Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

The Urbanophile in the News

The Urbanophile has been in the news a lot lately and I haven’t had time to link it all, so I put together this media roundup of my latest coverage. Back to more original content tomorrow.

My piece on Detroit as the new American frontier was featured by the New York Times as a must read Idea of the Day. It was also featured at Time (actually, featured twice). This attracted the notice of the Detroit News and MLive.

Also discussing the piece were Michael Barone at the Washington Examiner, the National Review, Instapundit, and Andrew Sullivan. Actually, I was linked four times on Andrew Sullivan recently.

And it was linked on dozens of other blogs and discussed on numerous web forums, including, interestingly, Kid Rock’s. It was even linked by Italian design publication Abitare.

The NYT and others homed in on the urban agriculture angle, which is a common Detroit meme, but I think missed a key point of the piece. It’s not about any particular strategy for renewal, but about creating a narrative of Detroit as the laboratory for alternative ideas of urban life and a new American frontier, a new narrative that can start attracting people back to the city. It’s not just agriculture, it’s artists and Afrocentric educators and more. It’s the possibilities of Detroit.

This resonated with a lot of the news sites on the free market right because I mentioned the light hand of government as a key factor in enabling this. But it also caught the attention of the left because most of the things actually happening in Detroit are more along those lines. In fact, you can look at parts of Detroit as a sort of commune or artists colony, for example.

My piece the White City was even bigger. Obviously I knew that would be a controversial piece and stir up conversation in the urban blogosphere. But I didn’t know it would turn into a big international story.

Somewhat understandably, it got caught up into a left-right debate, possibly due to my use of the term progressive. I didn’t mean that in the political left sense (a number of my non-progressive cities like Cleveland are purest blue), but rather in the urban policy innovation sense. Also, outside urbanists circles, the “Portland meme” of how great that city is isn’t as well known. A number of people criticized it for other reasons, such as ignoring variables of diversity other than African Americans. I did address this a bit in the piece. Frankly, even if you just look at purely white population, the thesis is still pretty strong. Austin is about 20 percentage points whiter than Dallas, Houston, or San Antonio, for example. (I actually changed the graphic for a syndicated version of the article).

I won’t link all of these because there are just plain too many of them. But places discussing it included the Economist, the London Daily Telegraph, Andrew Sullivan, Ta-Neshi Coates, Matthew Yglesias, multiple writers at the Root, Streetsblog, Race Wire, the National Review, the Oregonian, the Kansas City Star, Daily Kos, Ann Althouse, Instapundit, and many more. The article was also re-syndicated into the print editions of the Dallas Morning News and the Omaha World-Herald.

The piece is still going strong – it is as of this writing the #2 most popular current article at New Geography – three weeks after it appeared. (The #1 currently popular article there is a syndicated version of the Detroit piece that was posted several days ago).

My What’s Killing California piece has also been discussed in various places and continues to float around out there. One notable sample is over at the New America Foundation, along with overlawyered.com. Actually, lots of the articles I put up these days are discussed and referenced in all sorts of interesting places.

I’m obviously very happy about the increasing attention this blog continues to receive from people of all different stripes at the national and international level. When both Free Republic and Democratic Underground link to your site and like it, you know you must be doing something right. I’m glad that I’m able to be part of a broader conversation on cities in America.

I just want to thank all of you, my readers, for all the time you’ve invested in reading and reacting to this site. It took a long time to get the point where a lot major media outlets are reading and covering the blog. Thanks for coming along with me and being part of this journey. I hope you’ll continue to be there with me as we go forward from here.


Cities: Detroit

10 Responses to “The Urbanophile in the News”

  1. Pete from Baltimore says:

    MR Renn
    I am glad that more people are reading your blog.I myself have recomended it to my friends.I even made copies of your article ” The New Industrial City” ,and showed it to two of my friends.Despite the fact that one was a diehard conservative Republican and the other one was a diehard liberaal Democrat, they both thought that your article was absolutly correct .

    That is what i like about this blog.You are interested in solutions.not political name calling.That’s why i was saddened by the response to your article “The White City”.I was out of town and came back just after it.I won’t rehash the conterversy.I do want to say that i think that many people took your article out of context and tried to portray you as a racist right wing nut.

    Sadly this is what’s wrong with many political blogs on the internet.They are interested in name calling and contreversy.The right wing blogs are all full of posts blasting Micheal Moore or Ward Churchill for saying something stupid.And the leftwing blogs are full of posts blasting Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh for saying something stupid.Unlike this blog ,many political blogs are not interested in solutions to our nations problems.

    I’m gratefull to you for talking about the real issues facing our country.Glenn Beck and Michael Moore are both jerks.But neither of them are the cause or the solution to our problems.

