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Sunday, May 16th, 2010

Brookings’ New Geography of Urban America

The Brookings Institution just released a gigantic report called “The State of Metropolitan America.” This is a hugely ambitious and important study. Brookings examined changes in the characteristics of the top 100 metro areas in the United States from 2000-2008 across a wide range of domains with all sorts of interesting findings. The report is so overwhelming that I don’t think anyone can claim to have fully digested it yet. So my own comments should be seen as preliminary. Congrats to Brookings for this undertaking.

Increasing Urban Diversity

Among Brookings key findings is something I’ve been stressing for some time, namely how different metro areas are. This diversity only seems to be increasing over times. As they put it:

In some ways, large metropolitan areas actually became more different from each other in the 2000s.

The 100 largest metro areas span a wide range of social, demographic, and economic experience. Across the nine subject areas of this report, enormous differences separate the metropolitan areas with the highest and lowest rankings in 2008.

We’ll come back to the policy implications of this.

New Urban Typologies

Among the big splash items in the report – and clearly one Brookings is stressing – is their new typology of American metros. Before I describe that, it’s worth backing up to see the way cities were often grouped together in the past, namely regionally. Brookings did a report back in 2006 called “The Vital Center” which talked about the critical importance of the Great Lakes region. Here’s a graphic showing that study’s geographic construct:

It’s a clearly regional construct. It’s also obvious it is that this report was written by someone from Michigan.

Here’s how Brookings looks at cities today. Pay particular attention the classifications of cities in the Great Lakes area.

Note the many variations of urban areas within the Great Lakes. Before discussing the Brookings typology in detail, it’s worth looking at what they said about this particular matter:

The notion of a unified ‘Rust Belt’ stretching across large portions of the Northeast and Midwest overlooks the important factors that distinguish populations in Rochester, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Chicago from one another.

Amen. Brookings is silent on what this report means for their previous construct, but it is notable that they used the term “Rust Belt” not “Great Lakes”. This particular excerpt makes it sound like they have decided to go in a very different direction.

Brookings characterizes metros into seven types based on three characteristics: population growth, educational attainment, and diversity. Their list is:

  • Next Frontier – Scoring high on all three categories, these are the ones Brookings say are the most demographically advantaged. It includes places like Seattle, Denver, and the Texas Triangle, and are mostly in the West.
  • New Heartland – Similar to Next Frontier but less diverse, including Portland, Columbus, and Charlotte.
  • Diverse Giant – Slow growing, but educated and diverse regions, mostly made up of America’s Tier One cities like New York and Chicago.
  • Border Growth – Areas mostly along the Mexican border with strong growth from immigrants, but low educational attainment
  • Mid-Sized Magnets – Similar to border growth, but apparently growing from domestic migration, since they are less diverse.
  • Skilled Anchor – Cities like Cincinnati and Pittsburgh that are educated, but growing slowly and without much diversity.
  • Industrial Core – Classic Rust Belt type cities ranging from Cleveland to Birmingham with low growth, low educational attainment, and low diversity.

Like all classification schemes, this one has its questionable cases, but I think it broadly captures some important differences between cities. It also makes the very important point that cities ought to be viewed by their attributes as much as by their location. Birmingham and Memphis may be in the South, but they are every bit as much Rust Belt cities as their Midwest brethren.

Now as it turns out, most of these classifications are geographically clustered. Only Diverse Giant and New Heartland are really a national phenomenon. Still, the Midwest area does have a diversity of places.

I was particularly struck by how Brookings Midwest classifications matched almost exactly my classification from a year ago into Global Cities, Successful Cities, Stable Cities, and Struggling Cities. Here’s the cross mapping:

City Brookings Urbanophile
Chicago Diverse Giant Global City
Des Moines New Heartland Successful
Indianapolis New Heartland Successful
Madison New Heartland Successful
Columbus New Heartland Successful
Kansas City New Heartland Successful
Minneapolis-St. Paul New Heartland Successful
Cincinnati Skilled Anchor Stable
Grand Rapids Industrial Core Stable
St. Louis Skilled Anchor Stable
Milwaukee Skilled Anchor Stable
Akron Skilled Anchor Struggling
Detroit Industrial Core Struggling
Dayton Industrial Core Struggling
Toledo Industrial Core Struggling
Cleveland Industrial Core Struggling
Youngstown Industrial Core Struggling

As you can see, we only disagree on two cities. And if I must say so myself, I think my classification is more accurate for those two. Unlike Brookings, I used a single variable – population growth – with thresholds for bucketing. But I did cheat by putting Chicago in its own category arbitrarily. So Brookings has me there. Chicago’s population growth would have put it as “Stable” in my schema.

The only difference between Skilled Anchor and Diverse Giant is diversity. But I don’t think that’s what really separates a Chicago or New York from St. Louis or Milwaukee. The real difference is their economic structure. The Diverse Giant group is actually mostly so-called “global cities.” They’ve got a skilled core of very high value services that is going well surrounded by a large zone that is at best hanging in there. Other than perhaps in Miami, the diversity angle seems to be a legacy of their status as port of entry more than anything. If we looked at this economically, you’d probably boot Honolulu (an outlier in any US scheme), and add Boston. But of course, as I said, any classification done by metrics generates border cases.

Local Policy Implications

Let’s turn to the policy implications of this, first on the local side. Does this mean that the idea of traditional regional policy is dead? Jim Russell seems to think so. I’m not so sure.

I think there’s a difference between typologies of cities and how you integrate economically. Places in the New Heartland class, for example, might have much to learn from each other, might benchmark against each other, etc., but it doesn’t necessarily go beyond that. And while cities in a region may be very different, that doesn’t mean they can’t collaborate or economically integrate. Indeed, being different helps there through better enabling specialization.

