The following is an exerpt form a new report, Enterprising States, released this week by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and written by Praxis Strategy Group and Joel Kotkin. Visit this site to download the full pdf version of the report, or check the interactive dashboard to see how your state ranks in economic performance and in the five policy areas studied in the report.
Nothing better expresses America’s aspirational ideal than the notion of small enterprise as the primary creator of jobs and innovation. Small businesses, defined as companies with fewer than 500 employees, have traditionally driven our economy, particularly after recessions. Yet today, in a manner not seen since the 1950s, the very relevance and vitality of our startup culture is under assault. For the country and the states, this is a matter of the utmost urgency.
The central motor of the job engine clearly is not firing on all cylinders. Historically, small business has accounted for almost two-thirds of all net new job creation, but recent research shows that the rates of new business startups are at record lows. The “gazelle companies”—fast-growing firms, mostly younger ones—have traditionally made outsized contributions to new job creation. After previous recessions, these businesses drove job growth and, perhaps more important, created innovations that often spread to larger, older, more established firms, which sometimes later acquired them.
Weak job growth has touched the entire economy. Gross domestic product growth is weak, unemployment remains at nearly 8%, and business sentiment is far from optimal. Despite high stock prices and consistently strong corporate profits, the rate of employment growth remains lower than the rate of the expansion of the workforce. Given the understandable focus of larger firms on boosting productivity and on investing capital into technology, it’s highly unlikely these companies will create enough jobs to dent our huge and growing employment deficit.
Policymakers ignore small business at their own peril and that of the economy.
The Changing Nature of Small Business
Small business may be down, but it is far from out. There have been some small, subtle upward shifts in employment in three of the industries—construction, manufacturing, and retail—that bore the brunt of the recession-driven job losses. Any sustained uptick in growth will further widen the opportunities for small business to expand and perhaps recover something of its past vigor.
It is critical that states and communities that embrace a pro-enterprise vision address a rapidly changing small business environment. Small business today reflects a host of ethnic, social, and generational changes. Successful programs will need to adapt to these new realities that reflect a far more diverse, and profoundly different, set of players.
Immigrants constitute a growing and important part of the entrepreneurial landscape. Even in the midst of the recession, newcomers continued to form businesses at a record rate. The number of women-owned firms has grown at one and a half times the rate of other small enterprises over the past 15 years. These companies now account for almost 30% of all enterprises. Finally, there is the issue of generational change. Baby boomers were, on the whole, a profoundly entrepreneurial generation, and by many measurements their Generation X successors have proven even more so. The millennial generation, based on recent assessments, may be somewhat less entrepreneurial than their predecessors.
We are also witnessing the rise of a new kind of enterprise that often employs no more than the proprietors but frequently provides quite sophisticated high-level products or services. In many cases, these “jobless entrepreneurs” include corporate executives, technicians, and marketing professionals who, by either choice or necessity, have chosen to strike out in their own micro-enterprises. A large portion of this growing “1099 economy” comes from the growing ranks of boomers who are no longer willing or able to work for a larger enterprise. According to the Census Bureau, small business without payroll makes up more than 70% of America’s 27 million companies, with annual sales of $887 billion.
The States Get Down to Small Business
Every state has policies and programs that are intended to encourage entrepreneurship and support small business development and expansion. Many states have introduced legislation or established programs to focus on startup companies, and many states have bolstered policies targeted at helping existing businesses grow and expand their markets. State funding of programs for entrepreneurial development is estimated to have increased by 30% between 2012 and 2013.
States vary considerably in the policies, regulations, and taxes that affect small business. Most states have an array of loosely integrated small business programs, although some have a more comprehensive, integrated small business policy and program framework. No state has the “best” tax policy for all entrepreneurs. Instead, different states have tax policies that suit certain types of companies better than others. Consequently, the states that are best for new businesses are not always the most favorable for existing small businesses; the states that are best for one business sector may not be best for another.
States and cities should consider small business development not as a separate cause, but as a basic building block for economic growth. Even if state governments can do little to promote enterprise and small business development directly, there are things they can do to increase the chances that entrepreneurs will thrive. Smart, pragmatic economic policymaking at the state level can play an instrumental role in fostering startups and growing companies, particularly when programs are effectively deployed right where the businesses are located.
The following are some new and innovative policy and program approaches that states are employing and/or supporting to create and expand small businesses, often in cooperation with local and regional development organizations:
- Accelerator initiatives that focus on starting high-growth firms by turning startups into enduring companies.
- Economic gardening initiatives that focus on expanding existing firms with strong growth potential.
- Business plan competitions to identify companies with exciting ideas and high potential.
- Business ecosystem initiatives, often with a regional focus, that take a comprehensive approach to creating an environment that is highly conducive to startups.
- Workforce development initiatives that help small businesses find and train the talent they need to operate and compete.
- Seed and venture funds that focus on startups and expanding firms.
- Networking and collaboration initiatives that bring small businesses and self-employed entrepreneurs together with large companies and universities.
- International trade programs that help small businesses reach out to new global export markets.
- Streamlined state administrative processes and regulatory procedures for small business by cleaning up the DURT (delays, uncertainty, regulations, taxes) that impede small business success.
- Broadband investments that provide small businesses of all types with the online access necessary in the 21st century.
Governors of states recognize the importance of small businesses and often take the lead in reforming state policy and service delivery to make growth and commerce easier for small business. Governors can offer fast-track access to financial resources and a full slate of state services that help small businesses connect with technical expertise, customers, suppliers, and state agencies that interact with small business as regulators or partners in development.
State and local chambers of commerce are on the front lines of promoting a pro-business free enterprise agenda and thwarting anti-business legislation, regulations, and rules. Across the country, chambers of commerce lead the way in advocating on behalf of their members for lower costs of doing business, fairer taxes, fairer regulations, and less regulatory paperwork. They work with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, governors, industry, and professional associations to pursue outcomes that are beneficial to all businesses and, thereby, advance America’s free enterprise economy.
Visit this site to download the full pdf version of the report, or check the interactive dashboard to see how your state ranks in economic performance and in the five policy areas studied in the report.
Praxis Strategy Group is an economic research, analysis, and strategic planning firm. Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and author of The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050.
The “silver lining” in our five-years-and-running Great Recession, we’re told, is that Americans have finally taken heed of their betters and are finally rejecting the empty allure of suburban space and returning to the urban core.
“We’ve reached the limits of suburban development,” HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan declared in 2010. “People are beginning to vote with their feet and come back to the central cities.” Ed Glaeser’s Triumph of the City and Alan Ehrenhalt’s The Great Inversion—widely praised and accepted by the highest echelons of academia, press, business, and government—have advanced much the same claim, and just last week a report on jobs during the downturn garnered headlines like “City Centers in U.S. Gain Share of Jobs as Suburbs Lose.”
There’s just one problem with this narrative: none of it is true. A funny thing happened on the way to the long-trumpeted triumph of the city: the suburbs not only survived but have begun to regain their allure as Americans have continued aspiring to single-family homes.
Read the actual Brookings report that led to the “Suburbs Lose” headline: it shows that in 91 of America’s 100 biggest metro areas, the share of jobs located within three miles of downtown declined over the 2000s. Only Washington, D.C., saw significant growth.
To be sure, our ongoing Great Recession slowed the rate of outward expansion but it didn’t stop it—and it certainly didn’t lead to a jobs boom in the urban core.
“Absent policy changes as the economy starts to gain steam,” report author and urban booster Elizabeth Kneebone warned Bloomberg, “there’s every reason to believe that trend [of what she calls “jobs sprawl”] will continue.”
The Hate Affair With Suburbia
Suburbs have never been popular with the chattering classes, whose members tend to cluster in a handful of denser, urban communities—and who tend to assume that place shapes behavior, so that if others are pushed to live in these communities they will also behave in a more enlightened fashion, like the chatterers. This is a fallacy with a long pedigree in planning circles, going back to the housing projects of the 1940s, which were built in no small part on the evidently absurd, and eventually discredited, assumption that if the poor had the same sort of housing stock as the rich, they would behave in the same ways.
Today’s planning class has adopted what I call a retro-urbanist position, essentially identifying city life with the dense, highly centralized and transit-dependent form that emerged with the industrial revolution. When the city—a protean form that is always changing, and usually expands as it grows—takes a different form, they simply can’t see it as urban growth.
In his masterwork A Planet of Cities, NYU economist Solly Angel explains that virtually all major cities in the U.S. and the world grow outward and become less dense in the process. Suburbs are expanding relative to urban cores in every one of the world’s 28 megacities, including New York and Los Angeles. Far from a perversion of urbanism, Angel suggests, this is the process by which cities have grown since men first established them.
In the U.S., the hate affair with suburbs and single-family housing, even in the city, dates to their rapid growth in the American boom after the first World War. In 1921 historian and literary criticic Lewis Mumford described the expansion of New York’s outer boroughs as a “dissolute landscape,” “a no-man’s land which was neither town or country.” Decades later, Robert Caro described the new rows of small, mostly attached houses—still the heart of the city’s housing stock—built in the post-war years as “blossoming hideously” as New Yorkers fled venerable, and congested, parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan for more spacious, tree-lined streets farther east, south, and north.
In the 1950s, the rise of mass-produced suburbs like Levittown, New York, and Lakewood, California, sparked even more extreme criticism. Not everyone benefited from the innovation that allowed the Levitts to pioneer homes costing on average just $8,000—African-Americans were excluded from the original development—but for many middle- and working-class American whites, the housing and suburban booms represented an enormous step forward. The new low-cost suburbia, wrote Robert Bruegmann in his compact history of sprawl, “provided the surest way to obtain some of the privacy, mobility and choice that once were available only to the wealthiest and most powerful members of society.”
The urban gentry and intelligentsia, though, disdained this voluntary migration. Perhaps the most bitter critic was the great urbanist Jane Jacobs. An aficionado of the old, highly diverse urban districts of Manhattan, Jacobs not only hated trendsetter Los Angeles but dismissed the bedroom communities of Queens and Staten Island with the memorable phrase, “The Great Blight of Dullness.” The 1960s social critic William Whyte, who, unlike Jacobs, at least bothered to study suburbs close up, denounced them as hopelessly conformist and stultifying. Like many later critics, he predicted in Fortune that people and companies would tire of them and return to the city core.
More recent critiques of suburbia have focused as well on their alleged vulnerability in an energy-constrained era. “The American way of life—which is now virtually synonymous with suburbia—can only run on reliable supplies of cheap oil and gas,” declares James Howard Kunstler in his 2005 peak oil jeremiad, The Long Emergency. “Even mild to moderate deviations in either price or supply will crush our economy and make the logistics of daily life impossible.”
Too often, the anti-surbanites seem to take a certain perverse comfort in any development, no matter how grim, that “helps” protect Americans from the “wrong choice” of aspiring to space of their own. The housing crash of 2007 was cheered on in some circles as the death knell of the suburban dream, as when theorist Chris Leinberger declared in the Atlantic that soon, poor families would be crowding into dilapidated McMansions in the “suburban wastelands.”
For retro-urbanists such as Richard Florida the reports, however premature, of the death of the suburbs, confirmed deeply held notions about the superiority of dense, urban living. He summarily declared the single-family house archaic, and the quest for homeownership one of the “countless forms of over-consumption that have a horribly distorting affect on the economy."
The Real Geography of America
But the simple fact remains that the single-family home has remained the American dream, with sales outpacing those of condominiums and co-ops despite the downturn.
Florida has suggested that simply stating the numbers makes me a sprawl lover While he and other urban nostalgists see the city only in its dense urban core, and the city’s role as intimately tied with the amenities that are supposed to attract the relatively wealthy members of the so-called “creative class,” I see the urban form as ever changing, and consider a city’s primary mission not aesthetic or simply economic but to serve the interests and aspirations of all of its residents.
Clearly the data supports a long-term preference for suburbs. Even as some core cities rebounded from the nadir of the 1970s, the suburban share of overall share of growth in America’s 51 major metropolitan areas (those with populations of at least one million) has accelerated—rising from 85 percent in the ’90s to 91 percent in the ’00s. There’s more than a tinge of elitism animating the urban theorists who think that urban destiny rides mostly with the remaining nine percent matters. Overall, over 70 percent of residents in the major metropolitan areas now live in suburbs.
Surveys, including those sponsored by the National Association of Realtors, suggest roughly 80 percent of Americans prefer a single family house to an apartment or a townhouse. Only 8 percent would prefer to live in an apartment. Yet just 70 percent of households live in a single-family house, while 17 percent live in apartments—suggesting the demand for single-family houses is still not being met. Such housing may be unaffordable, particularly in high-cost urban cores, but there is a fundamental market demand for it.
To be sure, the Great Recession did slow the growth of suburbs and particularly exurbs—but recent indicators suggest a resurgence. An analysis last October by Jed Kolko, chief economist at the real estate website Trulia, reports that between 2011 and 2012 less-dense-than-average ZIP codes grew at double the rate of more-dense-than-average ZIP codes in the 50 largest metropolitan areas. Americans, he wrote, “still love the suburbs.”
The Future Demographics of Suburbia
Ultimately the question of growth revolves around the preferences of consumers. Despite predictions that the rise of singles, an aging population and the changing preferences of millennials will create a glut of 22 million unwanted large-lot homes by 2025, it seems more likely that three critical groups will fuel demand for more suburban housing.
Between 2000 and 2011, there has been a net increase of 9.3 million in the foreign born population, largely from Asia and Latin America, with these newcomers accounting for about two out of every five new residents of the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas. And these immigrants show a growing preference for more “suburbanized” cities such as Nashville, Charlotte, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth. An analysis of census data shows only New York—with nearly four times the population—drew (barely) more foreign-born arrivals over the past decade than sprawling Houston. Overwhelmingly suburban Riverside–San Bernardino expanded its immigrant population by nearly three times as many people as the much larger and denser Los Angeles–Orange County metropolitan area.
Clearly, immigrants aren’t looking for the density and crowding of Mexico City, Seoul, Shanghai, or Mumbai. Since 2000, about two-thirds of Hispanic household growth was in detached housing. The share of Asian arrivals in detached housing is up 20 percent over the same span. Nearly half of all Hispanics and Asians now live in single-family homes, even in traditionally urban places like New York City, according to the census’s American Community Survey.
Nowhere are these changes more marked than among Asians, who now make up the nation’s largest wave of new immigrants. Over the last decade, the Asian population in suburbs grew by about 2.8 million, or 53 percent, while that of core cities grew by 770,000, or 28 percent.
Aging boomers, too, continue to show a preference for space, despite the persistent urban legend that they will migrate back to the core city. Again, the numbers tell a very different story.
A National Association of Realtors survey last year of buyers over 65 found that the vast majority looked for suburban homes. Of the remaining seniors, only one in 10 looked for a place in the city—less than the share that wanted a rural home. When demographer Wendell Cox examined the cohort that was 54 to 65 in 2000 to see where they were a decade later, the share that lived in the suburbs was stable, while many had left the city—the real growth was people moving to the countryside. Within metropolitan areas, more than 99 percent of the increase in population among people aged 65 and over between 2000 and 2010 was in low-density counties with less than 2,500 people per square mile.
With the over-65 population expected to double by 2050, making it by far America’s fastest-growing age group, they appear poised to be a significant source of demand for suburban housing.
But arguably the most critical element to future housing demand is the rising millennial generation. It has been widely asserted by retro-urbanists that young people prefer urban living. Urban theorists such as Peter Katz have maintained that millennials (the generation born after 1983) have little interest in “returning to the cul-de-sacs of their teenage years.”
To bolster their assertions, retro-urbanist point to stated-preference research showing that more than three quarters of millennials say they “want to live in urban cores.” But looking at where millenials actually live now—and where they see themselves living in the future—shows a very different story. In the nation's major metropolitan areas, only 8 percent of residents aged 20 to 24 (the only millennial adult age group for which census data is available) live in the highest-density counties—and that share has declined from a decade earlier. What’s more, 43 percent of millenials describe the suburbs as their “ideal place to live”—a greater share than their older peers—and 82 percent of adult millenials say it’s “important” to them to have an opportunity to own their home.
And, of course, as people get older and take on commitments and start families, they tend to look for more settled, and less dense, environments. A 2009 Pew study found that 45 percent of Americans 18 to 34 would like to live in New York City, compared with just 14 percent of those over 35. As about 7 million more millenials—a group the Pew surveys show desire children and place a premium on being good parents—hit their 30s by 2020, expect their remaining attachment to the city to wane.
This family connection has always eluded the retro-urbanists. “Suburbs,” Jane Jacobs once wrote, “must be difficult places to raise children.” Yet suburbs have served for three generation now as the nation’s nurseries. Jacobs’s treatment of the old core city—particularly her Greenwich Village in the early 1960s—lovingly portrayed these places as they once were, characterized by class, age, and some ethnic diversity along with strong parental networks, often based on ethnic solidarity.
To say the least, this is not what characterizes Greenwich Village or in Manhattan today. In fact, many of the most vibrant, and high-priced urban cores—including Manhattan, San Francisco, Chicago, and Seattle—have remarkably few children living there. Certainly, the the 300-square-foot “micro-units” now all the rage among the retro-urbanist set seem unlikely to attract more families, or even married couples.
