Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Miscellaneous Musings

The character of a city is often shown in the smallest of rituals. Thinking again about Chicago, I can’t help but think of transit etiquette and the way people behave on the L. At morning rush, it’s a veritable fight for a seat, pregnant women be damned. In the afternoons, people stand in haughty disdain next to seats that go empty. Perhaps a desire to read the paper drives the behavior some of this, but I find it curious. What about your town? Any other small rituals or traditions?

Oh, and I must admit to being neglectful on my Burnham Plan take in not highlighting this great series by Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin. Here are links to a number of posts from his blog that are well worth reading:

I’ve been writing for some time on the future of the American suburb. I’m starting to see a lot of others picking up the theme as well. Allison Arief, co-founder of Dwell, writes about it in the NYT. And Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley of the Brookings Institution add their take over at Newsweek.

I previously wrote a positive review of Bruce Mau’s “Massive Change”. Well, I stumbled upon this interesting negative take that is worth a r”>posting about Detroit, I threw out the idea of prison reform as a radical idea Michigan might need to explore – the state spends more on prisons than education. Well, they are exploring it.

Speaking of Detroit, check out this must see web site called onlynDetroit. You’ve all seen the famous Michigan Central rail station. Well, not like this. This site posts the photographs of the station Keith Jolly took in 1973 when it was still a functioning rail terminal. Many of these are contrasted with shots from today. Incredible.

Here’s a story that shows the challenge of regional collaboration. PDS Biotechnology is relocating from Cincinnati to Indianapolis thanks to $2 million in state grants. In a mega-regional world, this would be a net zero for the region. However, in a more traditional view, it’s a gain for Indy and a loss for Cincy. It’s hard to fault anyone for competing hard for business, but I think it goes to show the beggar thy neighbor econdev approach that is prominent in the Midwest. The challenge is really to build a region where rising overall prosperity obviates the need for things like this. In the meantime, the only thing I can see practically that might stop this is some sort of mutual non-compete agreement. The idea would be something like Indy has with its suburbs. Regionally, companies could move and people could offer incentives, but the home town would have right of first refusal, and only if they couldn’t make a deal would it be more open. In this case, I believe Ohio doesn’t have the equivalent of a 21st century fund, so the move might have occured anyway. As long as people believe that their neighboring cities and states see them as fertile poaching ground for econdev, there will never be sufficient trust for true cross-region collaboration. In the meantime, may the best city and state win.

Here is an interesting op-ed column from Dayton. What I find notable is the fact that the author up front acknowledges, “There is no longer a specific need for the city of Dayton to exist.” That actually sums up any number of Midwest cities. They no longer have a raison d’etre in the 21st century economy. The challenge for them is to rethink themselves to become relevant, though for many that future will involve getting a lot smaller.

The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City is still looking for $60 more million. I previously contrasted the hefty sum being spent on the building versus the relatively paltry operating budgets of the institutions that will be housed there in “Kansas City’s Edifice Complex“.

Denver thinks it can successfully ride out the recession.

The Tribune carries another “big sort” type article talking about how American communities are increasingly becoming ideologically polarized. It’s an ongoing threat to our nation, IMO.

A cool web site of Pittsburgh signs.

The US Conference of Mayors predicts job losses this year. Not surprisingly given that it is the largest metro, New York is expected to lead the pack with a decline of 181,000 jobs.

More on the outmigration from California.

The IHT reprints a couple of old but good Monocle articles on cities (hat tip Richard Layman)

President Obama’s official urban policy is now online.

Other News

Low trading leaves Chicago Stock Exchange in danger (Chicago Tribune)
A never-ending fight to fix roads (Chicago Tribune)

Properties going once, going twice, going nowhere (Indy Star)

Twin Cities
Burnsville goes for broke with its city arts center (Star-Tribune)

Topics: Architecture and Design, Economic Development, Urban Culture
Cities: Chicago, Indianapolis

9 Responses to “Miscellaneous Musings”

  1. Jefferey says:

    The op-ed about Dayton was referring more to the city itself, specifically to downtown, not so much to the metropolitan area. And the author does have a point as downtown Dayton has become quite peripheral to the economic life of the region.

  2. The Urbanophile says:

    Jeff, true, but I’d argue it’s true on the macro scale as well. Why does America or the world need a place like Dayton?

  3. Anonymous says:

    The US doesn’t need a lot of its cities, most of them in the Sunbelt.

    Phoenix- what a useless pile of crap!

    Charlotte- a city built on valueless financial trickery.

  4. thundermutt says:

    Another way to phrase the question, which might actually lead to some answers:

    Why do people continue to choose Dayton and other third-tier cities? (What drives individual, group, and societal location choices?)

    Getting and exploring answers would lead to some kind of “value proposition”.

    It may be as simple as “inertia”, in the sense of “stuck”.

    It may be that Dayton specifically has something specific that appeals to some people.

    In a macro social view, it may be that there are varying personal choices about living in urban agglomerations, and that third-tier cities offer satisfaction of some threshold needs.

    In the macroeconomic sense, it may be that maintaining old infrastructure is cheaper and/or easier for society than building new. And I mean “cheaper” in the full-cost, externalities included sense.

    The question could engage all manner of policy wonks (urban planners, economists, and sociologists) for a plethora of phD dissertations.

  5. thundermutt says:

    And it wouldn’t be a thundermutt post on location choices without this admonition…

    Consider weather, Anon and Urbanophile.

  6. The Urbanophile says:


    One of the interesting things about the new ICVA brand is that they acknowledge the point. In the presentation revealing it, Y&L talked about how Indy had no natural endowments, it was an artificial city platted on a non-navigable river, winter, etc. with no real justification for being the city it is today. That inauspicious beginning, in their view, instilled a greater competitive spirit. The city has to fight harder and try harder to get to the top. An accurate view and I think one you can rally behind.

  7. thundermutt says:

    True enough. Clearly Indy’s USP is “the home of the biggest single-day competitive events in the world.” Good that ICVA is rolling with that.

  8. Jefferey says:

    Your Debs post leads to the response “Why does America or the world need a Terre Haute”.

    Yet Terre Haute continues to exist, off its 1920 population peak, but still there as a smallish Midwest city.

    I think once a place reaches a certain population its’ not going to die as fast as we expect. In fact it may not die at all, nor decline as fast or as steep.

    Which is why I think there is some degree of self-generating economic activity that keeps mid sized citys going. There is a built-in intertia if the population is big enough. And resiliance probably has something to do with economic diversity.

    Inertia. One can call this inertia, but this assumes people would not prefer to remain in their hometowns. Perhaps people realy would prefer to remain, but are forced out by economics. This means there is a built-in resistance to large scale outmigration and population collapse.

  9. thundermutt says:

    Jeffrey, in physics (and, I suspect, urban dynamics) “inertia” has two distinct sides.

    “A body at rest [say, a longtime resident] will remain at rest until acted upon by an outside force [economic issues]”. This is the “stuck” individual side of inertia regarding a smallish city.

    The other side is the inertia of motion: a body [city] will remain in motion until acted upon by an outside force [decay].

    So…maybe there is just enough personal inertia (times thousands of people) to overcome to keep people stuck in third-tier cities, and just enough activity to keep those cities moving.

    Of course, every last one of ’em has a starry-eyed planner who envisions a walkable revitalized historic downtown with banners and benches and farmers markets and interesting storefront restaurants and live-work spaces and public art…

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