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Monday, September 29th, 2008

Failure of Ambition

Why did the Midwest fall behind? Why do its big cities continue to lag the top performers nationally? It’s easy to blame this on structural problems, but could the problem simply be a lack of will to compete?

Burgh Diaspora points us at this Time magazine article on Charlotte. As I previously noted about Nashville, Charlotte is a city of high ambition. They look at the boomtowns of the region like Atlanta, Dallas, and Phoenix and say, “Why not us?” Quoting:

“‘To understand Charlotte, you have to understand our ambition,’ says chamber of commerce head Bob Morgan. ‘We have a serious chip on our shoulder. We don’t want to be No. 2 to anybody.’ Civic leaders often compare their city to New York, Chicago, and even London.”

London? Ok, there’s more than a whiff of hubris in this Charlotte story. They claim to be the #2 banking center, but that only includes commercial banking, and is a heckuva lot less true after one of its two champions, Wachovia, got swallowed up by Citigroup. And their claim to having weathered the housing storm successfully is belied by the fact that Charlotte is ground zero for the edge subdivision turned nouveau slum story.

Still, when you compare it to most Midwestern burbs, the difference in sheer ambition is astounding. Charlotte measures itself against London, New York, and the top cities of the world. Most Midwestern cities other than Chicago and Minneapolis would be happy to be known as the “Star of the Rust Belt”. That’s like saying your ambition is to win the losers bracket in the JV playoffs again this year. The Midwest has, to a great extent, even given up on competing. When I talk to my colleagues in India or Argentina, what strikes me is how hungry they are. These are people who’ve gotten a taste of success and are desperate for more. They want to hit it big and take what they see as their rightful place in the new world order – and they are willing to kill themselves to get there. The most astounding thing to me is the work ethic in India. Here’s a place where it is still dotcom 1999. Anybody on my team there could literally walk across the street for a 30-50% bump. But instead they are in the office Saturdays and Sundays, killing themselves to hit the deadline. Places like Charlotte, Nashville, etc. have a bit of that same attitude. The Midwest, by contrast, sits, as Richard Longworth put it so well of Cleveland, “sour and crumbling”, unable to even muster the will to understand the world it is in, much less complete in it.

Charlotte gets it. As their leaders say, “Charlotte’s nine FORTUNE 500 companies help run the city, not only by writing checks–Bank of America and Wachovia have pledged $15 million apiece to build new cultural centers–but also by helping to write plans. ‘We’re a pro-business city like none I’ve ever seen,’ says Center City Partners head Michael Smith. ‘It’s true about Southern hospitality, but there’s a real hunger here.’ It can be jarring to hear Charlotte’s power brokers explain that it’s important to improve their city not for its own sake but for the sake of its businesses, which need high-quality culture to attract high-quality talent. “

And “While the rest of the country is sinking, Charlotte is soaring, with 28 construction cranes downtown. It’s got the nation’s least-battered metropolitan-housing market, lowest office-vacancy rates and fastest-growing airport. It hosts the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats and the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. Its center-city population has doubled since 2000, and its light-rail system, just a year old, is already approaching its ridership goal for 2025. Meanwhile, ribbon-cuttings are scheduled for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, three museums, a theater and an African-American cultural center by 2010.”

Again, some of the stories are oversold, but the cumulative effect is real. I’ve been known as a rail skeptic, but regardless, when you decide to do something, do it. Not one comparable city in the Midwest has cranked out a rail system while Charlotte and Nashville put theirs into operation and started remaking their cities to take advantage of them. And a little hubris isn’t bad, when it motivates you to try to live up to your own big talk. In the Midwest, all we ever here from smaller cities is how they can’t compete with San Francisco or New York and have to get by on table scraps. Yet in Charlotte it seems every other person is a transplant from the Northeast. They figured out that they can build an offering that is capable of attracting the right kind of person – if they show a civic ambition that matches the personal ambitions of their target audience.

There’s still room in the club. There is an opportunity out there for one of the smaller Midwest cities to step up and claim their place at the table. But right now it looks like only Chicago and Minneapolis wants it. It’s the parable of the talents, played out in real life. Will anyone else step up? Only time will tell.

PS: One of the top sources of migrants to Charlotte: the Rust Belt.

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Review: Massive Change by Bruce Mau

“Natural resources … pollution … world’s food supply … pressures of population growth … Every trend in material human welfare has been improving – and promises to do so indefinitely.” – Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource

With those provocative words on the cover, economist Julian L. Simon launched his magnum opus, a paean to the ingenuity of man and a rebuke to the doomsayers who have been more or less continuing to predict man-made catastrophe for the world since the time of Malthus. Simon was an unapologetic free trader and man of the economic right. While his favorite philosopher was David Hume, he also lavishes considerable praise on Friedrick Hayek and the book opens with “an appreciation” from Milton Friedman. Simon became known as a “cornucopian”, someone who saw the ultimate resource as human brainpower and creativity, and in that resource he believed would be the answer to the problems of the future. Simon would, no doubt, view the current oil price spike in a positive light, saying it will stimulate new energy production and the creation of efficiency technology that will end up leaving us better off than if the crisis had never happened.

I had always associated conucopianism as a position of the right. Then along came this book that I would have to view as a “left cornucopianism” counterpart to Simon. Massive Change is a project conceived by Bruce Mau (of Life Style and S, M, L, XL fame). It is a book, but also a web site and a couple years ago a traveling art exhibit. Massive Change explores the intersection of design and technology across a range of disciplines, showing the world on a precipice of radically different ways of doing things. Mau celebrates this as a good thing. His project is overtly utopian, and explicitly chartered to realize Arnold J. Toynbee’s goal of “an age in which human society dared to think of the welfare of the whole human race as a practical objective.” Mau’s rationalistic utopianism, anti-militarism, and strong social justice/social equality orientation mark him as a man of the left. However, in a sense he’s a bit of a reactionary as well, a throwback to the pre-Silent Spring days when we stood in awed wonder at the latest technology and saw science as a force of human progress instead of a threat to its existence. Back to the days when a company could promise without any trace of irony, “Better Living Through Chemistry”. That phrase, perhaps more than any other, sums up Mau’s vision for the world. That, or “We have the technology.” He wants better living for mankind as a whole, especially the least fortunate, through the new technologies we are on the verge of unleashing.

