Friday, March 26th, 2010

Midwest Miscellany

“If we distill the design ethos of places to a few simple words, compare:

Italian design: First it must be beautiful, then it must function.

German design: Once it functions flawlessly, its beauty will be integral.

American design: If it’s ugly and barely functional, we’ll still pay too much *provided* it’s on the taxpayer dime.” – Donna Sink

Top Stories

1. Gateway Streets: The economic impact of highway removal is zero – closure of I-64 for two years in St. Louis for reconstruction had no adverse economic impact.

2. Cleveland Magazine: Tear It Down – “Cleveland won’t be reborn until it buries its dead.”

3. LEO Weekly: Off the cliff and into the water – more coverage of Louisville’s impending bridge debacle.

4. LA Times: New York has the edge in learning to share the road – a profile of Janette Sadik-Khan’s trip to LA.

The Civic Deterioration Model

Ed Morrison at Brewed Fresh Daily posted this graphic of civic decline:

I think this illustrates again that growth, and especially decline, are positive reinforcement cycles. This makes breaking out of decline difficult.

The Jobless Decade

TNR/Brookings had an interesting post on the uneveness of job performance the so-called “lost decade” of the 2000’s. Here’s their map of how various cities fared:

I pulled job stats for Midwest cities from Q1-2001 to Q1-2009 (the max YoY range the BLS had an easy download form for), and here is where my cities stacked up in job creation. Ranked by percentage change with absolute change also shown.

  • Indianapolis: 2.12%; 17,091 net jobs
  • Kansas City: (0.51%); (4,905)
  • Columbus: (1.33%); (11,757)
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul: (2.21%); (37,396)
  • Cincinnati: (2.49%); (24,431)
  • Louisville: (2.51%); (14,524)
  • Pittsburgh: (2.65%); (28,906)
  • St. Louis: (3.71%); (48,054)
  • Chicago: (4.43%); (190,582)
  • Milwaukee: (5.79%); (48,115)
  • Cleveland: (10.06%); (108,661)
  • Detroit: (18.71%); (382,832)

The quantity of job losses in Detroit is simply staggering.

Green Cities Index

American City Business Journals did a study of which cities were the most green in areas where they had publications plus select others. Portland was #1, unsurprisingly. Here’s where other Midwest cities stacked up. Click through to find your city.

  • #8 – Pittsburgh
  • #11 – Minneapolis-St. Paul
  • #14 – Milwaukee
  • #16 – Kansas City
  • #22 – Columbus
  • #24 – Cincinnati
  • #31 – Cleveland
  • #33 – Indianapolis
  • #35 – Louisville
  • #40 – St. Louis

Again, this is not a comprehensive list of all US cities, so YMMV.

Next American City Profiles Bruce Katz

Next American City just did a flattering cover story on Bruce Katz, head of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. I’d like to see some of Bruce’s writings before his editor cuts out all the salty language.

Bruce was also featured on an NAC podcast you can listen to below. (Click through the above link if the player doesn’t display for you).

A Trifecta on Immigration

Here are three recent pieces on the importance of immigration to renewing America’s struggling cities:

Joel Kotkin says that immigrants are key to the economy’s recovery.

Richard Herman wants to know if a dying Cleveland will finally turn to immigrants.

Detroit News columnist Laura Berman says the strategy for Detroit should be lure immigrants.

World and National Roundup

CEO’s for Cities: What makes a city entrepreneurial? – Coverage of the Glaeser/Kerr entrepreneurship study

NYT: Toxic Waters – saving US water and sewer systems would be costly.

Ed Morrison: The strategic challenge facing Midwest auto communities

Alexandra Lange @ Design Observer: Why Nicolai Ouroussoff Is Not Good Enough – a criticism of the NYT architecture critic. This prompted a response from Nancy Levinson

The Oregonian: Portland in New York: Outposts of Precious

Transport Politic: Oklahoma City readies modern streetcar as centerpiece of major redevelopment plan.

The Case for Cleveland

Some of you may have seen the video series making the rounds called “Reason Saves Cleveland”, put out by the libertarian Reason Foundation. The difficulty with Reason is not whether one agrees or disagrees with their position, but rather that it is so predictable that it isn’t necessary to pay attention to anything they say to know what they think on virtually any conceivable topic.

However, I did want to share their final installment called bring back the people, which features many Clevelanders talking about the things that make their city great, especially through the middle of the piece. I consider it the best “case for Cleveland” that I’ve ever seen. (If the video doesn’t display, click the link above).

