls of the English department as fast as they could.

Here in Florida, to pay for a new state campus in Lakeland, the Governor gutted the operational budget of Florida’s 11 other institutions of higher education. The new campus, located on rural land adjacent to Interstate 4, is far from any sort of population center. It's a soulless commuter school; any form of a college town to accompany it lies far, far in the future.

USF Polytechnic is being billed as a “destination campus”. Its showy new structure nearly complete, it lies naked to the Florida scrub and Interstate 4, with a few lonely stucco buildings and portable classrooms marking a kind of desperate, treeless sense of place in the hot Florida sun. No flip-flop-shod students strumming guitars, debating the meaning of Proust or the relevance of Marx will ever be found under its oak trees or in front of its bohemian coffee shops, because there aren’t any. Instead, there’s a harsh, asphalt parking lot and a long, hot trudge to the endpoint, another signal that one’s college years are just like a shopping trip to Wal-mart.

If the one-in-seven death rate holds true, then one of the seven college towns in Central Florida will not have a future either. Gainesville, DeLand, Winter Park, St. Augustine, Tampa, Lakeland, and St. Petersburg are seven places with streets, residences, and businesses that each have grown up around colleges, public and private, and that enjoy a thriving sidewalk life.

Ironically, at least two of these colleges were born in another desperate time, the Great Depression. The University of Tampa, across the Hillsborough River from downtown Tampa, started in a failed hotel when the city took it over from owner Henry Plant’s railroad empire. Likewise, Flagler College in St. Augustine began in a resort hotel built by New York railroad magnate Henry Flagler. The small, private, liberal-arts college was a perfect solution. A grand old structure was re-inhabited, and a struggling city was bolstered.

Towns that grew up around these places have different, more informal qualities than other towns. In Gainesville, for example, churches, temples, student centers, and other non-profit institutions occupy prominent positions within the urban core. There's a diversity of old houses with garage apartments, lean-tos, and enclosed porches. Wood apartment buildings have side stairs, outdoor beer kegs, and bicycle racks. They sit under huge, mature trees, clad in subtropical philodendron vines, and are connected by narrow dirt pathways carved independent of sidewalks. A sense of grown-over-time pervades within and around campus, its boundaries softened by sneaker and bicycle traffic, concert posters and poetry reading notices.

Gainesville, with nearly fifty thousand students, will probably survive, but other, smaller towns may struggle. As conversion to digital learning reduces costs, the college town may disappear. Anonymous reviews, posted online, replace conversations in bookstores. University Avenue may be deleted, just like yesterday’s term paper.

Our bookshelves are crowded with titles about the urban future, but in all of this furious scribbling it seems no one has noticed that sidewalks have all but emptied out in many of our cities. Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and a few more still march to the pedestrian beat. But a fairly thorough survey of peninsular Florida yields few sidewalks with any kind of street life — and the few that still operate as shared, social space all belong to our college towns.

Students, with one foot in childhood and one in adulthood, still walk on sidewalks. They shop online, too, but they still patronize businesses for the sake of the social interaction, and still have use for the physicality of the street… for a street life that seems to be endangered.

College towns, living on today in a shadow of their former bohemian selves, will be reinvented, just as education systems will. But for now, deprived of street life, we breed a different sort of citizen and thinker than an old college town once did. This new digital citizen will construct social space in ways yet to be foreseen.

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

Photo of downtown Gainesville by the author. This scene is typical of the streets surrounding the campus of the University of Florida.

Millennial Boomtowns: Where The Generation Is Clustering (It's Not Downtown)

Mon, 08/04/2014 - 13:23

Much has been written about the supposed preference of millennials to live in hip urban settings where cars are not necessary. Surveys of best cities for millennials invariably feature places like New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston, cities that often are also favorites of the authors.

Yet there has been precious little support for such assertions. I asked demographer Wendell Cox to do a precise, up-to-date analysis of where this huge generation born between 1983 and 2003 actually resides. Using Census American Community Survey data, Cox has drawn an intriguing picture of millennial America, one that is often at odds with the conventional wisdom of many of their elders.

The Hidden Millennials

We focused on individuals aged 20 to 29, which represents most of the millennial generation that is finishing post-secondary education and getting established in the workforce. Much of the writing about millennials focuses on their impact on downtowns and urban cores. And to be sure, the numbers of millennials living in urban cores has grown, as downtowns and inner-city neighborhoods have gentrified, particularly in cities such as Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Chicago. Overall, from 2010 to 2013, the population of 20- to 29-year-olds in core counties (which in most cases are identical to the core city of the metropolitan area) rose by 407,400, or 3.2%.

However, that must be put in the context of the overall increase nationwide of that age group in that time span: 4%. Despite the growth in raw numbers of 20- to 29-year-olds living in core counties, the share of the age group living in these areas actually declined slightly, by 0.78%, compared to 2010. Meanwhile, the share of the age group living in the less dense portions of metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas  increased. Overall roughly 30% of all millennials live in core counties, which means 70% live somewhere else. In the last three years, the number of millennials outside core counties increased by 1.28 million. In 2010, the functional urban cores, characterized by higher density and higher reliance on transit, were home to 19% of the 20-29s in major metropolitan areas, down from 20% in 2000.

In contrast to the constantly reported on urban hipsters, the vast majority of this generation, who get precious little attention from the media or marketing gurus, might be best described as “hidden millennials.” We have to assume some of these young people are still living, primarily in suburbia, with their parents; a recent Pew study put the percentage of people 18 to 31 living at home at 36%, up from 32% before the recession, as well as the 34% level registered in 2009.

