Friday, March 12th, 2010

Midwest Miscellany

With a global recession and continued problems in the former industrial areas of the United States, the fresh ideas and innovative suggestions outlined almost daily in the Urbanophile offer a cogent and achievable sense of hope for the urban areas of the world.” – Planetizen

I will be giving the keynote address at the IndyPartnership annual meeting on March 23rd, so Indianapolis readers should check it out. It would be great to get to meet some of you there.

Also, I was just up in Minneapolis yesterday for the Urban Land Institute Minnesota Chapter 2010 annual program.

I’m on the left. Photo by Megan Dobratz

It was a great time with a great group of people talking technology, talent attraction, and other fun topics. And I was reminded yet again of why Minneapolis is such a great city. Like many Midwest cities, they worry about having limited brand visibility and mind share out in the nation at large. But they’ve got a great product. If you haven’t been there, go check it out.

If you are interested in having me speak to your group or at your event, just email me at to discuss a booking.

Also, Planetizen recently gave the Urbanophile an honorable mention in their Top Ten Web Sites of 2010 and also gave the nice quote above which is making me blush. They similarly noted New Geography, where I am a contributing editor. Thanks for the kind words and mention.

Top Stories

1. Richard Layman: Commercial district revitalization and return on public investment. Richard nails it: “The other thing to remember is that it took many decades for neighborhoods and commercial districts to decline, so we have to recognize that it will take a long time for these places to be improved. It takes even longer when we don’t know what we are doing, and we fail to learn from previous practice, not to mention best practice, and we put in minimal amounts of money so that it makes improvement very hard to come about, and we don’t direct money in ways where it can have great impact so that money gets wasted.”

Richard also has another great piece this week called Economic impact of arts-culture events vs. incentives for corporate headquarters vs. building a local economy

2. Ed Glaeser: Why the anti-urban bias? Glaeser describes how cities lose out in transportation funding. You might also be interested in my piece on reforming anti-urban bias in transportation spending as well.

3. Roger Scruton @ The American: The High Cost of Ignoring Beauty.

4. Boston Globe: London from above at night – Simply stunning photographs of London.

Renewable Energy

GOOD pointed me at this map showing the percentage of each state’s electricity needs that could be supplied from renewable sources:

Traffic Congestion

The folks at INRIX just released their 2009 National Transit Scorecard with travel time details and ranking for America’s metro areas. Here is how the Midwest metros stacked up in the league tables of most congested cities:

  • #3 – Chicago
  • #12 – Minneapolis-St. Paul
  • #21 – St. Louis
  • #24 – Pittsburgh
  • #27 – Detroit
  • #28 – Kansas City
  • #33 – Cincinnati
  • #36 – Louisville
  • #37 – Cleveland
  • #42 – Milwaukee
  • #48 – Indianapolis
  • #55 – Columbus

The Beer Belly of America

Flowing Data pointed me at this analysis from that compares the number of bars vs. the number of groceries in American counties:

World and National Roundup

Shareable: Can we design cities for happiness?

The Guardian: The Pei Master (IM Pei interview)

Libby Brooks @ The Guardian: The Dignity of Labor

Ribbonfarm: An Infrastructure Pilgrimage. If you like this, you might also be interested in the epic story of container shipping.

USA Today: New Ghost Towns – industrial communities teeter on the edge.

The Guardian: Los Angeles on the brink of an abyss.

Ed Glaeser: Betting on Atlanta

Architect’s Newspaper: Lost in Penn Station

Jim Russell: Post-Industrial South

Joel Kotkin appeared on Minnesota Public Radio to promote his book. I thought he got a reasonably positive response, but not from Twin City Sidewalks, who blew a sprocket. See both sides for yourself.

“Possibility Journalism” in Cincinnati

Cincinnati Blog pointed me at this piece about a meeting of journalists in Cincinnati trying to figure out how to create a new and possible narrative of the city. Here’s the video they produced about the event. (If it doesn’t display for you, click through to the article above).

Detroit Population Loss

This Robert J. Cristiano piece in New Geography included this AP graphic of population loss in Detroit:

On the good news front, the founder of Quicken wants to bring 2,400 jobs downtown.

Google Maps Adds Biking Directions

Google Maps will now give you directions for travel by bike, which is pretty cool as this video demonstrates (if the video doesn’t display, click here).

Branding and Biking in Rotterdam

The amazing folks over at Copenhagenize found this inspiring music video/branding film/advert about Rotterdam created in conjunction with their hosting the le Grand Départ for Le Tour de France this year. (If the video doesn’t display, click here).