The Persistence of the Suburban Economy
As Americans have voted with their feet for the suburbs, employers have followed.
Despite the attention heaped on a handful of companies like United Airlines and Quicken Loans that have moved “back to the city,” the suburbanization of the overall American economy has continued apace. Historically, suburbs served largely as residential areas, so-called bedroom communities, but their share of steadily.
Job dispersion is now a reality in virtually every metropolitan area, with twice as many jobs located 10 miles from city centers as in those centers. Between 1998 and 2006, as 95 out of 98 metro areas saw a decrease in the share of jobs located within three miles of downtown, according to a Brookings report. The outermost parts of these metro areas saw employment increase by 17 percent, compared to a gain of less than 1 percent in the urban core. Overall, the report found, only 21 percent of employees in the top 98 metros in America live within three miles of the center of their city.
This decentralization of jobs was slowed somewhat by the Great Recession, which hit more dispersed industries like construction, manufacturing and retail particularly hard. Yet an analysis of jobs in 2010 by the Rudin Center for Transport Policy and Management found that dispersion had continued. Between 2002 and 2010 only two of the top 10 metropolitan regions (New York and San Francisco) saw a significant increase in employment in their urban core.
Some observers claim that job growth is coming to the urban core in response to the changing preferences of younger workers, particularly in high-tech fields and as much media attention has been given to a few prominent social media start ups in New York and San Francisco. Similar pronouncements were made during the great dot-com boom of the late 1990s, and burst along with the bubble. In fact, the number of urban core country tech jobs actually shrank over the past decade, according to an analysis of Science, Technology, Engineering and Management (STEM) jobs by Praxis Strategy Group.
While companies in walking distance of big-city reporters make news out of all proportion to their importance, virtually all the major tech concentrations in the country—including Silicon Valley—are suburban. San Jose is a postwar suburban core municipality, having experienced the vast bulk of its growth since 1940. Virtually all the nation’s top tech companies—Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Oracle and even Facebook—are located in suburban settings 45 minutes or more from San Francisco. Apple’s recent plans to construct its new corporate campus in bucolic Cupertino elicited anger from the Environment Defense Fund and other smart-growth advocates, but reflects the fact that the vast majority of the tech industry is located, along with the bulk of its workforce, in the suburbs.
Apple employs many experienced engineers, many of whom have families and prefer to live in suburbs. In 2012 San Francisco had a significantly lower share of STEM jobs per capita than Santa Clara County. And the new rising stars of the tech world—Austin and Raleigh-Cary—are even more dispersed and car-dependent than San Jose.
What Really Matters
While they’ve weaved a compelling narrative, the numbers make it clear that the retro-urbanists only chance of prevailing is a disaster, say if the dynamics associated with the Great Recession—a rise in renting, declining home ownership and plunging birthrates—become our new, ongoing normal. Left to their own devices, Americans will continue to make the “wrong” choices about how to live.
And in the end, it boils down to where people choose to live. Despite the dystopian portrays of suburbs, suburbanites seem to win the argument over place and geography, with far higher percentages rating their communities as “excellent” compared to urban core dwellers.
Today’s suburban families, it should be stressed, are hardly replicas of 1950s normality; as Stephanie Coontz has noted, that period was itself an anomaly. But however they are constituted—as blended families, ones headed up by single parents or gay couples—they still tend to congregate in these kinds of dispersed cities, or in the suburban hinterlands of traditional cities. Ultimately life style, affordability and preference seem to trump social views when people decide where they would like to live.
We already see these preferences establishing themselves, again, among Generation X and even millennials as some move, according to The New York Times,toward “hipsturbia,” with former Brooklynites migrating to places along the Hudson River. The Times, as could be expected, drew a picture of hipsters “re-creating urban core life” in the suburbs. While it may be seems incomprehensible to the paper’s Manhattan-centric world view by moving out, these new suburbanites are opting not to re-create the high-density city but to leave it for single-family homes, lawns, good schools, and spacious environments—things rarely available in places such as Brooklyn except to the very wealthiest. Like the original settlers of places like Levittown, they migrated to suburbia from the urban core as they get married, start families and otherwise find themselves staked in life. In an insightful critique, the New York Observerskewered the pretensions of these new suburbanites, pointing out that “despite their tattoos and gluten-free baked goods and their farm-to-table restaurants, they are following in the exact same footsteps as their forebears.”
So, rather than the “back to the cities” movement that’s been heralded for decades but never arrived, we’ve gone “back to the future,” as people age and arrive in America and opt for updated versions of the same lifestyle that have drawn previous generations to the much detested yet still-thriving peripheries of the metropolis.
Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and a 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.
This piece originally appeared in the The Daily Beast.
Suburbs photo by BigStock.
As a Truman-style Democrat left politically homeless, I am often asked about the future of the Republican Party. Some Republicans want to push racial buttons on issues like immigration, or try to stop their political slide on gay marriage, which will steepen as younger people replace older people in the voting booth. Others think pure market-oriented principles will, somehow, win the day. Ron Paul did best among younger Republican voters in the primaries.
Yes, ideas do matter, but a simple defense of free markets is not likely to have broad-enough appeal. What Republicans need is a transformative issue that can attract a mass base – and that issue is class.
Of course, the whole idea of appealing to class may be repellant to most libertarian-conservative or country-club remnants of the Republican Party. Yet, it's the issue of the day, as President Obama recognized when he went after patrician Mitt Romney. It also may be the issue Obama now most wants to avoid, which explains his current focus on secondary issues like gun control and gay marriage.
For their part, Republicans need to make Obama own the class issue since his record is fairly indefensible. The fortunes of the middle quintiles of Americans have been eroding pretty much since Obama took office in 2009.
There's nothing fundamentally unRepublican about class warfare. After all, the party – led by what was then called Radical Republicans – waged a very successful war against the old slave-holding aristocracy; there's nothing to be ashamed of in that conquest. Republicans under Abraham Lincoln also pushed for greater landownership through such things as the Homestead Act, which supplied 160 acres of federal land to aspiring settlers.
No one expects the Republicans to turn socialist, but they can reap benefits from anger over the crony capitalism that has become emblematic of the Obama era. Wall Street and its more popular West Coast counterparts, the venture capital "community," consistently game the political system and, usually, succeed. They win, but everyone else pretty much has to content themselves with keeping up with the IRS.
This is where the opportunity lies. Republican opposition to Wall Street is already evident in the rise of Texas Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling to the chairmanship of the House Banking Committee. He and Iowa GOP Sen. Charles Grassley's attack on "too big to fail" banks are a stark contrast to the likes of New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, the Capitol consigliere of the Wall Street oligarchs, or the prince of gentry liberals and defender of billionaires everywhere, New York City Mayor Michael "luxury city" Bloomberg.
Who's angry and ready to raise their raise their pitchforks? Try the self-employed, who are now, according to Gallup, the large constituency most alienated from the present regime. Even the hapless Romney picked up their support against Obama.
The new core constituency of the GOP can best be identified as the enterprise base. They include small property owners, mainly in the suburbs, those who are married or aspiring to be so. They are more suburban than urban, and likely to work for someone else or themselves as opposed to working for the state. Combine the top half of private employees, over 50 million people, add some 10 million self-employed and you get to a serious economic, and political, base.
This group also includes many immigrants, particularly Asians, a constituency that should be tilting GOP but still isn't. They, too, increasingly live in the suburbs, own homes as well as business. And rarely do they benefit from the prevailing crony capitalism.
The enterprise base is by nature not ideologically rigid. Most, if you talk to them, would generally support sensible infrastructure improvement as well as repairs; they also tilt towards restrained taxation and a lighter regulatory hold. It's a movement for "Let's get this fixed and get on with our lives."
This new orientation would define the Republicans where they are strongest and the administration weakest – on the economy. The new wedge issues must be for a "level playing field" for entrepreneurs and the middle class and definitely not social issues, like opposition to gay rights, or support for old and new unwise wars.
An enterprise approach, and a focus on restarting real growth, could put the Democrats on their heels and worrying about their own base. Minorities, for example, have done far worse under this administration than virtually any in recent history, including that of George W. Bush. For many, this has been what the Fiscal Times has called "a food stamp recovery."
Among Obama's loyalist core, African Americans, unemployment now stands at the highest level in decades; blacks, while 12 percent of the nation's population, account for 21 percent of the nation's jobless. The picture is particularly dire in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, where black unemployment is nearly 20 percent, and Detroit, where's it's over 25 percent.
Of course, Republicans have their work cut out for them among African-Americans. But remember that Barack Obama will not be on any future ballots. A return to what Ishmael Reed has called "neo-classical" Republicanism – the same spirit that freed the slaves and fought for equal rights – could make some inroads.
Latinos, the other major part of the party's "downstairs" coalition, also have fared badly under Obama and could be even more amenable to a smarter GOP message. They have seen their incomes drop 4 percent over the past three years, and suffer unemployment two full points above the national average. Overall, the gap in net worth of minority households compared with whites is greater today than in 2005. White households lost 16 percent in recent years, but African-Americans dropped 53 percent and Latinos a staggering 66 percent of their precrash wealth.
But the most critical potential constituency may prove the millennial generation, who hitherto have been a strong constituency for both the president and his party. They continue to suffer the most of any age cohort in this persistently weak economy. Already, the first wave of millennials are hitting their thirties and may be getting restless about being permanent members of "Generation Rent."
Let's say, in two or four years, they are still finding opportunity lagging? Cliff Zukin at Rutgers John J. Heidrich Center for Workforce Development, predicts that many will "be permanently depressed and will be on a lower path of income for probably all their [lives]." One has to wonder if even the college-educated may want to see an economy where their educations count for more than a job at Starbucks. Remember: Baby boomers, too, once tilted to the left, but moved to the center-right starting with Ronald Reagan and have remained that way.
Yet, despite these threats, Democrats may still be rescued by perennially misfiring Republicans. There's no Stu Spencer, Michael Deaver or Peter Hannaford on the blue team to plot strategy. Missteps remain endemic: A group of North Carolina Republicans recently proposed a measure to establish Christianity as the state religion, only to blocked by the state's leadership.
Others think opposing gay marriage is the ticket to revival, even though public opinion, particularly among the young, is swinging in the other direction. Some 70 percent of millennials – people in their early thirties and younger – support gay marriage, twice the rate of those over 50. Social conservatives are also gearing up on the abortion issue even though three in five Americans, according to the latest Pew survey, oppose overturning Roe v. Wade. North Dakota could be showing that America can work, literally and figuratively, but instead the state passes abortion laws that are among the strictest in the country.
Yet, there's still hope that some Republicans will recognize this opportunity. I would like to see this, in part, because I have seen one-party politics in action here in California, and it doesn't work. Even more so, I'd like to see Republicans wage class warfare on behalf of the "enterprise" constituency because Democrats then would have to offer something in response, which could only have good consequences for the rest of us.
Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and a 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.
This piece originally appeared in the Orange County Register.
Lincoln Memorial photo by Bigstock.
“Men often applaud an imitation and hiss the real thing”--Aesop
There are interesting developments being played out in the Rust Belt. Some cities, like Detroit, seem to be embarking whole hog down the creative class path. Others, like Pittsburgh, have their own thing going on, a thing Economic Geographer Jim Russell has delineated as the “Rust Belt Chic” model of economic development, with no modest amount of success. How a given Rust Belt city reinvests will have a large say in its future.
Part 1 of this series, below, examines the nascent creative classification of Detroit. Part 2 analyzes whether or not there is a new way forward for post-industrial cities, using the lessons from Pittsburgh and Cleveland as the building blocks to developing an alternative set of strategies for struggling cities.
Detroit Rock (Ventures) City
In Detroit, the scene is playing out as such: rampant disinvestment in the core and extreme poverty around it. To help fix this, ties between Rock Ventures head and real estate billionaire Dan Gilbert, urbanist Richard Florida, and the non-profit Project for Public Spaces have been initiated. The goal, laudable enough, is to reinvest in downtown. And while the renewal formula planned is not new, the extent that the milieu is a controlled environment for an urban experiment is perhaps ahistorical, if only because Detroit’s level of disinvestment has created a vacuum that, naturally, power abhors.
To wit, a recent New York Time’s article entitled “A Missionary’s Quest to Remake Motor City” hints at the level Dan Gilbert—who has bought $1 billion in downtown property in what has been called a “skyscraper sale”—and his advisors have been handed the keys:
“My job,” said Dave Bing, the Detroit mayor and former National Basketball Association star, “is to knock down as many barriers as possible and get out of the way.”
“Mr. Gilbert met in a conference room for his twice-a-month Detroit real estate meeting, with about a dozen people who work for him, plus a lawyer and leasing agent. If Detroit 2.0, as this group often calls the effort, has a planning committee, this is it.”
“[H]e and his staff will apparently have a largely free hand.”
Now, the plan, and how the plan for Detroit’s future came about.
A wealthy investor, Dan Gilbert, buys downtown properties. That investor goes on the record as to the importance of reinvesting into the urban core. That investor moves his mortgage company’s employees from suburban office parks into his own downtown real estate. Then, the investor, taking cues from his consultants, throws in something about innovation, which, at its lowest common denominator, means designing your way to a “culture of innovation”. Thus, the investor encourages that Romper Room-style office setting complete with what some would say is tacky décor wholly out of line with the soul of “the D”, but yet which is said to fun-birth inspiration—i.e., “[A] karaoke machine sat in an aisle. Guys threw footballs to one another; one employee shot at colleagues with a Nerf gun”; and “A Quicken promotional video solidifies the company's attempts at over-the-top marketing, prominently featuring the space's inexplicable Pac-Man theme”—despite the fact that your primary product line, i.e., mortgages, needs far less innovation than it does a modicum of conventionality and ethics. Nonetheless, the sentiment of creative destruction is there.
This basic process, then, is multiplied out from the office setting into strategic urban space, particularly around Gilbert’s real estate. The idea here is to design space so as to create vibrancy so as to galvanize commerce so as to ignite broad economic growth.
Enter the partnership with the Project for Public Spaces, who is working with Gilbert’s group to do a set of “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” placemaking interventions, including pop-up shops. The conceptual girth behind the plan, according to a recent article “Detroit Leads the Way on Place-Centered Revitalization”, is described as such:
“We proposed developing a Placemaking vision for the major public spaces, and refining the plan through the Power of 10 concept,” says Meg Walker, a Vice President at PPS who worked on the project. “…A lot of developers aren’t as enlightened as Dan Gilbert…they wouldn’t necessarily think about the glue that’s holding this all together.”
“The Power of 10 framework suggests that a great city needs at least ten great districts, each with at least ten great places, which in turn each have at least ten things to do. Great public spaces produce an energy and enthusiasm that spills over into surrounding areas…
With the conceptual description as a guide, this is a classic case of the urbanists’ version of trickled-down economics, in which an influx of capital into finite corridors is meant to attract wealth that “spills over” into surrounding areas. Unfortunately, there is little by way of evidence that this works, as was recently admitted by Richard Florida himself. What it may do, however, is fill real estate supply by pursuing a select target market, as placemaking can act as a grease to create pockets of creative class demand to support condos or retail and office space. And while one can certainly argue it beats rampant core disinvestment, it’s not the path of a bold new way that will measurably change the trajectory of Detroit, so says U of M Professor Michael Gordon. In effect, it’s simply shifting people from one set of real estate to another, with nothing undertaken on a systemic level to tackle Detroit’s real problem: poverty and disenfranchisement in its neighborhoods. Worse, re-urbanization as such is likely to exacerbate class and race divides that have plagued Detroit for decades, thus worsening Detroit’s real problem: poverty and disenfranchisement in its neighborhoods.
Besides, we have been here before. Michigan via its Cool Cities campaign had a plan based off the same Detroit 2.0 premise, switch out the window dressing. Design place, accrue vibrancy, growth wealth. Obviously, the multi-million dollar economic development initiative didn’t work. Neither have similar initiatives across the whole of the Rust Belt.
So, where’s the beef? What makes Detroit 2.0 different?
Naturally, this is where the economic development buzzwords “start-up” and “tech district” enter into the Detroit 2.0 lexicon; that is, creating dense city areas will nurture spontaneous interactions that will foster Detroit’s innovation community, putting it firmly on the path to be the “Silicon Valley of the Midwest”. But every city wants this (or at least they are informed they do)—e.g., “Miami Wants to Be the Next Big Start-Up City”—and so the effort ultimately comes off as anything but visionary, rather visionless, trying.
Cue the Onion. From an article entitled “St. Louis Mayor Has Sad Little Plan For Turning City Into High-Tech Hub”:
In what appears to be a completely earnest attempt to revitalize a sluggish local economy, St. Louis mayor Francis G. Slay unveiled Thursday a detailed, ambitious, and truly depressing plan to turn his city into a major technology hub. “We’re going to show America, and the rest of world, just how innovative and cutting-edge St. Louis can be,” said the mayor, who displayed genuine optimism as he outlined a desperate strategy to woo major players in the high-tech sector with a sad little series of subsidies and tax incentives his city cannot afford… The mayor ended his presentation by pleading with reporters to dub the hopelessly untenable project “St. Louis 2.0.”
In all, the current Detroit economic development approach is copycat urbanism at its finest, as there is nothing inherently “Detroit” about it. Nothing that intrinsically builds off its only true competitive advantage: itself.