This constitutes a population of over 20 million and not all are hopeless slackers — the vast majority have at least some college education. But they are also disproportionately unemployed or out of the workforce, and, living in their parents’ homes, they are pretty much ignored by everyone except perhaps their friends and relatives. Other millennials may well be living in suburban apartments, which tend to be somewhat less expensive, and others, perhaps the oldest of the group, have begun to “launch” starting families and buying houses, which would tend to put them in the suburbs and smaller cities as well.

Millennial Boomtowns

Equally surprising are those cities that have seen the largest increases in their millennial population. It is dogma among greens, urban pundits, planners and developers that the under 30 crowd doesn’t like what Grist called “sprawling car dependent cities.” Too bad no one told most millennials. For the most part, looking at America’s largest metro areas (the 52 metropolitan statistical areas with populations over a million) the fastest growth in millennial populations tend to be in the Sun Belt and Intermountain West. Leading the way is, San Antonio, Texas, where the 20 to 29 population grew 9.2% from 2010-13, an increase of 28,600.

Right behind it, also in the Sun Belt, are Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif. (8.3%); Orlando, Fla. (8.1%); and Miami (7.7%).

Surprisingly Detroit, long considered a demographic basket case, comes in it at No. 5 in our study, with an impressive 6.8% increase. Given the implosion in the population in the city of Detroit, this growth is likely to have taken place almost entirely in the region’s suburbs, which have done far better both economically and demographically than the core.

The Hipster Capitals Lag

For the most part the “capitals of cool” allegedly so irresistible to millennials rank further down the list. The only two arguable hipster magnets to make the top ten were the Denver metro area (seventh) and  Seattle (ninth). The New York metro area ranks 39th with a 3.2% increase, lagging the national expansion in this age group of 4%. The San Francisco-Oakland region, despite the tech boom, places 37th, while the Portland area, renowned as a place where millennials supposedly “go to retire,” ranks 44th. The Chicago metro area’s 20-29 population was essentially unchanged, putting it 49th on our list.

One reason may be that core urban areas are not experiencing the surge in millennials widely asserted. Indeed the millennial populations of the five core counties (or boroughs) of New York grew only 2%, half the national rate of increase and below that of the metro area as a whole.

The same pattern can be seen in the cores of such attractive hipster magnets as San Francisco and Boston, both of which have seen negligible growth among millennials. It appears these areas always attract young people, but also lose them over time. Even more shocking, the 20-29 populations have actually declined since 2010 in the core areas of such much celebrated youth magnets as Chicago (-0.6%) and Portland(-2.5%). Besides Seattle and Denver, the only hip core city showing expanding appeal to millennials is the anomaly of resurgent New Orleans, where the ranks of 20-29 old has grown over 5% since 2010.

The Future of Millennial America

What emerges from this survey is a  picture of a millennial America that does not much mirror the one suggested in most media and pundit accounts. The metro areas with the highest percentages of millennials tend, for the most part, to be not dense big cities but either college towns — Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio, for example — or Sun Belt cities. Virginia Beach leads the pack, with 17% of its population aged 20 to 29, compared to 14% nationwide.

But overall  the towns with the biggest share of millennials today are also those growing this population the fastest:  Southern or Intermountain West cities. One big contributing factor is their large Hispanic communities, which for the last three decades have had a far higher birthrate than whites. Latinos constitute 20% of all millennials. This may help explain the large presence of millennials in places like Orlando, Riverside-San Bernardino, and Los Angeles. Other factors may be places where there tend to be high numbers of children, such as Mormon-dominated Salt Lake City.

What these results suggest is that marketers, homebuilders and politicians seeking to target the increasingly important millennial population need to look beyond urban cores. The vast majority of millennials do not live in dense inner city neighborhoods — in fact less than 12% of the nation’s 20-29s did in 2010. Rather than white hipsters, many millennials are working class and minority;  in 2012, Hispanics and African-Americans represented 34% of the 20-29 population. Presumably many of them are more concerned with making a living than looking out for “fair trade” coffee or urban authenticity.

Like most of America, the millennials are far more suburban, more dispersed and less privileged than what one sees on shows such as “Girls” or read about in accounts in theNew York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Reality is often more complex, and less immediately compelling, than the preferred media narrative. But understanding the actual geography of this generation may provide a first step to gaining wisdom how to approach and understand this critically important generation.