Even if you don’t care for his politics or vision, Mau’s book (which actually appears to be ghostwritten by someone named Jennifer Leonard), is a must read for anyone who wants to have their thinking stimulated about the new world of the 21st century. And there is a new world. If you thought the 20th century brought change, you ain’t seen nothing yet. While he doesn’t call it out directly, Mau seems to implicitly argue that we’re on the verge of some type of “punctured equilibrium” in which convergence between radical innovations in materials, processes, markets, life sciences, social structures, and much more is going to revolutionize life as we know it. We are approaching a sort of godhood, where we have the ability to design and shape the world on an unimaginable scale. Nanotechnology, genetic engineering, etc. give humans the capacity to literally shape the stuff of life. Mau sees this technology combined with a new, humanistic and progressivist ethos, as finally allowing technology and design to capture that long ago promise.

As a writer on cities, the prescriptions aren’t clear to me, but the considerations are pointed. As we read about the crazy things we can do with nanotechnology, “cradle to cradle” materials life cycles, artificial tissues, the exploding internet user base and increasing rate of technical innovation and so on, it seems odd that the current trends in urban thinking still seem to revolve around retro-notions of re-creating a 19th century urban vision of the city (sans horse manure). As we talk about things like life sciences economic development strategies, it seems clear that we aren’t seeing the whole picture about where the hockey puck is going.

The 21st century is going to be very different from the 20th or the 19th. It will require new visions of what a city can be, and what the urban economy can be. Perhaps it could be some type of erzatz 1950′s Greenwich Village, with all of our technological wonders going to enable us to enjoy that existence without any of the attendant downsides, such as the pollution and byproducts of the production, distribution, and energy processes of the day. Something tells me that’s too simplistic a vision. We need to challenge ourselves to consider the implications of the technologically driven change in our world and try to figure out what the real possibilities are.

The book itself is episodal and breezy. It is divided into chapters covering various economies (in the original sense of the word): materials, energy, information, images, markets, politics, etc. For each one there are examples of what is going on, along with interviews with subject matter experts including Freeman Dyson, Lawrence Lessig, Hernando de Soto, Bruce Sterling, and Jeffrey Sachs. And there are pictures galore, which are worth the price of the book by themselves (currently less than $20 from Amazon.com brand new in hardcover). This makes it an easy read. You can easily pick up the book, read a couple of pages, and put it back down none until the next day without losing the thread.

Many of the topics covered aren’t that mind blowing in and of themselves. To anyone in the know, they’ll probably sound simplistic and dated. For example, it is difficult to get too excited hearing about Linux and GNU again. But the power of the book comes not from any individual example (though there are a few standouts). Rather, it is the sheer broad range of areas where change is coming and multipling, and the convergence across these areas that shows that we stand. This book lets you see the forest, when all too often in the popular media we only see the trees. It’s not the individual stories, it is the cumulative effect. To an extent, Mau is hinting at a non-AI based Singularity.

Massive Change is definitely worth reading for anyone questioning where the world is heading, or could head in one optimistic vision, in the century we just stepped into.

For another take, see the review of the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art exhibit by David Hoppe.

“For most of us design is invisible. Until it fails. In fact, the secret ambition of design is to become invisible, to be taken up into the culture, absorbed into the background. The highest order of success in design is to achieve ubiquity, to become banal. The automobile, the freeway, the airplane, the cell phone, the air conditioner, the high-rise – all invented and developed first in the West, but fully adopted and embraced the world over – have achieved design nirvana. They are no longer considered unnatural. They are boring, even tedious. Most of the time we live our lives within these invisible systems, blissfully unaware of the artificial life, the intensely designed infrastructures that support them. Accidents, disasters, crises. When systems fail we become temporarily conscious of the extraordinary force and power of design, and the effect that it generates. Every accident provides a brief moment of awareness in real life, what is actually happening, and our dependence on the underlying systems of design. Every plane crash is a rupture, a shock to the system, precisely because our experience of flight is so carefully designed away from the reality of the event. As we sip champagne, read the morning paper, and settle in before takeoff, we choose not to experience the torque, the thrust, the speed, the altitude, the temperature, the thousands of pounds of explosive jet fuels cradled beneath us, the infinite complexity of the onboard systems, and the very real risks and dangers of takeoff and landing. Massive Change is an ambitious project that humbly attempts to chart the bewildering complexity of our increasingly interconnected (and designed) world. We have done our best to open it up by breaking it down, and putting as many fascinating fragments as we could find back together again, between the covers of this book. We hope to make evident the design decisions that go on and are made manifest across disciplines. Massive Change is not about the world of design; it’s about the design of the world.” – Bruce Mau, Massive Change, text accompanying the opening plates.

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Fast and Cheap Ways to Improve Public Transit in Indianapolis Right Now

I’m passionate about public transit. For those of you who know me primarily through my posting about rail transit being a bad idea for Indianapolis, you might not believe me. But I’ve long been a transit rider. In fact, in a previous life I published a transit newsletter for three years. I try to ride transit in every city I visit.

Where I differ from many transit advocates is that I believe that transit should be primarily about rider mobility, and I think we need to take a realistic approach that looks at the facts around development patterns, cost, likely ridership, etc. and not just rely on conventional wisdom from the transit hymnal and build it and they will come logic. As I said in my really, really cheap manifesto, it’s about results, not how much money one can spend.

In light of that, I will lay out a series of ideas about how to improve transit in Indianapolis today, not years from now, that won’t cost much money to implement. Some of them are conceivably even free and can be implemented with existing staff and budgets. I can’t say these are all the right things to do, but I believe all of them are worthy of serious consideration.

