Sunday, February 1st, 2009
How many people want to move to the Midwest? Not many, according to a new study from the Pew Charitable Trust. Among the 30 largest metros in the Midwest, the eight least favorite in the country were all in the Midwest. The only Midwest city not in that group at the bottom was Chicago, and it has nothing to write home about, coming in at #18, well down the list. Usual suspects like Denver, San Diego, and Seattle top the league tables. I haven’t digested this fully myself. When did they survey people, for example? If it was in the winter…. Anyhow, I don’t think this will surprise anyone. And it goes again to illustrate the long road ahead even top performing Midwest cities have. Cincinnati was second to last on the list, and UncleRando over at UrbanCincy posted his response to that finding.
I know many folks won’t care for Wendell Cox, the pro-sprawl, anti-transit gadfly, but his group recently published their annual survey on housing affordability. The Midwest scores well here, with Indianapolis once again topping the list of most affordable markets. Of course, the story above might have something to do with the low prices, but you can’t dismiss the benefits of flat, wide open spaces.
Big news out of Chicago this week as an Illinois appeals court struck down the city’s landmark protection ordinance. Loyal readers of this blog know that I am not a fan of historic districts. The court struck down the Chicago ordinance for much the same reason I don’t like them: overly vague criteria that more or less give officials the right to make totally arbitrary judgements and historic commissions that are stacked with activists of one type or another. You can read reaction from Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin here and from noted Chicago architecture blogger Lynn Becker here.
I would like to stress that I am a big fan of historic preservation (see “Preserving our Mid-Century Heritage” for an example). I actually don’t have any problem with narrowly tailored historic preservation ordinances that are designed to protect exceptional, bona fide significant sites. In fact, I think at least part of the Chicago approach, landmarking of individual structures, is the best way to go versus districts in most cases. The big problem I have is that there has been an extreme proliferation of historic districts around the country of dubious merit, almost entirely driven by upscale neighbors who are mostly interested in achieving land use control that is more properly the province of zoning. The fact that unlike zoning, historic districts are totally arbitrary, with no objective standards, is part of their appeal. Often the neighbors don’t even disguise that this is their real reason for wanting one. They say that want to “preserve the character” of their neighborhood. That’s exactly the same argument people made against fair housing laws. Indeed, I think there’s an argument to be made that historic districts should be invalidated on fair housing grounds. Where ever you find historic districts, extremely high home prices that render the district unaffordable to much of the community are often found right along with them. When I was living in Evanston, Illinois some years back, a group of neighbors promoted a historic district with the explicit intention of preventing Northwestern University from establishing any facilities in their neighborhood. They were quite transparent about this in the media. These types of arguments – over use types, density, etc – are more properly the province of the normal planning and zoning process, where neighbors do in fact have a seat at the table, if not the dictatorial power they would love to have.
The Chicago Sun-Times profiles new Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman. In this, Huberman acknowledges in the media for the first time what was already widely known, namely that he’s gay. (hat tip Chicago Carless).
The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP – the region’s MPO among other things), has published some uber-cool maps of traffic congestion. Read ’em and weep. I’d love to see other cities produce great graphs like this. Here’s a sample from the Kennedy Expressway:
On, and it a bit of blog craziness, it seems the developer of the north side Wilson Yards project is suing to uncover the identity of bloggers who have criticized the project. Classy.
And here’s a great blog entry from a guy who walked 23 miles of Kedzie Avenue. Great stuff.
The Twin Cities are usually considered among the top cities for life sciences, particularly medical devices, in the United States. But an interesting report out this week suggests that Minnesota is in fact falling behind in medical technology. I always find these types of studies interesting. There are usually two flavors. Flavor one is designed to showcase how great a region is doing. Flavor two is designed to show that a region is falling behind, usually as part of a call to action for some type of public policy response. It would be interesting to see the dynamics of how these get produced. Nevertheless, I do find it interesting that Minnesota is doing a “type two” study. The BioBusiness Destination 2025 study web site is here. The report isn’t online. I’ve emailed to ask for a copy so stay tuned.
There’s a really awesome thread over at DetroitYES with a pictures of historic street lights. Incredibly, many of the street lights in operation in Detroit are a century old or so. One advantage of having a city that is broke, I guess, is that so much really old stuff just gets left in place. Again, these things appear not to just be old, but actually still in service. This perhaps points to an asset Detroit has that no other city can match. Remember how I said we should invert the world? How many other cities have such a genuine collection of historic artifacts in their town? Take your weakness and make it into a strength somehow.
