Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

The Urbanophile 2009 Year in Review

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.

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:

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.

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:

July had a few interesting posts.

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.

I was honored that Carol Coletta had me on a segment of her nationally syndicated radio show Smart City. And Forbes featured me in a piece on Pittsburgh in conjunction with the G-20 summit.

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 had my debut bylined opinion piece in 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 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!


7 Responses to “The Urbanophile 2009 Year in Review”

  1. Mordant says:

    Congratulations on a fantastic year!

  2. Kevin says:

    Congratulations on your successes in 2009. I always look forward to receiving the e-mail notifications of new blog entries and your insights typically become the catalyst for intriguing discussions at home. Here’s to a 2010 beyond your greatest expectations!

  3. west town ed says:

    Having only caught up with you late in the year, your review of what you wrote about in the 2009 was invaluable. I found following your links to the Cleveland post highly interesting as I have a nephew who not only works in the restored Terminal Tower but for its restorer, Forest City and the Ratner family. One of his projects is a very “urban vision” project in neighboring Lakewood.

    As a one-time resident of Dayton and for the last 40 years (mostly) of inner-city Chicago, I look forward to your learned discussions in the new year and I hope that I will be able to contribute my own personal insights on urban affairs.

  4. Thanks for the nice words. I really appreciate them.

  5. cdc guy says:

    The notice and praise are well-deserved, Aaron. Best wishes for a prosperous 2010.

  6. David says:

    Aaron, look forward to reading your posts in 2010.

  7. cswitzer says:

    Aaron, I found your blog a couple years ago when first contemplating a move to Indianapolis and have been a subscriber ever since. It is the only blog in my Google Reader with no bold, unread articles. I know you’ve sought ways to monetize the content, so I’m offering to take you to lunch. Thanks for all the great articles.

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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