  • Run bus service every ten minutes to Fountain Square. To have real bus service, that is to say, where you can just show up and wait for the next bus without consulting a schedule, you need ten minute headways or better all day, maybe 15, but that’s pushing it. Indygo currently operates on 30 to 60 minute headways, which is a non-starter. To really start proving the transit concept locally, Indy needs to start piloting with enhanced service at ten minute headways to see how to make it work or if in fact it can be made to work. The perfect place to start is Fountain Square. This is one of the city’s official cultural districts. Its downtown area is already “transit oriented development” and there is plenty of opportunity for further infill. A segment of the population there is tightly connected to downtown. However, the distance is a bit too far to walk comfortably in bad weather (about 1 ½ miles to the core of the Mile Square). Today, Indygo’s web site tells me there are three routes that go through Fountain Square: the #12-Beechcrest, the #14-Prospect and the #22-Shelby. These three bus routes run on 30 minute headways. Today, they all get to Fountain Square at the exact same time. For example, the #12 arrives at Virginia/South at 7:13am, the #14 gets there at 7:14am, and the #22 also gets there at 7:14am. It looks to me like three buses come in a row, then there isn’t another bus for half an hour. That’s insane. If Indygo simply staggered the routes, a bus could come through Fountain Square every ten minutes – right now, today – without spending an extra dime to add any new service. Now perhaps things are set up this way to facilitate downtown transfers, so perhaps this isn’t a slam dunk decision to make. But I think it goes to show that you could make dramatic transit improvements in an emerging neighborhood that primed to take advantage of it today without spending anything other than the cost of printing new schedules. And for people in Fountain Square, you wouldn’t even need a schedule, which is the whole point.
  • Get a new domain name. indygo.net has to go. A .net domain name is completely bush league. If you can’t spring for a real domain name, no one will take you seriously. If indygo.com is too pricey, at least do indygo.gov or something. Dittos for cirta.us for the Central Indiana Regional Transit Authority.
  • Implement mobile phone bus tracking. Chicago has a system called “Bus Tracker” that uses GPS in buses to feed an online service that tells you how long until the next bus arrives. Right now this is a mobile web app only, but soon they are rolling out a texting solution where you text your stop number to a special number and it texts you back the next buses arriving. This is hugely beneficial to riders on the go. What’s more, even large percentages of poor people have cell phones, so it isn’t just targeting the MacBook crowd. My idea: just contact with the CTA to ride their system. The cost is basically some GPS devices, route mapping, and setup. It’s a win-win. The CTA gets a revenue source to amortize their fixed investment over, and Indygo gets the advantages of economies of scale (i.e., lower unit cost) and speed to market. Imagine what a game changer this could be for Indy. With some buses running only once an hour, people have to get to the stop very early to avoid missing that bus. If you knew exactly when it was arriving, you could cut your wait time with confidence.
  • Leverage texting for emergency messaging. The CTA is also rolling out texting for communicating to riders about service disruptions and other problems. Again, just see if the CTA will let Indygo pay them on an incremental cost basis to ride that infrastructure. (By the way, one source of potential funding for Chicago transit improvements is simply to spin off some of these things into a service bureau / hosted service for other transit providers. Be the “Google Transit” of this stuff before Google is. Eventually they could even float the thing – or just plain sell it to Google for Big Buck$ to pour into capital improvements. Just my free business advice).
  • Start a “Friends of IndyGo” group if one doesn’t exist already. There are all these people who say we need better transit, why not give them the opportunity to see if their deeds match their words? Actually using transit, given the existing service levels, might be a bridge too far. But see if any transit advocates will actually step up to the plate and do something else tangible. A Friends of Indygo group could conceivably take on some of the items I have listed here as volunteer projects, with official sponsorship from the agency.
  • Get integrated with Google Transit – right now. (Potential Friends of Indygo project)
  • Create a better “How to Ride the Bus” guide. I suggested this one in my Pecha Kucha presentation. I’m a hardened transit guy, but even I don’t like to ride buses in cities I haven’t ridden in before because I’m afraid I won’t know how it works and will end up a mark for criminals, or, at a minimum, just plain look like an idiot. What’s needed is a very simple, explicit, step-by-step how to ride guide – both a brochure and a video – that shows exactly how it works, exactly how to put the money in the box, how to signal for a stop, etc. No question is too stupid or obvious to cover. (Potential Friends of Indygo project).
  • Get serious about design. Indygo has a terrible image problem with the public. Transit is stigmatized in Indy in a way that it isn’t in NYC. Great design is something that is, in my opinion, absolutely necessary to create the customer experience and impressions to get people to even consider Indygo. This includes everything from the color scheme, the logos, the web site, signage and shelter design, everything. Consider Indygo’s colors. Who thought that color green looked good on anything? I get the “green” thing, but is that consistent with any other colors used in Indy? (Heck, it isn’t even consistent with the color palette used on the bus shelters downtown). The web site design is mediocre. Even things like good letterhead and a well-chosen font can make a difference. Some of the things are serviceable already (the “I” logo isn’t bad, for example), but could be better. (There’s no reason Indygo couldn’t create a logo that became as iconic as the Boston “T” for example). The large bus shelters are quite nice, but could be tweaked a bit. And the neighborhood shelters are not very nice. Good design frankly doesn’t cost much if anything more than merely serviceable design. It just takes an absolute commitment to creating something that is a) world class and b) both unique to and an expression of Indianapolis. JC Decaux, which usually gives cities bus shelters for free in return for advertising rights (or even pays for the privilege of putting them out there), has an entire subsidiary that designs these, including unique designs for many European cities. Indygo could work with them and insist on a totally world class design that is consistent with Indygo’s revised branding scheme (i.e., good colors). Also, it seems like every other person I stumble across on the internet in Indy these days is a graphic designer or artist. They could do a Friends of Indygo project to do this for free in return for an official credential or something. Similarly, why can’t Indy’s aspiring fashion community design a kick-ass bus driver’s uniform?
  • Own the green agenda, live it internally. Don’t just talk about the sustainability of the bus as a transport mechanism. Look at every aspect of your operation and try to become the signature government agency in the state and a leader nationally in green operational practices. As a small government agency, Indy is positioned to more rapidly change. I sense another Friends of Indygo project coming on. Some local green enthusiasts could review operations, even things like office supplies, and look for areas to improve. Source that locally designed bus drivers uniform I mentioned from a small local producer and use sustainable materials (provided the economics are there, of course).
  • Look for operational synergies with the rest of Marion County government. Is Indygo buying its own fuel, running its on HR policies, etc.? Some things are obviously unique to them, but as the Mayor’s 100 Day Report indicated, there are still duplicative services all over Marion County. Every dime that can be saved through economies of scale or reduction of duplication is a dime that can be invested into the on-field product.
  • Evaluate outsourcing of all functions. Perhaps Indygo could eventually not operate any services directly at all. Privatization isn’t a slam dunk, but it works well for the management of the water utility, so why not here? Again, every dollar saved is a dollar that can go back into core services. London’s famed double-decker buses are contracted out to private companies. If they can do it, so can Indy.
  • Run transit every ten minutes on College Ave. I figured I’d bookend this list with another service improvement. Unlike the Fountain Square idea, this one would require increasing service hours. However, College already has the best service out there, every 15 minutes at rush hour. All you need to do is to increase this to every ten minutes all day (maybe a bit more frequent at the 7am and 5pm hours). Indygo could have already done this with money they got earlier this year. On Feb 7th they issued a press release touting 20,000 new hours of transit service paid for by a $1.6 million state grant. Almost all of this went into point extensions of route at the existing awful service levels. It’s time to stop the “more of the same” approach and start changing the game. If Indy can’t make high quality bus service work on College Ave, it has no business trying to do anything else. Start this ASAP and you can start figuring out what it is going to take from a routing, service, and marketing perspective to get people on the bus. Also, the route should be adjusted to go from downtown to Broad Ripple to Glendale to Keystone Crossing. This links several destination districts with the residential in between. Combine the new service with the new design elements and rider notification systems and you have something to really start showing off.