More Midwest

Too big to fail? – no clear way to rescue Gary (Post-Tribune)

With Ohio’s economy at stake, drastic action needed on deficit (Plain Dealer)

Bury this big mistake (Art Voice)

Wind energy stirs up bad feeling, health concerns (Tribune) – Includes a video of shadow flicker. Whatever the merits of the case, that shadow flicker is legitimately obnoxious.
Support network seeks to grow biotech companies (NYT)
Chicago retails sales have biggest drop since 1985 (Crain’s)

Chamber exec blasts Delta over job cuts (Business Courier)

Urban Land Institute Launches City 2050 Initiative (Columbus Underground)

Telling Our Story (TIME)
Shrinking Detroit back to greatness (Ed Glaeser @ NYT)
Downsizing Detroit (TIME)
Is urban farming Detroit’s cash cow? (Free Press)
Foundations take action for Detroit (Detroit News)

City, NCAA forge 30-year pact (IBJ)
Angel capital network cancels meeting for lack of deals (IBJ) – I’ve said it before: the problem in the Midwest is not fundamentally a lack of capital, but a lack of deals and lack of entrepreneurs.
City ready to tout its quality of life online (Indy Star)

Differing views on downtown development (WFPL) – The first segment is worth listening to.
Groups opposing tolls on Ohio River bridges starting to form (C-J)

Benchmarking the region’s pursuit of innovation (Milwaukee Talkie)


Crop art in Japan (via Planologie). I don’t know if it’s real or photoshop, but the pictures on this site are very cool nevertheless.

Topics: Economic Development, Sustainability, Talent Attraction
Cities: Cleveland

15 Responses to “Midwest Miscellany”

  1. Wad says:

    Here’s another to add:

    The Straight Dopeasks whether Illinois and the metropolitan Chicago area would be better off without each other:

  2. david vartanoff says:

    Yup, most of the metros should FIRE the boonies which sap revenue and pack the state legislatures with anti urban folk. This is after all a microcosm of the donor-donee states issue which in many cases breaks along Red Blue borders. Norman Mailer was right with his 51st State Mayoral campaign in 1969. The major change is that the outer ring sprawlburbs are even more wasteful of the insufficient infrastructure funds available. If the gerrymandering is done right, the actual cities can out vote the ‘burbs and reclaim the fruits of their productivity.

  3. Donna says:

    “Gerrymandering done right”. Contradiction in terms, IMO.

  4. Alon Levy says:

    Kotkin’s careful omission of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Jamaicans, and Dominicans from his list of entrepreneurial immigrant groups is disgusting. He seems to ignore any immigrant group that’s succeeded in New York or California and reliably votes Democratic.

    Just as bad is the condescension implicit in his articles. On the one hand, he trumpets America’s hospitality to immigrants, and on the other hand he ignores immigrants’ own political activism, which focuses on labor issues and on immigration reform together. Pro-immigrant unions such as UNITE-HERE are a lot more popular among immigrants than New Geography.

    (I’m always astonished by the doublespeak involved when a pundit on the one hand cheers immigration and on the other hand pronounces California and New York doomed, or when on the one hand he cheers Texas’s tolerance and on the other hand pronounces the rest of the world irredeemably racist.)

  5. Kotkin has praised Latino immigrants many times. He’s also a Democrat himself, or so he claims.

    You seem to have a particular dislike for him for some reason. He’s got his point of view, of course, but you seem to view everything he says as some sort of disingenuous veneer on top of a sinister plot. I presume you are fairly pro-immigrant, as am I. I would think that his generally pro-immigrant views might be more properly be seen as a point of some commonality, not another reason to bash him.

  6. Alon Levy says:

    If he’s a Democrat, then he’s a very strange kind of Democrat – one that keeps telling Obama to implement Republican policies and symbolism.

    It’s nothing against Kotkin himself – I think he’s one of the better suburban defenders around; for a start, he’s honest. It’s just that the article rubs me the wrong way. It’s not just the way he drops Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. It’s the way he pretends to speak for immigrants. The article doesn’t talk about immigration reform, or immigrant-union issues, or the byzantine immigration process. Ironically, Reason, which I do have a particular dislike for, covers immigration adequately. I’d recommend its graphic of how long it takes to get naturalized in the US, as well as its coverage of the Ron Paul letters.

  7. JG says:

    ALON, your comment was factually incorrect and built upon an assumption that Kotkin is racist toward Latin Americans. It reminds of previous comments regarding, I’ll paraphrase, all whites are racist when it comes to public schools. You wrote it. For the record I don’t care for Kotkin’s opinions most of the time.

  8. cdc guy says:

    With apologies to Donna Sink:

    American Design: Slap a wing, a spoiler, and/or protruding planes on it and see if it flies (applicable to 21st-Century architecture and NASCAR). :)

  9. Alon Levy says:

    I don’t think I ever said all whites are racist (in fact, I remember a few unpleasant flamewars with people who have said that). I believe most white suburbs are racist when it comes to schools, but that’s not always due to massive individual malfeasance. The social bonds in small communities encourage NIMBYism; to be successful they need to view themselves as surrounded by crazy outsiders, and they rarely can accommodate diversity. One byproduct of this culture is that when blacks and Hispanics move in, it’s a lot easier to spread fears of crime and drugs than to dispel them. Asians get a pass because they’re very similar to whites.

    I’m not really building upon an assumption in my treatment of Kotkin. I never thought of him as a racist. I think he’s a standard business class booster, and unfortunately business class boosterism rarely has a place for civil rights activism. (I don’t know if Aaron qualifies as a business class booster, but if he does, then he’s basically the only one who takes racial equality issues seriously as an issue of city success).

