Saturday, June 20th, 2009

Midwest Miscellany

If you want creativity, cut one zero from your budget. If you want sustainability, cut two zeroes. If you want to make it happen, do it fast.” – Jaime Lerner, architect and former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil and father of that city’s world famous bus system.

Brookings Institution Report on Metropolitan Performance

There has been quite a bit of buzz about the Brookings study that was just released tracking the economic performance of the nation’s metro areas. Out of the top 100 metro areas in size, here is how the ones I track measured up on various metrics:

Employment Change from Peak:

  • #20 – Kansas City (-1.5%)
  • #25 – Columbus (-1.7%)
  • #38 – St. Louis (-2.3%)
  • #50 – Cincinnati (-2.8%)
  • #54 – Minneapolis (-3.0%)
  • #56 – Louisville (-3.1%)
  • #59 – Chicago (-3.1%)
  • #61 – Indianapolis (-3.3%)
  • #67 – Milwaukee (-3.4%)
  • #78 – Cleveland (-4.7%)
  • #98 – Detroit (-12.3%)

Change in Gross Metropolitan Product from Peak:

  • #21 – Indianapolis (-1.9%)
  • #49 – Minneapolis (-3.1%)
  • #67 – Milwaukee (-3.7%)
  • #73 – Chicago (-4.2%)
  • #78 – Cincinnati (-4.4%)
  • #79 – St. Louis (-4.6%)
  • #80 – Columbus (-4.8%)
  • #86 – Louisville (-5.2%)
  • #87 – Kansas City (-5.3%)
  • #95 – Cleveland (-6.2%)
  • #100 – Detroit (-10.1%)

Columbus, Ohio was overall ranked the best performing Midwest metro, with Indianapolis and Kansas City next to it in a narrow band.

I find the divergence between employment and GMP interesting. While a better analysis would probably look at hours worked, for a place like Indianapolis where employment dropped much more than GMP, it could be indicative of productivity gains. On the other hand, in cities like Kansas City and Louisville where we see the opposite, is productivity eroding? Employment growth and GMP per capita growth are two of my key indicators of regional economic health.

Check out the study for yourself – it’s easy reading and there are plenty of nice maps.

Top Midwest Twitter Cities

TwitterGrader has its top locations for Twittering. Here is where the Midwest cities ranked. Keep in mind, this is a global rank, not a US rank.

  • #3 – Chicago (Yes, #3 in the world)
  • #21 – Minneapolis-St. Paul
  • #31 – Columbus, Ohio
  • #39 – Indianapolis
  • #44 – Cincinnati
  • #47 – Cleveland
  • #50 – Milwaukee

I find it so interesting that so many different measures tend to over and over again put the same handful of Midwest metros at the top. The “big four” are the Columbus, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Twin Cities, with Chicago thrown in depending on what you are looking at (it is either really high or really low, often). KC is absent on this list, but look at the top four.

As a reminder, you can follow me on Twitter at @urbanophile.

On Municipal Finance

I noticed in this Q&A from Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman justifying his call for an income tax increase that 42% of income tax payers and 53% of income tax revenue comes from people who reside outside the city limits. That’s a very interesting stat. It is probably helped by the fact that Columbus has annexed heavily and thus has many “suburban” commercial zones like Polaris inside the city limits. I would credit this as a factor for Columbus’ relative success. It isn’t supporting a huge base of poor people, non-profits, non-taxpaying government institutions, and regional attractions on purely its own tax base.

Regional Economic Development

There was an interesting article in the Indianapolis Business Journal this week about the impact of the new Honda assembly plant in Greensburg, Indiana. This bit at the end caught my attention:

[Businessman Steve] Freeman said the company’s white-collar employees have settled in Shelbyville or Indianapolis.

That’s a typical pattern for factory expansions, [economist Morton] Marcus said. The reason is that potential home buyers usually are working couples. They’ll settle where both spouses can find a job.

Marcus said Greensburg may be like Kokomo. When Delphi and Chrysler expanded, professionals settled in Hamilton County.