Waiting around for three years to start a commuter oriented, peak period only rail service with limited stops on one corridor – and that’s in the best case – is a very limited and modest way for Indianapolis to start playing at a different level in the transit game. There is a whole lot that can be done in the mean time to make Indygo better and start delivering benefits to riders, starting right now. It doesn’t take a lot of money, it just takes creative thinking and the help of the community to pitch in and make it happen. Waiting around for some big regional taxing authority to make transit happen is the equivalent of saying transit is somebody else’s problems. If motivated citizens were willing to step up and actually pitch in to make things better, along with targeted improvements paid for by Indygo, the city could start down the transit path faster.

To wrap up, I’ll share one quote out of Curitba, Brazil. They likewise thought that they needed a modern rail system to be in the transit game. There was just one problem, they couldn’t pay for it. So they ended up getting creative with the bus system and built something that actually offers better service than a subway would have. I’m not saying rail is terrible by any means, but it is only one answer among many, and Indianapolis can have a first rate, excellent public transport system without it.

“It was said for so many decades that a good system of transportation should be underground. But when you don’t have the financial resources to build such infrastructure, it helps you to have more creativity. The tube, a less expensive option, gives the buses of Curitiba the same performance as a subway. We started to study this about 30 years ago and knew what was needed to create a good system of transport: it had to be fast, reliable comfortable, and with good frequency. This means not only putting buses in exclusive lanes like in many cities of the world, but also allowing boarding on the same level and paying before getting on the bus. The tube supports both. In 1974, we moved 25,000 passengers per day with buses running in an exclusive lane. The system was improved regularly and now we are transporting more than two million passengers per day.

“On surface, we can have better frequency and the connections are faster. Underground, you can travel faster, but it’s technically impossible to have a frequency less than two minutes and the connections take longer; sometimes it takes 15 minutes or more to walk underground alone. I have nothing against subways, but the problem is that it’s hard to have a complete network of underground systems. Even cities that have a few subway lines need an effective surface system. The future of mobility has to be considered in terms of integrated systems, where each piece – bikes, cars, taxis, subways, buses, never competes in the space of another.” – Jaime Lerner, architect in Curitiba, Brazil, designer of the tube boarding system for buses, quoted in Massive Change by Bruce Mau

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

100th Anniversary of the Burnham Plan

2009 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the publication of Burnham and Bennett’s landmark “Plan of Chicago”. Assuming the blog makes it that long, I intend to run a series in 2009 on this plan, including selected quotations from it. But to give you a taste of what is to come, I thought I would share this goody showing how the disdain for sprawl development was established long before the post-war automobile era.

“Occasionally a suburb grows up at some sightly point on the Lake shore, or gathers about some educational institution; or a group of people engaged in a common enterprise select a picturesque spot on river banks and their build home which, by the relations to one another, indicate neighborliness. In each of these instances a community of feeling pervades the place and finds expression in well-shaded streets, broad lawns, and homelike architecture. Too often, however, the suburb is laid out by the speculative real estate agent who exerts himself to make every dollar invested turn into as many dollars as possible. Human ingenuity contrives to crowd the maximum number of building lots into the minimum space; if native trees exist on the land they are ruthlessly sacrificed. The speculative builder takes matters in hand and in a few months the narrow, grassless streets are lined with rows of cheaply constructed dwellings, and with ugly apartment houses occupying the more desirable sites. In ten years or less the dwellings are dropping to pieces; and the apartment houses, having lost their newness, become rookeries.”

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

The Really, Really Cheap Manifesto

Ok, so it does take bigtime money to build a bridge, an airport, or a skyscraper. But money is often as much a curse as a blessing. And too often a lack of money is just an excuse for lack of creativity. Great designers embrace constraint. While big projects usually do require big money, great design doesn’t have to cost any more than mediocre. And there’s often a lot that can be done right now, often without any new money at all.

I believe it is clearly realistic and possible to deliver “Beyond Unbelievable” greatness for little to no money. Everyone should put the challenge out to themselves first to figure out how they can accomplish even greater things than they originally thought possible for really, really cheap.

The virtues of really, really cheap are legion and well known.

1. The less money you need, the less money you have to raise. How many startups failed because management spent more time raising funds than tending to the business? Every minute you spend on fundraising is a minute you’re not doing something productive.

2. The less you have to spend, the less you have to build. Less money generally means you’re doing less. And less is more. The less you do, the faster you can do it. Speed to market is the most potent weapon, for a business or anyone else.

3. It’s all about outputs, not inputs. Nobody cares how hard you work or how much effort or money you put into it. It’s the “beyond unbelievable” results the matter.

4. No money, no money management. Money isn’t like other things. It requires proper accounting controls, papers trails, reporting, etc. And it leads to potential questions about conflict of interest, etc. To the extent you avoid money, you avoid all that pain too.

5. The less green you spend, the more green you are. You can’t waste materials if you don’t buy them in the first place. Doing more with less is earth friendly too!

6. The leaner, the cleaner. It’s easier to stick to simple elegance and the “keep it simple stupid” principle when you are spending less. As they say, a design isn’t complete when nothing else can be added, but when nothing else can be taken away. When in doubt, take it out.

7. Constraints amp up our creativity. When you can plow right through problems with money, you probably aren’t doing your best work. Money in excess is a substitute for thought. It’s like Renzo Piano said, “Instead of worrying about the lack of freedom you should be grateful for the restrictions. Creativity doesn’t need freedom, it needs rules, then you can enjoy occasionally breaking those rules.”

Nintendo didn’t have the money to compete with Sony and Microsoft in the game console development wars. So they got creative and designed the spectacular and fun but lo-tech Wii, which left the competition in the dust.

Curitiba, Brazil didn’t have the money to build a fancy metro system like Paris, so instead they built the world’s best bus system, with better than subway frequency – and boosted ridership from 25,000 to 2,000,000 per day.

