Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Midwest Miscellany

[ If you have problems watching more than one of the embedded You Tube videos in this post, try re-loading, then clicking the next one – I’m seeing some odd behavior. Sorry ]

Rust Wire point us an extremely powerful narrated photo essay called Detroit: The Troubled City. Unfortunately, the player format is too large for this blog, so I cant embed it, but I definitely recommend checking it out.

Speaking of Detroit, the New York Times this week had coverage of how the troubles in the auto industry are affecting even upscale suburbs in its article “Gross Pointe Blues“.

All these stories of woe, and the fetishization of decline and decay in Detroit have left many citizens defiant. Detroit News columnist Amber Arellano wrote a piece recently called “Why This Detroiter Stays“. Per Arellano:

It’s tough for some folks to understand that many of us want to be here. We didn’t end up here by inertia or lack of vision or better options. We’re educated and mobile; we can live anywhere. We choose to stay — or to return.

That is the case for my husband and I and many Generation Xers and Yers who are committed to Metro Detroit and the Rust Belt, even as the region struggles to get through this extraordinarily difficult economic crisis.

We return because we love the people and the culture. We stay because we’re proud of our roots, of who we are. We’re not naïve about this region’s daunting challenges; we’re choosing to tackle them. We’re committed to our families and communities.

I admire the fighting spirit. Yet I can’t help but wonder whether or not that fierce pride in roots and tradition isn’t actually a cause of the decline. If they really want to turn around the fortunes of that city, its residents need to do some soul searching about their own culture and values and how they contributed to creating that mess. This is a lesson not just for Detroit, but for nearly the entire Midwest. That’s an insufficiently backed claim I realize, but please stay tuned for a major post forthcoming on that topic shortly.

To end talk of Detroit on a positive note, Time Magazine has a photo essay of 13 people who explain why they love Detroit.

Over in Cleveland, the Plain Dealer tallies up the cost of inefficient government. Cuyahoga County jurisdictions have more employees and spend more money to provide similar services as other large Ohio counties.

And also via Rust Wire, the Washington Post runs a story on white collar jobs losses in Toledo.

Ok, I told myself that I wasn’t going to post this, but I can’t resist. The guy behind the “Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video” apparently had it rejected by the Department of Tourism, so he came up with this second attempt. I must say, it isn’t half as funny as the first one.

In Cincinnati, officials are grappling with a projected $40 million deficit that took the city by surprise. Keep in mind this is on a city population of only about 350,000 – so a big amount

IdeaFestival Louisville runs a great blog. For those of you who haven’t read it, check out this short two minute video clip they recently carried from Amy Chua about the strategic imperative of diversity. (If this video doesn’t show up, click here):

Back up in the Windy City, Crain’s Chicago Business did a major piece on the challenges facing the city’s transportation infrastructure, and the threat it poses to a city that has long been the transportation hub of America.

Here’s another video, this one a streetfilm overview of the McDonald’s Cycle Center in Millennium Park, Chicago. Hat tip Broken Sidewalk. (If you can’t see the embedded video, click here).

And lastly in the video department, here is a great video of Carmel, Indiana Mayor Jim Brainard talking about roundabouts and the benefits thereof. Hat tip to PPS’s Twitter account. This is probably a good pay it forward moment, since I’m the one that told them about Carmel’s roundabout program in the first place.

Ed Glaeser has a great piece about why globalization led to bigger cities.

And Joel Kotkin tackles the idea of the “Luxury City vs. the Middle Class“.

And the New York Times reports on New York City’s new street design manual. According to the NYT:

Imagine narrow European-style roadways shared by pedestrians, cyclists and cars, all traveling at low speeds. Sidewalks made of recycled rubber in different colors under sleek energy-efficient lamps. Mini-islands jutting into the street, topped by trees and landscaping, designed to further slow traffic and add a dash of green.

This is what New York City streets could look like, according to the Bloomberg administration, which has issued the city’s first street design manual in an effort to make over the utilitarian 1970s-style streetscape that dominates the city.