More Midwest

Ohio won Site Selection magazine’s Governor’s Cup for economic development last year as the number one state in the country for deals done.

Also in Ohio, Community Research Partners took a look back at the Census results for Ohio over the decades.

Tri-State/I-57 interchange will move forward (Tribune) – $570M for one interchange? I think I’m beginning to see why Illinois has a budget problem.
CTA pay for bus drivers is #3 in the nation (Tribune) – #1 if cost of living is taken into account

A love-hate relationship (Urban Out)

Cleveland’s Comeback (Next American City)

Detroit: The Last Days (The Guardian)

Fishers named America’s stop affordable suburb (Business Week)

Abramson wants city or state to buy LG&E or KU if they are for sale (C-J)

St. Louis
Mayor Slay endorses rejoining St. Louis County (Mayor’s web site) – St. Louis is an independent city not part of St. Louis County today.
Designers should plan removal of downtown I-70 lanes (Post-Dispatch) – editorial board endorses City to River
St. Louis: City and River – part one, part two (Exquisite Struggle)


The Chicago Transit Authority has approved the “mobile garden” concept, which would attach a garden car to the L and have it travel the city. Now the organizers are fundraising for the project. Check out their web site if you want to learn more or contribute.

Topics: Civic Branding, Demographic Analysis, Sustainability, Talent Attraction, Transportation, Urban Culture
Cities: Cincinnati, Detroit

9 Responses to “Midwest Miscellany”

  1. the urban politician says:

    That CTA garden train thing is so ridiculous that I feel like crying

  2. anonymous says:

    When I first heard about it I thought it was a joke.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    The congestion ranking ranks total congestion. That’s about as useful as ranking cities by their total number of homicides, and concluding that the largest cities have the most crime.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The mobile garden is a lucid example of badly overthinking an issue. Why haul the garden around? Just put some darn planters in the station.

  5. Alon Levy says:

    Reading your comment to Jim’s post about the Southern Rust Belt, I started thinking, what does happen to the number ones of yesterday? The answer seems to be that they’re still close to the top. London and Paris are still some of the world’s most important global cities, even though they’ve been upended by New York. On the level of whole nations, the great powers of the 19th century all remained powerful in the 20th, and many are still important today. I believe that this observation is what fuels Glaeser’s point about the top being stable.

  6. Alon, I guess I’m reacting to the fact that Glaeser is talking about Atlanta, not New York. Yes, there is some stability at the top of the pecking order. Cities like London and Paris are capitals of major powers, once major empires, in nations with unbalanced urban development. Their fate is liked to that of their nation-state, and those fortunes seem to turn more slowly.

    But there are examples of top national cities getting usurped. Rio took at big hit when the capital moved to Brasilia. Montreal was usurped by Toronto. I haven’t researched that case in detail, but some have linked to Quebec nationalism, not any loss of brainpower.

    Atlanta is a great city I admire in any way. But I would say it is vulnerable in a way a city like New York is not. I’m guessing in 1950 Detroit’s auto franchise seemed impregnable too. It isn’t hard to imagine scenarios in which Atlanta stagnates. I think there are already questions about how much bigger they can get regionally. It would be interesting to see what happens to a Sun Belt city when it’s growth curve reaches maturity.

  7. Alon Levy says:

    No, you’re right, Atlanta isn’t there yet. It’s more like a major secondary power. The 1900 great power equivalent of Atlanta was definitely not Britain or Germany; the question is whether it’s the US, Japan, or the Ottoman Empire.

    Nowadays the main problem in Atlanta is the same as in Portland – more people moving in than there are jobs for them.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Everything that you quoted from Richard Layman is so true. We have these grand ideas but minimal investments and then people scratch their heads and say, “Why isn’t this working? I guess we won’t support that any more.”

  9. AmericanDirt says:

    Aaron, I think you’re right about the reason for Toronto usurping Montreal. Something about Montreal just feels insular, and it could be reflective of the entire province (of which I know little).

    I also think you might have answered your own question to why Atlanta seems so confident (perhaps more than it should be) when you wrote the great essay “White City”–it has achieved a great deal while having a significant minority population, using it as a strategic advantage that seems far more genuine and sustainable, I feel, than the African American prosperity hub outside of Washington DC. Plus, “the city too busy to hate” has to be one of the greatest mottos.

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.

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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.

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