Saturday, July 11th, 2009
The Biotech Challenge
With so many cities and states pinning their hopes on dreams of biotech, it’s worth highlighting yet again the challenge that comes with this. Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News had a great article on this very topic called “Building a Successful Biotech Incubator“. The very first paragraph sums it up:
Regions are looking to biotech to make the difference between boom and bust for their economies, but it takes more than tax incentives, buildings, and land to construct a winning biotech incubator. Unfortunately, the regions doing the planning often ignore that basic fact and proceed blithely onward despite a scarcity of the type of human capital and infrastructure that makes the difference between success and failure.
This is an absolute must-read article for anyone thinking about biotech as an economic growth engine. Life Sciences consultant Jon Speer distills it down a bit over at his Creo Quality blog. It takes:
- Access to capital
- A critical mass of expertise
- Leaders experienced in all stages of development
- A diverse service provider community
- Experienced workforce
- Risk taking culture
- Low cost of failure
2009 Urban Mobility Report
The Texas Transportation Institute just released its 2009 Urban Mobility Report. There is a lot of data in there, but one commonly cited metric is their “Travel Time Index”. Here is how my Midwest cities stacked up. The higher, the worse:
- Chicago – 1.43
- Detroit – 1.29
- Minneapolis-St. Paul – 1.24
- Indianapolis – 1.21
- Louisville 1.20
- Columbus – 1.18
- Cincinnati – 1.18
- St. Louis – 1.13
- Milwaukee – 1.13
- Cleveland – 1.08
- Kansas City – 1.07
For reference purposes, Portland, Oregon is 1.29.
Shrinking Cities Redux
For every action there’s a reaction. This past week or so saw the backlash against those (which I guess includes me) who are advocating a managed shrinkage approach for selected metro areas.
Kaid Benfield of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote a lengthy and thoughtful take on the issue from the other side of the table. It’s well worth reading. Gregory Rodriguez bemoans the cultural loss that would result.
My reply would be that no one is pushing shrinking cities with glee. Many of these cities are in a terrible mess. They are facing extraordinary times and every option has to be on the table. Additionally:
- It may be true that disinvestment and suburbanization did in these cities. But the chicken done flown the coop on that one. Even if sprawl halted tomorrow in these places, the clock is not going to be rolled back anytime soon.
- I do think it is crazy to be subsidizing the construction of new infrastructure on the urban fringes in cities that aren’t growing. If people want to continuously abandon the old in favor of the new, that’s their choice. But I don’t see why the rest of us should have to pay for it. That’s why in my shinkage program a key plank is the creation of restrictions on development subsidies in these cities so that we aren’t using federal funds to build more infrastructure to serve sprawling areas when these cities can’t even support what they’ve got. I won’t pretend I’ve got the exact answer on how this should work, but something has to be done.
- Unlike east coast cities, the bulk of Midwest cities are made up of relatively low density districts of single family homes that are classic examples of what Jane Jacobs called “gray belts”. With the far smaller household sizes we have today versus when those neighborhoods were built, there is little change of creating the densities needed for real urban life without significant redevelopment anyway. Plus, while there are great old homes in all of these cities, a lot of the post-1920’s housing stock consists of small, cheaply structed homes that are often in an advanced state of deterioration. 99.9% of the Midwest is not Over the Rhine.
- We should proceed with caution, trying a variety of strategies, looking aggressively for feedback on how it is going, and not be afraid to change course. Urban renewal should have taught us that lesson. I too am troubled by wholesale demolition. I think shrinkage is a policy worth trying in some places, but we certainly shouldn’t go hog wild, especially not at first.
Ultimately, for those who want to say let’s not do shrinking cities, they need to step up to the plate with a credible, realistic alternative plan. Simply saying No means the status quo. And that’s plainly not working. And truthfully, doing nothing is simply unmanaged shrinkage. The Detroit metro area saw more demolitions than new homes this year.
On a related note, Sweet Juniper runs a great piece about how pedestrians are carving paths across the empty spaces where demolished houses used to stand in Detroit. This is similar to how architects sometimes use so-called “desire lines” to lay out paths in a development. Some interesting images. (via @PolishDan) How will Kaid Benfield propose redeveloping these areas? The graphic below from Cartophilia shows the scale of the challenge in Detroit:
A Hoosier Legend Passes On
Amid the hysteria of the stars and adoring fans in LA and around the world mourning the death of Michael Jackson, it’s worth remembering that arguably the world’s greatest entertainer was from right here in Indiana. Raised in Gary, Indiana, Jackson was a testament to both the ability of the Midwest to produce true world class talent, and to its rich black cultural heritage that is so often overlooked. If you are my age and claim never to have owned a copy of Thriller, you are probably lying. However troubled and tragic his life may have been, there is no denying Michael Jackson’s amazing talent.
The New York Times took a look at how Jackson’s passing was seen from Gary.
World and National Roundup
Not surprisingly, the stimulus has given short shrift to cities. By channeling money through states which have funding formulas that favor rural over urban areas, and through the “shovel ready” requirements, urban areas largely got bypassed. Speaking of bypasses, Ohio’s largest stimulus project is a $150 million bypass of Nelsonville, a town of only 5,000 people. This was partially financed by diverting $115 million away from a project to fix a crumbling viaduct in Cleveland. In North Carolina, only $8 million out of $423 million in projects has gone to Charlotte. Congress should have listened to Mayor Daley and bypassed the states as conduits, directly routing a fair share of the stimulus money to cities.
The Observer has a nice article about the younger generation of British architects and how their approach differs from that of the starchitects.
Here’s coverage of a talk by sociologist and urban guru Saskia Sassen on urban ecologies. (via @gosner)
The New York Times writes that despite the recession, certain types of skilled labor such as expert welders are still in high demand.
Smart City Memphis writes about how this is a great time for great mayors. Among those cited are Chicago’s Mayor Daley and the mayors of Denver and Atlanta.
The great sell-off: Chicago auctions city assets (Christian Science Monitor)
City’s second waterfonrt: Riverwalk improved, but hurdles remain (Blair Kamin @ Chicago Tribune)
$61 million RTA budget reduction (Tribune)
CTA: To save dollars, use sense (John Hilkevitch @ Chicago Tribune)
South Side hopes Olympics bring ‘gold line’ (Tribune)
The Last Great Oak Falls – Norm Pellegrini is Dead (Lynn Becker)
Columbus, Dublin form pact (Dispatch)
Michigan cities scramble to recycle auto plants (Detroit News)
Portrait of a recession (Atlantic Monthly)
Years of Cuts do Little to Stem Michigan’s Budget Woes (NYT)
Bike Among the Ruins (NYT)
GE to build Michigan manufacturing research center (Yahoo)
Detroit gets chance to rise from the ashes (Daniel Howes @ Detroit News)
Bids for Olio Rd. overpasss lower than expected (Indy Star)