More Midwest

Major repairs to disrupt Ford (Tribune)
CTA complaints are down, agency says (Tribune) – good news
Mayor Daley takes blame for parking meter problems (Tribune)
IDOT’s road plan focuses on maintaining the status quo (Daily Herald)

Warehouse-building boom in Rickenbacker area produced big boxes hard to lease or sell in recession

Court will hear credit scoring case (Detroit News)

I-69 price tag now tops $3 billion (Indy Star)

Out of the ashes (Journal Sentinel)

Topics: Public Policy, Transportation, Urban Culture
Cities: Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Louisville

9 Responses to “Midwest Miscellany”

  1. Alon Levy says:

    Jacobs was right that Puerto Rican immigrants would make a fine middle class. They do, in places like the North Bronx and West New York. And blacks make a fine middle class in Eastern Queens in New York, Montgomery County outside DC, an DeKalb County near Atlanta.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I see little difference in the culture and values of Chicagoans and Detroiters.

    Perhaps they should focus on methods and tactics rather than values or culture.

  3. JG says:

    The Joel Kotkin article is interesting. I have read many of his columns and find them often to have a tone of “let the urban core rot, the suburbs will be just fine.” This I take objection to.

    I was a little shocked that he was promoting the resurgance of older suburbs as a way for cities to reattract the middle class family – using the Flatbush area of Brooklyn as an example. Such is a good idea though still begs the question, how do cities accomplish this. We all know couples (or maybe are part of one) who saddly leave their dream home in the city or older suburb, for something out in the newer suburbs solely because they have a kid starting school. Discussing the fate of urban schools might be a good blog post in the future.

    ALON: Are you referring to the comment in the Kotkin article? When I read it, I was not sure if this is a truth or if his was a comment flirting with prejudice.

  4. Alon Levy says:

    JG: yes, that’s what I’m referring to.

  5. The Urbanophile says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    anon 10:26 – I would suggest there is more cultural difference between them than you credit.

  6. Alon Levy says:

    The problem with looking at culture is that it’s really hard to measure precisely. Therefore it’s too easy to engage in stereotyping. It’s also exceedingly hard to see whether culture is a cause or an effect, without reliably knowing the culture of the place 50 years ago. Since most people who write about cultural differences work from what they believe everyone knows, rather than from data, getting accurate historical comparisons is impossible.

  7. JG says:

    ALON: I have a hard time seeing Kotkin’s prespectives at times. He seems concerned that the “middle class” often is left out of the discussion on urban planning, and truly advocates suburban living because he believe that is what those folks want. At the same time I can not help but feel he is ignorning the cultural diversity of the United States. Middle class is almost an ideal rather than a reality. The comment on the NYC Puerto Rican community you brought up illustrated this.

    I noted his objection and agree that some of the larger, global cities have become so expensive and tax burdened that they push the middle 75% of income-earners outside city limits. I certainly think the school issue is the largest factor driving any couple with a school aged child out of cities, and often with heavy hearts. This is too bad.

    Maybe neighborhood organizations who want to attract familiies with school aged kids should start charter schools… I have limited knowledge on that subject but would love to hear from others who know more, or know of places this has been done to prop up older suburb and urban neighborhoods.

  8. Alon Levy says:

    JG: there are people who do care about the middle class, though. New York’s Drum Major Institute has done a good job of weaving together new urbanism with liberal concern about the middle class.

    As for pushing the middle class out of the city, schools are only part of it. The same trend has held throughout the developed world, too, even though outside the US, suburban schools aren’t better than city schools. As noted by Chris Bradford, even Austin has the same exodus of families with children, even though its schools are fine. The problem is more that desirable areas have high costs of living, pushing out those who can’t afford them.

  9. hharrington says:

    the urban core has several shortcomings that will continue to keep a lot of middle class families out. The first would be housing stock. Many houses of the older houses in most inner cities don’t have any storage, they usually don’t have the trendy open floor plans of the burbs, they tend to be smaller than their suburban counter parts, the yards on average tend to smaller as well.

    in some cities the schools aren’t not as good. The older houses, especially in the most desirable neighborhoods are expensive.

    The older houses usually cost more to heat and cool.

    With all of that said is it really a problem? If it is then I would suggest the first thing you have to do is improve the schools in the urban core, if they are in bad shape. From middle class families I talk to that is the number reason they move into the burbs.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

About the Urbanophile


Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

Full Bio


Please email before connecting with me on LinkedIn if we don't already know each other.



Copyright © 2006-2014 Urbanophile, LLC, All Rights Reserved - Click here for copyright information and disclosures