Money is tight in government today. Competition for charitable dollars is fiercer than ever. To make major civic change, and do it faster and better, calls for us to be more creative and focus on doing more with less – with nothing if at all possible.

That’s not to say you can cost cut your way to greatness. Chopping scope or building a cheaper product isn’t good design, it’s taking the easy way out. Leaving sidewalks out of road projects, using crappy materials in buildings just to save a buck, etc. – these are doing less with less. We have to figure out how to do more with less. Sometimes you need great amounts of money to do great things. Sometimes you can accomplish great things on the cheap. The thing you’ve got to avoid is spending a lot of money on a second rate or inferior product. That’s the worst of both worlds.

I won’t suggest everything has to be done for a pittance. But I believe there is a unlimited potential for the citizens of our cities to make dramatic improvements where we live without requiring an unlimited bankroll to do it. I’ve suggested some ways before, for example, in my “15 Quick, Easy, and Cheap Ways to Make a Big Urban Design Impact in Indianapolis“. And I’m going to try to give more suggestions upcoming, but wanted to set the stage.

There’s a lot you, personally could do, to make your city better, today, with little or no money.

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

The Financial Crisis: Good for Chicago?

Bear Stearns was swallowed up by JP Morgan. Lehman Bros. is bankrupt. Merrill Lynch was forced to sell. AIG is on the brink. Other banks, funds, and insurers are being forced into massive write-offs, equity raising, and job cuts. Across the pond, Northern Rock has been nationalized, other firms are taking on water, and the City is seeing huge layoffs.

New York, London and other world financial centers are getting ravaged by the financial meltdown. But one that seems to be an exception is Chicago. To date, it would seem that the brunt of the storm is hitting New York and London, where investment banking is concentrated.

It wasn’t too long ago that I thought Chicago’s financial center status was at risk. Its warring exchanges, saddled with legacy mutual structures and open outcry pits were in danger of getting passed by more nimble, electronic European exchanges. With Illinois long a unit banking state, it was never a major commercial banking sector, and its flagship names had fallen prey to outsiders, especially when Bank One (nee First Chicago) was taken over by JP Morgan.

Today, the situation is reversed. The exchange restructured and merged and are stronger than ever. In fact, they are the predators not the prey as they buy out the NYMEX. While still weak in commercial banking, Chicago became home to many hedge funds and VC operations. And it remained a major insurance center with regional companies like Allstate, State Farm, and CNA. While the Chicago financial sector is certainly not immune to the problems in the headlines, it seems on the surface to me that Chicago’s large institutions are coming through in pretty good shape.

Could this portend an increase in Chicago’s relative standing among financial centers? With NYC and London both set for an extensive downsizing of the sector, at least on a cyclical basis, Chicago is going to look like a much bigger player than it did just two years ago. This could end up being a good thing for the city. Despite having a major presence in many sectors, it is really finance that has driven Chicago’s resurgence, as it has that of so many other cities. Keeping strong and a prominent world center in that industry is absolutely critical to Chicago’s continued succeess. So while the crisis will hit the city’s tax coffers and such, hopefully for Chicago it will come through in a strong relative position than it had before.

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Group Considers Closing Monument Circle to Traffic

An ad-hoc group of leaders in downtown Indianapolis is considering the idea of permanently closing Monument Circle to traffic as part of an overall plan to improve the space as a civic gathering spot.

Let me be direct: Permanently closing the Circle to cars would be a big mistake.

Having said that, considering that idea, as well as the others that are being floated, is a great move. The group considering it says their goal is to transform the Circle “into a public gathering space without equal in the United States”. That’s exactly the type of worthy and lofty goal I can endorse. In fact, I would argue that Monument Circle is already one of America’s great urban spaces, and is already a great gathering spot that sees extensive use. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. Great cities are always trying to figure out ways to make themselves better. As I noted previously, sometimes the city creates a wonderful amenity, then basically ignores it, letting it decay over time. But cities and civic spaces have to constantly renew and reinvent themselves for the future. The best time to do this is when you are ahead of the game and in a position of strength, not when you are under the gun. And there’s no reason not to at least consider any idea out there that might help in that cause. Too often the big problem is a lack of imagination and an unwillingness to consider ideas that might seem radical. So I certainly applaud putting this one on the table for consideration, even if I don’t support it.

Why do I believe closing the Circle would be a bad idea? Many reasons:

1. The Circle is already a paragon of pedestrian and bicycle friendliness. Every day large numbers of cars and pedestrians navigate this roadway and it is extremely safe. It is, in fact, an embodiment of the latest traffic engineering research and the pioneering work of Dutch engineer Hans Monderman, which I’ve written about before. To summarize, excessive signage and safety features actually render roads less safe because they provide an illusion of safety and cause drivers to let their guards down. By removing visual cues, you force drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists to really think about what they are doing and to pay attention, leading to greater througput and improved safety. The Circle is already like this. There is no sign telling you to yield to pedestrians when you approach in a car, but drivers invariably do. In fact, there is no where in the city I’ve been where drivers are so courteous and drive so cautiously. No improvements are necessary here. The Circle is what the rest of Indy should be trying to get to, not get away from.

2. Pedestrianization of streets has been tried before in the United States, and it has almost invariably been a massive failure. Louisville pedestrianized 4th St. and it was a disaster. Chicago narrowed State St. to provide bus lanes only and included very broad pedestrian walkways in its attempt to make things more friendly. Again, the result was a total failure and had to be ripped out. Even sophisticated, hard core urbanites like Tyler Brûlé, of Wallpaper and Monocle fame, rail against schemes to pedestrianize streets, knowing that it almost inevitably backfires. Fortunately, Tamara Zahn of IDI appears to be aware of this.

3. There is a long tradition of cars on the Circle, and things like newlyweds making a ritual circuit around it. This would kill those traditions.

4. It reduces the opportunities for visitors to see it. When I had friends come into town to see the Colts-Bengals pre-game, I sent them down Meridian so they could drive around the Circle and see it. If the Circle were closed, I probably would have chosen West St. Which of these do you think leaves a better impression of the city? Many people are simply not going to park their cars somewhere else and walk there to see it. This is not Paris or some European burg with huge pedestrian traffic already, subways, etc. Effectively everyone on the Circle has to drive there to get there.

5. The Circle is a great gathering place for things like motorcyclists and others. Even when MotoGP is not in town, it isn’t unusual to see bikers hanging out there on a Friday night, etc. Cars backed up in the Circle trying to get to the Wholesale District and such is a sign of great urban health, not something to be avoided.

