Friday, April 9th, 2010

Midwest Miscellany

“Every city, like every corporation, faces intense competition. At the heart of this lies cultural identity. One way to realize this is through urban design. I made all 10,000 city employees understand the importance of design…[My goal is] to give Seoulites pride in their city.” – Oh Se-hoon, Mayor of Seoul, Korea

Top Stories

1. Burgh Diaspora: Rust Belt Podunk

2. Human Transit: Portland – The Lure of the Unmeasurable

3. Human Transit: Los Angeles – The Next Great Transit Metropolis?

4. Urban Out: Regulating Urban Centers to Death

5. A Place of Sense: Adding value through better street design

Scariest Chart Ever

Job losses in various recessions:

(via Calculated Risk)

Here’s another interesting chart that shows job changes over a decade long span from August 1999 to August 2009. It’s from a blog called Pittsburgh’s Future:

State Taxes

The Tax Foundation recently issued a 2010 edition of their “facts and figures” booklet with all sort sorts of information comparing states. Here are their rankings for Midwest states in the 2010 State Business Tax Climate Index:

  • #12 – Indiana
  • #16 – Missouri
  • #17 – Michigan
  • #30 – Illinois
  • #42 – Wisconsin
  • #43 – Minnesota
  • #46 – Iowa
  • #47 – Ohio

Housing Bust

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting post discussing how much of the US missed the housing bust (in terms of price declines at least). Some markets like upstate New York even saw price gains. Here’s their map:

World and National Roundup

Thomas Friedman: Good-paying jobs don’t come from bailouts – they come from start-ups

NYT: Seoul Mayor Campaigns for Green Transit

Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa shared the Pritzker Prize for architecture this year. Blair Kamin at the Chicago Tribune covers the story.

Allison Arieff @ NYT: Space: It is Still a Frontier

Brendan Crain @ Polis: The City in Abstract

Witold Rybczynski @ Slate: Beware the temptation of centralized city planning

Crosscut: Smart cities prowl other smart cities for ideas

The Indy Cog has an interesting post up on access to government buildings with cycling gear.

FT: Houston: Where Energy Is King – A very interesting portrait of Houston.

Google Fiber Cincinnati

Cincinnati Blog pointed me at this hilarious video pitching the city as a location for Google Fiber. (If the video doesn’t display for you, click here).

Detroit Roundup

The Detroit Free Press had a Sunday feature on the future of Detroit. This includes a lengthy rundown of all the projects in the pipeline. As one teaser, here’s a map of residential demolition orders:

There’s also an editorial called “What Detroit could be in 10 years.” Columnist Mitch Albom says, “Welcome to the city of our future“, and Stephen Henderson says, “Middle class families are needed.”

The Free Press also had a major story called Who will save the arts in Detroit? about the financial crises threatening the existence of the city’s flagship arts organizations. “Detroit’s signature fine arts institutions are drowning in red ink, raising fundamental questions about whether they can retain their historic place among the country’s top 10 orchestras, opera companies and encyclopedic art museums.”

It’s worth a read, but I think misses the point. A shrinking, economically troubled city like Detroit needs to take a hard look at these organizations and materially downsize them to make them sustainable. Frankly, it was unconscionable to take on the huge capital programs that these organizations did when it should have been clear their operating budgets were heading off a cliff. Just as Detroit is finally facing up to the fact that it has to have shrinkage from an urban planning perspective, similarly all of its other infrastructure needs to face up to the reality of downsizing, including these organizations. Lest you think I’m picking on Detroit, every Rust Belt city needs to be asking the same hard questions.

Speaking of shrinking, the Economist weighs in on the subject in their piece thinking about shrinking.

Brendan Crain @ Next American City: A Vision for Detroit.

More Midwest

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Snail Rail criticism dogs supporters of 3C rail plan

First, grow employers (Tribune) – possibly the most scathing editorial I’ve seen in the Trib.
Unemployment costs Chicago $2 billion per year (Crain’s Chicago Business)
Startup support on the rise? (Crain’s Chicago Business)

Kansas City
A Mexican in the Midwest (Poder360 via Jim Russell) – An interesting piece that breaks through some of the stereotypes of smaller Midwest cities.

Zoo interchange shutdown inspires fear for the system (J-S)

St. Louis
Mass transit sales tax wins by wide margin (Post-Dispatch)
Intervention needed in county’s Balkans (Post-Dispatch)

Post Script

Very cool “chain link lace” fence design from Dutch designers Demakersvan. (More info at Dornob

Topics: Arts and Culture, Economic Development, Public Policy
Cities: Cincinnati, Detroit

9 Responses to “Midwest Miscellany”

  1. cdc guy says:

    That jobs chart is amazing. Recently Richard Longworth accused us (Aaron and cdc guy) of making Indy sound like The Emerald City. It is definitely best in the list of Midwest cities on the measure that counts most, and better than a lot of places considered urban success stories.