How you look at this depends on your point of view. You could look at it as Indianapolis skimming off the highest paid workers. Or you could look at it as access to the Indianapolis labor and housing market enabling Honda to locate in Greensburg in the first place. I take the latter view. It’s the same for the plant generally. Indy didn’t lose out on the Honda plant because Greensburg got it. It was never a realistic competitor for that deal. Companies like Honda aren’t locating plants in places like Indianapolis these days. It’s similar for the people. Top professionals want to live in or near big cities, not small cities or towns way out.

What we see here is symbiosis. It’s a win-win relationship. Indiana, Indianapolis, and Greensburg all benefit. The labor force attractiveness of Indianapolis (and in this case, Cincinnati too) creates enough of a management labor pool for Honda to choose to locate the plant in Greensburg, which is great for that town and the whole region. The future of large scale manufacturing growth in Indianapolis is likely in places like Greensburg.

So often there is a disconnect between cities and smaller places that surround them. They either fail to recognize the mutual dependency that they have, or look at it as a zero-sum game instead of win-win.

I have made the case that Indiana (and other states too) need to take a new regional approach to economic development, one rooted in the centrality of large cities in the modern economy. It isn’t just a metro area economy, it’s a bigger economic solar system, with networks between these nodes extending throughout the world.

It is imperative in my view that leadership in these cities create a compelling case for why cooperation is important and sell it to the people all the time, not just when there is something – usually a central city regional asset like a stadium – that people want to regionally fund. Again, I believe the central city, as the big dog, has to lead by getting out and really trying to be of help and service to outlying communities, and make sure it is noticed. Not in a “now you owe me” sort of way, but in an “isn’t this cool” sort of way. I’m sure some of this happens today, but it isn’t well known.

Regions that figure this out are going to outperform in my view. And it is the best way to start helping outlying industrial areas that are really hurting.

Urban Contextualism and Incrementalism

There are some interesting words of wisdom in this blog post from Politics and Place:

I suppose I’ve started thinking about New Urbanism in much the same way I think about Christianity. It’s all about a question of letter vs. spirit of the law. Sure, St. Jane/St. Paul said x, y or z, but I believe both New Urbanism and Christianity suffer from a literal interpretation. We can’t be expected to follow Jacobs’ book to the letter in Duluth or San Antonio any more than we should stone our adulterers. In either case, the dangers of fundamentalism are obvious.

I believe that incremental steps away from McMansion developments should be celebrated. The majority of America’s population has been living in the suburbs for almost 60 years, it’s foolhardy to believe that they will be ready for Greenwich Village tomorrow. Changing peoples’ views about the built environment takes time and incremental steps. So while Stapleton might not be the New Urban utopia, I think it would be unfair to label it as sprawl.

I agree with this. We can’t try to transplant “school solutions” into a foreign context. We’ve got to let ideas like transit take root in the native soil. A great city, like a great wine, has to express its terroir.

Also, it’s true we are not going to turn the dial all the way immediately. Also, turning it all the way to hard core urban probably isn’t the right answer. It will take a while to change people’s living habits, attitudes, and beliefs.

Regarding New Urbanism, I think the problem is that the principles of the Charter of New Urbanism have become associated with greenfield sprawl developments, giving it a bad name in some quarters. But the “spirit of the law” as the poster said, is pretty good.

Location Still Matters

@Urbanverse pointed me at this great New York Times piece on why location still matters.

In a business world linked by electronic networks and cheap, nearly instantaneous communications, physical location shouldn’t matter.

But it does.

Aspiring editors still move to New York, home to a huge share of the nation’s trade publishers. Many musicians still pack their bags for Nashville. Would-be entrepreneurs still flock to Silicon Valley, and for those who don’t make the move, leading venture capital firms often come to them, by setting up offices in tech centers around the world to be closer to new sources of talent.

Read the whole thing.