For instance, Motor City is Motor City for a reason: it builds things. It designs things. Like, for instance, cars, which, by last count, are still being used, with over 254 million registered passenger vehicles in the US in 2009 alone. And while technology-based automation is increasing manufacturing output at the expense of jobs, production is still huge business in the Rust Belt, with automotive-related STEM jobs (i.e., science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related employment)—i.e., the creative class before the “creative class” became the “creative class”)—aiding Detroit’s regional resurgence, with its 10.5% STEM job growth leading the country from 2010 to 2012. And no, this is not to say Detroit will recoup manufacturing jobs lost from its heyday. But it’s absurd for Detroit to neglect training and flexing its muscle—or its legacy of concept, design, and production—for a future with no middle between start-ups and baristas. I mean, advanced manufacturing isn’t nostalgia. It exists.
So, why this path? Why pretty Detroit? Why make it culturally less distinct? Why embark on a plan of hyper-modern ephemerality when your distinction is resilience, making things, and hard work? Why? Where is the evidence that this even works? What in the hell is even going on here?
To get to the bottom of this you need to be aware of parallel events in Cleveland. There, Dan Gilbert has hands in that city’s Downtown redevelopment as well. But it is not what you think. And therein lies the problem.
You see, if the Detroit Dan Gilbert is the urbanists’ Dr. Jekyll than in Cleveland he becomes the anti-urban Mr. Hyde. In fact, the Cleveland Dan literally embarks on nearly all the urbanists’ seven deadly sins, including owning and running a casino placed right beside the city’s iconic Public Square, demolishing historic buildings for the creation of a VIP valet center, planning to ruin the iconic Terminal Tower by connecting an enclosed pedestrian tunnel from a parking garage into its face—the Plain Dealer architecture critic stated it was akin to “poking a straw in Mona Lisa’s nose”—and, more generally, pissing off Millennials.
From a recent Atlantic Cities piece entitled “If Other Cities Are Demolishing Skywalks, Why Does Cleveland Want a New One?”, the author, who omits Dan Gilbert’s name, writes:
“In the last decades of the 20th century, many American cities built skywalks in a desperate attempt to seem modern, hoping to create a sanitized urban experience that would compete with the sanitized suburban experience of indoor malls.
For the most part, it didn’t work, and now cities…are tearing down the skywalks…in an effort to return pedestrian life and vitality to the street.
Meanwhile, in Cleveland, the owners of the year-old Horseshoe Casino downtown are planning to build a brand-new skywalk…For many of the young people moving to Cleveland in search of a 21st-century urban experience – pedestrian-friendly, with lots of people out and about – it seems like a step backward in time.”
Why is Gilbert going all anti-urban in Cleveland, then? In a word: money, as Moody’s just issued a report saying a walkway would help the casino reach predicted income streams, as it has been underperforming. Obviously casino ownership is a no frills money-making operation, as is real estate. With each: immediate financial return trumps the nurturing of human and community capital to support a vision of long-term economic growth.
But Detroit Dan is different, right? He is a walkability guru’s guru. One of the “enlightened developers” as was stated above.
Well, you be the judge. Here’s a blog post excerpt covering the recent Placemaking Leadership Council hosted in Detroit, with Detroit 2.0 taking center stage.
Dan Gilbert, head of Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans, genuinely seemed to defer to Kent [the Project for Public Spaces head] when it came to his part of the presentation Thursday. Gilbert, who has millions of hours of public-speaking practice behind him, often turned to Kent to fill in the details on the upcoming renovations to Campus Martius, Cadillac Square, Capitol Park, Grand Circus Park and Paradise Valley.
“Genuinely seemed to defer” is right. Or just bored as hell.
And then there is this. This. Courtesy of a Curbed Detroit blog post called “Development In Downtown Detroit Is Playing Out Like A Huff Po Blog Post From 2009”. The referenced Huffington Post piece is by Detroiter Toby Barlow that is called “How a Billionaire Can Make a Billion Dollars”. The strategy? Buy Detroit, not “metaphorically” but “literally”, yet do it “very quietly, so as not to inflate any prices”. Then, according to Barlow, since a billionaire owns thing, he moves his employees to his buildings and gives them “incentives to live down near their work so that they'll buy your residential property”. Barlow concludes:
So, I don't have to spell out the rest, do I? Real estate values will quickly soar as other companies, encouraged by your brazen move, make similar leaps into what will still be an incredibly affordable market. The momentum will build as the ever-frenzied media piles on.
Yes, Detroit’s plan for the future pre-dated by a Huff Po blog entry from 2009.
The big revelation here?
Look, in the end, the Dan Gilbert’s of the world are in their line of work for one reason and one reason only: to make money. They will don whatever mask they need to play the part, be it the urban-loving Jekyll or the anti-urban Hyde. That’s the problem with creative class urbanism. It is dependent on developers who could care less. It is a means to an end for those who implement it.
Too bad this end is not the beginning of a true path forward for a real Rust Belt recovery.
Detroiters, like most Rust Belters, have been through enough. They deserve better.
The continuing dispersion of employment in the nation's major metropolitan areas has received attention in two recent reports. The Brookings Institution has published research showing that employment dispersion continued between 2000 and 2010, finding job growth was greater outside a three mile radius from central business districts between 2000 and 2010 in 100 metropolitan areas Note 1). This assessment probably underestimates the extent of job dispersion, since it includes some suburban centers as central business districts (such as West Palm Beach, FL and Palo Alto, CA).
Recently I showed that employment dispersion has reached a point that there is a virtual balance of jobs and housing in suburban areas, which contrasts with the continuing excess of jobs in core municipalities relative to resident workers. After that article was published, Richard L. Forstall forwarded me research he presented to the Southern Demographic Association in the 1990s that examined employment trends in core municipalities and suburban areas between 1960 and 1990. At the time, Forstall was at the United States Bureau of the Census. He also spent years supervising Rand McNally international metropolitan area population estimates (Note 2).
Major Metropolitan Job Dispersion: 1950 to 2010 and
Forstall provides detailed information for the 35 major metropolitan areas as of 1990 (over 1,000,000 population). This article augments the Forstall research with data from the 2010 census (Note 3).
Consistent with both national and international trends, the half century between 1960 and 2010 indicated significant dispersion in metropolitan areas. This, of course, was a continuation of a trend that accelerated from the first quarter of the 19th century, when early mass transit systems allowed people to live in larger spaces, farther away from their work.
The movement of residents from the urban core to the suburbs followed the even greater exodus from small towns and rural areas. But it was not long before residents of the homogeneous bedroom suburbs of the 1950s began to find more nearby employment opportunities.
In 1960, 54% of the employment in the 35 major metropolitan areas was in the historical core municipalities, with the balance of 46% of the jobs in suburban and exurban areas. By 2010, the corner municipality share had dropped to 30%, while suburban and exurban areas contained 70% of the employment (Figure 1). Between 1960 and 2010, 88% of the new jobs were in the suburbs and exurbs, leaving only 12% of the growth in the core municipalities (Figure 2).
Dispersion Greater in Metropolitan Areas with Pre-War Non-Suburban Cores
However, even this distribution appears to mask an even greater dispersion. Among the metropolitan areas with "Pre-war non-suburban core municipalities," (such as San Francisco, Baltimore, Providence, New York, etc.) a full 102% of job growth was in suburban and exurban areas. Core city employment accounted for a minus two percent of employment growth (in other words, it declined). These are metropolitan areas with core cities that were virtually fully developed before World War II and which have added little to their land areas by annexation.
The other metropolitan areas have core cities with large swaths of suburbanization and some, like Phoenix and Sacramento are virtually all suburban. In these metropolitan areas, approximately 25% of the job growth since 1960 has been in the core cities (Figure 3).
Pre-War Non-Suburban Core Municipalities Losses and Gains
Among the 18 metropolitan areas with "Prewar non-suburban" core municipalities, two thirds experienced losses in their core cities. The Rust Belt "ground zero" core cities of Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo all lost 40 percent or more of their employment, and were joined by second tier Rust Belter St. Louis. The core city of Pittsburgh, typically one of the Rust Belt's big four, did much better, losing only five percent of its employment. Across the state, however, the core city of Philadelphia did much worse, dropping 23 percent of its employment. The core city of Chicago lost 20 percent of its employment.
Perhaps most notable was the core city of Hartford, which lost 9 percent of its employment between 1960 and 2010. According to data in the Brookings Institution Global Metro Monitor, Hartford has emerged as the world's most affluent major metropolitan area (measured by gross domestic product per capita) over the same period. All of Hartford's job growth was in the suburbs and exurbs.
The core city of New York did the best among the metropolitan areas with "Pre-War non-suburban" cores, attracting 16 percent of the employment growth over the half-century. Washington (DC) also did well, with a 12 percent share of new employment.
Urban Dispersion and the Quality of Life
The dispersed metropolitan area, along with its comprehensive roadway networks, has served the US well, especially in two important measures of the quality of life --- housing affordability and mobility. Major metropolitan areas in the United States have some of the most affordable housing in the high-income world. The US has shorter work trip travel times than Canada or Western Europe and much shorter than the major metropolitan areas of Japan (with the most comprehensive rail systems in the world) and East Asia.
This advantage was reiterated with the recent release of the Tom Tom Congestion Index, which showed traffic congestion in the metropolitan areas of Australia and New Zealand to be far worse than in US metropolitan areas of similar size. For example, Sydney is as congested as Los Angeles, despite having only one-third the population. Auckland (New Zealand) has worse traffic congestion than any US metropolitan area of similar size.
Peter Gordon and Harry W. Richardson spotted this advantage nearly two decades ago (See Are Compact Cities a Desirable Planning Goal?), before there was international traffic congestion comparison data. Based upon their review of national travel surveys, they concluded:
Suburbanization has been the dominant and successful mechanism for reducing congestion. It has shifted road and highway demand to less congested routes and away from core areas.
Wendell Cox is a Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris and the author of “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life.
Note 1: The Brookings Institution report indicates that employment within a 3 mile radius of downtown (the central business district) increased in number and share only in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. However, this may not indicate an increase in central business district (downtown) employment. The large, nearby, but suburban employment centers of Rosslyn, Crystal City and downtown Alexandria may be located within the three mile radius (the report does not indicate the point from which the radius is drawn). The three mile radius used in the report is useful and represents the best reported data. However, it may not be representative of central business district employment encloses a huge area (28 square miles), which is more than 25 times the typical central business district geographical size and larger than the land areas of the core cities of Providence and Hartford and nearly two-thirds the size of the core city of San Francisco. Transit commuting to such nearby employment centers is routinely far lower than the share that ride transit to downtown.
Note 2: Forstall is co-author (with Richard P. Greene and James B. Pick of seminal research that estimated the population densities of the largest metropolitan areas in the world (Which Are the Largest: Why Lists of Metropolitan Areas Vary So Greatly). Normally, metropolitan area densities cannot be validly compared because of widely varying criteria between nations. Further, in the United States, metropolitan area densities are nonsensical, because their building blocks vary in size too much. With its County-based definitions, US metropolitan areas include building blocks ranging from half the size of Orlando's Walt Disney World (New York County, or Manhattan borough) to the size of the nation of Costa Rica (San Bernardino County). The use of such a crude building block results in the inclusion of huge amounts of rural territory that is outside the labor market or the commuting shed (metropolitan areas are typically defined as labor markets). Forstall and his coauthors applied criteria that was both consistent and rational. This exhaustive process limited the number of metropolitan areas for which they were able to make estimates to 28.
Note 3: This analysis differs from Forstall's approach in defining core cities using the historical core municipality classification. It should be noted that there have been changes in metropolitan definitions over the 50 years.
Photo: Suburban employment in Chicago (by author)
The Second City syndrome is alive and well. An anti-Chicago essay masquerading as a book review in the New York Times provides the latest example of the truth of that. Rachel Shteir, a former New Yorker now living in Chicago, notes the various ills in the Windy City that should come as a surprise to no one, least of all residents:
“Poor Chicago,” a friend of mine recently said. Given the number of urban apocalypses here, I couldn’t tell which problem she was referring to. Was it the Cubs never winning? The abominable weather? Meter parking costing more than anywhere else in America — up to $6.50 an hour — with the money flowing to a private company, thanks to the ex-mayor Richard M. Daley’s shortsighted 2008 deal? Or was it the fact that in 2012, of the largest American cities, Chicago had the second-highest murder rate and the second-highest combined sales tax, as well as the ninth-highest metro foreclosure rate in the country? That it’s the third-most racially segregated city and is located in the state with the most underfunded public-employee pension debt? Was my friend talking about how a real estate investor bought The Chicago Tribune and drove it into bankruptcy? Or how 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who performed at Barack Obama’s inauguration, was shot dead near the president’s Kenwood home?"
Illustrating the rule that criticizing Chicago is something that is Simply Not Done, this piece sent locals into collective apoplexy. Huffington Post Chicago provides a roundup of the “epic backlash.” The Atlantic Cities chimes in with its own roundup of “Everything You Need to Know About Why Chicago Is Furious With Rachel Shteir and The New York Times,” noting that “We don't have to wait for the angry letters to be printed in the next Book Review. The counter-manifestos are already here! In the past few days, it seems, everyone from Gary to Milwaukee has read Shteir's ‘Chicago Manuals’ piece, resulting in a groundswell of angry rebuttals.” An army of angry tweeters spoke out. And even the mayor addressed the issue. Not a bad day’s work for a theater professor at Depaul (Shteir’s day job).
In a sense Shteir is right. I’ve long noticed that Chicago is basically an echo chamber of boosterism in which everyone is terrorized about deviating from the party line lest they be excommunicated from polite company, a fate that may well indeed await Shteir. And Chicago clearly has manifest problems as a city, many of which she notes, though many of her list such as the perennial disappointment of Cubs fans are clearly more snark than substance.
However, what Shteir and Chicago both miss is the real value proposition of the city. Taken on its own terms, Chicago is a simply fantastic place to live. It has a magnificent lakefront setting, a stunning skyline, fantastic cultural institutions, incredible opportunities to consume (from designer clothing to world class dining), and much more. It may be true that these great things largely benefit those from more affluent precincts with vast tracts of the city left behind in segregated, entrenched poverty, but it’s tough to name a place where that isn’t likewise true. Much of Brooklyn, for example, remains mired in poverty, but no one in New York seems to care and criticisms of it as such are simply shrugged off.
Chicago also has perhaps – at least in my view – the best blend of the best of the elite urban center with much of the best of cities further down the food chain. You can have genuinely walkable neighborhoods, take transit to work, and eat food that would be impressive in any city in the world while simultaneously having a spacious and affordable condo with parking that allows you to drive to a conveniently located Target or Costco to stock up when you need to. It’s car oriented when you need it and walkable when you need it, all at a reasonable price. Now that’s certainly something that many cities lower down in the hierarchy will also claim – big city amenities with a high quality of life. But Chicago is the most elite city in America that can plausibly make that claim.
What Chicago is not, despite its pretensions, a truly global tier one city like New York, London, or Paris. That is what the booster culture can’t abide. It is an article of faith that every Chicagoan must believe, or at least pretend to believe, that Chicago is worthy of being spoken of in the same breath as any city in the world. Even a critic like Shteir seems to evaluate it on that basis.
But the reality is that Chicago is a “1B” city like Frankfurt or Toronto not a “1A” city. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I happen to believe Chicago’s value proposition is arguably better than most of the 1A cities for everyone who isn’t in the 0.1%. But both local boosters and critics can’t look at Chicago for what it is, but rather what it isn’t and never will be. Chicago will never be New York. But neither will New York ever match the best of Chicago on the Windy City’s own terms with a comparable quality/price/ease mix.
In this sense, Chicago might be seen as the leader of a wave of other emerging would be 1A cities – Houston, Dallas, San Diego – that are making the cut from a second tier city. Being the leader and something of a role model for a wave of rising cities may not be bad positioning at all.
Photo by Doug Siefken.
Some people don't like the term "Rust Belt". Others absolutely hate the word "chic". Please don't call the shifting mesofacts of dying Great Lakes cities "Rust Belt Chic". Given the reaction, a lot of it negative, I decided to blog about how I came up with Rust Belt Chic. Way back in 2006, Shittsburgh was associated with a kind of urban chic. The South Side Slopes celebrated in the New York Times:
"If Pittsburgh's market were on steroids like New York's, this would've happened a long time ago," said one developer, Ernie Sota, referring to the recent spark of interest here. "But Pittsburgh's kind of like an eddy. Things move slowly here."
Mr. Sota, 56, is a prolific local developer who is constructing a series of nine 'green' town houses, called Windom Hill Place, into a lush hillside here. He was drawn to the Slopes by the views and villagelike feel, which, for him, conjure memories of visits to Prague and Budapest.
"It's just kind of quirky, funky and real, more organic, built by Europeans and other immigrants," he explained. "The only other American cities that I find as geographically interesting are maybe San Francisco and Asheville, N.C."
Emphasis added. At the time, I thought of Sota's sense of Pittsburgh place as unique to the city. I'm not from Pittsburgh. I don't live in Pittsburgh. I didn't go to school there. I'm a geographer. Pittsburgh appeals to my sensibilities. Pittsburgh is my Paris.