20-29 Population Change: Major Metropolitan Areas: 2010-2013 Rank Major Metropolitan Area (MMSA) 2010 2013 Change 1 San Antonio, TX         311        340 9.2% 2 Riverside-San Bernardino, CA         605        655 8.3% 3 Orlando, FL         322        348 8.1% 4 Miami, FL         716        771 7.7% 5 Detroit,  MI         506        541 6.8% 6 Houston, TX         856        909 6.2% 7 Denver, CO         357        378 6.0% 8 Charlotte, NC-SC         288        304 5.8% 9 Seattle, WA         499        528 5.7% 10 Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC         274        290 5.6% 11 Buffalo, NY         153        162 5.4% 12 Jacksonville, FL         187        197 5.3% 13 Grand Rapids, MI         141        148 5.2% 14 Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL         341        359 5.1% 15 Rochester, NY         146        153 4.8% 16 Dallas-Fort Worth, TX         911        954 4.7% 17 Raleigh, NC         154        161 4.7% 18 Los Angeles, CA      1,941     2,032 4.7% 19 Richmond, VA         167        174 4.6% 20 Nashville, TN         242        253 4.6% 21 Indianapolis. IN         253        264 4.5% 22 Phoenix, AZ         592        618 4.3% 23 Sacramento, CA         307        321 4.3% 24 Cleveland, OH         242        252 4.3% 25 Austin, TX         295        307 4.2% 26 Boston, MA-NH         663        690 4.1% 27 Memphis, TN-MS-AR         182        189 4.1% 28 Oklahoma City, OK         195        203 4.0% 29 Atlanta, GA         719        747 4.0% 30 Hartford, CT         154        160 3.9% 31 San Jose, CA         254        263 3.9% 32 Pittsburgh, PA         293        305 3.8% 33 Providence, RI-MA         217        224 3.6% 34 San Diego, CA         521        540 3.5% 35 Baltimore, MD         381        394 3.5% 36 Washington, DC-VA-MD-WV         818        846 3.4% 37 San Francisco-Oakland, CA         605        625 3.4% 38 New Orleans. LA         176        181 3.3% 39 New York, NY-NJ-PA      2,740     2,828 3.2% 40 Columbus, OH         283        291 3.0% 41 Louisville, KY-IN         159        164 3.0% 42 Philadelphia, PA-NJ-DE-MD         823        848 3.0% 43 Las Vegas, NV         277        285 2.9% 44 Portland, OR-WA         306        311 1.8% 45 Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN         280        285 1.7% 46 Kansas City, MO-KS         263        267 1.3% 47 St. Louis,, MO-IL         371        372 0.2% 48 Chicago, IL-IN-WI      1,326     1,328 0.2% 49 Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI         470        471 0.2% 50 Birmingham, AL         151        151 -0.4% 51 Milwaukee,WI         216        215 -0.4% 52 Salt Lake City, UT         178        177 -0.5% MMSAs    23,827   24,780 4.0% Outside MMSAs    18,862   19,595 3.9% United States    42,688   44,376 4.0% In thousands

Analysis by Wendell Cox.

This story originally appeared at Forbes.

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

Democrats Risk Blue-collar Rebellion

Sun, 08/03/2014 - 22:01

If California is to change course and again become a place of opportunity, the impetus is likely to come not from the perennially shrinking Republican Party but from working-class and middle-class Democrats.

This group, long quiescent, has emerged most notably in opposition to the state’s anti-global warming cap-and-trade policies, which will force up energy prices. Recently, some 16 Democratic Assembly members, led by Fresno’s Henry Perea, asked the state to suspend the cap-and-trade program, which will add as much as a dollar to what already are among the highest gasoline prices in the nation.

In some senses, this budding blue-collar rebellion exposes the essential contradiction between the party’s now-dominant gentry Left and its much larger and less well-off voting base. For the people who fund the party – public employee unions, Silicon Valley and Hollywood – higher energy prices are more than worth the advantages. Public unions get to administer the program and gain in power and employment while venture capitalists and firms, like Google, get to profit on mandated “green energy” schemes.

What’s in it for Hollywood? Well, entertainment companies are shifting production elsewhere in response to subsidies offered by other states, localities and companies, so high energy costs and growing impoverishment across Southern California doesn’t figure to really hurt their businesses. Furthermore, by embracing “green” policies, the famously narcissistic Hollywood crowd also gets to feel good about themselves, a motivation not to be underestimated.

This upside, however, does not cancel out hoary factors such as geography, race and class. One can expect lock-step support for any proposed shade of green from most coastal Democrats. Among lawmakers, the new Democratic dissenters don’t tend to come from Malibu or Portola Valley. They often represent heavily Latino areas of the Inland Empire and Central Valley, where people tend to have less money, longer drives to work and a harder time affording a decent home. Cap and trade’s impact on gasoline prices – which could approach an additional $2 a gallon by 2020 – is a very big deal in these regions.

Many of these same people historically have worked in industries such as manufacturing and logistics, industries that rely on reasonable energy prices. Companies in these fields increasingly seek locations in lower-cost states, such as Washington, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Arizona, taking generally high-paying blue-collar jobs with them. It’s rare to find a manufacturer, for example, who would move to or expand in, California, outside of a handful of subsidized firms. Even ethnic-food companies are looking elsewhere, despite the fact that the raw materials and a large local market exist here.

The dispute in California over cap and trade – where government limits businesses’ greenhouse gas emissions, and higher-emitting companies buy allowances to exceed their limits – may just be the harbinger of a wider conflict within the party nationally. In Washington, D.C., there is tension between East Coast and West Coast Democrats on one side and representatives from the Plains and the South on the other. Progressives shrug at the loss of these regions and the associated white working-class voters who, as the liberal website Daily Kos contended earlier this year, are just a bunch of racists, anyway.

But, at least here in California, much of the working class is made up of minorities, who are increasingly the economic victims of the enlightened ones. One place to see this is in Richmond in Northern California, where a Green Party mayor and a similarly aligned planning department have tried to block the refurbishing of Chevron’s large refinery there, which is also the economic bulwark of the area.

The dispute over the refinery suggests divisions that may become more commonplace. Essentially, you have on one side overwhelmingly white, often very-affluent greens, allied with powerful Democratic politicians, arrayed to obstruct the refinery. On the other side, you have minorities, many of them union members, whose livelihoods and high-paying jobs depend on the refinery.

