Friday, January 15th, 2010

Midwest Miscellany

All the local and regional economic development groups throughout the Midwest are in a fierce competition with one another. My favorite advantages touted in Indiana are: 1). The cost of doing business is less expensive, and 2). 80% of the population of the U.S. and Canada can be reached within a one-day drive. Do these Indiana officials realize they have accepted commodity status? Low cost is the best we have? I suspect other states tout similar messages.” – Jon Speer

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Vacant Parcels In Chicago

I was privileged to be on WBEZ 91.5 FM Chicago Public Radio this week with the incomparable Lee Bey discussing vacant properties in Chicago such as the Michael Reese Hospital site, the old Cook County Hospital, and the Uptown Theater. It’s a 12 minute segment embedded below, but if you don’t see it, click here.

Lee also blogged about this topic in A Way to Fix That Empty Feeling….?.

Brookings Metro Monitor

The Brookings Institution issued their most recent Metro Monitor report looking at the top 100 metro areas in the country. Here is the map they put together showing their current economic performance (via Map Scroll)

Manufacturing Follow-Up

As a follow-up to my recent piece on manufacturing, I want to highly a New York Times story this week on China’s rules hurting foreign companies that want to do business there. This in the wake of Google’s threat to quit China over its restrictive regulations and a series of hacker attacks.

Google is far from alone among Western companies in its growing unhappiness with Chinese government policies, although it is highly unusual in threatening to pull out of the country entirely in protest.

Western companies contend that they face a lengthening list of obstacles to doing business in China, from “buy Chinese” government procurement policies and growing restrictions on foreign investments to widespread counterfeiting.

These barriers generally fall into two broad categories. Some relate to China’s desire to maintain control over internal dissent. Others involve its efforts to become internationally competitive in as many industries as possible.

Doing business in China has never been easy. Foreign companies have long complained of being cheated by joint venture partners who set up parallel businesses on the side or abscond with assets. Many other countries also have policies that favor home-grown companies, although the opportunity for industrialized countries to do so is limited because they operate under tighter W.T.O. rules than China.

See also from the FT: Frustrated foreign groups in China rethink their position.

Education Week State Ratings

Education Week magazine released its Quality Counts 2010 ratings of state school systems. Click through for details if interested, but here’s a map:

Note: This map differs from the version you might have seen at GOOD. Mine is the overall scores. For some reason they elected to create a map based on a subcategory.

Transit Projects USA in 2010

The Transport Politic has a great roundup of planned transit projects for 2010, including a great map:

Cost, Residents, and Jobs in the City

Chris Briem, writing about the impact of a proposed prevailing wage law, takes a digression to look at the curious fact that while Pittsburgh’s population has plummeted, the job base in the city (if not the region) has remained constant for decades, despite many disadvantages one might expect to cause jobs to leave.

I really swear that everyone in their psyche keeps confusing the story on the city’s population (down in the past, going down now, probably going down in the future) with the story on the number of jobs located in the city of Pittsburgh which really are as stable as the rock of Gibraltar. Again the factoid: 300K jobs located in the city in 1960… same as today give or take some noise. If you realize the two trends are different then you get to some very different policy conclusions on just about every issue in local public finance.

The city honestly has lots of things that could make it a disadvantage to many a business. Parking fees of any kind are a killer for folks who like to drive to work and parking is nominally free for most suburban locations. In Downtown and Oakland that will never be the case. Other fees and taxes, inherently more restricted zoning in dense urban environments and innumerable other reasons make it hard to attract a new business to locate in the city proper.

Yet the jobs have remained. Go figure. Understanding that is the key to understanding most everything about the future of the city. Why do jobs act so irrationally and stay in the city? One could argue in Oakland it is a preponderance of tax exempt investment that anchors them to their location. A fair enough argument, but not something anywhere near as true for Downtown which continues to be one of the densest jobs centers in the nation.

So again.. Why? There are lots of details, but when you get to the core of it there must be something valuable in the location that makes businesses willing to put up with all the unique costs of doing business in the city.

Other Top Stories

Since I know I include a lot of links in these Midwest Miscellany posts, I wanted to inaugurate a feature of including a brief list of just the top stories I’ve selected. If you are limited on time, these are the ones I would recommend reading the most.

1. Ada Louise Huxtable @ WSJ: Eero Saarinen, Shaping the Future, at the Museum of the City of New York.

2. oobject: Top 15 Modernist Gas Stations (great pictures)

3. Der Spiegel: Squatters Take on the Creative Class: Who Has the Right to Shape Hamburg? (in English)

4. LA Times: Vancouver Engineers Its Own Urban Dream

5. NYT: Stadium Boom Deepens Municipal Woes

World and National Roundup

NPR: China aims to ride high speed trains into future

LA Times: Freight trains make big comeback in nation’s transportation network

NYT: A trainspotter’s guide to the future of the world – TNR/Brookings responds.

McKinsey study: The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in Education

NYT: Factoring Walkability Into Home Values – Nice coverage of the CEO’s for Cities research on this topic.

Proper Scale: Cracks in the Building Blocks of Mixed Use

The American Prospect: The Ruse of the Creative Class – A critique of Richard Florida. Ryan Avent posted a rebuttal.

NYT: Ambitious $4.2 billion transit hub in San Francisco

WCVB TV-5 Boston: Mayor Menino Inaugurates ‘New Era of Shared Innovation’ (via Brewed Fresh Daily). Also, NYT: Biopharmaceutical industry is banking on Boston – $2.3 billion in manufacturing plants under construction.