The geographic scope of Pittsburgh urban chic became Rust Belt Chic upon meeting Phil Kidd and John Slanina in Erie, PA for a Rust Belt Bloggers summit. They introduced me to Youngstown. I was hooked.
Rust Belt Chic always will be ironic. People are attracted to shrinking city hellholes. However, the hellhole part is misunderstood. What I mean is seeing opportunity hiding in a community struggling with survival. There's just something about Youngstown that stirs passion in me. I'm not gawking at ruin porn or glossing over everything that is wrong. I love Rust Belt cities. I love Rust Belt culture. I'm proud to be from the Rust Belt. That's what Rust Belt Chic now means to me. It's personal. It's who I am.
For Pittsburgh, I could sense the tide turning. I see the same transformation taking place in other Rust Belt cities. A pejorative, Rust Belt-ness is an asset. It's a starting point for moving forward, not a finish line or a civic booster campaign. Rust Belt Chic is in the same vein as rasquache:
Rasquache sensibility that has become an important component of Chicana and Chicano art. The word, rasquache can be used in several senses. Its most common use is negative and relates to an attitude that is lower class, impoverished, slapdash and shallow. For this reason Tomás Ybarra Frausto who has written the cogent essay "Rasquachismo: A Chicano Sensibility" begins by stating, "One is never rasquache, it is always someone else, someone of a lower status, who is judged to be outside the demarcators of approved taste and decorum (in Richard Griswold del Castillo and others, Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, 1965-1985. Los Angeles: Wight Gallery, UCLA, 1991, p. 155)
However, as the case of several other terms and concepts (most notably the term and concept Chicano itself, which traditionally had a negative sense), the Chicano movement has turned the traditional notion of rasquache on its head. This important Chicano cultural sensibility has been particularly used to address, by means of a stance of resistance that is humorous and ironic rather than confrontational or hard-edged, the harrassments of external authorities such as the police, the immigration service, government officials, social services bureaucrats, and others. Chicano art that is rasquache usually expresses an underdog, have-not sensibility that is also resourceful and adaptable and makes use of simple materials including found ones, such as Luján's cardboard, glue, and loose sand.
Rust Belt Chic turns the traditional notion of Rust Belt on its head. The Rust Belt is lower class, impoverished, slapdash, and shallow. At least, that's how it looks from the coast, in New York City. Rust Belt Chic as a place to be is a form of resistance. It's also a hot new trend and a threat to those neighborhoods that make my heart beat faster. From San Antonio:
“I see a lot of progressiveness happening lightning quick now. When I came from Los Angeles as a visitor in 1992, I saw all these magic spaces you could rent for 300 or 400 a month. But I would laugh because there was little or nothing going on. I could get together some event with a friend or two and everybody thought it was so cool and innovative – I was just copping what I had seen in LA.
San Antonio has gotten a lot more popular with Austin and California types discovering what a jewel this town is. Eclectic little restaurants and coffee places and shops growing up along Broadway and throughout Southtown. We’re being seen by a lot more cutting edge people by being open to contemporary signage and logos and creative design. With that, unfortunately, comes more expensive retail spaces and taxes are going up.
There is a charm and real-ness to San Antonio I hope we don’t lose in the process. San Antonio is a non-materialistic town; people aren’t looking at your shoes or what kind of car you drive. When I leave San Antonio, it’s that real-ness that brings me back, every time. I left LA, and I left Austin because I got so tired of the trendy-ness. We’re growing fast, we’re drawing an eclectic market that will support artists. However, there will be a compromise. I don’t want to see it get too uptight.”
Pittsburgh is Rust Belt Chic Paris. San Antonio is Rasquache Paris. When Richey Piiparinen and I were in San Antonio to do fieldwork, we were both struck by the Rust Belt Chic qualities of the city. At the time, we weren't familiar with rasquache. We are now. I see a lot of similarities between Pittsburgh and San Antonio, particularly the way both places are under-appreciated. They enjoy a cult following. Hopefully, neither one will become the next Austin or Portland.
Rasquache is further along, much further, than Rust Belt Chic. In fact, Rust Belt Chic is rasquache:
This called to mind a passage I’d read in Have You Seen Marie? It’s an unusual book for a writer whose work has been at turns bawdy, avant-garde, and politically trenchant. Entirely autobiographical, Marie is a short, illustrated story with a childlike tone about Cisneros searching the streets of King William for a friend’s lost cat while mourning the loss of her mother, who died in 2010. I read Cisneros the passage I’d thought of: “ ‘King William has the off-beat beauty of a rasquache, and this is what’s uniquely gorgeous about San Antonio as a whole.’ ”
She smiled. “Rasquache is when you make or repair things with whatever you have at hand. You don’t go to Home Depot. If you have a hole in your roof, you put a hubcap on there. Or you fix your fence with some rope. That’s rasquache. And then there’s ‘high rasquache,’ which is a term the art critic Tomás Ybarra-Frausto coined. He lives here. Danny Lozano knew high rasquache. He’d serve you Church’s fried chicken on beautiful porcelain and use Lalique crystal for flowers he’d cut from an empty lot.”
“And that was one of the qualities that drew you to King William?”
“Not just King William but San Antonio. A kind of elegance of found things. San Antonio has that soul. It’s not, ‘We gotta copy what we saw in New York.’ No! It’s going to come out of our own idea of what we think is beautiful.” She stared at me as if to make sure I understood. “But that’s also what’s getting lost. People feel like the city’s got to look like someplace else. Our mayor needs a stylist. He thinks he has to dress like a Republican. Pues, he’s Chicano! He’s got this gorgeous indigenous look, and he would look so cool if Agosto Cuellar, one of our local designers, dressed him, or someone like Franco, or Danny, or John Phillip Santos—he dresses totally San Antonio cool. He should do a style column for Texas Monthly.”
I allowed that Santos, who is a regular contributor to this magazine, does have singular style (the last time I saw him, in December, he was wearing a horsehair charro tie and ringneck python boots) but joked that there might be a preponderance of leather pants in his fashion advice. Cisneros waved the joke aside.
“Our problem is that we can’t recognize or celebrate what we have. We have this inferiority complex in Texas that we have to look elsewhere. Well, who knows more about inferiority than Chicanos? We grew up being ashamed because the history that is taught to us makes us ashamed. The whole colonial experience surrounding the Alamo is meant to make you feel ashamed.”
In writer Sandra Cisneros, I sense a kindred spirit. As a Rust Belt native, Erie no less, I felt ashamed. I come from failure. I have no culture worth celebrating. Anywhere else must be better. That's why we leave. Brain drain.
I, too, was drawn to King William while in San Antonio. It is New Orleans (creole) and Pittsburgh (parochial). It's like nothing I've experienced before. I get that boom town vibe of a place that is cool before anyone knows it is cool:
Russell has seen what’s coming before. “When the buzz starts – when San Antonio embraces the brain gain, goes in the right direction on the talent economy and hipsters start to get wise to the neighborhood assets that are here – once the hipsters get wind of it – you’ll have to beat them away with a stick,” he said.
I think that's the concern of Robert Tatum. About a year ago, such a notion was unfathomable to Cleveland. What will the compromise with gentrification look like in Ohio City? Will somebody utter the words, "He dresses totally Cleveland cool"?
Danny Lozano knew high rasquache. He’d serve you Church’s fried chicken on beautiful porcelain and use Lalique crystal for flowers he’d cut from an empty lot.
Rust Belt Chic is served.
Jim Russell is a talent geographer with particular interest in the Rust Belt. Read his blog at Burgh Diaspora, where this piece originally appeared.
Last month the BLS put out the first official release of annual job data for metropolitan areas, so I wanted to take a brief look at this for large metro areas (more than one million in population, based on old metro area definitions that the BLS still uses). Here are the top 10 cities for percentage job growth. Nashville takes the crown. I’m also personally glad to see Indy bounce back after a couple tough years.Rank (Best) Metropolitan Area 2011 2012 Pct Change 1 Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN 756.7 786.2 3.90% 2 Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX 2592.1 2691.4 3.83% 3 Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX 795.0 823.2 3.55% 4 Salt Lake City, UT 620.0 641.0 3.39% 5 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 876.4 905.2 3.29% 6 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 1917.2 1977.8 3.16% 7 Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC 825.1 850.3 3.05% 8 Raleigh-Cary, NC 506.9 521.9 2.96% 9 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 2932.2 3016.0 2.86% 10 Indianapolis-Carmel, IN 888.6 913.8 2.84%
Here are the bottom ten performers. The federal slowdown already appears to be hitting DC:Rank (Worst) Geography 2011 2012 Pct Change 1 St. Louis, MO-IL 1298.7 1298.8 0.01% 2 Rochester, NY 510.1 513.2 0.61% 3 Providence-Fall River-Warwick, RI-MA – Metro 544.8 548.3 0.64% 4 Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY 543.5 547.0 0.64% 5 Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 2707.4 2725.2 0.66% 6 Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 815.5 821.4 0.72% 7 Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC 737.7 743.8 0.83% 8 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT – Metro 538.2 542.7 0.84% 9 New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA 525.1 529.7 0.88% 10 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 3007.6 3039.8 1.07%
And here is the complete list:Row Metropolitan Areas 2011 2012 Total Change Pct Change 1 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA 2306.0 2349.9 43.9 1.90% 2 Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX 795.0 823.2 28.2 3.55% 3 Baltimore-Towson, MD 1292.6 1317.8 25.2 1.95% 4 Birmingham-Hoover, AL 493.6 501.4 7.8 1.58% 5 Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH – Metro 2459.5 2499.2 39.7 1.61% 6 Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY 543.5 547.0 3.5 0.64% 7 Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC 825.1 850.3 25.2 3.05% 8 Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI 4305.1 4369.2 64.1 1.49% 9 Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN 990.1 1002.4 12.3 1.24% 10 Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH 1001.2 1016.6 15.4 1.54% 11 Columbus, OH 926.0 950.4 24.4 2.63% 12 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 2932.2 3016.0 83.8 2.86% 13 Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, CO 1213.6 1246.1 32.5 2.68% 14 Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI 1785.7 1826.8 41.1 2.30% 15 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT – Metro 538.2 542.7 4.5 0.84% 16 Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX 2592.1 2691.4 99.3 3.83% 17 Indianapolis-Carmel, IN 888.6 913.8 25.2 2.84% 18 Jacksonville, FL 586.8 595.6 8.8 1.50% 19 Kansas City, MO-KS 980.6 996.8 16.2 1.65% 20 Las Vegas-Paradise, NV 808.2 823.6 15.4 1.91% 21 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA 5165.8 5264.6 98.8 1.91% 22 Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN 598.0 610.9 12.9 2.16% 23 Memphis, TN-MS-AR 593.8 600.9 7.1 1.20% 24 Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL 2228.6 2278.2 49.6 2.23% 25 Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 815.5 821.4 5.9 0.72% 26 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 1735.0 1766.4 31.4 1.81% 27 Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN 756.7 786.2 29.5 3.90% 28 New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA 525.1 529.7 4.6 0.88% 29 New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA 8418.2 8554.3 136.1 1.62% 30 Oklahoma City, OK 580.1 593.4 13.3 2.29% 31 Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 1014.9 1040.3 25.4 2.50% 32 Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 2707.4 2725.2 17.8 0.66% 33 Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, AZ 1715.6 1757.1 41.5 2.42% 34 Pittsburgh, PA 1144.9 1158.6 13.7 1.20% 35 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 987.8 1006.6 18.8 1.90% 36 Providence-Fall River-Warwick, RI-MA – Metro 544.8 548.3 3.5 0.64% 37 Raleigh-Cary, NC 506.9 521.9 15.0 2.96% 38 Richmond, VA 610.9 623.4 12.5 2.05% 39 Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 1128.8 1151.6 22.8 2.02% 40 Rochester, NY 510.1 513.2 3.1 0.61% 41 Sacramento–Arden-Arcade–Roseville, CA 808.6 822.5 13.9 1.72% 42 Salt Lake City, UT 620.0 641.0 21.0 3.39% 43 San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 858.4 877.9 19.5 2.27% 44 San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA 1233.4 1258.8 25.4 2.06% 45 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 1917.2 1977.8 60.6 3.16% 46 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 876.4 905.2 28.8 3.29% 47 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 1671.3 1711.5 40.2 2.41% 48 St. Louis, MO-IL 1298.7 1298.8 0.1 0.01% 49 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 1129.7 1155.7 26.0 2.30% 50 Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC 737.7 743.8 6.1 0.83% 51 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 3007.6 3039.8 32.2 1.07%
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The recent announcement that Jerry Brown is studying "fracking" in California, suggests that our governor may be waking up to the long-term reality facing our state. It demonstrates that, despite the almost embarrassing praise from East Coast media about his energy and green policies, Brown likely knows full well that the state's current course, to use the most overused term, is simply not politically and economically sustainable.
Although largely a prisoner of basic green dogma, Brown also is a former Jesuit, with that order's sense of rationality, order and, well, philosophical flexibility. Unlike many of his progressive idolaters and legislative allies, Brown may well be intelligent enough to look past the rhetoric of the environmental movement and consider its often unexpected ill-effects.
Brown needs to balance "California comeback" stories – including one that gushingly describes "California beaming" – with the actual realities. Good times, and the current technology bubble, may be blessing Silicon Valley, but as Walter Russell Mead points out, this comeback is being pushed "over the heads of the poor and the jobless." This, he adds, "is not how progressives used to think."
The chasm between the effects of "noble" green politics and the interests of most Californians is becoming evident, if not widely recognized in the mainstream media. Editorial writers at the New York Times may believe we are losing our need for oil and gas, but this transition should be more difficult than they suggest and, if achieved through often-thoughtless Draconian measures, could have profound impacts on the overall economy.
Let's start with the supposed "up" side of the purist renewable policies hitherto embraced by Brown. The governor's 2010 election promise about creating 500,000 "green jobs" – his economic rationale for his energy and other environmental policies – increasingly looks far-fetched. With electric car maker Fisker, backed by well-connected Democratic venture capitalists and Al Gore, now perhaps ready to follow solar-panel maker Solyndra into bankruptcy, the pitch about a green economy seems unlikely, even bizarre.
The state-driven "green" policies have also created huge losses for the giant state-employee retirement fund CalPERS, one of whose managers at a recent conference confided that renewable–energy investments have negative returns approaching 10 percent.
Certainly, neither green energy nor even the current Silicon Valley bubble are creating enough jobs to make up for the enormous shortfall in employment since the recession. This is particularly evident in urban areas like Los Angeles and Oakland – where Brown was mayor from 1999-2006 – as well as most of the state's interior. Overall, the state vies for last-place honors with the likes of Rhode Island, Nevada and Mississippi for the nation's highest unemployment rate. The damage is greatest in the state's more blue-collar interior. Working-class Stockton just was allowed to enter bankruptcy and other municipalities seem likely to join the queue.
Progressive journalists, eager to pronounce the state's comeback to justify their ideology, seem utterly unaware of the seriousness of the overall situation in the state. One wonders what they would say if Pete Wilson or Meg Whitman were governor. Compare Texas, which is 550,000 jobs ahead of its 2007 number, to California, which, despite recent gains, remains down 560,000 jobs from its peak. Perhaps unemployment is not a big issue in the progressive reserve of Palo Alto, where the jobless rate is about the same as in North Dakota, but it is a constant in much of Los Angeles, San Jose and Santa Ana, as well as the Central Valley. If this suggests a "comeback" to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, perhaps we need a new definition for that word.
These comparisons seem particularly relevant to the discussion of fracking – oil and gas extraction using a technique called hydraulic fracturing. In the environmental scheme of things, oil and even natural gas, once widely favored by progressives, now constitute an utter evil. This is true even though gas has been the primary reason for the country's reduced carbon emissions by replacing coal as a source for generating electricity. Some of the state's well-heeled greens would like to ban the process entirely.
Brown must be aware he is not just governor of the public sector or of his admirers among the coastal rich. He has to consider the unimaginable: removing mandates that force the state to rely on expensive, often-unreliable renewables, notably, solar. These have helped push California electricity prices well above the national average, and much higher than in prime economic competitors such as Washington state, Utah, Texas, Arizona and Nevada. Economist John Husing suggests this is one reason why California not only completely missed the recent national revival in manufacturing jobs – 500,000 the past two years – but actually lost 10,000 more such jobs.
We are clearly missing the party here. California's energy policies reflect what is already happening in Europe, where anti-fracking ideology, sometimes supported by the no-doubt-disinterested Russians, have largely won the day. But the costs of green policies have already convinced hard-pressed Spain to abandon its widely praised renewable program.
Far more economically healthy Germany also is rethinking its renewables mandates. One reason: German companies like Bayer and BASF consider moving to cheaper locales, such as along the U.S. Gulf Coast, where electricity is one-third the price. Texas, Utah and Arizona are to California's hard-pressed manufacturers what the Gulf Coast is to Germany's.
And, then, there are the effects of the budget. Unlike his East Coast admirers, Brown must know that the budget situation is hardly rosy over the longer term. The state auditor recently released a report showing the state's net worth to be negative by some $127 billion, in large part due to often out-of-control pension costs. There are already indications that the return from last year's hike in income taxes may not be as large as expected and that what was, during the election, promised to schools will likely end up, as widely predicted, covering rising pension obligations.