The incipient rift between such blue-collar workers and gentry Democrats is inevitable. The wealthy donors who dominate both local and national Democratic politics, like San Francisco hedge fund mogul Tom Steyer, may have made much of their fortunes in fossil fuels, as the New York Times, among others, have reported. But now, having embraced a stringent environmentalism, the gentry seek to impose their “green” agenda on the hoi polloi. If this hypocrisy isn’t disturbing enough, consider the increasingly top-down nature of environmentalist politics. In the past, conservationists focused on how to protect people from harm and preserve nature, in part, so people might enjoy it.

Many of today’s progressives not only are determined to protect their privileges, but seek to limit the opportunities for pretty much everyone else. People like Steyer, for example, who is close to both the Obama White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, can enjoy their vast estates, while supporting policies that make it improbable for middle-class families to afford a home with a decent back yard.

In many ways, their approach is reminiscent of the old British aristocracy, who combined a passion for preserving nature within their lands with a commitment to limiting its accessibility to the masses. People like billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla are big on being green, but don’t want their less well-endowed neighbors to access the beach near their estates. It’s “Animal Farm” for the ecological age: Some animals, it seems, are more equal – and righteously green – than others.

With virtual strangleholds on much of the media, academia and the punditry, the gentry and their allies may be able to limit coverage of this inherent conflict, but it will be difficult to suppress forever the essential contradictions between the gentry and everyone else.

Democratic strategists hope that, by focusing on social issues – immigration, abortion and gay rights – they can keep the peasants in line. And to be sure, Republicans pushing nativism and social conservatism seem determined to distract Latinos, Asians, women and gays from focusing on the realities of an increasingly neofeudalist California. Political analyst Michael Lind contends this Democratic strategy may not succeed over time. For one thing, he notes, differences on many social issues are narrowing, in part, as more minorities, singles and gays move into suburban or exurban locales.

As social issues become less heated, political divides figure to develop more along economic lines. This conflict may prove no easier to resolve than the GOP’s internal struggle between the Tea Party and corporatists. The Democratic divide will pit much of the party’s financial and media base, in Hollywood and Silicon Valley, against the interests and aspirations of middle- and working-class people who make up the vast majority of Democratic voters.

For those who enjoy political combat, this schism guarantees more sharp divisions among the Democrats. More importantly, this conflict should generate greater debate about correcting our current course, which would be good news for the rest of us.

This article first appeared in the Orange County Register.

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

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The Uniqueness of Detroit’s Housing Stock

Fri, 08/01/2014 - 22:38

Last week, as part of my series on planning reasons behind Detroit’s decline, part 2 of the nine-part series was about the city’s poor housing stock.  I started to play with some numbers to see if there was any validity to my opinions about the city’s housing, and I found some very intriguing things.  Detroit’s housing stock is definitely unique among its Midwestern and Rust Belt peer cities, and perhaps among cities nationwide.  Let’s examine.

Grouping the cities by population figures from the 2013 U.S. Census population estimates, and housing data from the 2008-2012 American Community Survey, I looked at housing age and single family detached housing data for 15 Midwest/Rust Belt cities with populations above 250,000.  One city I typically include in an analysis like this, Louisville, was not included due to a lack of ACS data.  Data for the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul were aggregated into one (sorry, Minneapolis and St. Paul) because they jointly function as the core city for their region.  Here’s the big table with all the data:

That’s a lot to digest, so I’ll take the data piece by piece.  First, let’s look at the cities ranked by their percentage of housing units built in 1969 or earlier:

You’ll see here that, perhaps following the general national perception of Detroit housing, the Motor City has an older housing stock.  Only Buffalo has a higher percentage of older housing. Generally speaking, the cities at the top half of this list have older housing because they lack redevelopment activity that replaces older housing, while cities at the bottom half consists of cities with decent levels of redevelopment activity, or more recently built housing that’s been annexed into the city in recent decades.  Here, Detroit does seem to fit the pattern.

But does it really?  If you look at the Census’ earliest category for age of structure, 1939 or earlier, Detroit drops considerably on the list:

Instead of ranking second as in the earlier table, Detroit falls to tenth.  The rest generally hold the same spots they occupied from the previous table as well. The only ones ranking lower than Detroit here are smaller cities (Omaha, Ft. Wayne) and the cities that annexed large amounts of land post 1970 (Kansas City, Indianapolis, Columbus).

Next, let’s look at how the cities rank in terms of their concentrations of single family detached homes:

Detroit shows up here with the second highest percentage of single family detached homes, comprising nearly two-thirds of the city’s housing stock.  Once again, the only comparable cities are the smaller cities and the big annexers.

Clearly, most observers believe Detroit has more in common with Buffalo, Cleveland and Pittsburgh than with Ft. Wayne, Kansas City and Indianapolis.  What happened to Detroit’s housing stock that gave it such an odd profile?

To understand, let’s pull out a specific category on the age of structure table, the 1950-1959 category:

Here, we find that Detroit has, by far, the highest concentration of housing units built between 1950-59 of all its peer cities.  Nearly one in four homes in Detroit were built during this period.  In fact, Detroit, along with Milwaukee and Toledo, occupies a strange space among Midwestern/Rust Belt cities.  (Side note: the more I study Detroit against other Midwestern cities, the more I find that Detroit and Milwaukee are virtually the same city.  And it doesn’t surprise me that Toledo, just 75 miles from Detroit, would share its characteristics as well).  Detroit, Milwaukee and Toledo all added their greatest numbers of housing at the outset of the modern suburban development period, what I’ve called the Levittown Period in my so-called Big Theory of American Urban Development.  This supports my thinking that if anyone was ever interested in establishing a Levittown-style national historic district, Detroit would be a good candidate.  The Motor City has perhaps more small Cape Cod-style, three-bedroom, one-bath single family homes than any city in the nation.