Having said all of that, there is certainly plenty of room to close the Circle more often. It is routinely at least partially shut down during lunch hour for various festivals. There is no reason not to continue doing this and look for more ways to utilize the space. Ideas that have been successful elsewhere could be applied. For example, some cities close select streets on Sundays to give them over to cyclists. There’s no reason why Monument Circle couldn’t be closed every non-football Sunday or something. There is plenty of scope to increase the amount of time when the Circle is closed without permanently closing it to cars. There is plenty of opportunity to make greater use of the space as a civic gathering ground. Though care should be taken not to render it so special-eventish that, for example, people can’t routinely eat lunch on the steps or just pay the Monument and museum there a visit without paying admission or wading through a giant festival crowd. And there should always be room for the unplanned, spontaneous celebration or gathering.

Another idea that should not be pursued is narrowing the traffic lanes. A tiny street circling that big Monument would look out of scale and, frankly, a bit goofy. Monument Circle is indeed a monumental space. I think the current mix of broad sidewalks on the interior and exterior, as well as the larger roadway and parking lanes, is very appropriate, especially as we do not see excessive speed. Again, we typically see the most polite traffic in the city.

A lot of this discussion appears to be driven by plans to bring the Cultural Trail through Monument Circle. There have been various ideas floated, including the “lollipop solution”, but I’ve not seen any final decisions.

While I’m being curmudgeonly today, let me be direct on this point as well: the Cultural Trail has no business being on Monument Circle.

There is no bigger supporter of the Cultural Trail than me. I consider it simply the finest development ongoing in downtown Indianapolis. It has every element that I suggest in what a city can pursue: it is innovative, it is world class, and it is an expression of the local environment. The project is simply a home run.

However, no element of the design of the Cultural Trail is appropriate to Monument Circle. The yellow and blue color scheme, the excessive signage and logos, and the physical arrangements of the elements are all absolutely wrong for the Circle. The red brick with limestone accents, the clean design mostly devoid of signage, and the sense of stately grandeur of the current design are perfect for the setting of what is, after all, a war memorial. When I imagine all that Cultural Trail density of signage and logos, and those colors, on the Circle, I cringe.

The Cultural Trail routing always was awkward for the Circle. In effect, the Circle is the ultimate “inner loop” and the Cultural Trail a type of outer loop. Trying to link two elements that are more or less concentric would end up being contrived no matter what the designers did. A better way is simply to treat Market St. and the Circle as what they really are: components of the Cultural Trail already. That design in effect accomplishes what the Cultural Trail designers wanted. There is already a linkage at Market/Alabama. Find the west side linkage and you are done.

The Cultural Trail does point the way in one respect, however. The group studying this is relying on a report from a group called the Project for Public Spaces in New York. PPP proudly says that they “have worked in more than 2,000 communities in 26 countries around the world, helping people turn their public spaces into vital community places, with programs, uses, and people-friendly settings that build local value and serve community needs.” Frankly, it is unlikely that a group like this is going to help Indianapolis to achieve the ambition it set out of creating “a public gathering space without equal”. From browsing around their site, it appears that PPP is pushing their “school solution” on Indianapolis. Adopting a variation of the same pitch PPP developed for 2,000 other cities isn’t likely to result in anything world class. Quite the opposite in fact. I suspect that the Circle today, as it is, already surpasses as a public space the vast majority of the places that PPP has helped. We’re talking a space that is already on the pro tour, and is now trying to become Tiger Woods. That requires a different type and level of coaching.

The Cultural Trail shows that ultimately world class amenities usually have to be organic. Brian Payne could have hired PPP or any of a number of highly competent consulting firms to come up with the Trail concept. Those firms would dutifully have pulled their standard approaches off the shelf, applied their rendering elements to the Indy street grid, and voilà! But that would not have been nearly as good, or landed Indy in the pages of Dwell or Metropolis. If Indy is going to take the Circle to the next level, then yes, good ideas from elsewhere can be adapted. I myself suggested the Sunday closings for cyclists, for example. But the key ingredients are going to come from inside, not outside.

My suggestion to the group studying this would be to consider the exceptionally high quality and strengths of the Circle as it is, and to figure out a uniquely local way to improve on it. As you can tell, I already believe the built environment there is excellent. It needs to be maintained, certainly. The brick and such is aging and a refresh of sorts may be necessary. The lighting designs are a bit dated, but still not bad or inappropriate. But I don’t believe wholesale design changes in the physical appearance of Monument Circle are warranted. Rather, looking at ways to improve the utilization of the space, and to help citizens and visitors engage with it more creatively, is what is needed.

To summarize: By all means look for ways to improve the Circle and make it more popular and an even better civic gathering space than it already is. But do not leverage off the shelf type recommendations from consultants, don’t route the Cultural Trail through it, and by all means don’t close the Circle permanently to cars.

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Milken Institute: 2008 Best Performing Cities

The Milken Institute (yes, run by that Milken) just published its 2008 Best Performing Cities Report. Subtitled, “Where America’s jobs are created and sustained”, this report considers just that. It’s rankings are based entirely on figures in three categories: job growth (short and long term), wage growth, and the amount of high tech jobs.

This report really hits home for the Midwest, which did, well, pretty awful. Here is how the cities I track stack up:

2008 Rank City 2007 Rank
77 Kansas City 116
81 Indianapolis 120
131 Louisville 169
135 Columbus 154
137 Minneapolis 151
152 St. Louis 125
157 Milwaukee 162
160 Chicago 152
173 Cincinnati 167
193 Cleveland 193
200 Detroit 197

The rank is out of the top 200 areas by population. Milken does do one unusual thing in that for those metro areas that have what are called “Metropolitan Divisions”, it treated all of them as separate cities. I picked the core county MD to rank. For example, Chicago has three MD’s, and the 160 rank is for the core Chicago MD, not the Gary one or the Lake County one.

The big ah-ah is that even the Midwest’s shining lights have nothing to write home about on the jobs front. There was one MSA, Des Moines, which appears to be rocking and rolling, which came in at #25, but since it is smaller than one million in population, I usually don’t cover it here. (Peoria also put in a solid showing at #43).

These stats also confirm the success trends indicated by the Census estimates. The top five places here are the top five in population, showing the virtuous circle between jobs and population. I had previously mentioned how Louisville appeared to hit a population inflection point and had started joining the traditional Midwest top four, and the jobs numbers back that story up.