Companies and individuals may not leave California in droves, as some have suggested, but investors certainly can put their money someplace more fiscally responsible. A longer-term problem may be that the higher-income earners, who generate the vast majority of income-tax revenue, are also those most likely to change behavior or find effective income-hiding strategies; remember, Facebook paid no income taxes last year.
Given these prospects, reviving California's fossil-fuel industry could prove a critical boost to the budget. A deal to raise some energy taxes while allowing more exploration and development would go a long way to filling the state's coffers.
Energy taxes play a big role in financing higher education in many states, including North Dakota, Louisiana and Texas. Oil money, ironically, has allowed Texas to fund universities, particularly the main University of Texas campus in Austin, as a competitor to the perennially hard-pressed University of California system. An energy boom in California, whose energy resources may exceed those of all these states, might offend most academics, but, my hunch is, they might take the money.
Perhaps more important, a pragmatic shift on energy would also help, as columnist Tim Rutten puts it, "jump start" the state's economy, particularly in central California. In the past decade, Texas has created almost 200,000 energy-related jobs, while California has generated barely 20,000. These jobs provide good wages to many blue-collar workers, the very people losing out the most in our progressive-minded state.
There are other signs of pragmatism from the governor. Brown has announced support for a peripheral canal that would provide more-reliable water supplies to the state's huge agribusiness industry. Although some state regulators threaten farmers with ever-tougher regulations, some observers, such as three-term Salinas Mayor Dennis Donahue, now a full-time farmer, say the governor is trying to "walk the line between labor, greens and agriculture."
Many Republicans and conservatives find the notion of Brown getting on the road to reality itself fundamentally unrealistic. But the past could be prologue. Brown also started off his first term, in 1975, as something of a dreamer, proclaiming a "small is beautiful" agenda. This was, in many ways, ahead of its time, and skeptical of government spending, but Brown's environmental views, particularly, also offended some business interests. Far worse, he signed off on legislation freeing up public-sector unions, which has turned into something of a disaster.
But by the time he started running for a second term, Brown readjusted to a new reality. He could claim that, as someone opposed to the growth of institutionalized government, he could live with Proposition 13. Brown had opposed the measure, but, once it passed, in 1978, he chose, unlike many progressives, to embrace it.
Brown then ran as a centrist, pro-growth governor. He particularly embraced the then-ascendant technology industry, gaining new donors and allies, although the shift toward realpolitick horrified some of his green backers. But the politics worked brilliantly.
Today's circumstances, of course, are different. For one thing, Brown faces little pressure from the right, as the Republican Party, at least for now, has deteriorated into near irrelevancy. The once-potent California business community also has lost much influence, with every lobby, basically, trying to make its own deal with the overweening state apparat.
So, if Brown is to move to the center, he will have to do it largely on his own, and put up with the incessant hectoring of his allies. Yet, Brown's occasional genius has demonstrated a Machiavellian quality, knowing when to embrace opponents in order to divide or weaken them, or to allow allies to stew. He also, at this stage of life – today, April 7, is his 75th birthday – must wonder if he wants to leave a legacy of fiscal weakness, a fading competitive edge and an ever-expanding class chasm. In the long run, whether on fracking or a host of other issues, Brown's success will not derive from pleasing progressive writers, but by promoting a better future for the vast majority who live in, and love, this state.
Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and a 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.
This piece originally appeared in the Orange County Register.
Photo: Troy Holden
When my seventeen year old son was mugged this year, coming home on a late weekend tram, he lost his iPod along with his Beats headset. I felt sympathetic, but not shocked, that he had been shaken down, even though we live in a quiet village on the outskirts of Geneva.
The city has been experiencing a crime wave—at least by the standards of the Swiss countryside—with about 700 house break-ins a month. Unemployment for youths under 25 in nearby France, about a mile from our house, is now more than 25%, but more than double that for illegal immigrants, for whom house burglaries in Geneva are one of the few growth industries.
Nor is it unusual to hear that a teenager has had something stolen or been roughed up. In my son’s case he wasn’t badly hurt; he took some punches to the head. Most of his wounds were to his childhood sense of security.
He reported the incident to the police, who picked him up at the tram crime scene, drove around looking for the muggers, and dropped him back at home. A few days later he filed a more substantial report with a detective, who promised to look at the security tapes on the tram. We expected the matter to end there.
Under the sway of late-night television, I was for staking out the tram on weekend nights, a proposal my wife dismissed as worthy only of Charles Bronson (Yeah? Well, what if the cops can't handle this?). My wife rolled her eyes.
A few weeks later, however, the Geneva police called to say that they not only had apprehended the muggers—all local Swiss, not Lyonnais gangsters—but had gone to the house of one of them and found a stash of loot, including my son’s iPod and his Beats.
Equally incredible, that night two detectives came to our house close to midnight and returned the robbed goods. The detectives explained to my son that he had the option to press charges against the three, and give testimony in court, which he agreed to do, and that he could claim damages from the incident.
We showed up at the appointed hour and were led into a wood-paneled, sparely furnished courtroom, locally called “Le Tribunal des Mineurs.” The only police officers were sitting outside in a waiting room, next to one of the defendant’s parents.
As if called to the principal’s office, the three attackers were seated on small chairs directly in front of the judge, who sat alone behind a long desk. They looked like other teenagers I see on the street — jeans, sneakers, varsity jackets, and vacant expressions — but without iPhones. Behind the defendants sat three lawyers, testament that the muggers came from some means.
Dressed casually, without robes or a necktie, the judge began by asking my son what happened. In Swiss cases, the judge hears the witnesses and dictates a summary to a court reporter. There was no jury.
My son went over how these three kids, about sixteen- or seventeen-years-old, had sat behind him on a bus, and followed after him when he changed to a tram. When they were the only ones left on the street car, they asked him for a cigarette (he said he didn’t smoke).
When the tram reached the end of the line, my son chose to sit tight in the bright lights under the surveillance cameras, rather than to make a run for the doors. He'd been unable attract the attention of the driver. When he finally decided to make a break, the gang of three surrounded him, shoved him back into his seat, hit him with their fists, and made off with his gear.
The judge asked my son what he did next, and he said, “I called 117” (the police). The judge responded quickly, “But how?” My son described how, when the kids sat down behind him on the empty train, he managed to slip his phone and wallet into his underwear. The judge almost whistled when he said, “Bravo.”
Then he questioned the attackers professionally, sternly, and, often, incredulously. He asked them if the testimony was true, and they said it was. He asked if they wanted to “say anything to the victim.” From their three mouths came stuttered, awkward apologies.
The judge ended the court session by asking the three muggers what they would do if they saw their victim on the street (my son chuckled when one said he would “shake his hand”). The three were forced to go on the record, before a judge, that they would do him no additional harm if they met by chance.
The court reporter printed out the transcript, my son signed three copies, and the judge explained that because it was a juvenile court the sentencing would not be made public.
As juveniles, the three will not be sentenced to jail, but to a court program dealing with youthful offenders. I can imagine them attending anger-management classes, unless they were part of some larger, more violent crime syndicate, although I doubt that is the case. The pros don’t roll their victims under security cameras and stash the loot in bedrooms decorated with soccer posters.
When the judge excused us, he walked over to my son, and said, “It took courage for you to come here today.” He shook his hand.
I felt as if it were 1935 and I was listening to a justice of the peace lecture three kids about delinquent behavior. He wasn’t looking to send them up the river, but he spoke for a society that does not condone personal violence, especially in public places against strangers. I sensed the three got his message. At least, they were forced to hear it.
In the annals of crime, this mugging means nothing, except to those involved. The prosecution did nothing to reduce the wave of house burglaries; those are the work of gangs operating out of Lyon and elsewhere in France. But the Geneva judge treated this matter as if he had the fate of several lives in his hands, and, in my view, he handled those lives with professionalism and care.
Matthew Stevenson, a contributing editor of Harper's Magazine, is the author of Remembering the Twentieth Century Limited, a collection of historical travel essays. His next book is Whistle-Stopping America.
Flickr Photo by Alain Rouiller- rouilleralain — a street in a village near Geneva.
Urbanist Richard Florida, in a New York Daily News op-ed, has called for President Obama to define his legacy not only by focusing on gun control, immigration and climate change, but by zeroing in on an even more important issue: America’s urbanization.
This is because today, he explains, the nation’s 50 largest metros contain two-thirds of US population, produce three-quarters of its economic output, and are home to a great concentration of its innovations. Florida, author of Rise of the Creative Class and one of New Urbanism's prime theoreticians, believes that these metros have been neglected by a government that romanticizes suburbs and small towns, while ignoring the greater productivity of dense areas. The answer to this misallocation of resources, he writes, would be for Obama to form a Department of Cities.
According to his proposal, this would fold into the now-dated Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and would represent a shift in how government approaches cities. While HUD was “created to mitigate poverty at a time of wide-scale suburban flight” by providing housing and jobs for vulnerable populations, this new department would enact reforms more in fitting with urban America’s renewed prosperity. That would include redirecting infrastructure money back into city centers, and funding bike lanes, mass transit and pedestrian zones. Zoning and building codes would be modified to allow for greater densities.
What's wrong with this idea? It's hard to know where to begin.
The proposed department would tread beyond just growth and infrastructure, and become a comprehensive bureaucracy. Its modifications to zoning laws, for example, would interfere with traditionally local police power. And the department would “absorb pieces” from a half-dozen agencies, like the Departments of Commerce and the Interior. That way, it could deal with climate change, immigration and gun control, as well as crime, education, and inequality. The department’s bipartisan advisory board, which would include mayors, developers, and academics, could even dabble in foreign affairs, by demonstrating how “urbanism and sustainability should underpin a new US ‘grand strategy’.”
Florida justified such a department by saying it would make government leaner, through the better coordination of different agencies. That, in turn, would help it streamline economic vitality and job creation in cities, using a “cut to invest” approach. But Florida didn’t note that such a department would only be possible if approved by the Obama administration that would be forming it. And that seems unlikely, given that the president’s current urban vision is little different than the old HUD model Florida bemoans. Obama’s choice for HUD secretary was Shaun Donovan, a former New York City housing commissioner who launched the city’s “inclusionary zoning” program, making it available even for six-figure households.
Obama, after all, came of age in Chicago, a city long mired in that department’s policies. He has continued funding some of its more anachronistic programs, like Community Development Block Grants, and started Choice Neighborhoods, which is an expanded version of the old Hope VI program. Meanwhile, the economic benefits of his new HUD measures are no more evident than past ones. The Strong Cities Strong Communities Initiative gave grants to six declining cities, including Detroit, which has received gobs of federal money before, but has failed to improve largely because of problems within city hall. Both the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative and the Promise Neighborhoods grants are all-encompassing attempts by the federal government to solve poverty, going beyond just housing, to include schools, policing, and health care.
The Sustainable Communities Initiative is meant to centralize the various municipalities within a given metro area. While the strategy can have advantages, it has been used by Obama merely to advance a far-left agenda: its been known to restrict suburban development.
So how likely is it that Obama would fill this new Department of Cities with the market-oriented appointees suggested by Florida, like economist Edward Glaeser, and Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, the online shoe retailer? Probably less so than Obama filling it with ones who, like himself, seem to believe the government can solve every urban problem if only given more money. Such thinking has led to continued wastefulness within HUD, and might inhibit a new city department from its stated goal of spurring growth.
Even if such a department did spur growth, it might, like other top-down entities, do so abusively—a point that seems lost on Florida. While discussing the article on MSNBC, he explained that “HUD was great for its time,” as “the bulwark of both urban renewal…and providing affordable public housing,” and that the new department would simply need to adapt to modern conditions. But the “renewal” he celebrates caused the widespread destruction of neighborhoods—and arguably cities altogether—in the 1950s and 1960s, while the public housing that replaced them was crime-ridden.
There’s no reason to think that those who ran a Department of Cities would learn from these mistakes. Yesterday’s urban renewal exists today merely in different forms. There has been a vast expansion of eminent domain powers because of 2005's Kelo v. New London, which legalized taking private property for other private uses, and is now being used for local economic development strategies, particularly in New York City. Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg—Florida thinks he would make a great cabinet member—there have been attempted condemnations of large areas, including the Atlantic Yards project underway in Brooklyn. Property would be confiscated from thousands of owners, while reshaping whole swaths of the city into master-planned projects. Who is to say a Department of Cities wouldn’t implement this method nationwide, wiping out poor neighborhoods to build yet more “redevelopments”—aka convention centers, malls, and stadiums—that perform even more poorly than the original neighborhoods did?
Florida ends his article about federalizing urban policy by, ironically, repeating a quote Bloomberg once made about the virtues of local governance: “While nations talk, but too often drag their heels—cities act.”
This just summarizes the problem with a “Department of Cities.” It would concentrate power at a level of government that is known for sluggishness in some cases, and arbitrariness in others. While a department that focused only on redirecting infrastructure into dense areas might be beneficial, the comprehensive one described by Florida would prove politically toxic, since it would veer into multiple other issues. And it would be controlled by someone who, like Obama, might use it not for economic growth, but to further propagate the growth—and wastefulness—of the federal bureaucracy.
Scott Beyer is traveling the nation to write a book about revitalizing U.S. cities. His blog, Big City Sparkplug, features the latest in urban news. Originally from Charlottesville, VA, he is now living in different cities month-to-month to write new chapters.
Nanjing is one of China's most historic cities. It is one of the four great ancient capitals of the nation, along with Beijing, Chang'an (Xi'an) and Luoyang. Its name means southern capital (Nan=south, Jing=capital), while the name of the current capital, Beijing means Northern capital. Nanjing was the national capital at various times, however generally for periods of no more than a few decades. Upon the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the national capital was moved permanently to Beijing, where it had been for most of the previous five centuries.
Nanjing is the capital of Jiangsu, which is China's fifth most populous province. It has twice as many people as California (80 million) and a land area the size of Virginia. Nanjing is also one of the "four furnaces" of China, a title derived from its humid summers. The others include Wuhan (Hubei), Chongqing and sometimes Changsha (Hunan) or Nanchang (Jiangxi).
Nanjing is reputed to have the world's longest, though not the oldest surviving city wall, which was built in the 14th century (Photo). The city is also the site of the second bridge ever built over the lower Yangtze River (Photo), opened in 1968 (the first was at Wuhan). The bridge carries both automobiles and trains. There are now five Yangtze River crossings in Nanjing.
Nanjing City Wall
Yangtze River (toward suburban Pukou qu)
Yangtze Delta Megalopolis
Nanjing is a big city in one of the world's great urban mega-regions. It serves as the Western anchor of the Yangtze Delta region, a megalopolis (string of metropolitan areas) which consists of a string of sometimes adjacent urban areas, stretching through Suzhou to Shanghai and Hangzhou to Ningbo, with a population of approximately 60 million (plus additional millions in rural areas, outside the urban areas). This is at least a third more than live in the longer Washington-New York-Boston corridor, the original megalopolis.
A trip through the Yangtze Delta corridor demonstrates only comparatively short sections that are not urbanized. One of the longest is the 10 mile (16 kilometer) section from the eastern urban fringe of Nanjing to the western fringe of Zhenjiang (location of the Pearl S. Buck Museum). Further, Nanjing's southern fringe now meets that of Maanshan, in Anhui province (not a part of the Yangzte Delta).
The Nanjing Urban Area
Nanjing has grown rapidly. In 1950, the urban area population was approximately 1.0 million (see "Definition of Terms Used in the Evolving Urban Form Series"), a population some sources say was exceeded in the 15th century. The urban area has now reached 5.8 million. Nanjing is the world's 59th largest urban area and the 13th largest in China. It is projected to have a population of more than 8 million by 2025 (Figure 1). The Nanjing urban area (Figure 2) covers approximately 440 square miles (1,140 square kilometers). This results in a population density of approximately 13,100 per square mile (5,100 per square kilometer).
Consistent with the general principle that cities become less dense as they get larger, Nanjing's population density has fallen significantly over the last 60 years, even as its geographical size has more than quintupled (Figure 3). Older historic land area data is not readily available, but if it is assumed that virtually all of Nanjing's United Nations reported 1,000,000 population in 1950 lived within the 17 square mile (44 square kilometer) periphery of the city walls, the population density would have been more than 60,000 per square mile (more than 23,000 per square kilometer). The area within the city walls is indicated by green shading in the urban area representation (Figure 2).
By 1970, the population had increased to over 1.4 million and if this population was contained inside the city walls, the population density would have approached 90,000 per square mile (35,000 per square kilometer).Indicating a similar density, the 2010 population of the most densely populated district (Golou qu), much of which is located inside the Wall 86,000 per square mile (33,000 per square kilometer).
The Nanjing Metropolitan Area
Nanjing is a prefecture (regional municipality) with 11 districts, of which nine are in the metropolitan area (Note 1). The core of Nanjing continues to grow, from 2.5 million in 2000 to 3.4 million in 2010, an increase of 34 percent (Note 2). But in comparison, the suburban districts grew from 2.3 million to 3.8 million, an increase of 64 percent (Figure 4). For the first time, suburban Nanjing has a larger population than the urban core. The suburbs accounted for 64 percent of the metropolitan area's growth over the past decade, compared to 36 percent in the urban core (Figure 5).