How did Detroit get this way?  Housing demolition likely had some role in a city that lost so much.  Detroit likely lost older single family homes and multifamily buildings over the last few decades, leading to skewed numbers.  The same is also true of Indianapolis, Kansas City and Columbus, cities that annexed large undeveloped areas after 1970 and built new housing there.  Keep in mind, though, that Milwaukee and Toledo, Detroit’s comparables, may not have had the same level of demolition loss that Detroit had, yet they still match the Motor City well.

That leads me to believe that a concentration of housing development at a unique time is a crucial piece in understanding Detroit’s housing stock.

Here’s another way of looking at this.  I grouped the cities by age and single family home concentration and came up with interesting groupings:

Here it becomes clearer that Detroit and Toledo stand alone as locations for old or moderately old structures that are largely single family.  Also, Milwaukee’s greater mix of single family and multifamily units begins to set it apart from Detroit and Toledo, even when it has a similar concentration of Levittown-style housing.

Finally, let’s consider housing adaptability as part of the housing stock analysis.  Chicago, the region’s largest city and lone “global city” member of the group, comfortably rests in the middle of all tables except for the single family detached table, where it shows the lowest concentration of single family homes.  My guess is that Chicago’s continued desirability means more newer housing has been built, and that its lower single family housing numbers mean that other housing types (lofts, condos and the ubiquitous 2-flat and 3-flat) created a more flexible and adaptable housing development landscape.

Assuming that younger structures are more often suitable to renovation for adaptability, moderately old structures require more intense rehabs, and older types are more often subject to demolition and rebuilding, I reorganized the previous table in terms of housing adaptability:

And if I put in the cities next to this adaptability scale, it’s easy to see the magnitude of Detroit’s housing challenges:

Detroit is such a unique city in so many ways.  The Motor City needs more research and analysis that highlights its uniqueness and adds to our understanding of the what led to its downfall, and less of our ire and contempt.

The more I study Detroit, the more I see the seeds of a similar downfall in other cities nationwide.

This post originally appeared in Corner Side Yard on July 6, 2014.

Pete Saunders is a Detroit native who has worked as a public and private sector urban planner in the Chicago area for more than twenty years.  He is also the author of "The Corner Side Yard," an urban planning blog that focuses on the redevelopment and revitalization of Rust Belt cities.

Lead photo: A scene from the Grixdale neighborhood on Detroit’s northeast side.  Source: Google Earth.

Urban Cores, Core Cities and Principal Cities

Fri, 08/01/2014 - 05:53

Many American cities, described commonly as urban cores, are functionally more suburban and exurban, based on urban form, density, and travel behavior characteristics. Data from the 2010 census shows that 42.3 percent of the population of the historical core municipalities was functionally urban core (Figure 1). By comparison, 56.3 of the population lived in functional suburbs and another 1.3 percent in functionally exurban areas (generally outside the urban areas). Urban cores are defined as areas that have high population densities (7,500 or per square mile or 2,900 per square kilometer or more) and high transit, walking and cycling work trip market shares (20 percent or more). Urban cores also include non-exurban sectors with median house construction dates of 1945 or before. All of these areas are defined at the zip code tabulation area (ZCTA) level, rather than by municipal jurisdiction. This is described in further detail in the "City Sector Model" note below.

The Varieties of Central Cities

Of course the “urbaneness” of central cities vary greatly. Some, like New York, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco experienced much of their growth before the 20th century, well before the great automobile oriented suburbanization that occurred after World War II. Others, that experienced early growth, such as Milwaukee and Seattle, annexed substantial areas of suburbanization after World War II, so that their comparatively large functional urban cores have been overwhelmed by suburbs within the city limits. Los Angeles, with a large functional urban core, annexed huge swaths of agricultural land that later became suburban. Finally, a number of other central cities, such as Phoenix and San Jose, have developed since World War II and are virtually all suburban,

Moreover, central cities comprise very different proportions of their respective metropolitan areas (the functional or economic definition of "city"). For example, the central city of San Antonio comprises 62 percent of the San Antonio metropolitan area population. Conversely, the city of Atlanta comprises only 8 percent of the Atlanta metropolitan area population. Obviously, with such a large differential, the term central city describes jurisdictions that are radically different.

This difference is caught by examining the functional urban cores by historical core municipality classifications. The Pre-World War II Core & Non-Suburban central cities have functional urban cores comprising 72 percent of their population. The Pre-World War II Core & Suburban central cities have functional urban cores that are only 14 percent of their populations. The Post-World War II Suburban central cities have very small urban cores, representing only 2 percent of their population (Figure 2).

Among the 54 historical core municipalities, the share of central city population in the functional urban cores varies from a high of more than 97 percent (New York) to virtually zero (Birmingham, Charlotte, Dallas, Jacksonville, Orlando, Phoenix, Raleigh, San Bernardino, San Jose, and Tampa).

Core Cities with the Strongest Urban Cores

It is not surprising that the central cities with the largest share of their populations in the functional urban cores are in the older, established are concentrated in the Northeast Corridor (Washington to Boston) and the Midwest. Only one of the 14 central cities with the highest population share in functional urban cores is outside these areas is San Francisco, the first large city to be built on the American West Coast Among the 25 central cities with the highest functional urban core share, only seven are outside the Northeast Corridor or the Midwest (San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, New Orleans, Portland, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City).

