Sunday, January 3rd, 2010
As we welcome 2010, let’s pause for a moment to take the obligatory look back at the year that was.
2009 was a breakout year here at Urbanophile HQ. What was once effectively an Indianapolis city blog in its traffic profile grew into a national and even international platform. My readership was up almost 1000% last year – and it’s still climbing.
I still feel there’s a lot to do. My goal is nothing less than to become America’s premier platform for serious, in depth, non-dogmatic, and non-partisan discussion of urban issues. To that end, I’ll be continuing to evolve the Urbanophile. While I plan to keep the site as a primarily personal vehicle, I’m also going to be incorporating more third party content, both specially commissioned originals and carefully curated pieces from elsewhere. And I’ll be adhering to a tighter publishing cadence, which should hopefully tame some of those monster Midwest Miscellanies going forward.
Of course, all of you remain the most important element of the site’s success. Thanks to everyone for your readership, participation, and for linking to me or otherwise helping to build awareness about the site. I really appreciate it – and please keep doing so! I encourage you to share your thoughts in comments on the posts. And remember, reasoned dissent is always welcome here. I also welcome feedback and suggestions any time, so send them my way.
Here, then, are some of the highlights from 2009. I certainly don’t expect you to read (or re-read) all of these pieces, but hopefully they give you a flavor of the last year here on the blog.
January included some of my most important posts of the year.
- I reviewed the book Retrofitting Suburbia, and discussed the fundamental challenges facing America’s aging suburbs. This laid the ground work for a series of posts about the future of America’s suburbs that included a post on suburban strategies, also in this month.
- I wrote another major post on the brand of Indianapolis. If I might be so bold, I’d say my writings on Indy’s brand promise in the past 18 months were influential in the ICVA’s new market positioning, which I also had good things to say about in January, calling it a “home run”.
- Still in Indianapolis, I discussed the dangerous streets of the city after almost getting run over while walking to work.
- And last but surely not least, I kicked off my 2009 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Burnham Plan with a major essay called Chicago: A Declaration of Independence that discussed that city’s triumphs and challenges, urging it to reinvigorate urban innovation, and also to rediscover its brand identity as a quintessentially masculine, rough and tumble, and commercial metropolis.
This month I was informed that I had won the global transit innovation competition sponsored by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. They sought ideas to increase transit ridership in Chicago to one billion per year. I won over 125 other entries from around the world.
On the blog front, my major work was another Chicago-related series called “Reconnecting the Hinterland”. Though Governing magazine recently described me as “the most incisive critic of megaregions”, this series looked at how we could exploit megaregional economics through reinvigorating the linkages between Chicago and nearby cities, particularly Milwaukee and Indianapolis.
- Part one, Metropolitan Linkages, looks at the potential of expanded labor markets and near shoring high skilled work.
- Part two, Onshore Outsourcing, looks more in-depth at the near shore model, particularly in BPO.
- Also, I posted a major essay on high speed rail in the Midwest as part of this, and also a discussion of innovation
In March I was featured on the front page of the Chicago Tribune for the transit innovation win. It is always nice to get a full color photo of yourself above the fold. I’m glad I made the front cover a major print newspaper while the medium still exists.
Among my major posts:
- I wrote a long piece called Could Marion County Implode? looking at the strategic challenge of a declining core county of Indianapolis in a region that is growing strongly. This might be the most important thing I’ve ever written on that city. On a more positive note, I highlighted the Indianapolis Museum of Art as an example of strategy done right.
- I published a concept brand positioning for Louisville called Vice City as a thought experiment.
- And I examined the Cincinnati Agenda 360 regional strategy, noting the strength in the process, but weaknesses in the final deliverable.
In April the Chicagoland Chamber recognized me as an example of innovative thinking at their annual InnovateNow summit. On the blog front:
- I stirred up quite a bit of controversy with a piece asking what’s wrong with Cleveland. This post received more comments than any other, and prompted me to add an entire second post with just a summary of the reactions
- I examined the factors that made the Burnham Plan successful, which proved to be one of the most popular posts of all time.
- I also suggested that small cities should have fareless transit.