Pukou, a suburban district across the Yangtze River from the historic location of Nanjing, was by far the fastest growing part of the metropolitan over the past decade. By 2010, the population had risen to 710,000 from 225,000 in 2000, when it was largely rural. Two metro lines are planned to connect Pukou to the rest of the urban area, which is likely to encourage further suburban development.
The Nanjing Economy
Nanjing, like other cities in China, has been a beneficiary of China's unprecedented poverty reduction, first launched by the economic reforms started by Deng Xiao Ping in the early 1980s. It is estimated that in 2012, Nanjing's gross domestic product per capita (purchasing power parity adjusted) was approximately $25,000 annually. Nanjing's GDP per capita is compared to that of other Chinese metropolitan areas and examples from the developed world in Table 6 (Note 3).
A Strong Future
Nanjing seems likely to continue its strong growth. This and Nanjing's geographic location in one of the most vibrant mega-regions in the world should guarantee a continuing and strong contribution not only to the development of the Yangtze Delta megalopolis, but also to economic progress of China as a whole.
Wendell Cox is a Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris and the author of “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life.
Note 1: The districts (qu and counties) designated as urban by Nanjing prefecture (regional municipality) authorities Entire peripheral districts are designated when they begin to receive urban development. The "urban" designation in China, however, does not indicate continuous urbanization and is thus not an urban area in the internationally defined sense. The Chinese urban definition is thus similar to a metropolitan area (labor market).
Note 2: The urban core includes the following districts (qu): Xuanwu, Biaxia, Qinhaui and Gulou.
Note 3: Estimated the Brookings Institution Global Metro Monitor, and other sources. See "World's Most Affluent Metropolitan Areas: 2012" including the "Note."
Top Photo: Zifeng Tower (all photos by author)
Perhaps no idea is more widely accepted among urban core theorists than the notion that higher population densities lead to more productivity and sustainable economic growth. Yet upon examination, there are less than compelling moorings for the beliefs of what Pittsburgh blogger Jim Russell calls “the density cult,” whose adherents include many planners and urban land speculators.
Let’s start at the top of the urban food chain, the world’s 28 megacities of over 10 million people (which we are defining as areas of continuous urban development, incorporating suburbs and satellite communities). Is greater density the key to great prosperity? For the most part, the world’s densest megacities are the poorest. Take the densest, the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. Its 14 million residents are squeezed into an area of 125 square miles, making for a population density of 115,000 per square mile, as reported in the latest edition of Demographia World Urban Areas (which includes estimates for all known urban areas in the world with at least 500,000 residents). Dhaka’s per capita gross domestic product, $3,100, is the lowest of all the world’s megacities.
Three other megacities — Mumbai, Karachi, Delhi — have population densities that are between three to seven times as high as the biggest megacity, Tokyo-Yokohama, which has a density of 11,000 per square mile. Tokyo is also much richer; the region’s per capita GDP tops $41,100, while the three ultra-crowded metropolises on the subcontinent have GDPs under $10,000 per capita. In contrast the two most spread out megacities, Los Angeles and New York, have population densities about half or less of Tokyo’s, but their per capita GDPs rank number rank first and third ($63,100 in New York and $54,400 in Los Angeles).
Do any dense metropolitan areas boast higher GDPs? Seoul-Incheon, South Korea, packs more than 20 million people into an area roughly a quarter of Tokyo’s and at a density four times that of Los Angeles. Its per capita GDP, at $32,200, is the highest among the 10 most dense megacities. Paris, which is twice as dense as New York and 50% more dense than Los Angeles, stands at $53,900. (Yes, Los Angeles is denser than New York — despite its small central core, L.A. lacks the wide stretches of bucolic suburbia common in eastern cities).
This imperfect, if not inverse, relationship between density and wealth is widely ignored by most urban core boosters, many of whom argue that packing people together is the true key to economic growth. But more often than not, notes Russell, the objective is aggrandizing the “creative class” — those who tend to settle in dense urban cores and also work in industries that do best there, but with little positive for everyone else.
Many retro-urban theorists maintain that high density is the key to urban prosperity. These theorists often point for justification to Santa Fe Institute research that, they claim, links productivity with density. Yet in reality it does nothing of the kind. Instead the study emphasizes that population size, not compactness, is the decisive factor.
Size does matter. A region is helped by the infrastructure that generally comes only with a large population, for example airports. But being big does not mean being dense. In fact the U.S. cities that made the largest gains in GDP in 2011 — Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and greater Detroit — are not dense cities at all.
Some of the metropolitan regions that have the highest per capita GDPs in the world based on purchasing power are not particularly dense. The two regions at the top — Hartford, Conn. and San Jose, Calif., — are if anything largely suburban in character. Neither has a strong central core, and most of the jobs in the areas are on the periphery.
These areas are marked by everything that density advocates detest: They have very low levels of transit ridership and are largely dominated by single-family homes. The most affluent, Hartford, has among the lowest urban population densities in the world. It turns out that our low-density, “sprawling” metropolitan areas do very well in terms of wealth creation. Of the top 10 urban regions in the world in terms of GDP per capita all but one — Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates — are located inside the United States.
There are many thriving American urban areas with densities below the U.S. average for large urban areas.This includes not only Hartford, but also Boston, Durham, Seattle and Houston. Indeed, smaller, low-density Des Moines nearly broke into the top 10 (13th), reflective of the economic gains being made in the Great Plains.
We may think, for example, of Boston, which ranks fifth in the world in per capita GDP, as a tightly packed urban area. But once one gets behind the relatively small urban core, the overall density is barely 2,200 per square mile, less than half San Jose or Los Angeles, hardly a fifth that of Tokyo and not much more than Atlanta, the least dense major city in the world with more than 2.5 million residents.
Why is this the case? One key reason is that cities, as they evolve, naturally spread out. As New York University’s Shlomo Angel has pointed out, virtually all major cities in the world are growing more outward than inward, and becoming less dense in the process. This is not only true in the United States, but also in Europe and, even more surprisingly developing countries as well. For example, over the past four decades, everyone’s favorite dense core city, Paris, has seen its urban land area expand 55%, while its population has risen only 21%. Today, the geographical extent of urban Paris is more than 25 times that of the ville de Paris, home to most of the familiar tourist attractions.
In some ascendant countries, notably China, American-style suburbs are being duplicated; and when Chinese and other Asians immigrate, they tend to move to lower-density suburban areas. The only exceptions have been cities where development has been distorted by ideology, such as Moscow before the fall of the Soviet Union, notes Alain Bertaud, a former principal planner World Bank.
The reason for moving outward may be lost on theorists and their real estate backers, but they remain compelling for many people, particularly families. A national association of realtors survey in 2011 found that roughly 8o% of adults prefer to live in detached single-family houses while only 8% preferred an apartment. It is thus not surprising that the suburbs, which abound in detached housing, contain nearly three-quarters of America’s major metropolitan population or that areas outside the urban core accounted for 99% of growth between 2000 and 2010.
For the most part, this suggest the population, for the most part, will continue to seek out the periphery. This is not only true, as NYU’s Angel points out, in the United States or in similar countries such as Australia or Canada. As people seek out more affordable and larger housing, they tend to spread out from their historic cores. It happens most decisively in wealthy areas that are also land-rich.
This is not to say that the higher-density enclaves of urban areas do not have an important place. In terms of culture, finance, media and certain other transaction-based industries, a number of dense urban cores remain unassailable in their efficiency and appeal. But in the United States, and much of the rest of the high-income world, this is accomplished by bringing residents from the periphery to the core — by car, train, bus and increasingly through telecommunications, even as most jobs are located elsewhere in the urban area.
The future shape of the city is likely to continue expanding, even as some urban cores grow. Visit any burgeoning city in the developing world from Shanghai to Mexico City and the same reality emerges: as cities get larger, they spread out, as people begin to aspire, as best they can, for the quality of life that most North Americans and Europeans already take for granted.
This piece originally appeared at Forbes.com.
Dhaka photo by wiki commons user BL2593.
This jaded land, Florida, is the world-weary capital of architectural irony, with more tongue-in-cheek showpieces than even Las Vegas. But hidden within the MedRev McMansions, the stucco-smeared stage sets, and the high cynicism of our highway junkspace, there lies hidden a handful of true works of quiet beauty. Leave it to Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer prize-winning architecture critic and best-selling author of Why Architecture Matters, to point it out to us godless heathens. In an interview, he tells me that he’s excited to tour these nuggets we’re hoarding. Who knew?
“While Frank Lloyd Wright and other ‘star-chitects’ hogged center stage,” Goldberger says, “many more created earnest, sincere buildings that fulfilled their obligation to the street. These unsung heroes of American architecture matter. I think that James Gamble Rogers II was one of these in Winter Park. I hope so, anyway, because I’m coming down from New York to see them for the first time ever.” Sincere architecture: an endangered species in the world today, but in over-themed Orlando, practically nonexistent.
Last year, a popular vote placed Cinderella’s Castle in Florida’s top 100 most influential pieces of architecture. For God’s sake. At the same time Goldberger, the consummate modernist connoisseur, revealed his admiration for Yale University’s Gothic architecture, which he told me “belongs to a different age … it shows innocence risen to a heroic grandeur.” Speaking of its crusty stone structures as “deeply ethical,” Goldberger praised the buildings for their sincerity. Today this architectural authenticity has all but vanished among the fake Mediterranean, fake Colonial and fake just-about-everything, so it stands out when you see it.
Yale’s original campus was designed by James Gamble Rogers. He happened to have a nephew, James Gamble Rogers II, who was an architect in Winter Park and designed some of the most viscerally marvelous houses I’ve seen. 160 Glenridge Way, for example, is a shaggy, organic, simply gorgeous shingle-style cottage. Casa Feliz, one of his best, is modeled after an Andalusian farmhouse, standing today at the north end of swanky Park Avenue. Its humble brick and barrel tile have a prehistoric quality, as if a woolly mammoth had wandered into a cocktail party, snorkeling martinis. Its studied casualness is sophisticated and resonates with your deepest emotions, if you aren’t yet numb from Orlando’s overwrought garish glitz.
Goldberger seeks something real, the unadorned truth, in his voyage here next week. He says that he’s come to Orlando many times and enjoys “the theater of the theme parks,” and confesses he has yet to set foot in Winter Park. It may be the ultimate irony that Central Florida’s lure for the most important architecture critic of our time is a few humble, unadorned houses tucked into side streets, largely overlooked by the rest of us.
This piece first appeared at Orlando Weekly.
Richard Reep is an architect and artist who lives in Winter Park, Florida. His practice has centered around hospitality-driven mixed use, and he has contributed in various capacities to urban mixed-use projects, both nationally and internationally, for the last 25 years.
Why Cities Matter
by Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard
Pretty much everybody doing anything today has to be thinking about how to respond to urbanism, especially in a global but also a developed world context. While it’s clearly too early to proclaim the “death of the suburb” clearly cities have experienced a resurgence. New York, LA, and San Francisco are at all time population highs. The District of Columbia and Philadelphia grew for the first time since 1950 according to the latest census.
Religion has been one of those movements that has to respond to urbanism. Christianity was traditionally an anchor of cities, especially the Catholic Church which was a key agency of assimilating of immigrants into American society, among other things.
However, in recent decades the urban church went into decline while the heartland of Christianity moved to the suburbs (along with rural and small town environments where it had always been strong). The growth of mega-churches to some extent parallels the rise of the mega-mall. Those steeped in this more suburban milieu need to have adjust their thinking if they want to succeed in penetrating a more urban one.
The book “Why Cities Matter” by Stephen Um of Citylife Church in Boston and Justin Buzzard of Garden City Church in Silicon Valley is an attempt to provoke that thinking. It’s fairly brief at only six chapters (of which I’ll talk about five), but covers some interesting ground.
The first couple of chapters make the case for why cities are important in general. I actually think this is a pretty good general purpose overview of the case for urbanism quite apart from any religious context.
One thing that really caught my eye was when they tackled the matter of why some cities fail. They seem to anticipate the objection that if cities are so great, why are so many of them like Detroit so screwed up? The answer they give is diversity – in the broadest sense of the word. Detroit is very racially diverse, but lacked economic diversity. As they put it:
The one phenomenon guaranteed to stifle the power of density is homogeneity. In other words, if everyone in a city does the same thing for work, thinks along the same lines, and lives relatively similar lives, no matter how densely clustered they may be, that city will lack the necessary innovation capital needed to sustain itself over the long haul.
Or as they put it in a way I’d never read elsewhere:
Density + Diversity = Multiplication
Density – Diversity = Addition
In effect, the non-diverse city is simply scaling horizontally as it grows. And when that growth stops, as it inevitably will, the authors note the obvious implication: “When the bottom falls out on a density-minus-diversity city, population addition becomes subtraction and there is no platform left on which to rebuild.”
The third chapter is a Biblical case for the city. I think this is particularly key and is something far too many people trying to adapt to cities and urbanism – the auto companies, for example – haven’t really done. What the authors are doing is re-telling the narrative of their own movement in an urban context. It’s not just that cities are important. But you have to be able to see how what you do has some authentic urban component to it so that you see the city as part of you, not just some foreign country you have to go figure out.
Having taken a look at the narrative of Christianity as authentically urban, they then turn for two chapters towards how to contextualize Christianity to serve the city. This starts with understanding the city itself on its own terms. In short, it starts with knowing the city’s story. Some questions they suggest asking include:
1. What is your city’s history?
2. What are your city’s values?
3. What are your city’s dreams?
4. What are your city’s fears?
5. What is your city’s ethos?
I’ve noted before how urban church leaders like Tim Keller have been willing to ask themselves the tough question of what they need to do adapt their ministry to the needs of their city, in contrast to too many urbanists themselves. How many urbanists really ask themselves these questions? How many of them go on an anthropology mission to understand their city? Too often, it doesn’t seem like many do. Because so frequently it’s the exact same “school solutions” that are proposed in city after city with little to indicate they’ve been seriously thought about in relation to the city in question: light rail, bike lanes, tech startups, mixed use, density, etc., etc., etc.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with these or that sometimes you can’t just import a good idea once it’s been perfected elsewhere. Lots of mass consumer products succeed. However, if your entire plan for your city is based on off the shelf ideas from elsewhere, it’s probably going to fall far short of your ambitions.
I find it ironic that it is religious leaders, who I would expect might argue that they are selling the Ultimate Product, actually seem to be more advanced in seeking to contextualize what they do than do some urbanists themselves.
Suburban areas in the US metropolitan areas with more than 1 million total regional population, once largely seen as bedroom communities, are nearing parity between jobs and resident employees. The jobs housing balance, which measures the number of jobs per resident employee in a geographical area has reached 0.89 (jobs per resident workers) in these 51 major metropolitan areas, according to data in the 2011 one-year American Community Survey. This is well below the 1.39 ratio of jobs to resident employees in the historical core municipalities (Figure 1).
The historical core municipalities still have a larger share of metropolitan employment than they have of resident workers. However, 65 percent of major metropolitan area jobs are now in the suburbs, where 74 percent of workers live (Figure 2). The 0.89 jobs housing balance index indicates that there are only 11 percent fewer jobs in the suburbs than resident workers. Overall, the jobs housing balance of metropolitan areas (a synonym for labor markets) is at or near 1.00.
From Monocentric to Polycentric to Dispersed Cities
The data indicates the extent to which the classical monocentric city has been left behind by the evolution of the modern metropolitan area. Before the near universal extension of automobile ownership, cities were necessarily much more monocentric. Transit lines tended to converge on downtown, which made downtowns far more dominant in their share of metropolitan employment than they are today.
For example, in 1926, according to historian Robert M. Fogelson writing in Downtown: Its Rise and Fall: 1880-1950, in 1926 41 percent of Los Angeles residents went to downtown every day, a figure that had dropped to 15 percent by 1953, principally for work and shopping. Today, in a much larger metropolitan area that also includes Orange County, 3 to 5 percent of jobs are located downtown (depending on the geographical definition). The area not only lost a significant share of metropolitan employment, but saw its share of retail sales drop as regional shopping centers were built throughout the area. Similar trends occurred in virtually every metropolitan area of the United States.
All of this occured as the automobile facilitated access to virtually everywhere in the metropolitan area, not just downtown.
The emerging polycentricity of the city long was obvious to many analysts, but it was Joel Garreau who brought the issue to popular attention in his classic Edge City: Life on the New Frontier. Garreau documented the development of large suburban employment centers throughout the major metropolitan areas and provided a list. Later, Robert Lang of the University of Nevada Las Vegas took the issue further in his Edgeless Cities: Exploring the Elusive Metropolis, which examined office space outside downtown areas and edge cities in 1999. Gross office space was greatest outside both the downtowns and edge cities, according to Lang's data (Note 1).
Lang's analysis is limited to office space, which is more concentrated in downtown areas than employment. On average, 2000 data indicates that downtown areas had approximately 10 percent of employment, well below downtown's 36 percent share of office space (Figure 3).
Even so, there remains a misconception today that cities remain monocentric. Yet as the figures show we are progressing toward a distribution of jobs that nearly matches its distribution of housing, with the exception of downtown (where there is the greatest imbalance, see below).
