Monday, April 13th, 2009

What Does Urban Success Look Like?

My latest post is online over at New Geography. It’s called “What Does Urban Success Look Like?” and you can click through to read it.

I’ll add some color commentary here. It’s not a matter of right or wrong, good or bad. Different cities appeal to different people. They are good at different things. And there are always trade-offs to make. Cities can be successful in their own way.

I think this is a good thing. I’d hate to live in a country where all the cities were the same any more than I would want to live in a place where all the people were the same. Our cities are, and should be, as rich in diversity as our citizenry. Different people want different things. Cities need to find their niche, find out the aspirations they are best able to serve, and position themselves accordingly. The cities that figure this out and really create a distinction for themselves in the marketplace will be the ones that win in the 21st century.

10 Comments
Topics: Public Policy, Strategic Planning

10 Responses to “What Does Urban Success Look Like?”

  1. E. says:

    Great article Aaron! It’s refreshing to see you write so positvely about Indianapolis among other places. Very valid points as well. ;)

  2. Alon Levy says:

    It’s weird that you say Chicago is hands-down the most popular example of a successful large city. I’m pretty sure most people in the US will say either Atlanta (or Dallas, or Houston) or New York (or Los Angeles, or San Francisco), depending on their urban form preference.

  3. The Urbanophile says:

    E. – thank you.

    Alon, of course you could pick other examples, but the Midwest is principally my beat. One can argue whether or not Chicago is the #1 exemplar, but clearly it would be among the top cities in any discussions of urban success. The fact that it has done this in a region that is struggling to put it mildly is even more impressive.

  4. Alon Levy says:

    You might say the same thing about New York, Boston, and Philadelphia though. The Northeast is growing more slowly than the Midwest, and has far worse internal migration numbers. Similarly, San Francisco’s continued strength even as its suburbs are imploding is remarkable.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I’m not familiar with Atlanta so this may be uninformed blather but the impression I had was a small central city with a lot of poor areas, a ton of sprawl, terrible freeway congestion and regional cooperation that was imposed, not established locally. Other views?

  6. The Urbanophile says:

    anon 8:42, you should visit the city of Atlanta sometime. It gets a terrible rep because of its sprawl and bad traffic, but has been very economically successful. What’s more, the central city is what most Midwestern burgs aspire to be: lots of new, dense development, including in town high rises, heavy rail transit, an increasing population, etc.

  7. Alon Levy says:

    The Atlanta issue is really a matter of personal urban style. It sprawls a lot, but consensus among new urbanists seems to be that half of Americans prefer walkable developments; that leaves half who like Atlanta-style sprawl. The people I know from the area hate it, and especially ridicule MARTA for being tiny and driving-oriented. But if they hadn’t, they probably wouldn’t have ended up in New York.

    You’re right that Atlanta has a lot of poor areas, but so does every city: Harlem, the South Side, South Central, North Philly. The only major US city that’s rich throughout is San Francisco, where high rents kicked all the poor people into Oakland.

  8. Adam Kuebler says:

    It is interesting to compare this with your previous post about outsiders. As it almost seems like Chicago is replacing their native population man to man with immigrants and yuppies. It will be interesting to see what these new residents see in the city and its future.

  9. caliboy28 says:

    Alon, you seriously think that San Francisco is “rich” throughout? Expensive / overpriced does not necessarily equal rich. Lol, I have many friends who live there and visit quite frequently from my home in Los Angeles, and I can assure you that it is NOT “rich” throughout. There of plenty of working poor there, and a very large contingent of “non-working poor”, as well. One only need to take a walk down Market Street for proof of this.

  10. Alon Levy says:

    Caliboy, SF has single-digit poverty rate. That’s almost unheard of in major American central cities, most of which are in the 20% area.

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