Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

High Speed Rail and Other Midwest Miscellany

With $9.3 billion in the stimulus for high speed rail, and the Obama administration saying it plans to make high speed rail a key part of building its legacy, there has been the expected rush of HSR articles. Here is a roundup of some of them.

In case you missed it, I previously posted my take on the topic.

In other news, President Obama picked Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrión as director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs. The New York Times profiles Carrión today.

Renzo Piano talks to the Guardian on many things, not least of which is improving the peripheries of cities.

The Design Observer carries an interesting piece on suburban design and the complexities of the suburbs. It’s definitely worth a read. (Hat tip Christopher).

A Financial Times column by Christopher Caldwell that is making the rounds regarding highway policy and urban development patterns.

Catherine Tumber writes on America’s small industrial cities in the Boston Review.

McKinsey released a report on innovation clusters around the world, “Building an Innovation Nation“. Here’s their money graphic. Check this out for yourself. Not exactly good for the Midwest.

Here’s another interesting graphic. This one comes from USA Today (via Creative Class). It shows all counties with mortgages greater than 4x household income. Note the dark cluster around Minneapolis. I seemed to have noticed a lot of articles about foreclosures there, and this might explain why. It appears to be the market with the most troubled mortgages in the Midwest. Any insights on why this is?

Mayor Daley has selected 38-old Richard Rodriquez as the latest wunderkind to run the Chicago Transit Authority. Rodriguez was previously Aviation Commissioner. Some of questioned his experience in transportation, but I don’t think that’s a handicap at all and arguably comes with some benefits. After all, Ron Huberman had no transit experience either and he was a breath of fresh air at the agency. Let’s hope Rodriguez stays the course with Huberman’s program while working in some of his own ideas. Huberman was on the right course and one thing no organization needs is frequent changes in direction from the top. I say give Rodriguez a fair chance to prove himself.

The New Yorker turns its eye on the anniversary of the Burnham Plan.

The city of Indianapolis is thinking about raising sewer rates 66% to accelerate the next phase of the $3.5 billion combined sewer overflow fix in the hopes of getting stimulus money to help. This will no doubt be unpopular. However, the bill is coming due. The project is mandated under the federal Clean Water Act and the city has to comply. The Clean Water Act may yet end up bankrupting many of our cities, but as federal policy there is no choice but to spend the money. By accelerating things now, the other benefit is that it avoids construction cost inflation. As with many things, the city of Indianapolis traditionally kicked the can for compliance down the street. The result has been a huge backlog of infrastructure problems, the bill for which at some point must be paid. This is a problem that simply has to be addressed. The city literally has no choice but to implement this. The only question is the timing and the sooner the better in my books. It’s cheaper and cleans the water up faster.

When I attended the ICVA annual meeting, one example someone gave of an ad tag line that would “pin the needle on the BS detector” was “Move over New York, Apple is our middle name.” I thought this was a joke, but apparently not. Check out this button:

I’m told this is from circa 1984.

More News

AIA-Chicago unveils Burnham Memorial design competition
Lynn Becker’s March architectural calendar of events
CTA puts out ‘for sale’ sign (Tribune)
Foreclosure spawns neighborhood ghost towns (Tribune)

Brent Spence Bridge might bring in $800 million (Enquirer)

Cleveland Rocks (on sustainability) (Joel Makower)

Will city’s next mayor continue death spiral? (Detroit News)

Coverage of the North American Handmade Bike Show (Nuvo)
More NAHBS coverage (Bicycle Retailer)
2nd attempt made to save Rivoli Theater (Indy Star)
The Wigwam, and Anderson’s Hoop Dreams, are fading (Chicago Tribune)

Kansas City
A $250 million renovation makes Kaufmann Stadium look new (KC Star)

Topics: Civic Branding, Economic Development, Transportation
Cities: Chicago, Indianapolis

17 Responses to “High Speed Rail and Other Midwest Miscellany”

  1. & DAGGER says:


    Could someone use their magical powers and burn all of those buttons immediately?


  2. Randy Simes says:

    1) Minneapolis is one of the fastest growing Midwestern cities (maybe the fastest). Any city that has seen recent growth during these troubled times is going to be hit to some extent by foreclosures.

    2) The new Kauffman Stadium exterior looks great compared to what it used to be, but the real problem is what goes on inside the stadium walls.

    3) The Brent Spence Bridge is in need of that $800 million. I hope it gets the money, just like I hope the proposed Cincinnati streetcar gets its money.

    4) CSOs suck, and it’s terrible that these astronomical costs are being placed on the local governments instead of the federal. These costs are far too much for any local government to handle. Maybe this will be a budgetary item Obama will change long-term. They need to be fixed, just not at the expense of the local users.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    Randy, the fastest growing Midwestern city is Indianapolis. Has it had the same foreclosure problem?