Historical Core Municipalities: Where the Jobs-Housing Imbalance is the Greatest
The excess of jobs in relation to residential workers is greatest in the historical core municipalities. It is driven by the downtown areas (central business districts or CBDs), which have by far the highest employment densities in the metropolitan areas. For example, in 2000, the downtown areas of the nation's 50 largest urban areas had an average job density 92,000 per square mile. This is approximately 70 times the average non-downtown urban area employment densities (1,300 per square mile). Downtown residential densities, if they were readily available, would doubtless be a small fraction of the downtown employment figures.
Largest Historical Core Municipality Jobs-Housing Imbalances
The imbalance between jobs and housing is highest among the historical core municipalities of Washington (2.63), Salt Lake City (2.61), Orlando (2.48), Miami (2.44) and Atlanta (2.31). Yet, these large historical core municipality imbalances co-exist with generally near average suburban jobs housing balances. For example, in Washington there are 0.87 jobs per resident worker in the suburbs, or only 13 percent fewer jobs than workers who reside in the suburbs. In the other four metropolitan areas, the suburban jobs housing balance is above 0.80 (Figure 4).
Smallest Historical Core Municipality Jobs-Housing Imbalances
The smallest historical core municipality jobs housing imbalance is in San Jose (0.84), which is the only major metropolitan area in which has fewer jobs than resident workers (Figure 5). However, the municipality of San Jose is a "Post War Suburban" core municipality, having experienced virtually all of its growth since 1940. This is despite the fact that San Jose's corresponding urban area is the third most dense (following Los Angeles and San Francisco). Generally higher suburban housing densities were built in San Jose compared to less dense urban areas – which extend over vast distances – such as New York, Philadelphia and Boston. San Jose is also the only metropolitan area in which there are more suburban jobs than suburban resident workers (1.41 jobs per worker).
The other historical core municipalities with the least imbalance between employment and resident workers are Los Angeles (1.10), Chicago (1.17), Milwaukee (1.17) and New York (1.17). The surprising inclusion of New York is discussed below.
Each of the historical core municipalities with the fewest jobs per resident worker has a higher than average jobs housing balance in its suburban areas. Los Angeles has 1.02 jobs per suburban resident worker, principally the result of importing workers from the adjacent Riverside-San Bernardino metropolitan area. Milwaukee also has more suburban jobs than suburban resident workers (1.01).
New York has the second largest central business district in the world, following Tokyo. It therefore seems odd that the municipality of New York should have such a low ratio of jobs per resident worker. The borough of Manhattan, where the central business district is located, has 2.76 jobs per resident workers, higher than that of top ranked Washington, DC (above). There are 1,450,000 more jobs than resident workers in Manhattan.
New York's low ratio is the result of a huge shortage of jobs relative to workers the outer boroughs (the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island). There are 830,000 fewer jobs than resident workers in the four outer boroughs. Their ratio of jobs per resident, at 0.71 is lower than all but five suburban areas in the other 50 major metropolitan areas (Figure 6).
The suburbs of New York, ironically, are more job-rich than the outer boroughs. They boast an 0.91 jobs per resident worker, ranking 17th out of the 51 metropolitan areas.
The New Normal
The former assumption that "everyone works downtown" is a thing of the past. Dispersion of jobs throughout the metropolitan area has become the rule. The "old normal" was that of the bedroom community – people living in the suburbs and working in the core cities. The "new normal" is about downtown and the core city. To the extent that there is a distortion in the jobs housing balance throughout the modern metropolitan area, it is the result of a larger number of jobs than residents in the core cities (and especially downtown).
Wendell Cox is a Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris and the author of “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life.
Photo: Houston downtown (to the left), edge city (Texas Medical Center in the middle) and dispersed employment (rest of photo). Photo by author.
Note 1: The total office space outside the primary downtowns, secondary downtowns and edge cities was 37.0 percent in reviewed 13 metropolitan areas. Primary downtowns accounted for 36.5 percent, secondary downtown for 6.5 percent and edge cities for 19.8 percent (this analysis classifies Beverly Hills, Mid-Wilshire and Santa Monica in Los Angeles as secondary downtowns, rather than as primary as in the book. See tables 4-2 and 4-10).
Note 2: The historical core municipalities are the largest municipalities in each metropolitan area, with the following exceptions.
(a) Oakland and St. Paul are also historical core municipalities.
(b) Norfolk is the historical core municipality in the Virginia Beach metropolitan area.
(c) San Bernardino is the historical core municipality in Riverside San Bernardino
(see Classification of Historical Core Municipalities)
Is it density or migration? Venture capitalist Brad Feld weighs in:
The cities that have the most movement in and out of them are the most vibrant.
The densest city in the world won't be as vibrant as the city with the most talent churn. Yet planners and urbanists tout the former over the latter. We've reached the point of density for the sake of density. It is an end instead of a means to an end. The art of the density boondoggle:
The following is the conversation held at every regional summit on Long Island:
Advocate: Let’s keep our young people from leaving! There’s a…brain drain!
Public: How do we stop it?
Developer: Build denser housing! Let’s make it…affordable! Walkable! Let’s make it…mixed-use sustainable smart growth…with a downtown, pedestrian-friendly feel.
Municipality: Development approved!
What's the question? Greater density is the answer. It will plug the brain drain. I promise. But plugging the brain drain will reduce talent churn. Long Island will be less vibrant.
There is a name for the Cult of Density. It now has its very own -ism. All hail Vancouverism:
Vancouverism is, at the root, a movement to go from low density, to higher density, to make Canadian and North American cities about people once again.
Making cities all about people sounds great. All I hear is the chant of the Underpants Gnomes:
Phase 1: Create a cool city.
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Retain talent.
That will be $500,000. Thank you for your patronage, Memphis. Consulting is fun!
Development approved. That's the story line playing out in downtown Las Vegas with Zappos. Density is king. Don't listen to Brad Feld. Talent churn doesn't matter.
If Vancouverism were harmless, then I wouldn't blog about it. The misplaced emphasis on density has negative impacts. Vancouver is more about people, those who are young, single and college-educated:
'Revitalizing,' but leaving seniors behind
Last July, Vancouver city council unanimously approved a three-year Chinatown Neighbourhood Plan and Economic Revitalization Strategy. More than a decade in the making, the plan focused on economic revitalization, after two-thirds of businesses surveyed in Vancouver's original Chinatown reported declining revenues between 2008 and 2011 -- blamed mainly on losses to newer Chinese-language communities in suburbs like Richmond.
The revitalization plan envisions new residential development, "to connect with younger generations and reach out to people of all backgrounds to ensure Chinatown is increasingly relevant to a more multi-cultural Vancouver." At the same time, it acknowledged that in a neighborhood where 67 per cent of households are low-income -- more than twice the City of Vancouver average -- such redevelopment "can displace low-income residents." What is good for old Chinatown's businesses, in short, may be less so for its poor and isolated elderly.
S.U.C.C.E.S.S., Vancouver's primary provider of culturally- and linguistically-supportive housing and services for Chinese seniors, is providing a partial answer. It operates a single multi-level care facility in old Chinatown for people with cognitive impairments or who require round-the-clock nursing. But its 103 beds, soon to be 113, are about one-tenth of what the UBC Centre for Urban Economics anticipates will be needed over the next 15 years to house Chinese seniors.
Meanwhile, the support it offers seem a world away from Rosesari and her neighbours living in privately operated SROs like the May Wah Hotel. Yet the women are spirited and resilient. "I'm happy and I'm healthy," Rosesari told me through Pang's interpretation. Both she and Lin say they like living in Chinatown. They feel at home here, where the language spoken is the one they know.
They are also in their 90s. As time goes on, they and others may no longer be able to manage the May Wah's staircases, its lack of mobility aids, and its communal bathing facilities. The alternatives available to them then are in terribly short supply.
Welcome to the dark side of the obsession with wants and needs of the Creative Class. Vancouverism is boutique urbanism, catering to a specific demographic at the exclusion of all others. People are either displaced or fall into the cracks. Bike lanes and food trucks trump the needs of seniors.
Jim Russell is a talent geographer with particular interest in the Rust Belt. Read his blog at Burgh Diaspora, where this piece originally appeared.
Downtown Vancouver photo by runningclouds
The modern megacity may have been largely an invention of the West, but it’s increasingly to be found largely in the East. The seven largest megacities (defined as areas of continuous urban development of over 10 million people) are located in Asia, based on a roundup of the latest population data released last month by Wendell Cox’s Demographia. The largest megacity remains the Tokyo-Yokohama area, home to 37 million, followed by the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, Seoul-Incheon, Delhi, Shanghai and Manila.
With roughly 20 million inhabitants, the New York metro area, the world’s largest urban agglomeration from early in the 20th century till Tokyo surpassed it in the 1950s, ranks eighth. The only other western urban areas among the 28 biggest megacities now are Moscow (15th), Los Angeles (17th), and Paris (28th). London, which was the first modern city of a million people, is not on the list at all, with expansion long ago stopped by its green belt. In 1990, New York ranked second and Los Angeles ranked eighth.
This de-Westernizing trend seems likely to continue. The fastest-growing megacities over the past decade have been primarily in the developing world. Karachi, Pakistan, has led the growth charge, with a remarkable 80% expansion in its population from 2000 to 2010. The growth economies of China and India dominate the rest of the list of most rapidly growing megacities.
China, not surprisingly, has the most megacities of any country, four. The second fastest growing megacity over the past decade, Shenzhen, was a small fishing village not long ago that became a focus of Deng Xiaoping’s first wave of modernization policies. In 1979 it had roughly 30,000 people; now it is a thriving metropolis of over 12 million whose population in the past decade grew 56%. Its rise has been so quick that the Asia Society has labeled it “a city without a history.”
Older Chinese cities are also growing rapidly. Shanghai, a cosmopolitan world city decades before the Communist takeover of the country, expanded almost 50% since 2000. The ancient capital Beijing and the southern commerce and industrial hub of Guangzhou grew nearly as rapidly.
India matches Japan with three megacities, but they are all growing much faster. The population of Delhi, the world’s fourth-largest city, expanded 40% over the past decade; Mumbai, almost 20%; and Kolkata, roughly 10%, a relatively low rate for a city in a developing country.
Other rapidly growing megacities are scattered throughout the developing world. In Nigeria, Lagos saw its population swell by over 48%; The Thai capital of Bangkok and Dhaka, Bangladesh, both grew some 45%. The world’s second-largest megacity, Jakarta, expanded 34% to almost 27 million.
One caveat: Estimating population for comparably defined urban areas, particularly in the developing world, can be difficult. For example, there is considerable disagreement about the population of Lagos, where local officials claimed there were twice as many people in 2005 as were counted in the 2006 Nigerian census. Add the “missing” 8 or more million people and the population would be 22 million this year. The higher local count, however, has not been broadly accepted. There population of Karachi is also disputed, with some claiming a somewhat lower population than reported.
In contrast, high-income countries in Europe and the U.S., where population tracking is more reliable, grew relatively slowly. The only city with a purchasing power adjusted GDP of over $40,000 that registered population growth over 10% was Moscow, which has expanded rapidly as the center of Russia’s resource-led boom. The population of Paris grew 8%; Los Angeles, 6%; and New York, barely 3%.
Japan, one of the world’s most urbanized major countries, has also logged slower growth. Tokyo, the great outlier in that country’s stagnant population profile, expanded 7%, Nagoya grew 5.7% and Osaka-Kobe a weak 2.4%. The rapid population depletion in the rest of the country and a lack of immigrants suggest that Japan’s great cities will grow even slower in the years ahead, as the country runs short on migrants from rural areas and young people in general.
So what do the numbers tell us about the future of megacities? For one thing, it’s clear that the most rapid growth is taking place in countries that still have large rural hinterlands and relatively young populations. These mostly poor places — most with median incomes between Dhaka at $3,100 per capita and Bangkok at $23,000 — will continue to grow, at least until their populations begin to see the results of decreasing birthrates.
U.N. projections to 2025 suggest that the future list of megacities will be dominated by such lower-income cities, with growth primarily in places like Africa and central Asia. Among the likely new entrants are Lima (Peru) , Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Tianjin (China). At least seven others (Chennai, Bangalore, Bogota, Ho Chi Minh City, Dongguan, Chengdu and Hyderabad) are now above 8 million, making it likely they could reach megacity status by 2030. Among high-income world cities, London might finally reach 10 million while the only other high-income world candidate, Chicago, with more than 9 million residents, could take until 2040.
At the same time, some megacities in the low and middle-income world already seem to have reached a point of saturation. A generation ago, it was widely predicted that Mexico City would become the world’s largest city. Yet its growth has slowed to a modest 11% over the past decade. Lower Mexican birthrates and the development of other urban alternatives have made La Capital far less a growth hub than once imagined.
Similar processes can be seen elsewhere in Latin America, where fertility rates have been dropping to levels closer to American and northern European norm, but not yet those of the ultra-low Japan or southern European countries. Over the past decade population growth was 13% in Buenos Aires, 15% in Sao Paulo and 10% in Rio de Janeiro. These cities will likely continue to grow, but at a reduced rate.
The real winners in the coming decades are likely to be Chinese megacities, and to a lesser extent those in India. China’s megacities all enjoy per capita incomes above $20,000 and the vast scale of the country’s rural population suggests there is still room for growth. It will be perhaps another decade or so before the country’s low birthrate catches up with it, and slows growth down to western or Japanese levels.
India’s cities, notably Mumbai and Delhi, are not as wealthy as China’s, but are clearly getting richer, with Delhi getting close to the $10,000 per capita income level. With a somewhat higher birthrate than its Chinese or South American counterparts, Indian cities can be expected to continue expanding at least for the next decade or so.
These trends, of course, may be altered by any number of developments, including the possible threats to cities from wars, environmental challenges or other large-scale disruptions. But we can say, with some confidence, that the world’s megacities will continue to become increasing Asian and African, reflecting the protean nature of an urban growth pattern that continues to de-emphasize slower expanding regions in the Americas, Japan and, of course, Europe.
FASTEST GROWING MEGACITIES IN THE WORLD (Urban Areas with more than 10 million residents) Rank Geography Urban Area Population Estimate GROWTH (Decade) 1 Pakistan Karachi 20,877,000 80.5% 2 China Shenzhen 12,506,000 56.1% 3 Nigeria Lagos 12,090,000 48.2% 4 China Beijing, BJ 18,241,000 47.6% 5 Thailand Bangkok 14,544,000 45.2% 6 Bangladesh Dhaka 14,399,000 45.2% 7 China Guangzhou-Foshan 17,681,000 43.0% 8 China Shanghai 21,766,000 40.1% 9 India Delhi 22,826,000 39.2% 10 Indonesia Jakarta 26,746,000 34.6% 11 Turkey Istanbul 12,919,000 25.3% Source: Demographia World Urban Areas (2013): http://demographia.com/db-worldua.pdf
This piece originally appeared at Forbes.com.
America’s urban landscape is changing, but in ways not always predicted or much admired by our media, planners, and pundits. The real trend-setters of the future—judged by both population and job growth—are not in the oft-praised great “legacy” cities like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco, but a crop of newer, more sprawling urban regions primarily located in the Sun Belt and, surprisingly, the resurgent Great Plains.
While Gotham and the Windy City have experienced modest growth and significant net domestic out-migration, burgeoning if often disdained urban regions such as Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Charlotte, and Oklahoma City have expanded rapidly. These low-density, car-dominated, heavily suburbanized areas with small central cores likely represent the next wave of great American cities.
There’s a whole industry led by the likes of Harvard’s Ed Glaeser, my occasional sparring partner Richard Florida and developer-funded groups like CEOs for Cities, who advocate for old-style, high-density cities, and insist that they represent the inevitable future.
But the numbers tell a different story: the most rapid urban growth is occurring outside of the great, dense, highly developed and vastly expensive old American metropolises.
An aspirational city, by definition, is one that people and industries migrate to improve their economic prospects and achieve a better relative quality of life. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, this aspirational spirit was epitomized by cities such as New York and Chicago and then in the decades after World War Two by Los Angeles, which for many years was the fastest-growing big city in the high-income world.
Until the 1970s, the country’s established big cities were synonymous with aspiration—where the jobs and opportunities for broad portions of the population abounded. But as the financial markets took on an oversized role in the American economy and manufacturing receded, the cost of living in the nation’s oldest metropolises shot up far faster than the median income there—and Americans have turned elsewhere now that, as Virginia Postrel wrote in an important essay on the nation’s growing economic wall, “the promise of a better life that once drew people of all backgrounds to rich places like New York and [coastal] California now applies only to an educated elite—because rich places have made housing prohibitively expensive.”
Like the great legacy cities during their now long-past adolescent and at times ungainly growth spurts, today’s aspirational cities often meet with little approval from travelers from other, older cities. A 19th-century Swedish visitor to Chicago described it as “one of the most miserable and ugly cities” in North America. New York, complained the French Consul in 1810, was a city where the inhabitants had “in general no mind for anything but business”; later Bostonian Ralph Waldo Emerson, granted Gotham’s entrepreneurial supremacy only to explain that his more cultured “little city” was “appointed” by destiny to “lead the civilization of North America.”
Los Angeles, most of whose early-20th-century migrants came from the Midwest, became a favorite object of scorn from sophisticates. William Faulkner in the 1930s described the city of angels as “the plastic asshole of the world.” As the first great city built largely around the automobile, mainstream urbanists detested it; their icon Jane Jacobs called it “a vast blind-eyed reservation.”