It is not surprising that the city of New York has the largest function urban core population share, at 97.3 percent. Nearly one-third of the total urban core population in the 52 major metropolitan areas lives in the city of New York (nearly 8,000,000 residents).

Two other central cities have functional urban core population percentages above 90 percent. Buffalo ranks second, at 94.5 percent. San Francisco is third at 94.0 percent.

The next three highest ranking cities are in New England. Boston has an 89.7 percent functional urban core population, followed by Hartford (87.4 percent), and Providence (86.5 percent). These are all of the major metropolitan areas in New England.

Three Midwestern central cities have more than 80 percent of their populations in functional urban cores, including St. Louis (84.1 percent), Minneapolis (83.5 percent), and Cleveland (80.1 percent). Washington (83.4 percent) and Philadelphia (83.4 percent), in the Northeast Corridor also have greater than 80 percent functional urban core shares.

Pittsburgh (76.9 percent) and Chicago (76.6 percent) have functional urban core population shares between 70 percent and 80 percent. At 67.7 percent, Baltimore (67.7 percent) is the only central city in the Northeast Corridor that with less than 70 percent of its population in the functional urban core.

Oakland (54.7 percent), at 15th, is the highest ranking central city outside the Northeast Corridor and the Midwest other than San Francisco. Cincinnati, Rochester, and Milwaukee also have more than 50 percent of their population in functional urban cores.

The top 25 is rounded out by Seattle (37.5 percent), New Orleans (36.8 percent), St. Paul (36.7 percent), Portland (35.2 percent), Detroit (31.3 percent), Los Angeles (29.9 percent) and, somewhat unexpectedly, Salt Lake City (27.1 percent).

The central cities with the largest functional urban core percentages have overwhelmingly suffered large population losses. Among the 25 with the largest urban core shares, only seven were at their peak populations at the 2010 census, and only two of the top 18 (New York and San Francisco). Overall the cities with large functional cores lost more than 35 percent of their population and 8 million residents.

"Other" Principal Cities

Starting in 2003, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) retired the term "central city" and replaced it with "principal city," which includes the 54 former historical core municipalities and approximately 160 additional cities. The adoption of principal city terminology recognized as OMB described it, that metropolitan areas were no longer monocentric, but had become polycentric. OMB specifically rejected the use of geographical terms other than "principal city" within metropolitan areas, including "suburb." Indeed, the very employment of polycentricity that justified abandonment of the central city designation was the suburbanization of employment. Yet some popular usage (even in some Census Bureau documents), considers any area that is not a principal city as suburban. The more appropriate term would be "not principal city."

Some principal cities that are not historical core municipalities ("other" principal cities) have strong urban cores, especially in metropolitan areas where the urban core stretches well beyond the core municipality's city limits, especially in New York and Boston. Four such principal cities have urban cores larger than 100,000 and urban core population shares exceeding 90 percent, including Cambridge in the Boston area (97.0 percent, and the New York area's Newark (94.7 percent) and Jersey City (100.0 percent), which is higher even than New York City itself. None of these cities was at its population peak in 2010.

Even so the vast majority of the "other" principal cities are overwhelmingly suburban, comprising less of the functional urban core population than areas that are not principal cities (1.5 million compared to 4.1 million outside the principal cities). Overall, the other principal cities are 7.9 percent urban core (compared to 42.3 percent for the historical core municipalities). If the 11 municipalities with cores larger than 50,000 are excluded, the share living in functional urban cores for the remaining more than 150 cities is 1.5 percent. (Figure 4).

Crude Measurement

The perhaps stunning conclusion is that the average difference between the historical core municipality population and the functional urban core population is 73 percent. Core cities --- themselves 57 percent suburban and exurban --- are a crude basis for classifying urban cores and suburbs. Principal cities --- 92 percent functionally suburban or exurban --- are even worse. The bottom line: America is fundamentally more suburban in nature than commonly believed.


City Sector Model Note: The City Sector Model allows a more representative functional analysis of urban core, suburban and exurban areas, by the use of smaller areas, rather than municipal boundaries. The nearly 9,000 zip code tabulation areas (ZCTA) of major metropolitan areas are categorized by functional characteristics, including urban form, density and travel behavior. There are four functional classifications, the urban core, earlier suburban areas, later suburban areas and exurban areas. The urban cores have higher densities, older housing and substantially greater reliance on transit, similar to the urban cores that preceded the great automobile oriented suburbanization that followed World War II. Exurban areas are beyond the built up urban areas. The suburban areas constitute the balance of the major metropolitan areas. Earlier suburbs include areas with a median house construction date before 1980. Later suburban areas have later median house construction dates.


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

Photo: Downtown Houston (by author)

Agrarianism Without Agriculture?

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 22:38

The ever-surprising Ralph Nader has recently been reading some paleo-conservative sources, and has written a book entitled Unstoppable; the Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State. In the Acknowledgements at the end, he specifically thanks Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a conservative think tank, for keeping in print a tome from the 1930s called Who Owns America? A New Declaration of Independence. Nader devotes the seventh chapter of his book to a discussion of this volume. He quotes Edward Shapiro’s 1999 foreword at some length:

In his 1999 foreword to the reissued edition, historian Edward S. Shapiro called Who Owns America? “one of the most significant conservative books published in the United States during the 1930s” for its “message of demographic, political, and economic decentralization and the widespread ownership of property” in opposition “to the growth of corporate farming, the decay of the small town, and the expansion of centralized political and economic authority.” ……