  4. Randy Simes says:

    ^Obviously not, just a theory I threw out there. Columbus hasn’t seen the same issues either even though it’s one of the better performing Midwestern cities.

    Do you care to share any of your thoughts?

  5. Jim Russell says:

    Concerning Minneapolis, looks like speculation and overly optimistic construction fueled the bad debt:


    The region’s reputation as a rising star was out of whack with actual housing demand.

  6. The Urbanophile says:

    Thanks for the comments – that’s a great link too, Jim.

    BTW: Indianapolis has had a serious foreclosure problem. I think every market is unique. In Indy, it appears to have been overbuilding of entry level homes that were sold to people with marginal financial stability using things like down payment assistance. The largest builder in this category, CP Morgan, just went out of business.

    Minneapolis looks interesting to me for a couple reasons. One, while the national and international media piles on Detroit and Cleveland, or talked about exurban slums in Charlotte, the Twin Cities, which has a very serious problem, has gotten almost zilch in national coverage. The media seems not to want to provide coverage of stories that don’t their narrative, and the Twin Cities is supposed to be this Portland like enclave in the Midwest. Heaven forbid anyone disturb the idyllic image.

    The other thing is that the Twin Cities appears to have a very unique problem with over-leverage. That graphic shows it has by far the highest loan/income ratio in the Midwest, well into the danger zone for many mortgages. Indianapolis, by contrast, and other smaller cities remain among the nation’s most affordable housing markets.

  7. thundermutt says:

    “doesn’t fit the narrative”

    Interestingly, the collar counties of MSP seem to have problems as bad as the two central counties (Minneapolis and St. Paul are in separate counties.)

    And MSP metro has an appreciably lower minority population than cities in the “Lower Midwest”.

    So in MSP a bunch of white suburbanites over-borrowed because…they believed the hype?

    Nordic-American and German-American populations have never been known for irrational exuberance. This one just doesn’t make a lot of sense to an outsider (albeit one who lived there briefly).

  8. Jim Russell says:

    So in MSP a bunch of white suburbanites over-borrowed because…they believed the hype?

    Nordic-American and German-American populations have never been known for irrational exuberance. This one just doesn’t make a lot of sense to an outsider (albeit one who lived there briefly).

    I’d like to see the demographics of the over-leveraged borrowers, but I doubt it was the locals making the mistake (unless they were involved in real estate speculation).

    As for why we aren’t hearing about the “crisis” there … Just how bad are the foreclosure rates relative to other cities? You may be over-leveraged, but you might manage to continue to make payments.

    The easy answer to this mystery is to look at appreciation rates for Midwestern MSAs over the last decade. Here are some clues:


    See any patterns? I sure do.

  9. The Urbanophile says:

    Jim, I don’t know about relative foreclosure rates, but there are any number of extremely troubled neighborhoods, urban and exurban, in the Twin Cities with major foreclosure challenges. It has been extensively written about locally, but there have been few if any national articles.

  10. Carla says:

    Aack! Burn it. I remember that tag line, part of a generously funded campaign that included a lot of airtime. I thought it began much later, but maybe it just lasted over many later years.

  11. Anonymous says:

    That map is suspect. As example, there is lots of dark blue in California…where the Mohave Desert is. If they are including rattlesnakes and scorpions maybe..otherwise this map is useless

  12. The Urbanophile says:

    anon 9:38, keep in mind, the map is based on percentages, not totals.

  13. thundermutt says:

    Anon, the Mojave desert, while huge, is mostly in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties (both of which stretch from the eastern edge of the LA metro to the Colorado river). They cover an area between a third and half as big as Indiana, but their population centers are on their western edges.

    The LA exurbs extend into those counties about halfway to Las Vegas on I-15 (almost to Barstow), and down to Palm Springs. I suspect that’s where the over-leverage issues are.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Thundermutt got it first, but I’ll add that San Bernadino County is the largest in the U.S. (if you exclude on a technicality the “burroughs” of Alaska.)

    What I noticed about that map is that all of the counties surrounding Franklin County, OH (Columbus) have riskier mortgages. It also seems to me (if I’m looking at the map correctly) that perhaps three of the “donut counties” of Indy have larger relative risks.

  15. pc says:

    ok, a bit late to the game but I finally got a chance to read the McKinsey innovation clusters thing. it’s actually not bad news. Chicago has the second most diverse cluster, and the Twin Cities actually the second largest cluster.

  16. Joe says:

    Regarding the Indianapolis response to NY’s “Apple” branding… had you ever heard about Cleveland’s attempt to play? “If New York’s the Big Apple, then Cleveland’s a Plum”

    Here’s a 1984 NYT article about the branding effort, a 1981 Time Magazine puff piece and a photo of a bumper sticker produced by the Plain Dealer.

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