Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Midwest Miscellany

If any of you are headed to Rail~Volution 2009 in Boston, please be sure to check out the panel discussion I’m part of called “The Rail~Volution Will Not Be Televised”. Others participating will be Pantograph Trolleypole of The Overhead Wire and economist Ryan Avent. We’re discussing the use of social media technology for transit advocacy. You won’t want to miss it! If any of my readers are attending or are in the Boston area, shoot me a note and maybe we can connect while I’m there.

Also, I mentioned that I am upgrading the blog, replacing the design and going to a new domain. I have tentatively scheduled the cutover for this Friday, so be ready for it and stay tuned for further instructions.

African Americans as Economic Development Platform

Smart City Memphis is a great blog for the reader, even if it is pretty locally focused on that city. A recent post suggests the city needs to blow up old myths and start acting on facts. This part caught my eye.

There’s the myth our African-American majority is an economic drag. Because distinctiveness is the basis for competitive advantage, Memphis needs to be a hub of black talent. If that isn’t at the top of our economic development agenda, we’re not really in the economic development business.

Amen. I’ve made that same plea to Midwest cities. As you’ll see in a future post from me, self-styled progressive paragons like Portland have virtually no African Americans. Don’t try to beat other cities at their game, try to make them beat you at yours. Their African American populations are among the key assets of Midwest metros in figuring out how to compete and be relevant in the marketplace today. It’s a shame so few places act like it.

Selling the Suburbs

@PD_Smith points us at an absolutely must watch BBC audio slide show on selling the suburbs. It’s about an exhibit of posters and marketing materials for suburbs in early 20th century London. Key to this era of suburbs of course was the extension of transit lines, since we had yet to enter the auto era, but the description of their marketing program holds extremely valuable lessons for people today trying to sell people on city living. And the graphic design of the pieces is gorgeous.

Again, so often today we are preached at about the need to live in the city and told how great it is for us, but seldom are we actually sold on it. I’ve yet to see any city with a marketing campaign to lure people to their downtown that compares with the brief few minutes of suburban sales slides from the BBC. Even the graphic design alone blows most cities out of the water.

Here are a couple of relevant samples. These were how public transit was marketed not just as a way for people to move out of the city to the suburbs, but to come back into it to for entertainment. That’s still relevant today.

Apparently these people did not subscribe to the position that people won’t ride buses:

Rail is good too of course:

Touting proximity to entertainment:

Midwest Bike to Work

The Census American Community Survey data is a treasure trove of good stuff. Bike Pittsburgh took a look at the bike to work figures for various cities. They’ve even got an embedded Google spreadsheet with the data for every mode of commuting, so check it out. Portland was #1 in America with 6% biking to work. Here’s how the Midwest central cities stacked up vs. a top 60 city average of 0.98% and median of 0.6%:

  • Minneapolis – 4.3% (#2 in the nation)
  • Milwaukee – 1.1%
  • Chicago – 1.0%
  • Columbus – 0.9%
  • Pittsburgh – 0.8%
  • Cleveland – 0.7%
  • St. Louis – 0.7%
  • Cincinnati – 0.5%
  • Louisville – 0.4%
  • Detroit – 0.3%
  • Indianapolis – 0.3%
  • Kansas City -0.2%

The Detroit Frontier in the News

My post on Detroit as the new American frontier continues to generate a surprisingly large number of hits as people keep discovering it and passing it along to others. Here are a few articles illustrating the theme.

Here’s a great piece on making a difference in Detroit.

The bad stories are easy to find in Detroit. More than a quarter are unemployed. The school district’s graduation rate is dismal. Violent crime is among the highest in the nation. But the good stories are there, and a common thread among many is persistence, pluck and patience in navigating the city’s sometimes cumbersome bureaucracy.

“If you want something done, you often have to do it yourself here,” explained Kate Devlin, who, although she doesn’t own it,boarded up a vacant building herself in North Corktown and is waiting to buy it at the tax foreclosure auction rather than waiting for the city to bring wrecking crews.

It isn’t easy. Sometimes, residents have to get creative.

Here’s another one on a North End activist.

Delores Bennett is known as the Grandmother of the North End for a good reason.

When she sees a problem, she fixes it. And for four decades, that’s meant helping children stay out of trouble….. “I don’t want any money from the city because when you do it on our own there aren’t any limitations,” said Bennett, 76, whose North End Youth Improvement Council provides scholarships and serves as an umbrella group for her other efforts.

And here’s one about a mother trying to run drug dealers out of her neighborhood.

One house remained a drug haven whose users craved privacy, keeping blinds drawn during all hours. “If we could get in there, we could tear those blinds down and that would be that,” Hoerauf said. The duo persuaded an officer to check to make sure the house was empty before they entered and took down the blinds. The drug use stopped.

The common thread a see in all of these is a sort of frontier ethic of self-reliance. In Detroit, everyone knows the city is not going to take care of these problems. If you want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself. Life isn’t always pleasant on the frontier – it sure wasn’t in the early days of the American Midwest and West. But often that formative experience builds the foundation, and especially the character and ethos that enables good things to emerge even decades down the line. In Detroit, everyone from Afrocentric educators to artists and urban farmers are staking their claim. If Detroit really does revive, my money is on the solution coming out of this rich grass roots ferment.