A big challenge for the Midwest city trying to reinvent itself around industries with cluster economics is that the logic of clustering favors a handful, even as few as one, winners. The article cites the example of Facebook moving from Boston (America’s second largest tech hub) to Silicon Valley. There appear to be many financial centers around the world, but as Saskia Sassen demonstrated, these cities compete with each other far less than one would expect. Rather, they are specialized in sub-niches.

I think the points the way. Targeting a broad cluster like “high tech” is probably not going to work. Sure, there will always be some companies since this is a growth area and a rising tide lifts all boats. But you won’t become Silicon Valley. Instead, look for sub-niches you can dominate or whitespace to take over with first mover advantage.

Collaboration and Networks

Ed Morrison has another great post over at Brewed Fresh Daily. (As an aside, I hope I’m not the only one who doesn’t read Brewed Fresh Daily when I read “BFD Learning Moment”. Time for a rebrand?). He was talking about a strategic doing workshop he held in Detroit:

Collaboration is a deeper commitment than most of our participants appreciated. Collaboration is not “knowing” or “connecting” or “networking”. It is not surface. it is not simplistic. It is not easy. It is not an event.

Collaboration is a civic habit. A set of overlapping networks, quickly shared. A pattern of behavior that builds trust and mutual respect. A commitment to transparency and truthfulness. A relentless focus on experimentation, action and learning “What works”.

These features do not simply appear. They must be cultivated. They grow with time.

My impressions — taken from 60 people across the state in just one day — suggest that Michigan has a way to go. There is more grieving to do.

But more important, Michigan needs a break from its past. It’s a truism in economic development that a community or region’s civic life mirrors its underlying economic structure.

In Michigan’s case, both government and civic action are unnecessarily constrained by hierarchical thinking that no longer serves the needs of a younger generation. The sooner Michigan expands the experiments in open collaboration, the better.

This could have been written about anywhere in the Midwest, I think. Something to think about.

Burnham 100

Chicago is kicking off the official 100th anniversary celebration of the Plan of Chicago. Design Applause has a great series of plates from the original document, as well as renderings of the two temporary Burnham Pavillions that are now, I believe, open to the public. Or at least the one by UNStudio is. The Zaha Hadid pavillion is late, I hear. A must see for the pictures.

A couple of samples:

Cincinnati’s New Logo

Drew-O-Rama points us at Cincinnati’s new city logo. Here it is:

Local chatter seems to suggest it is unpopular, and I’d have to agree. This is a pretty weak logo. It’s not bad, but it’s not great. The biggest problem is that it has absolutely nothing to do with Cincinnati. This seems to be a local mental block, as I noticed the same thing with their Agenda 360 plan and Mike Doyle noticed it with their CincinnatiUSA branding. Cincinnati acts like it is embarrassed about what it is. But Cincinnati’s a great city with so much incredible stuff most people don’t even know about. Yes, change is needed there just like everyplace else, but there’s a lot to be proud of and embraced, not rejected or swept under the rug.

Worst of all, the logo was paid for with a $75,000 donation from Macy’s. Somebody paid $75,000 for this!?!? All I can say is, wow. Nice work if you can get it. It certainly demonstrates the public spirit of Macy’s, however.

Lots of good comments on the logo here.

Must Watch Video on Curitiba Bus System

Streetfilms has an awesome seven and a half minute video on the Curitiba bus system. This is an absolute must for any city to study as it explodes the myths around the necessities of rail. It also deals directly with some limitations of the system, namely the fact that it was not designed with bicycles in mind. (Bogota learned from this). Among the lessons are 1) do it fast and cheap (see the quote at the top of this post and 2) it takes a network of services to make it work, not just major spoke lines and 3) do it incrementally. They started with one line and 25,000 daily passengers. Today they’ve got a network with 2.3 million daily rides, way more than the volume of Chicago’s CTA network, which includes extensive heavy rail.

If you don’t see the embedded video, click here. For some reason, streetsfilm videos don’t seem to work when embedded in feeds.