A half century later, today’s aspirational urban centers suffer similarly poor reputations among urbanists, planners and journalists. One New York Post reporter recently described Houston as “brutally ugly” while new urbanists like Andres Duany relegate the region to a netherworld inhabited by car-centric cities such as Phoenix and Atlanta.
Yet over the past decade the 25 fastest-growing cities have been mostly such urbanist “assholes”—Raleigh, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Orlando, Dallas-Fort Worth, Charlotte, and Phoenix. Despite hopeful claims from density advocates that the Great Recession and the housing bust ended this trend, the latest census data shows that Americans have continued choosing places that are affordable enough to offer opportunity, and space.
One common article of faith among mainstream urbanists, at least when they stop to note this growth at all, is that these cities grow mainly because they are cheap and can house the unskilled. But in reality many of these metropolitan areas are also leading the nation in growing their number of well-educated arrivals. Houston, Charlotte, Raleigh, Las Vegas, Nashville, and San Antonio, for example, experienced increases in the number of college-educated residents of nearly 40 percent or more over the decade, roughly twice the level of growth as in “brain centers” such as Boston, San Francisco, San Jose (Silicon Valley), or Chicago. Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas each have added about 300,000 college grads in the past decade, more than greater Boston’s pickup of 240,000 or San Francisco’s 211,000.
Once considered backwaters, these Sunbelt cities are quietly achieving a critical mass of well-educated residents. They are also becoming major magnets for immigrants. Over the past decade, the largest percentage growth in foreign-born population has occurred in sunbelt cities, led by Nashville, which has doubled its number of immigrants, as have Charlotte and Raleigh. During the first decade of the 21st century, Houston attracted the second-most new, foreign-born residents, some 400,000, of any American city—behind only much larger New York and slightly ahead of Dallas-Ft. Worth, but more than three times as many as Los Angeles. According to one recent Rice University study, Census data now shows that Houston has now surpassed New York as the country’s most racially and ethnically diverse metropolis.
Why are these people flocking to the aspirational cities, that lack the hip amenities, tourist draws, and cultural landmarks of the biggest American cities? People are still far more likely to buy a million dollar pied à terre in Manhattan than to do so in Oklahoma City. Like early-20th-century Polish peasants who came to work in Chicago’s factories or Russian immigrants, like my grandparents, who came to New York to labor in the rag trade, the appeal of today’s smaller cities is largely economic. The foreign born, along with generally younger educated workers, are canaries in the coal mine—singing loudest and most frequently in places that offer both employment and opportunities for upward mobility and a better life.
Over the decade, for example, Austin’s job base grew 28 percent, Raleigh’s by 21 percent, Houston by 20 percent, while Nashville, Atlanta, San Antonio, and Dallas-Ft. Worth saw job growth in the 14 percent range or better. In contrast, among all the legacy cities, only Seattle and Washington D.C.—the great economic parasite—have created jobs faster than the national average of roughly 5 percent. Most did far worse, with New York and Boston 20 percent below the norm; big urban regions including Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and, despite the current tech bubble, San Francisco have created essentially zero new jobs over the decade.
Another common urban legend maintains these areas lag in terms of higher-wage employment, lacking the density essential for what boosters like Glaeser and Florida describe as “knowledge-intensive cities.” Defenders of traditional cities often cite Santa Fe Institute research that they say links innovation with density—but actually does nothing of the kind. Rather, that research suggests that size, not compactness, constitutes the decisive factor. After all, it’s hard to define Silicon Valley, still the nation’s premier innovation region, as anything other than large, sprawling, and overwhelmingly suburban in form.
Size does matter and many of the fastest growth areas are themselves large enough to sport a major airport, large corporate presences and other critical pieces of economic infrastructure. The largest gains in GDP (PDF) in 2011 were in Houston, Dallas and, surprisingly, resurgent greater Detroit (and that despite its shrinking urban core). None of these areas are characterized by high density yet their income growth was well ahead of Seattle, San Francisco, or Boston, and more than twice that of New York, Washington, or Chicago.
But in fact neither density nor size necessarily determine which regions generate new high-end jobs. The growth in STEM—or science-technology-engineering and mathematics-related—employment in Houston, Raleigh, Nashville, Austin, and Las Vegas surpassed that in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, or New York. One reason: most STEM jobs are not found in fashionable fields like designing social media or videogames but in more prosaic activities tied to medicine, manufacturing, agriculture and (horror of horrors) natural resource extraction, including fossil fuel energy. In this sense, technology reflects the definition of the French sociologists Marcel Mauss as “a traditional action made effective.”
This pattern also extends to growth in business and professional services, the nation’s biggest high-wage job category. Since 2000, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Charlotte, Austin and Raleigh expanded their number of such jobs by twenty percent or more—twice the rate as greater New York, the longtime business-service capital, while Chicago and San Jose actually lost jobs in this critical category.
Finally there is the too often neglected topic of real purchasing power—that a dollar in New York doesn’t go nearly as far as one in Atlanta, for example. My colleague Mark Schill at the Praxis Strategy group has calculated the average regional paycheck, adjusted for cost of living. Houston led the pack in real median pay in, and seven of the 10 cities with the highest adjusted salary were aspirational ones (the exceptions were San Jose-Silicon Valley, Seattle, and the greater Detroit region). Portland, Los Angeles, New York, and San Diego all landed near the bottom of the list.
Conventional urbanists—call them density nostalgists—continue to see the future in legacy cities that, as the University of Washington demographer Richard Morrill notes, were built out before the dominance of the car, air-conditioning and with them the prevalence of suburban lifestyles.
Looking forward, it is simply presumptuous and ahistorical to dismiss the fast-growing regions as anti-cities, as 60s-era urbanists did with places like Los Angeles. When tradition-bound urbanists hope these sprawling young cities choke on their traffic and exhaust fumes, or from rising energy costs, they are reflecting the classic prejudice of city-dwellers of established urban centers toward upstarts.
The reality is that most urban growth in our most dynamic, fastest-growing regions has included strong expansion of the suburban and even exurban fringe, along with a limited resurgence in their historically small inner cores. Economic growth, it turns out, allows for young hipsters to find amenable places before they enter their 30s, and affordable, more suburban environments nearby to start families.
This urbanizing process is shaped, in many ways, by the late development of these regions. In most aspirational cities, close-in neighborhoods often are dominated by single-family houses; it’s a mere 10 or 15 minute drive from nice, leafy streets in Ft. Worth, Charlotte, or Austin to the urban core. In these cities, families or individuals who want to live near the center can do without being forced to live in a tiny apartment.
And in many of these places, the historic underdevelopment in the central district, coupled with job growth, presents developers with economically viable options for higher-density housing as well. Houston presents the strongest example of this trend. Although nearly 60 percent of Houston’s growth over the decade has been more than 20 miles outside the core, the inner ring area encompassed within the loop around Interstate 610 has also been growing steadily, albeit at a markedly slower rate. This contrasts with many urban regions, where close-in areas just beyond downtowns have been actually losing population.
Even as Houston has continued to advance outwards, the region has added more multiunit housing over the past decade than more populous New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. With its economy growing faster and producing wealth faster than any other region in the country, urban developers there usually do not need subsidies or planning dictates to be economically viable.
Modern urban culture also is spreading in the Bayou City. In what has to be a first, my colleagues at Forbes recently ranked Houston as America’s “coolest city,” citing not only its economy, but its thriving arts scene and excellent restaurants. Such praise may make some of us, who relish Houston’s unpretentious nature, a little nervous—but it shows that hip urbanism can co-exist with rapidly expanding suburban development.
And Houston’s not the only proverbial urban ugly duckling having an amenity makeover. Oklahoma City has developed its central “Bricktown” into a centerpiece for arts and entertainment. Ft. Worth boasts its own, cowboy-themed downtown, along with fine museums, while its rival Dallas, in typical Texan fashion, boasts of having the nation’s largest arts district.
More important still, both for families and outdoor-oriented singles, both cities are developing large urban park systems. At an expense of $30 million, Raleigh is nearing the completion of its Neuse River Greenway Trail, a 28-mile trail through the forested areas of Raleigh. Houston has plans for a series of bayou-oriented green ways. For its part, Dallas is envisioning a vast new 6,000 acre park system, along the Trinity River that will dwarf New York’s 840-acre Central Park.
To be sure, there’s no foreseeable circumstance in which these cities will challenge Paris or Buenos Aires, New York, or San Francisco as favored destinations for those primarily motivated by aesthetics that are largely the result of history. Nor are they likely to become models of progressive governance, as poverty and gaps in medical coverage become even more difficult problems for elected officials without a well-entrenched ultra-wealthy class to cull resources from.
Finally, they will not become highly dense, apartment cities — as developers and planners insist they “should.” Instead the aspirational regions are likely to remain dominated by a suburbanized form characterized by car dependency, dispersion of job centers, and single-family homes. In 2011, for example, twice as many single-family homes sold in Raleigh as condos and townhouses combined. The ratio of new suburban to new urban housing, according to the American Community Survey, is 10 to 1 in Las Vegas and Orlando, 5 to 1 in Dallas, 4 to 1 in Houston and 3 to 1 in Phoenix.
Pressed by local developers and planners, some aspirational cities spend heavily on urban transit, including light rail. To my mind, these efforts are largely quixotic, with transit accounting for five percent or less of all commuters in most systems. The Charlotte Area Transit System represents less a viable means of commuting for most residents than what could be called Manhattan infrastructure envy. Even urban-planning model Portland, now with five radial light rail lines and a population now growing largely at its fringes, carries a smaller portion of commuters on transit than before opening its first line in 1986.
But such pretentions, however ill-suited, have always been commonplace for ambitious and ascending cities, and are hardly a reason to discount their prospects. Urbanistas need to wake up, start recognizing what the future is really looking like and search for ways to make it work better. Under almost any imaginable scenario, we are unlikely to see the creation of regions with anything like the dynamic inner cores of successful legacy cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago or San Francisco. For better or worse, demographic and economic trends suggest our urban destiny lies increasingly with the likes of Houston, Charlotte, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Raleigh and even Phoenix.
The critical reason for this is likely to be missed by those who worship at the altar of density and contemporary planning dogma. These cities grow primarily because they do what cities were designed to do in the first place: help their residents achieve their aspirations—and that’s why they keep getting bigger and more consequential, in spite of the planners who keep ignoring or deploring their ascendance.
This piece originally appeared in the The Daily Beast.
Conservatives often fret that Barack Obama is leading the nation toward socialism. In my mind, that's an insult to socialism, which, in theory, at least, seeks to uplift the lower classes through greater prosperity. In contrast, the current administration and its core of wealthy supporters are more reminiscent of British Tories, the longtime defenders of hereditary privilege, a hierarchical social order and slow-paced economic change.
The notion that the "progressives" are, in fact, closeted Royalists has been trotted out by a handful of Obama admirers, such as Andrew Sullivan, who calls the president "the conservative reformist of my dreams." Essentially, Sullivan argues, Obama has been a "Tory president," with more in common with, say, an aristocratic toff like British Prime Minister David Cameron than a traditional left-liberal reformer.
The fundamental conservativism underlying the modern "progressive" marks the central thesis of an upcoming book by historian Fred Siegel, appropriately titled "Revolt Against the Masses." Siegel traces the roots of the new-fashioned Toryism to the cultural wars of the 1960s, when the fury of the "Left," once centered on the corporate elites, shifted increasingly to the middle class, which was widely blamed for everything from a culture of conformity to racism and support for the Vietnam War.
Tory progressivism's most-unifying theme, Siegel notes, includes the preservation and conservation of the landed order enjoyed by the British ultrawealthy and upper-middle classes. In the 19th century, Siegel notes, Tory Radicals, like William Wordsworth, William Morris and John Ruskin, objected to the ecological devastation of modern capitalism and sought to preserve the glories of the British countryside.
They also opposed the "leveling" effects of a market economy that sometimes allowed the less-educated, less well-bred to supplant the old aristocracies, with their supposedly more enlightened tastes. "Strong supporters of centralized monarchical power, this aristocratic sensibility also saw itself as the defender of the poor – in their place," writes Siegel. "Its enemies were the middle classes and the aesthetic ugliness they associated with the industrial economy borne of bourgeois energies."
Today, this Tory tradition lives on in contemporary Britain, where industry remains widely disparaged and land use tightly controlled. There is no more strident defender of preserving the space of the landed gentry than the leading Tory mouthpiece, The Daily Telegraph. All efforts are made to restrict the expansion of suburbs and new towns, all the better to preserve the British countryside for the better enjoyment of the gentry.
As a result, Britain now suffers some of the world's highest housing prices – even in the economically devastated north of the country. Unable to afford decent accommodations, notes author James Heartfield, some British families have been forced to live in old restrooms, garden sheds, even abandoned double-decker buses.
Until recent decades, such an "enlightened" conservatism has been rare in America, with its strong tradition of upward mobility and vast landscape for development. As early as the 1950s, however, intellectuals, architects, planners and aesthetes have railed against the banality of suburbanizing, and democratizing, America, but the real turn towards gentry progressivism took place with the rise of the environmental movement in the 1970s.
Rightfully alarmed by the deterioration of the environment at that time, early green activists made contributions to a remarkable cleanup of the nation's air and water, something that widely benefited millions of Americans. But the movement also fell ever more prone to all manner of hysterias; at the first Earth Day, in 1970, some scientists predicted that, by the 1980s, people would not be able to walk outside without a helmet. Then followed a series of jeremiads about "limits of growth" associated with the depletion of critical minerals, "peak oil" and, finally, the call for radical steps to address climate change.
All these causes, sometimes based on fact or somewhat overheated extrapolation, gradually diverted American progressives from their historic interest in economic growth and social mobility to a primary focus on environmental purity, whatever the social or economic cost. Their Tory-like policies have helped stunt economic growth, particularly in the blue-collar industrial and construction sectors, promoting, albeit unintentionally, ever-narrowing opportunity for all but a few Americans.
Despite its opportunistic use of populist rhetoric, the Obama administration has presided over widespread economic distress – with the average household now earning considerably less than it did four years ago. This trend has worsened during the current "recovery," even as the Federal Reserve's policies have generated record profits for corporate and Wall Street grandees.
It has been a particular boon time for a new rising class of oligarchs from Silicon Valley, which has embraced Obama with money and technical expertise. Not surprisingly, the ultra-affluent coastal areas have become primary supporters of the administration, which in November won eight of the nation's 10 wealthiest counties, many of them handily.
The growing gaps between the "1 percent" and everyone else have been particularly marked in those regions under the most complete progressive control. The Holy Places of urbanism, such as New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., also suffer some of the worst income inequality.
In these regions, the so-called "creative class" is courted by politicians, developers and corporate big-wigs. Meanwhile their putative political allies, in places like Oakland and parts of New York's the outer boroughs, experience seemingly irrepressible permanent unemployment and, increasingly, rising crime. Perhaps the most outrageous example of the dual nature of the new progressive economy, notes Walter Russell Mead, can be seen in Detroit, where a shrinking, debt-ridden and dysfunctional city that fails its largely poor residents has generated $474 million since 2005 for well-connected Wall Street bond issuers.
Under the progressive Tory regime, the best that can be offered the middle class is an outbound ticket to less-Tory-dominated, albeit often less culturally "enlightened" places, such as Texas, the Southeast or Utah. There, manufacturing, energy and agricultural industries still anchor much of the economy. Despite their expressions of concern for the lower orders, gentry progressives don't see much hope for the recovery of blue-collar manufacturing or construction jobs, at least not in their bailiwicks. Instead they suggest that the hoi polloi seek their future in what the British used to call "service," that is, as caregivers, haircutters, dog walkers, waiters and toenail painters for their more-highly educated betters.
Such kindness, however, is no replacement for the kind of broad-based economic growth that historically has promoted self-sufficiency and upward mobility, both in California and elsewhere. Due in large part to the new progressive policies, this is now increasingly out of reach for many in the middle class, as well as the increasingly Latino working classes. Indeed, a recent report from the Public Policy Institute of California reveals that class stratification in the state has expanded far faster than the national average.
"We have created a regulatory framework that is reducing employment prospects in the very sectors that huge shares of our population need if they are to reach the middle class," notes economist John Husing. A onetime Democratic activist, Husing laments how, in progressive California, green energy policies have driven up electricity costs to twice as high as those in competitor states, such as Utah, Texas and Washington, and considerably above those of neighboring Arizona and Nevada. These and other regulatory policies, he suggests, are largely responsible for the Golden State missing out on the country's manufacturing rebound, losing jobs, while others, not only Texas but also in the Great Lakes, have expanded jobs in this sector.
Similarly, Draconian land-use regulations have not only kept housing prices, particularly on the coasts, unnecessarily high, but slowed a potential rebound in the construction sector, traditionally a source of higher-wage employment for less-than-highly educated workers. So, while Google workers are pampered and celebrated by the progressive regime, California suffers high unemployment and a continued exodus of working-class and middle-class families.
Sadly, there currently is no strong counterweight to the new Tory ascendency. Until traditional social democrats awake to realities, or the GOP acknowledges the painful reality of class, America will continue to lurch towards the very Tory model that our forefathers had the wisdom to reject throughout most of our history.
This piece originally appeared in the Orange County Register.
Photo by: conservativeparty