  10. I haven’t asked him directly, but I’ve seen Kotkin on video say he’s a Democrat. I think he’s tight with Fred Seigel at Cooper Union, another unorthodox democrat. Kotkin seems to despise big business and Wall Street. He has also called for a WPA-style massive public works program to soak up the unemployed. But clearly he has a libertarian streak as well.

  11. Alon Levy says:

    And yet, he seems to like big resource extraction operations, to the point of praising the commodity-based growth of Calgary and Perth.

  12. cdc guy says:

    Careful, Alon. New York, Chicago, SF, London, HK, Dubai, Singapore…they’re all cities rich beyond belief because of resource extraction/merchantilism in the recent or distant past.

    Painting with a very broad brush:

    To the extent that economic “surplus” exists beyond ag surplus, it is from “resource extraction”. To be a Democrat does not require belief in living off the grid with total carbon neutrality and zero environmental footprint.

  13. Pete from Baltimore says:

    As far as the immigration article by MR Kotkin is concerned i would have to slightly disagree with his assertion that immigration is “good”.To me immigration is a challenge to America[ and always has been.And a challenge can be either “good” or “bad” depending on how its met.

    Overall im fairly pro -immigration .But i do think that we shouldnt just declare it a “good” thing and ignore the difficulties of asimilation .The fact that we have had imigration for over 500 years in this country makes it more necesary to try to make sure that imigration runs well.

    As for the two articles about Cleveland and Detroit trying to attract immigrants i am somewhat confused about what they are trying to do.How exactly are they supposed to attract immigrants?

    There are way more immigrants in the Washington DC area than there is in Baltimore.Thats because DC has more jobs.Many of the hispanics in the MD suburbs of DC are concentrated in the Langly Park -Silver Spring area .They live right on the PG county -Montgomery County border.

    In other words they live in an affordable blue collar neighborhood that is right next to a wealthy region.

    In Baltimore the few latino immigrants that have moved here live in the neighborhoods of Upper Fells Point and Highlandtown[my neighborhood].

    Once again these are blue collar neighborhoods[with some ,but not much , gentrification]that border wealthy neighborhoods.

    My point is that immigrants are just like many Americans.They try to live in an affordable area that is near an area that pays well.

    In my opinion the latinos moving into my neighborhood[about 40 percent of the neighborhood now, mostly Salvadorian] have improved it.And they have opened many shops and businesses.So yes, in tee long run , they create jobs.But they came here origianly to seek jobs.

    To put it bluntly ,Detriot can hang Mexican Flags on every lamp post in Detroit and immigrants will still not move there unless there are jobs.And in my experience[ every city is different of course] most latino immigrants dont move to “dangerous” neighborhoods .

    My neighborhood does have its problems.But its pretty good by Baltimore standards. In my experience latinos move into affordable blue collar neighborhoods that are starting to look a little shabby and are going downhill. The latinos often revitalise the neighborhoods and give the neighborhoods a new life.

    But i have never seen immigrants move into desolate abandoned neighborhoods that are dangerous.So if Detroit is hoping to fill some of their vacant areas with immigrants then i think that they will be disapointed.

    If they can make the neighborhoods safe and create jobs then of course immigrants will come.And so will American born people.

    My basic point is that immigrants make many of the same choices about where to live that most American born people do.Cleveland and Detroit need to do more than p.r. campaigns to bring immigrants to their cities!

  14. I’m not sure what a “business class booster” is. I’m pro-business to be sure. I think you need wealth and job creation to enable most other things you want. However, generally big businesses can take care of themselves. They don’t need my help. They’ve got plenty of money for lobbyists and lawyers to get their way, and their scale is so large they can easily absorb that cost. It’s small and medium sized businesses that really need boosted – or at least for people to get out of their way.

    As for wanting a broad based success that’s good for immigrants and minorities too, that’s not only the right thing to go after – and it is – but also the best policy too. Many different metrics are always correlated, but I think you can judge a lot about the overall health of a community just by looking at how its African American community fares.

  15. Alon Levy says:

    CDC Guy: of the cities you’re mentioning, the only one that’s resource-rich is Dubai. Singapore and HK’s economic narratives are replete with “We had no natural resources” exhortations; New York and London both got rich first, and then took other people’s resources. This is different from what Kotkin is saying, which is that resource-rich cities are the future.

    Aaron: I’m thinking mostly of people like Friedman and Florida, who make upbeat, business-style presentations essentially telling the elites that they are just fine, and only need to think a little more positively to get ahead. The same is true of Kotkin, only he defines “think positively” in a different way. Pro-business has nothing to do with it, no more than pro-labor has to do with being a Marxist academic.

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.

Full Bio


Please email before connecting with me on LinkedIn if we don't already know each other.



Copyright © 2006-2014 Urbanophile, LLC, All Rights Reserved - Click here for copyright information and disclosures