Nuvo Newsweekly in Indianapolis reports that they were the only local mainstream media outlet to cover the Pride of Indy band playing at the Obama innauguration. Can we imagine this happening for any group other than gays and lesbians? I’ll say it again, Indy will never reach its potential as a city if it treats its LGBT community like second class citizens.
Let me put the argument in terms of pure self-interest. Indy can build the best airport in the United States, can have the greatest branding campaign out there, can spend a billion on first class stadiums and convention centers, but if it actively denigrates its gay and lesbian population, all of that hard work and money will never take the city where it wants to go. I showed before that people glom on to anecdotes that reinforce what they already believe. People around the country think Hoosiers are socially backwards retrogrades. Look at the top of this post for what people think of the Midwest. I don’t happen to agree with that, but stuff like this only let’s people feel good about their stereotyping.
Like it or not, the fact is that LGBT acceptance is going mainstream in America today. Heck, as my story above about Chicago appointing a gay schools chief shows, in lots of places, it is already here. You can treat this fact like all too many Midwest cities treated globalization – by sticking your head in the sand and pretending it doesn’t exist because you don’t like it – but we’ve seen where that gets you. I am not saying that Indianapolis needs to try to be a gay mecca or do anything whatsoever special for gays and lesbians. But the city’s LGBT community cannot be singled out for second class treatment. It is impossible to conceive of a local high school band, or African American band at the inauguration not getting coverage. Now let me say that the Star did give coverage to the Indy Pride parade last year, and did a nice story on the local gay library. So I don’t think this is actively malicious. But I do believe the local media needs to be sensitive to things like this, and, as they say in the business world, set the tone from the top about how things need to be.
Now, since I’ve often argued that following trends isn’t always the best approach, let me just say that if you think there’s a way to profit from slighting your gay community, by all means make the case. But I don’t think there’s a good one to be made. Maybe there are people out there that feel so strongly that homosexuality is wrong that they are willing to go down with the ship, so to speak, just as we’ve seen so many old manufacturing towns fall into ruin as their residents refused to change. I certainly hope, however, this is a view held by only a small minority.
On a more positive note, the IBJ covers the formation of the Central Indiana Transit Task Force. This is a huge positive development in Indianapolis transit. The MPO has studied rail lines and done great work in getting ridership figures and such accepted by the FTA. But this group is going to take a more holistic look at transit locally. What’s more, these are people who can build concensus in the community around actually moving forward with a system that is likely to cost a significant amount of local dollars to implement. I’ve said it before, but Indy has one of the strongest “civic sectors” in America. When the local armada gets into formation, watch out. Because when Indy decides it is going to do something, it does it. We’ll see what emerges from this, but I’m very optimistic. Oh, and right on cue, Mayor Ballard adds his support with an op-ed in the Star.
Over in Ohio, Governor Ted Strickland is calling for a massive overhaul of schools. I haven’t looked at this in specifics yet myself, but it definitely appears worth study.
From the “Simply Unbelievable” department comes the high profile story from Brandeis University, which wants to close its campus Rose Art Museum, and sell off all the art works to raise general funds for the school. This is simply unconscionable. The worst part is not what just floating this idea does to Brandeis, namely deservedly turn its name to mud, but the chill it sends across museums nationally. Expect that donors are going to be demanding ever greater ironclad legal strings on their donations, which only will hamper the mission of museums over time as more and more encumbrances are piled on. In the long term, even the most well-intentioned strings lose their meaning and come to hinder rather than help or preserve. The challenge is that when you can’t trust museum administrators, this is what you get. Terrible news indeed.
A group called The Transport Politic has a proposal for a national high speed rail network. Their Midwest segment differs significantly from the Midwest high speed rail association proposal.
Remember that fantastic “Bird’s Nest” stadium in Beijing? Apparently it now sits empty, with paint peeling off, and is planned to anchor a shopping center.
More News Briefs:
$20 million gift to fund UofL energy center (Courier-Journal)
Billions of dollars blown in regional development subsidies (Post-Dispatch)
Minnesota road/bridge projects could get green light (Star-Tribune)
Noblesville ready to start $20 million road project (Indy Star).