Indy and KC do particularly well, with a 50 rank gap between them and the next group. Still, they badly trail peer cities around the country like Austin (#4), San Antonio (#15), Nashville (#22), and Portland (#28).

There is a huge gap between the top five and the rest. Note, for example, that the top five all boosted their scores this year, sometimes significantly. The rest of the metros either stagnated or declined. There really are two Midwests going on when it comes to these large cities.

Chicago continues to show data that belies the common story of its success. While the city of Chicago, especially the central core, is indisputably prosperous and booming, the metro region as a whole is trailing the Midwest leaders. It has high levels of domestic outmigration and, as this report indicates, is lagging badly on the jobs front.

Cleveland and Detroit bringing up the rear should come as no surprise to anyone.

This report should be another bucket of cold water in the face to the Midwest’s cities. Other than Des Moines, even the best of them are far from top performers. Significant improvement is needed.

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Are You a Consumer or a Producer?

Cities like New York offer a nearly unlimited range of pastimes, diversions, and consumption activities. If you want to have a good meal, see a top notch arts performance, shop, etc., this is the place for you. You can get more quantity of quality in the world’s biggest cities than you can anywhere else.

The question I often ask though, is whether most of the people living there and partaking of what the city has to offer in fact are part of helping to create those things apart from spending money on them. While anyone with a job or who does anything is a producer nominally, how many people in these cities are actually part of making the creative energy that flows there a reality? I’d suggest not many. The vast bulk of the people there, residents and tourists, are consumers, not producers. They work in average jobs and recycle their wages into the creative sector via consumption, an important economic activity to be sure, but they don’t directly produce anything there.

I thought of this while reading an article in New York Magazine this month titled, “What Could Make Someone Want to Leave New York and Move to Buffalo?” The author spends time in Buffalo talking to New Yorkers who’ve left or are thinking of leaving, checking out the scene and trying to figure out what caused them to make the switch.

The answer is partially the unsurprising one that it is cheap there and the quality of life can be high compared to the stress of New York. As the author notes, “Buffalo has qualities that tend to attract creative people: cheap rents, derelict industrial buildings, the romantic aura of a faded empire.” It’s biggest problem there is that it is competing against a number of other Rust Belt cities with more or less the same value proposition.

But the surprising second answer for many of them is that moving to Buffalo gives them a better opportunity to participate in society as a producer, not just a consumer, than they would ever get in New York. While testing yourself against the good and the lucky to try to make it to the top in the most competitive city in the world has its appeal – indeed, it’s what brought many of them to New York in the first place – it sometimes comes up wanting versus Buffalo where you can actually do and accomplish things.

Quoting:

“Some people will read this as a story of defeat. They will look at Herbeck and Cloyd [relocators] and think, They came; they couldn’t cut it; good riddance. That’s also a familiar New York narrative, one that’s especially comforting to those of us who stay and stick it out. Because, sure, stained glass and spare bedrooms are nice and all, but no one moves to New York because they think they’re going to get a great bargain on an apartment. You move here because you want to live in New York City.

“But I am here to tell you that this is not a story of defeat. Rather, it’s a story about choices. It’s a story about reaching that pivotal moment when the dream life you imagined for yourself in New York no longer seems attainable or attractive, or simply no longer seems worth the wearying chase. It’s a story, admittedly, about the kinds of people who have the luxury to move away, just as they once had the luxury to choose to move here; that is, people not pulled to one city or another by family obligation or job transferral, but rather by some grander idea of who they are and where they might best fit.”

Buffalo is not just the land of cheap rents, it is the land of opportunity. The place where you can actually play with the raw materials of the urban fabric and shape them to your own vision. A place where the productive avenues have not been foreclosed behind the walls of fortresses of money or connections.

“We tend to think that one of the consequences of leaving New York is giving up all sorts of opportunities. And yet, one quality common to everyone I meet in Buffalo is that, like Nussbaumer, they see opportunity everywhere. Where you see a boarded-up building, they see a future arts co-op. They use the phrases blank canvas or blank slate a lot.”

The article gives several examples of people who’ve taken the raw material of Buffalo and made something of it, including Newell Nussbaumer.

“You can bike around Buffalo and point to a lot of things and say, ‘Newell Nussbaumer did that.’ That week he’d been to City Hall with a group of cycling advocates and had persuaded the city to convert some of its old parking meters to bike stands, which is part of his grand scheme to make Buffalo the most bike-friendly city in North America. (Current title holder: Portland, Oregon.) Later, at the offices of Buffalo Rising, Nussbaumer explains how most of his staff are unpaid interns, who work for free not because they’re hoping to scrabble their way up some media ladder (in Buffalo, that ladder has no rungs) but because, as he says, ‘they know they’re helping to create this city where they want to live.’ I think of the many valiant unpaid interns I’ve known in New York, and while most of them were working hard to create their own lives, not one of them (or at least not the sane ones) imagined they were helping to create New York City.”

A city so far fallen that it has become nothing less than the new American frontier, the place where you can reinvent yourself and reinvent the city.

“When we think about leaving New York, we usually think about what we would lose, and rarely about what we might gain. To that end, prospective destinations are measured by how similar they are to here. Philadelphia is New York, but cheaper. San Francisco is New York, but gentler. It’s the “squint” factor: Well, if I squint, it’s like New York, sort of, and I guess I can live with that. When I went to Buffalo, I expected that to be the sales pitch: It’s a mini big city with parks by Olmsted, a few very nice neighborhoods and a really good museum. It’s pseudo–New York! This, after all, is how struggling cities sell themselves, especially in the post–Creative Class world, as though they’re designer-knockoff versions of more attractive destinations. We’ve got many of the things you love, at a fraction of the price!

“But that’s not what I found in Buffalo. I found it appealing for a different reason: not for how similar it is to New York (which is not very), but for how different. New York will always offer you the singular opportunity of testing yourself against the best, of sharpening yourself against the city’s fabled grindstone. Hopeful people will always scrape together their savings to come here, to split a one-bedroom apartment with five other people, whether that’s in Greenwich Village (then) or Bushwick (now). But New York, for all its mythology, is no longer a frontier. Buffalo is a frontier. And when you think of the actual frontier, you’ll recall that no one ever packed up and moved West to a gold-rush town because they heard it had really good local theater. They moved looking for opportunities. They moved for the chance to build a new life for themselves.

