As I was looking through the recent Brookings Institution data that I posted, and especially going down below the size threshold of Midwest metros I normally look at, I was really struck at how there was pretty much a simple rule of thumb that defines whether a city is successful or not. Namely, if you’re a state capital with a greater than 500,000 metro area population, you’re probably doing pretty well. Otherwise, you aren’t.
I first noted this when I was sorting out my Midwest metros (a slightly different measure than normal, including smaller cities and excluding non-Midwestern ones) for a forthcoming posting on meeting the globalization challenge. I sorted metros into three primary buckets: Successful, Stable, and Failing. Almost every one on my successful list met my criteria:
- Minneapolis-St. Paul
- Des Moines
There was only one successful city that didn’t meet that state capital of > 500K measure. That was Kansas City. One other, Chicago, the data is mixed for, with some measures very healthy and some very anemic. I classified it by itself as a World City. Indeed, it is taking on more of the characteristics of a global city instead of an American one. Mostly notably a central city boom with financial industry fueled glitz and a thriving upper class, surrounded by an increasingly challenged fringe, with traditional sprawl on the edges. To a great extent, Chicago is no longer a Midwestern city. There are other state capitals – Springfield, Illinois, for example – but they seem to lack minimum efficient scale to be successful in the new economy.
So I’m officially badging this the “Urbanophile Conjecture”, which says, “If you want to be a successful Midwestern city, it helps to be a state capital over 500,000 population”. It would be interesting to see how true this holds in non-Midwestern areas.