    Considering that the chart measures from near the peak of an economic cycle (1999) to the employment trough of the worst employment recession in 65 years, any job gain is pretty good.

    Considering that many of the big gainers listed took a big haircut in the recession by losing construction jobs (I’m thinking of anything in California, Florida, or Arizona) but still showed massive gains over the 10-year period, those cities look to have solidly grown despite their current woes.

  2. cdc, Many of those places added tons of people too, so you’d have to factor that into the analysis.

    Jim, Thanks – I’ll update the post.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    CDC Guy, a lot of those cities gained population during the construction boom, but now have lots of people with nothing to do. Las Vegas and the Inland Empire are toast now. San Jose is in much better shape – it just has yet to recover from the tech bubble. But then again, the US has yet to recover from that bubble, too – real household income, real wages, and the employment rate never recovered their 2000 peak value.

  4. the urban politician says:

    The jobs picture is terrible.

    That said, your data is a bit older. According to statistics from Feb 2010, metro LA’s unemployment rate is now worse than metro Chicago’s:

  5. the urban politician says:

    On second thought, I am comparing apples to oranges. For some reason I was thinking “unemployment rates” when looking at the graph Aaron posted.

    Time to get some sleep… 😉

  6. Los Angeles County added about a million people in the last two decades but actually lost jobs.

  7. Kenneth Schoon says:


    I disagree with the idea that Detroit must see its arts institutions shrink as it downsizes its municipal infrastructure. Culture and community support, far more than the size of a city’s economy, determines the quality of a city’s arts. Personally, I believe the arts to be one of Detroit’s greatest assets, and if only the city would understand them to be so, the arts could play a much bigger role in Detroit’s transformation.

    As non-profits, arts organizations will never be “sustainable” institutions. Ticket and admission sales cover only a fraction of their operating budgets, so donors must step forward every year to keep them going. While many middle-class patrons of the arts may be hurting financially, the civic and business elite who form the true financial base of these institutions are doing just fine.

    Detroit’s far smaller, Rust Belt neighbors have been successful in maintaining some of the nation’s best arts institutions through economic decline, while the thriving cities of the Sunbelt have channeled very little of their economic growth into the arts. Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati each have “top ten” orchestras and art museums, despite having long ago fallen off the list of “top ten” cities. Most notably, the Cleveland Orchestra is known as one of the best orchestral ensembles in the world, ranking alongside the great orchestras of New York, London, Vienna, and Berlin. The orchestra is able to raise the finances necessary to maintain its quality despite residing in a city a fraction of the size of its competitors. The University Circle neighborhood, home to the orchestra and the Cleveland Museum of Art, has become a major selling point for the city, and it is one of the city’s few neighborhoods that is seeing investment and development from outside the city.

    If Cleveland can do it, so can Detroit. The money to maintain Detroit’s arts is there. What makes the situation in Detroit more difficult than that of its Rust Belt neighbors, I believe, is its lack of regionalism. The trick for Detroit’s arts institutions, as with the city as a whole, will be to convince skeptical suburbanites that the city and its assets are worth investing in.

    The arts are one of Detroit’s (and the Midwest’s) greatest assets. To let them fade away would truly be the unconscionable thing.

  8. I think if you look at most of these organizations in other Rust Belt cities, you’ll find that they are struggling too. The Cleveland Orchestra itself may be forced to downgrade, as it has serious structural budget issues. Cincinnati’s orchestra was just bailed out by an $85 million gift from a local woman. The Indianapolis orchestra is spending down its endowment to balance budgets.

    I think you’ll find Sunbelt cities are increasingly investing in the arts. The Houston Grand Opera is top notch. Dallas just invested hundreds of millions of dollars in a showplace performing arts complex designed by a who’s who of architects. Nashville has made major strides with its symphonies.

    The high arts aren’t a leading indicator of urban success, they are a trailing indicator. Cities invest in them when they get rich. (I don’t even think Richard Florida believes the traditional “SOB” organizations contribute to attracting the creative class). Just like streets or water pipes or anything else, this infrastructure lasts a while, but ultimately breaks down.

    Detroit’s mission is to get back to economic growth. If it does that, then it will be in a position to sustain the arts just like Dallas, Houston, and Nashville are. Until then…

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