“This, ironically, has always been the siren song of New York City: the chance to turn yourself into someone new, to live the life you’ve always imagined. But what a city like Buffalo offers is a very different promise of what could be. It offers the chance to live on the cheap and start a nonprofit organization, or rent an abandoned church for $1,000 a month, or finish your album without having to hold down two temp jobs at the same time, or simply have more space and a better view and enough money left over each month to buy yourself a painting once in awhile. A city like Buffalo reminds you that, beyond New York, there are still frontiers.”

A very worthwhile article and one that every Midwestern city should consider as it tries to figure out the value proposition it is offering. I’ve often said, trying to emulate America’s biggest cities is a fool’s errand for smaller places like Buffalo. What they need to do instead is to find their own unique niche and vision of what they can be. Ultimately Buffalo would never be a very good substitute New York City. But it can figure out how to be a great Buffalo.

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Miscellaneous Musings

The Muncie Star-Press has been running a short series on the future of that city and what it needs to turn around its economic decline. You can read it here, here, here, and here.

Several Ball State people pointed to the poor town-gown relations as a sore spot. The university could be an engine of growth, but Muncie doesn’t have the feel of a college town. I agree with this sentiment. Manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back to Muncie. Its future is probably as a smaller city too as it downsizes to reflect that diminished base. But unlike a lot of suffering small industrial cities, Muncie is fortunate to have a sizeable university. Embracing the college town identity is one possible way to address the future. I also suggest, as I’ve noted many times before, that places like Muncie have to find ways to plug themselves into the greater Indianapolis economy. The university can play a role in that. Ball State has planted its flag in downtown Indy. Perhaps that connection can be the start of a reciprocal flow of ideas and people that will help lubricate that connection. The reality is, change in Muncie is not going to be a short term thing. This is a long term project to reinvent the city on a new economic base.

Interestingly, Michael Hicks of the Ball State Business Research Bureau backs me up on the claims I made yesterday that for the new economy, ultimately the primary factor in success is being a place people want to live. “Places that are attractive to live are going to attract commerce … If people want to move here, employers will want to move here.” and “In the short run, people to go jobs. But in the long run, employers are going to go to places where people want to live.”

The Miller family is nearing an agreement to give the J. Irwin Miller house in Columbus to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which has a Columbus branch. This is contingent on the IMA raising an endowment to pay for the home’s maintenance. This home, which is a National Historic Landmark, is a modernist treasure designed by Eero Saarinen. The IMA would preserve the home and offer some limited tours, but try to avoid turning it into a major tourist attraction out of respect for the neighbors.

The Miller family recently made headlines when they auctioned the home’s $135 million art collection off to raise funds to pay estate taxes. Anyone who thinks the “death tax” doesn’t have consequences, and that only rich people like the Miller’s are affected, should think again. This sale means that this one of a kind collection, which included a rare water lily painting by Claude Monet, is gone from Indiana forever. It’s a shame that the Miller family could not or would not arrange for this collection to be donated or loaned to the IMA or its Columbus branch as well. While taxes may well have been the driver, the fact is, this art auction will end up as a dissonant coda to a life that was spent doing so much good for the state.

A hat tip to On the Cusp for pointing us to this Arizona Republic editoral in favor of better civic architecture in Phoenix. It is advice that would apply to any city.

“Historically, every culture that has risen to prominence has spent the extra money on good architecture, because those rising cultures see their pride in themselves expressed … If all you need is a box to hold people, you don’t have to care what it looks like. But it’s the equivalent of arriving at the job interview in sweatshirt and jeans. Good architecture is a function of civic will … But our new construction too often is safe, boring, predictable and cost-efficient. Perhaps we simply don’t have the moxie to build better buildings. After all, we talk constantly about being the ‘fifth-largest city’ in the United States. It becomes a boosterism mantra, as we discuss everything from our urban planning to our professional sports teams.”

“The well-tailored suit or the better-engineered car carries a message of pride and self-respect, an awareness of how others see and judge a person. Further, it says something about a person’s awareness that others expect more from him. Architecture is a city’s wardrobe, and the question is, will we spend the extra money for something distinguished?”

I think the Bard put it best: “For the apparel oft proclaims the man”. What is your city proclaiming?

An FT writer editorializes against the recent trend of selling naming rights to every scrap of public infrastructure. While the target of his ire is NYC, it would equally apply anywhere. Every city, desperate to raise funds for major projects, is eager to sell naming rights to everything, often for donations that are only a small fraction of overall project cost. Of course everyone always protests that the donor never wanted it this way. Right. I personally don’t mind auctioning naming rights, but please be clear on what you are doing, and be sure to maximize the value of those rights. This is more akin to auctioning naming rights to a stadium than a traditional donation. And both provide branding benefits to the purchaser. One thing I do think cities need to do: insist on pleasant, easy to pronounce names. The “Stephen A. Schwartzman Building”, for example, is more than a mouthful. Can’t it is just be the Schwartzman Building?

INDOT is not going to do the SR 267 for Ronald Reagan Parkway swap after all. The state says finishing the road would cost $420 million. The state wants to build it to interstate standards, something Hendricks County, which is now looking for a Plan C, doesn’t feel is necessary.

More good news about Major Moves. The private consortium that leased the Toll Road has a $250 million project underway to reconstruct and widen a segment of the road through Gary. Anyone who has had the “pleasure” of driving this crumbling, pothole-ridden elevated segment knows the project is about 20 years overdue.

Louisville got its arena financing package completed. The bonds are sold and the money is in the bank. Construction is already underway.

The governor and lieutenant governor of Ohio have an op-ed in the Journal touting Ohio’s economy. This is basically some text that was re-purposed from the state’s new strategic economic development plan. Now I understand that the governor needs to be a booster for the state. Clearly, CEO’s can’t go out sending a negative tone. So I would certainly not expect Gov. Strickland to say the sky is falling. However, Ohio faces very serious problems and needs to make major changes to make itself a more attractive business destination. Part of that involves telling painful truths to the citizens and aggressively making the case for change. I don’t see any of that here. This strategic plan was not that impressive, IMO (perhaps a full review will be forthcoming). And the idea that “Ohio’s economy is doing fine” is a dubious proposition. Richard Longworth noted how Ohio seemed to be in a state of denial. This would be seem to be something more along those lines. Again, you can be optimistic about the future and be a booster for your state, but you can do it in a way that allows you to be direct about the problems that have to be faced. I think Gov. Strickland has it in him to do this, since he already claim clean on the ODOT funding problems. Similar tough truths and strong action are warranted here.

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