In this mix, there was espoused a political economy for grass-roots America that neither Wall Street nor the socialists nor the New Dealers would find acceptable. It came largely out of the agrarian South, casting a baleful eye on both Wall Street and Washington, D. C. To these decentralists, the concentrated power of bigness would produce its plutocratic injustices whether regulated through the centralization of political authority in Washington or left to its own monopolistic and cyclical failures. They were quite aware of both the corporate state fast maturing in both Italy and Nazi Germany and the Marxists in the Soviet Union ……

Nor did they believe that a federal government with sufficient political authority to modestly tame the plutocracy and what they called “monopoly capitalism” could work, because its struggle would end either in surrender or with the replacing of one set of autocrats with another. As Shapiro wrote in the foreward, “while the plutocrats wanted to shift control over property to themselves, the Marxists wanted to shift this control to government bureaucrats. Liberty would be sacrificed in either case. Only the restoration of the widespread ownership of property, Tate said, could ‘create a decent society in terms of American history.’”

Although the decentralists were dismissed by their critics as impractical ….. their views have a remarkable contemporary resonance given today’s globalized gigantism, absentee control, and intricate corporate statism, which are undermining both economies and workers. They started with the effects of concentrated corporate power and its decades-long dispossession of farmers and small business. They rejected abstract theories by focusing instead on such intensifying trends as the separation of ownership from control; the real economy of production in contrast to the manipulative paper economy of finance; and the growth of “wage slavery,” farm tenancy, and corporate farming. One can only imagine what they would say today! (Nader, pp. 139-141.)

I apologize for the long quote. These people advocated doing away with the “joint stock corporation” for the most part, to be replaced by cooperatives. I’m not sure about the liability of members of these cooperatives, but that’s a major issue. Without limited liability, I would hesitate to co-invest in any project unless all the partners were as liquid and wealthy as myself, otherwise guess who ends up holding the bag! And it is to be noted that many insurance companies, and some savings and loans, including, until the 1980s, all federally chartered ones, were in fact “mutual” and owned by their depositors or policy holders.

They did not succeed as far as agricultural land was concerned. The concentration of agricultural land under fewer and fewer owners, and even more the oligopolies of processing food through such entities as Cargill, Tyson, and Archer Daniels Midland, proceeded apace. But “widely distributed property ownership” resurfaced on another front; the urban-suburban one. The New Deal first chartered the Federal Housing Administration to underwrite and guarantee loans for homes, and in Truman’s time the Veterans Administration and other reforms brought this regime into full flower. So instead of their forty acres and a mule, people got their ¼ acre and an automobile, the only practical way to travel from their ¼ acre to wherever they wanted to go.

Eventually people came to see their ¼ acre with a house on it as an “investment,” and further, a “source of wealth.” But this was not a truly agrarian source of wealth. Farms depend for their value on the quality of their soil and their productivity as farms. They are truly commercial real estate. But residences depend for their value only to a minor degree on what is on the property itself, but rather on what is around it; and suburbanites demanded that covenants, or the Government in the form of City Hall or County Hall, control their neighbors and what is around them. Part of the reason for living in the suburbs, after all, is the presence of trees and green space. (The suburbanites have therefore been friendly to the environmental cause, as long as it did not touch their automobiles.) There was also the factor that just as printing money dilutes its value, “printing” a large number of houses in an area dilutes their value as well. And, the more development, the more traffic comes to resemble that of the centralized portion of the city and one’s automobile gets stuck in it. Fact: the borough of Irvine, where my office is, imposes a “cap and trade” system on those who would desire to build or repair commercial structures, and what one buys in this marketplace is not carbon or pollution, but potential car trips that one’s project might be potentially using. The suburban model, in the end, demanded that to preserve suburban values, that the building of suburbs be stopped! That’s the irony of the whole thing.

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

Cleveland, LeBron, and the Evolution of Collective Shame

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 22:38

“Shame is fear of humiliation at one’s inferior status in the estimation of others.”—Lao Tzu.

Sitting with fellow Clevelanders at a since-demolished bar, July 7th, 2010, LeBron James, local boy, uttered the words that hurt: “I am taking my talents to South Beach”. It was a shot heard around the world, but felt sharply inside the Rust Belt city’s heart.

“He had before invoked all the connotations of home, only to leave it,” wrote Cleveland sports columnist Bill Livingston the next day, in a piece entitled “By rejecting his hometown team, LeBron James earns his slot on the [Art] Modell list of shame”. Livingston upbraided LeBron for scheduling a cable event to “exploit this city's suffering”. His words were intent on shaming LeBron for leaving, yet in doing so reared Cleveland’s collective shame for having again been left.

Collective shame is an underappreciated subject. But it, like other collective emotions—think fear and pride—run our societies as noted by the great sociologist Emile Durkheim.

For decades, Cleveland has been held together by a solidarity in loss, especially the collective shame that came with it. Unlike guilt, which is about what one did, shame is an affront on the self, or what one is.

And what was blue-collar Cleveland without a wealth of blue-collar jobs? It was a city of losses—be it of income, population, and a way of life.

Walk down many Cleveland streets and you can see how this loss has played out in disinvestment. Often, the effect on the viewer is the same: status was here, but no longer. The constant reminders of loss give shame currency. Cleveland is not alone here. Cities the world over are afflicted with the hangovers of history. From the “Geography of Melancholy” in the American Reader, the author writes:

Nearly every historic city has its brand of melancholy indelibly associated with it—each variety linked to the scars the city bears. Lisbon has its saudade: a feeling of aimless loss tied to the city’s legacy of vanishing seafarers, explorers shipwrecked in search of Western horizons. Istanbul has huzun: a religiously-tinged brand of melancholy rooted in the city’s nostalgia for its glorious past.