In May, Nancy Kaffer devoted an entire column (subscription required) to my ideas on talent attraction in Crain’s Detroit Business. She was upset with what appeared to be a half a million dollar study on talent she thought just stated the obvious. I subsequently turned these ideas into a June post called the Talent Equation.
- I christened Columbus, Ohio the new Midwestern star. This is an under the radar city that really deserves more attention.
- I devoted 6,500 words to the future of the American newspaper
- And I noted how Indiana and Chicago fleeced the foreign investors who leased their toll roads.
June brought the totally unexpected news that a Chicago Media Workshop/Chicago Community Trust study ranked me as one of the top online news sites in Chicago, and the #3 blog, trailing only two very Chicago-specific blogs about transit and schools. Given that I was only a half time resident at the time, and my blog really isn’t per se about Chicago, that was quite a compliment.
In the blog:
- I laid out the case for 8664 in Louisville in words and pictures.
- I also reviewed the Modern Wing at the Art Institute, which I thought was a simply great building, though I had my quibbles with the Nichols Bridgeway and the sorry state of Monroe St.
July had a few interesting posts.
- I praised two more Indianapolis economic development initiatives, the internet marketing cluster and the energy systems network
- I talked about how globalization led to negative changes in civic leadership culture and an excessive focus on publicly subsidized real estate development
- And I talked about St. Louis’ City Garden project, another very popular piece.
Indianapolis Monthly did a sidebar feature with me on upcoming downtown developments. In the blog:
- I published a piece that proved to be hugely popular on Detroit as the new American frontier. It was linked from dozens of media outlets, including the New York Times, Time, National Review, Andrew Sullivan, Daily Kos and many more. In fact, it is still going strong, generating hundreds of hits a week.
- I had a piece at New Geography called the New Industrial City about the need to support manufacturing in an urban context
- I also published the first two installment of a five part series about taking Chicago public transit from good to great. The first was about building the vision and the second about raising the bar on design.
- In the blog, I also posted my own take on Pittsburgh at New Geography
- Carol also invited me to attend the CEO’s for Cities Velocity summit in Grand Rapids. On the blog, I took up her challenge of Re-imagining the Good Life.
- Guest author John Vranicar talked about overlooked recreational hinterlands in the Midwest, particularly for cities like Indianapolis.
- I discussed the failure of the Canal Walk in Indianapolis, in conjunction with an article in the local business paper.
I was part of a session on the use of social media for transit advocacy at Rail~Volution 2009, and subsequently posted a report.
- I took a stab at answering the question What’s Killing California? in a very popular post.
- I gave several examples of leadership in transportation design in New York City.
- My piece on the the lack of racial diversity in supposed urban paragons was by far the most controversial piece I ever published – but perhaps for that reason also the most popular ever. It was discussed around the world, generating discussion in places like the Economist, the London Daily Telegraph, Matt Yglesias, Andrew Sullivan, Instapundit, and many, many others. It was also republished as an op-ed in the print editions of the Dallas Morning News and the Omaha World-Herald.
On a personal note, I took a week long vacation this month to Barcelona. Naturally I posted a trip report.
- I posted a take on migration at New Geography called geographies in conflict.
- I modeled pro sports subsides as naming rights sponsorships for the teams.
- And I re-ran an older post on megaregions. It was a skeptical take, and it was the warm up for a December series on the concept.
I had my debut bylined opinion piece in forbes.com this month. It was called The Mayor as CEO. I subsequently discussed the applicability of this concept on WDET-FM’s program Detroit Today and garnered what I’m told was a “huge” audience response.
- I reviewed Catherine L. Ross’ book on megaregions, which spurred quite a bit of good discussion. I also took a further look at the applicability of the topic to the Midwest.
- At New Geography, I looked at the Brookings plan for turning around Detroit, then offered one of my own.
I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane. A complete index of the blog archives is available in the left sidebar. You might notice that a number of historic posts are missing. I did prune the archives of posts that appeared to be dated. I used to make many small posts of various news items, such as rumors of new downtown Indianapolis skyscrapers and the like. I removed these so that the archives now consist of primarily “evergreen” content that is still relevant today. So feel free to spend some time browsing. I also hand selected some of the posts I consider the best, which are linked in the left sidebar as well.
Thanks again for your readership in 2009 and I look forward to continuing our journey together in 2010. Happy New Year everybody!
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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.