Human Transit: Portland – A Challenging Chart – transit market share not increasing.

More Midwest

A task force says Ohio urban centers should have more incentives to keep businesses and residents

Indian immigrants value entrepreneurship and education (Plain Dealer)

Columbus Is a City With a Lot to Celebrate (Experience Columbus)

Michigan: The Dark Ages (The Economist) – via Jim Russell
Detroit entrepreneurs opt to look up (NYT)
Detroit Skids from Dream Machines to Bailouts in Vivid History (Bloomberg)
Poll of residents finds grim but optimistic outlooks (WashPo)
What to do about Detroit? (Richard Layman)

Kansas City
New convention hotel might also expand Marriott complex (KC Star)

Lagging research puts city behind (J-S)

Twin Cities
Funding change worries suburban transit systems (Star Tribune)

Post Script

Colonel Sanders delivers some finger lickin’ good fire extinguishers to Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard:

Topics: Architecture and Design, Economic Development, Education, Transportation
Cities: Chicago, Pittsburgh

10 Responses to “Midwest Miscellany”

  1. Kevin says:

    Our mayor is so, so weird…

  2. Thanks for posting the NPR interview – it was interesting to hear you instead of just reading! The Urbanophile media empire grows.

  3. DRH says:

    Thanks, Mayor Ballard, for a great image to use against you in 2011 on TV. This is reflective of how completely bereft of good ideas the accidental mayor is when it comes to managing our city. Makes me sad.

  4. cdc guy says:

    I’d love to see Brookings’ map in six months or a year. I suspect that the natural-gas and oil cities in Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Texas lagged the recession and will now lag the recovery. When I visited Oklahoma this month, there were news stories about the looming state and local budget issues.

  5. west town ed says:

    I listened to the CPR broadcast and would like to pose the following questions.

    1. What do you and others propose to do with a 4500 seat movie theater in an area which is known as an entry point to Chicago for thousands of people with no money but a lot of ambition and, sadly also, no money and no ambition?

    2. Who should pay for the mothballing of 37 acres of prime lake front property that was the Reese property for an unknown number of years?

    3. How much money should be spent with on equally large lake front property (a former airport for state employees who didn’t want to live in Springfield) which has become what it was meant to be, a lake front nature preserve?

    4. Why with 575 acres of available vacant industrial acreage at the former US Steel South Works, do we northsiders have to put up with a a river side metal reclamation facility and a tannery in one of the few areas of the city that is actually prosperous and growing?

    5. The preservationist insisted that the old Cook County building was historically significant, then why is still vacant after 7 or 8 years? [See also number 2 above.]

    6. Why should we local citizens pay a single penny to convert the federally-owned old post office to some kind of new use?

    I’m sure none of these questions, surprise you.

    I remain your most faithful and devoted follower,


  6. Alon Levy says:

    CDC Guy: Texas is actually recovering at a decent rate right now – it’s actually creating jobs, and its unemployment rate is decreasing at one of the higher rates. You can see recent changes in unemployment by state and metro area here. It’s the West Coast, Florida, and the Midwest that are lagging in terms of unemployment.

    Ideally there would be employment-to-population data, which help distinguish unemployment reductions coming from work-discouraged people leaving the labor force and reductions coming from job creation. There’s probably a way to estimate monthly population growth for that, but I don’t know it.

  7. ed,

    Each of the sites is different.

    1. I’d disagree with your characterization of Uptown. Nevertheless, the Uptown Theater is not viable to renovate at this time. However, basic maintenance and heating has long been paid for by mostly private donations. This is not involving much (if any?) city money. Again, the idea is simply to preserve the option of renovation at a future date.

    2. The city is already almost $100M into Michael Reese and didn’t preserve anything. The site is being cleared and thus there is no mothballing required. No doubt, however, the city will invest additional funds to subsidize housing construction there.

    3. The site has long been owned by the city. The price to upgrade the parcel for additional park use is like any other public expenditure: whatever the public and/or the government is willing to. There is no real requirement to invest anything at this point.

    4. Because the government doesn’t get to move around private homeowners and businesses like pieces on a chess board just because it wants to – at least not in America. Also, I don’t think the city has an industrial future in mind for South Works, though I have read some stories about renewable energy plants or some such locating there.

    5. Because what to do with it is being debated. Also, demolition costs money. I suspect the building will ultimately be demolished, maybe with facade preservation.

    6. The Post Office has been sold to a private developer. It’s certainly debatable what if anything the city should put into the property. However, given that it spans a vital transportation artery, the city does have an interest in making sure the building is at least maintained. Frankly, this is one I wouldn’t mind losing, but how they would go about demolishing this building and constructing a new one is something I don’t clearly understand.


  8. the urban politician says:

    Aaron, I truly hope your prediction is wrong about the Cook County Hospital building. A heck of a lot of people in the Preservation community have put a lot of work into keeping that building safe from the wrecking ball.

    I for one would be quite upset if they let such a treasure get torn down. I realize it’s not in the hippest part of town (and to some degree I blame the Illinois Medical District’s leadership on that one), but I sure hope something can be done to reuse it.

  9. AmericanDirt says:

    Regarding the Brookings map: South Carolina has three of the 100 largest metro areas?

  10. scrumpie says:

    I’m confounded by the New York Times’ claim that “Doing business in China has never been easy.” The British had easy pickins in the opium trade there after sending a few gunboats up the Yangtze.

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