Ohio Migration Data

Jim Russell pointed me at this interesting report from Community Research Partners in Columbus, Ohio. They used IRS tax return data, a standard source, to measure migration in Ohio. Here are some graphics I found particularly telling. These show intra-state migration for Ohio’s largest three cities. You can see strong suburban outmigration everywhere. But the telling thing is how Columbus is sucking in people from all over the state, but Cleveland and Cincinnati are not. Both Cleveland and Cincy have virtually no in-migration from the rest of the state and are losing people to Columbus. Their balance of trade with each other appears to be minimal.

Kansas City Transit

Kansas City has had an odd history with efforts to build a rail transit system. They voted for a system that couldn’t legally be constructed. Then they voted down a couple of other efforts. I never followed it that closely, but was always puzzled as to what was going on. A video out of KC this week explains a lot as far as I’m concerned. You’ll have to click the link to watch since it is on a newspaper web site and isn’t embeddable. I strongly encourage you to do so. The video is only two minutes long, and it’s priceless.

Meanwhile, the Jackson County executive unveiled a plan for a regional commuter rail system. This could get interesting.

Louisville Tourism and Relocation Ads

Louisville rolled out some tourism and relocation ads that generated a bit of controversy. They mimic the interminable TV ads out there for erectile dysfunction and depression medications. While I don’t think these ads really showcase the best value proposition or brand promise for Louisville, I thought they were pretty funny.

Taking a swipe at Ohio:

Cool Philly Transit Benches

Keeping with my theme of the importance of design in public transit infrastructure, the Architect’s Newspaper points us at a cool rail station bench in Philadelphia.

This was designed and built by the one stop design and fabrication shop Veyko.

National and International Roundup

The city as an interaction platform (The Mobile City) – via @endlessCities

The United Nations just issued a Global Report on Human Settlements for 2009. According to their research, 200,000 people around the world move to cities every day. Pretty impressive.

Architect Robert Venturi slams Barnes Foundation move (LA Times)

Luring artists to lend life to empty storefronts (NYC) – Hey there, Indy has been doing this for a long time.

San Francisco’s ground breaking parking meter study (Streetsblog)

More Midwest

Site Selection magazine has a great interview on the Midwest with Richard Longworth. (h/t Jim Russell)

Youngstown, Ohio: A young town again (The Economist) – Nice coverage in the international press.

Eyes on the Art Prize (NYT) – Dittos for Grand Rapids, where the Art Prize generated a ton of press.

GOOD interviews Flint Mayor Dayne Walling. For those who missed it, you can see the video I did with him over on You Tube.

Dead Reckoning – Chicago Magazine looks at the cemetery relocation at the heart of a dispute over the O’Hare Modernization Program.
Chicago planners pinpoint scaled back locally preferred alternative for Circle Line (Transport Politic)
Block 37 superstation, unfinished and unused (Transport Politic)
CTA fare increases through the years (WBEZ)
High speed rail? (Michigan City News-Dispatch)
Seniors ride free policy nearing its end – good (Greg Hinz @ Crain’s Chicago Business)

Museum tax will shrink no matter what (Enquirer)
Bringing street vendors to life in Cincinnati (UrbanCincy)
Metro sees 11.25% drop in ridership (Enquirer)

Impressario with an iPhone (Dispatch)
Welcome! Don’t mind our blight (Dispatch)

Mayor Bing unveils turnaround plan for Detroit (Detroit News)
Detroit’s crisis is nothing new (Laura Berman @ Detroit News)
Chamber wants to make region a logistic hub (Crain’s Detroit Business)
How to lose federal transit funding – again (Free Press)

From the credit where credit is due department, I should note that I drove up Illinois St. the other day where sidewalks are being replaced, and only one of the sewer inlets I saw appeared to be raised above the sidewalk grade.

Milwaukee seen as hybrid hub (JS)
The New Face of Downtown Milwaukee (Urban Engagement Weekly) – via @Twoaday

St. Louis
Stimulus stirs work on Eads bridge (Post-Dispatch)

Twin Cities
Southwest light rail line moves ahead (Star Tribune)

Topics: Civic Branding, Economic Development, Public Policy, Talent Attraction, Transportation, Urban Culture
Cities: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus (Ohio), Detroit, Kansas City, Louisville, Memphis, Philadelphia

4 Responses to “Midwest Miscellany”

  1. American Dirt says:

    The observation you made on "African Americans as an Economic Development Platform" is a consistently viable one I know you've made before. But I'm still scratching my head as to how a city like Detroit fits into this picture. Or New Orleans for that matter–and I even lived there.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    The bike mode share numbers are for cities proper – it says so in your link.

    Bear in mind that the American Community Survey only allows one mode of transportation per commuter. If you use multiple modes, it asks you to check the one on which you travel the greatest distance.

  3. IndyJrob says:

    The Louisville ads are quite entertaining. I tend to think that success favors the bold and they certainly didn’t hold back with this new campaign. The important thing is that I would remember them as opposed to many ads for cities. The one targeted at Ohio was particularly bold. They would either interest someone or completely offend them, but either way they will solicit a reaction. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Nathanael says:

    Don’t you have inmigration and outmigration reversed? According to your pictures for Ohio, the center cities of Columbus, Cincinatti, and Cleveland are sucking people out of the suburbs of Columbus, Cincinatti, and Cleveland, but people are also fleeing Columbus for the rest of the state.

    Do you have your labels reversed on the pictures?

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