Yes, Curitiba is supposedly now building a subway line. This doesn’t invalidate the bus. Rather, it shows that after 40 years of work, they’ve developed an entire urban infrastructure and lifestyle that supports building subways. It also shows that, even as the poster child for busways, they aren’t dogmatic about that system, but are open to looking for the right solution in the right place at the right time.

National Roundup

The nation’s cities are not getting their fair share of the stimulus.

And, no surprise, the federal DOT’s standards on high speed rail say 110MPH counts. What a joke. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do this in certain instances, or that you shouldn’t pay for it out of high speed rail funds. But calling this “high speed rail” is setting an incorrect expectation with the public and could ruin the high speed rail brand in the US. That article has a picture of Sec. LaHood leaning out the window of a French TGV train. But the US system will be nothing like the French one if these standards are to be believed. Setting the pubic expectations bar at true high speed rail in the European sense then delivering “Amtrak on steroids” will, I believe, do irreparable harm to the cause of high speed rail at home.

The New York Times examines the case for working with your hands. And a related piece on digital designers rediscovering their hands.

Lessons from Sweden’s early 90’s economic crisis (via @OtisWhite)

Monocle Magazine’s latest quality of life survey (warning: FT subscription alert). In the US, Minneapolis and Portland got dropped out of the global top 25. (Via NullSpace)

The south is much maligned, so it is useful to see what it is they are actually doing down there. Here’s an interesting interview with Don Koski, a former planner from the Twin Cities, who has been hired to oversee an ambitious multi-modal infrastructure redesign in Ft. Worth.

Featured Site: Archizoo

Archizoo is a great urbanism/design site out of Detroit. Jim Meredith is a former principal at Gensler who now runs his own practice. His blog (and his Twitter feed) is a stream of good stuff around design, sustainability, innovation, Detroit, urban policy, and much more. Definitely check it out.

More Midwest

Why Don’t Ohio’s College Grads Want to Stay? (Rust Wire)

A look at the CTA’s rail system (Tribune)

Re-imagining Cleveland: Audacious…or Realistic? (Brewed Fresh Daily)

Condo Kaboom (The Other Paper) – downtown condo market collapse
Ohio grads take diplomas and run (Dispatch)

Feds give $2B more for Michigan recovery (Detroit News)
Rural Michigan counties turn failing roads to gravel (WWMT)

Broader bridges bill is backed by Clark (C-J)

Topics: Civic Branding, Economic Development, Public Policy, Regionalism, Talent Attraction
Cities: Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus (Ohio), Indianapolis

13 Responses to “Midwest Miscellany”

  1. JG says:

    Reading Midwest Misc is a pleasure each week. Thanks for continuing to collect these articles. I have a few comments and questions on certain articles for our HOST and the other readers.

    HONDA, GREENCASTLE, and INDIANAPOLIS: I agree mostly with URBANO’s comments. For those familiar with this situation, I would have thought placing the factory between Indianapolis, Kokomo, and Anderson made more sense for addressing needs of the state. The major reason being the medium-sized, under-employed cities of Kokomo and Anderson already possess the population and infrastructure to support such a plant. Instead Greencastle will experience some “boom” and the before mentioned continue to decline. Certainly I realize southern Indiana has long been economically depressed, but I would disagree to the extent Anderson and Kokomo currently are or will be without an influx of jobs. Additionally southern Indiana is rural and Kokomo and Anderson were built to support factories – literally.

    CTA: The bar graph correlating station renovation year and increased ridership is very interesting. Did one lead to the other, and in which order? Probably a more sophisticated analysis could answer this. I suspect “YES” for several of the stations, whose neighborhoods I am familiar with. I am curious of a Chicago resident’s opinion on this one. (I would hate the graph to be misleading.)

    COLUMBUS TAX COLLECTION: I believe I understand this correctly; Columbus is collecting revenues from areas immediately outside the city limits for benefit of city infrastructure and services. I very much support this and have discussed among friends (and on your blog) the same would be appropriate for Indianapolis. My position is a strong central city is necessary for the LONGTERM vitality of the suburbs – though I concede suburbs can grow and prosper for decades around a declining central city. Still, this should not negate the American city’s responsibility to reinvent and address their short-comings.