Instead of seafarers, Cleveland had steelworkers, and others who’ve had their working-class status stripped. Yet while the loss was personal, it was the result of macro forces, leaving many feeling powerless and alone. This aloneness was tied up in the feeling of shared suffering. “The very fact that shame is an isolating experience,” notes the author of “Shame and the Social Bond”, “also means that if one can find ways of sharing and communicating it this communication can bring about particular closeness with other persons.”

There are many ways collective emotions are shared. Much of the vessels are informal. Think oral tradition and rumors. Fashion is another channel, like a city’s t-shirts. In fact perhaps nothing says implicit understanding between natives like city mottos emblazoned chest level. Cleveland’s most famous t-shirt said simply: “Cleveland—you’ve got to be tough”. It was made in 1977, in the heyday of the city’s decline. You had to be tough in the face of a post-industrial headwind. Today, iterations remain on this “the world is against us” mentality. “Defend Cleveland” and “Cleveland VS Everybody” t-shirts are worn liberally. Another favorite that tips more toward shame than to a defensiveness against judgment says: “Cleveland Low Life”—a play on “Miller High Life”.

Is all this productive? No doubt, collective shame, according to scholars, can strengthen the bonds between members of a group which, in turn, can lead to a process of self-exploration and restoration of a social identity. Or it can be chronic. Cleveland is well-known for its self-flagellation. It’s especially obvious to folks who aren’t native Clevelanders.

“I have, in fact, never lived in a place whose proud residents so consistently and gleefully disrespect their hometown as Cleveland,’ notes legendary Jeopardy champ Arthur Cho in his recent Daily Beast piece “Cleveland Comes Crawling Back to LeBron: The Masochism of Rust Belt Chic”. Cho, a Cleveland newcomer, goes on to write that though he hates to “engage in victim-blaming”, the reason “everyone dogs on Cleveland is that we ask for it”. Why? Cho concludes: “If we weren’t suffering, we wouldn’t be Cleveland anymore.”

But this Cleveland mindset does little for opening the region up to new ideas. Just as the messages become defensive, so do the policies and politics. Nativist culture reigns. Nepotism and patronage become the grease that runs the status quo. And so the communal shrouding effectively disables the possibility of possibility. Hence, the region’s struggles in its economic restructuring in the era of global connectivity.

In that sense, Cleveland’s collective shame can be a source of bad policies which ensure the collective shame. But why would a city want to do that, albeit implicitly, subconsciously?

“Economic struggle can be a cultural unifier in a community that people tacitly want to hold onto in order to preserve civic cohesion,” writes urban theorist Aaron Renn in Governing. Beyond that, those with power can lose it with community change. Continues Renn:

…[I]t isn’t hard to figure out that even in cities and states with serious problems, many people inside the system are benefiting from the status quo.

They have political power, an inside track on government contracts, a nice gig at a civic organization or nonprofit, and so on. All of these people, who are disproportionately in the power broker class of most places, potentially stand to lose if economic decline is reversed. That’s not to say they are evil, but they all have an interest to protect.

Does this mean Cleveland is doomed? Hardly. The region is experiencing a brain gain. It has incredible assets—namely, its educational, hospital, and cultural institutions—that have been dragging it along toward a point of turning the page. But more is needed. Specifically, more perspective—a perspective that the city’s inferiority complex isn’t about what others think of Cleveland, but about what Clevelanders are compelled to think about themselves.

Which brings us back to LeBron. Soon after his announcement that he was leaving, The Onion wrote a satirical piece called “Despite Repeated Attempts To Tear It Down, Massive LeBron James Mural Keeps Reappearing”. In it, the iconic “We are All Witnesses” banner keeps hauntingly resurfacing. At one point in the piece, city workers removed it panel by panel, “only to find an identical mural hanging directly behind it”. The article ends, “As of press time, nobody outside the Cleveland area had seen the mural once since it was originally taken down…”

The takeaway, then: When suffering has become your identity, you have clearly suffered long enough.

Cleveland’s path to progress means letting go of that which has stubbornly remained. There’s hope that the change is coming, largely due to the presence of the new generation. 

In many ways LeBron is an embodiment of the next generation of Cleveland and the Rust Belt. His return epitomizes possibility. No, I am not talking about championships here, nor the collective Prozac-effects that a parade down E. 9th St. would have on the region’s psyche. Instead it is about perspective.

The day LeBron announced his decision he was leaving Cleveland, he was in Akron. According to an ESPN piece, he knew the decision would hurt people, and that nothing would ever be the same for him. “Somehow he got through the final day of his annual basketball camp in Akron without confessing,” the authors write. “By the time [former teammate] Damon Jones drove him to the airport, where he would fly to Connecticut and reveal his infamous decision to the world, there was a lump in his throat.”

LeBron, like all sons and daughters of the Rust Belt, is a product of collective shame, and so his self-battle with leaving is no surprise. But sometimes leaving is the answer. No person should ever self-sacrifice out of a loyalty to place. And sometimes coming home is the next answer. If only because intermittent personal aspiration will often take a backseat to that evolutionary and endearingly human need to belong.

The secret sauce, here, is the perspective gained in the journey. And then bringing it back to a community that could use more than its fair share.

Richey Piiparinen is a Clevelander, writer, and Senior Research Associate heading the Center for Population Dynamics at Cleveland State University.

Lead photo courtesy of Michael Lapidakis.

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