    I live in Baltimore where a large number of people [including myself] are out of work.Our factories all closed 10 to 20 years ago.There is a large crime problem.A woman who called the police about local drug dealers had her house firebombed.She,her husband and their 5 children burned to death.And all our politicians can do is call each other names and fight “culture wars”.It really disgusts me.Our communities are hurting and we need to find solutions.

    I hope that your blog can stimulate real debate about what needs to be done.
    Thank you once again for runnng this blog
    Sincerly PETE

  2. Pete from Baltimore says:

    MR Renn
    I realise that our economic situation right now is grim.But i wonder if you know of any cities that are succeeding in creating jobs.And how they are accomplishing that.And whether their solutions can be tried elsewhere.

    In your article “The New Industrial City” ,you discussed the fact that while big industry is gone and will probably never return, that there is a place for small specialty manufacuring.Or small family owned “mom and pop” workshops.

    Do you know of anywhere where this is occouring.Or of how the government [either local or federal] could encourage these type of businesses.Or at least not interfere with them.

    I would be interested in the details of this kind of economic development and the practicalities involved.Especially since i have always felt that it could help many urban neighborhoods[including my own].

    If you could write more about this i would defintly appreciate it.Or if you could provide links to any other articles online that deal with this kind of economic development ,it would also be appreciated.

    Thank you very much

  3. Thanks, Pete. I appreciate the nice words.

    I think there are big differences between the Republicans and Democrats on policy issues at the national level. But at the local level, from what I see most Dem/Rep splits are like a basketball game of shirts vs. skins. It’s a “Team A” vs. “Team B” situation where frankly it is often hard to tell them apart. You find people of all stripes on all sides of issues. In Louisville one Democrat, the current mayor, wants to build a 23 lane expressway on the riverfront. Another Democrat, a candidate for mayor in the next election, wants to tear the existing one down.

    As far as jobs go, I don’t know any cities creating any number of jobs right now. Texas has generally been a place performing well, however. I would look at the New Geography “Best Cities for Job Growth 2009” as one version of where to look:


    Brookings has also done some studies on when cities will recover from the recession from a jobs standpoint. I don’t have the link handy however.

  4. cdc guy says:

    Aaron, congratulations on the well-deserved recognition of your ideas and concepts.

  5. John says:

    I will echoe BALTIMORE PETE’s comments: This Blog is interesting due to an apolitical, objective consideration of urban policy issues.

    The URBANOPHILE brand appears to consider these issues outside the national conversative v. liberal (progressive) battle lines. Opinion seems to take the best of both (or the worst if I disagree, haha.) It’s not always easy to find objective journalism and blogging on issues that touch on government, economics, and politics.

    I hope these are a few features of the Blog’s success, and others will emmulate the thoughtfullness in their own writings.

    Great blog.

  6. N_O_R_T_O_N says:

    Dear Urbanophile,

    Not to echo the previous comments, but congrats on the great work you’ve been doing. I especially enjoyed your Detroit post as I found it particularly inspiring and applicable to other Midwestern cities. It seems that many innovative solutions initially thought up to combat Detroit’s problems can be applied to their Midwestern neighbors…

    Keep up the good work and certainly continue to share your success stories!


  7. Thank you, thank you.

  8. Jake M. says:

    I also wanted to give you props for a blog that always makes me think, and is very much geared toward ideas and solutions, which are 2 things this country badly needs. Keep on bringing them.

    Well wishes from Milwaukee.

  9. Alon Levy says:

    Keep up the good work – you’ve made me think about cities in ways I hadn’t before, which is more than I can say of anyone except Jane Jacobs.

    But I disagree that the blog is apolitical. It’s nonpartisan, but most urban policy blogs are. The perspective here is politically and economically liberal, in the European sense – I see your perspective as being entirely consistent with this of various pro-EU blogs like A Fistful of Euros. In North America, Thomas Friedman, Farred Zakaria, and even Richard Florida have the same perspective, but unlike in Europe, they don’t have their own party.

    For example: the way you write about emphasizing black heritage as a growth promoter sounds like something a Friedman or Zakaria would say – i.e., you tell people that doing the right thing is good for growth. You present issues better and don’t have the airiness of Friedman, but you have the same perspective. This is not how a leftist, say, DMI’s John Petro writes about the issue; he argues for racial justice on racial justice grounds, not on economic growth grounds.

    There’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone has a perspective on things. I don’t think you should apologize for talking in terms of growth any more than I should apologize for thinking the Heather Macdonalds of the world are scum of the earth. But it’s political nonetheless; it just doesn’t have a party in the American two-party system.

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.

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