    BROOKINGS STUDY: Could this discrepancy between employment change in INDY and Metro be from gains in the life science sector? I am aware of new job creation in the sector but, along those lines, not sure if that was matched with LARGER gains in revenue or productivity.

  2. the urban politician says:

    The hodge podge of news from miscellany is definitely a pleasure to read.

    A few thoughts:

    1) Chicago being #3 in the planet in twittering, even beating NYC, doesn't surprise me. I have long felt that Chicago's role in globalization, due to its interconnectedness, goes unrecognized and plays second fiddle to other more recognized centers such as NYC, London, Paris, Tokyo etc.

    One often reads that Chicago has the most amount of broadband connectivity in the world, although I am not sure how true that is.

    2) Aaron, I didn't see you comment on a pretty hot topic going on in the forums right now–being that Oberstar's pending Transportation Legislations allocates $50 billion for high speed rail over the next 5 years. That is a huge leap from the $13 billion that has been proposed to date.

  3. JG says:

    Correction to my previous comment: I misspoke and called GREENFIELD by GREENCASTLE. I commonly mistaken these to Indiana towns.

  4. David says:

    Columbus has actually annexed areas into the city outside of its core county. If the city provides water service, it has pretty free rein in Ohio to annex, which Columbus has done with Polaris and elsewhere. Sadly, the places they have annexed rarely fit in with the local environment and Polaris is the definition of sprawl, though it has the largest Chase Bank facility in the country (and getting bigger).

    Honda aimed toward the Southeast because of less presence of unions and it was closer to their Ohio factories.

  5. The Urbanophile says:

    JG, likely the location was to steer clear of UAW strongholds.

    I haven't done any analysis on CTA ridership and station renovations, but IIRC ridership does dip after an extended station closing.

    I think that life science employment is less of a factor than one might think, but that's pure speculation.

  6. The Urbanophile says:

    TUP, IIRC the $50 billion would require a 50/50 state match. Not too many states are going to be about to ante up that kind of cash. We'll see.

  7. Anonymous says:

    In your comment about Columbus:

    "It isn't supporting a huge base of poor people, non-profits, non-taxpaying government institutions, and regional attractions on purely its own tax base."

    Technically, isn't the opposite true? Columbus is capturing regional tax base because it annexed those areas into the city so that they are city taxpayers. Compare Columbus to Cleveland or Detroit where both are surrounded by a ring of suburbs and have no ability (except city income taxes on non-resident workers) to capture regional growth and the tax dollars that come with them.

  8. thundermutt says:

    I concur with Aaron and David but state it more strongly: Honda wouldn't have gone anywhere near Muncie and Anderson because of the UAW.

    Also, there are lots of Japanese owned or joint venture plants in Columbus, so there is social infrastructure for the Japanese transplant employees. That is no small thing; a supportive expat community matters a lot.

  9. Alon Levy says:

    Curitiba is building a subway, but Jaime Lerner is against subways as a matter of principle, arguing that BRT achieves the same result for lower cost.

  10. John says:

    I think people are moving to Shelbyville for the abundant parking IN public square. Ridiculous!

  11. John says:

    Also, there seems to be some confusion regarding the Columbus tax situation. Many taxpayers come from outside the city limits because Ohio cities tax income (usually 2%) based on where you work rather than where you live. Most municipalities (not all) will forgive all of the tax paid in another city so you only have to pay once.

  12. thundermutt says:

    I have said for a long time that Indiana should tax income where earned, at least partially. Columbus does seem to have the advantage of catching its suburbanites either way, though.

    Also, to clarify an earlier post regarding Honda: I said

    "there are lots of Japanese owned or joint venture plants in Columbus"

    and neglected to add

    ", Indiana, which is only 30 miles away and an easy commute."

  13. Paz says:

    Pittsburgh is #33 on the twittering list too!

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