I’m basically skeptical of the mega-regional concept, but can appreciate the virtues of both approaches. For example, Longworth’s pan-Midwest cooperation approach could be very useful in areas like creating a high speed rail network or promoting better collaboration between Big Ten universities. And it seems reasonable that regional relationships with Chicago would make a lot of sense. But Russell is right that so long as the world sees the Midwest region as a region, as the “Rust Belt”, it cripples these places. The world needs to understand that Columbus isn’t Toledo. Right now only Chicago, because of its longstanding huge size and history as having an independent standing in the world, can punch through the scarlet letter that is the Rust Belt label. Columbus can’t do that easily. In a sense, to start recovering, we have to blow up the idea – externally at least – that everyplace in the Midwest shares the same meta-narrative. We also have to recognize, as Russell stresses, that economic networks are now global in nature, and there are all sorts of diverse circuits in which cities can participate.

Federal Policy Implications

As a DC think tank, Brookings obviously stresses federal policy. In this case, they promote a bifurcated view: a federal policy that deals with common themes and issue, and state and local policy that deals with the different and granular issues.

National policy makers have the unique obligation to address aspects of the five new realities that affect all metropolitan areas, or are simply beyond metropolitan area’s own capacity to tackle. As this report demonstrates, however, different challenges assume varying levels of prominence in different types of metropolitan areas. Leaders at the state, regional, and local levels must now more than ever understand and respond purposefully to the demographic, social, and economic changes most affecting their places.
….
National policy will be necessary, but not sufficient, for addressing the wide range of challenges facing metropolitan areas. Indeed, the increasingly distinct profiles of major metro areas along the key dimensions outlined in this report demand that their own agendas – at the state, regional, and local levels – confront the issues most pressing to their own futures.

The Brookings five new realities are Growth and Outward Expansion, Population Diversification, Aging of the Population, Uneven Higher Educational Attainment, and Income Polarization.

I recently wrote a piece on a federal policy for cities in which I said that federal policy itself must address the increasingly unique needs of metros. I’m not sure that we can just keep the common elements at the national level punt the distinct items to the state and local level. Generally I’m a fan of devolution. However, in this case what we are really talking about is devolving de facto to the states. And as we’ve seen repeatedly, state governments are to varying degrees implicitly or explicitly hostile to cities. There are almost no effective or empowered regional entities in America and municipalities are often hamstrung by state laws that limit their ability to deal with their own problems. In a choice between federal vs. state government, I’m usually a state and local kind of guy, but when it comes to metro policy, I’d probably have to say the feds are more likely to get it right, alas.

Beyond that, the new geography Brookings highlights goes a long way towards explaining why we’re gridlocked on so much policy at the national level and why we’ve got to grasp the nettle of urban/sub-national diversity at the federal level. The problem isn’t just one of partisan gridlock, it is that these different metros and their states really do live in different worlds and as a result have very different policy points of view. Back in the Eisenhower era, pretty much everybody – even big city mayors – wanted freeways. That created policy consensus. Today, there are not only philosophical disagreements, there are also legitimate differences of character and need between these metro areas. I don’t think we’ve fully grasped the implications of this. Along with things like income polarization, what’s happening is that the American commonwealth is tearing apart. Our fortunes are no longer as linked as they once were. A rising tide won’t necessarily lift all boats, and what’s good for thee is not necessarily good for me.

This only promises to get worse over time. One of the incredible stats in this report is that less than 25% of children under 18 in Los Angeles are white. In a generation or so Los Angeles will be a Latin American city in character. This will add an ethnic dimension to the problem. One doesn’t have to scream “racism” to see this. Just look at ultra-politically correct Europe, where national-ethnic undertones are a big part of the debate over the bailout of Greece. The US is becoming like the EU in a way few people talk about, in that it is culturally separating. That’s one reason a federal bailout of California is unlikely outside of some executive fiat. And it is only going to get worse.

I won’t pretend I’ve got the answers, but bigtime thinking needs to go into how we find a framework to deal with this increasing diversity – and I’m not just talking about ethnic diversity. That’s one of the keys to breaking the gridlock on things like transport policy. Yes there are partisan differences, but it is more than just that.

Perhaps some of the answers are buried in our antebellum history, when there was much more state and regional than national allegiance. I don’t know. Perhaps the dominance of slavery as an issue in that era makes it less useful. Or maybe we can learn from the EU itself, though that model has been heavily criticized as undemocratic and it isn’t working too well at present. In any case, I do believe we need a federal policy around cities that addresses areas where there is divergence, and I believe we’ve got to find policy frameworks to make it actionable.

Lest I overstate the case on Brookings policy split, I should note that they did also write, “National policy responses must recognize the diverse starting points of metropolitan areas and, where necessary, ensure that interventions are tailored to those differing on-the-ground realities.” I would love to see them do a lot more research and thinking along those lines.

Highlights of the Report

I would like to highlight a few of the interesting facts that come out of the report. Again, this doesn’t even scratch the surface.

I wrote previously about how immigrants are revitalizing inner suburban areas, even in the Heartland. This report provides more evidence of that. Indianapolis was the #6 city in the entire US for both increase in Hispanic population and increase in Asian population. Columbus was #9 on both metrics. Now that’s on a low base to be sure, but there are tons of other places with low bases that didn’t see this growth. Cleveland, for example, ranked 95 out of 100 in its change in percentage of foreign born population and the percentage of foreign born residents in the city itself actually went down. This also demonstrates that some heartland cities aren’t just seeing the nearly ubiquitous Mexican immigration, but immigration from many different places.

It gets even better. Pittsburgh and Indianapolis both increased their college degree attainment by a robust 5.3 percentage points. That made them the #3 and #4 metros in the entire country for growth in the degreed. Just for the record, that’s called “brain gain.”

Another interesting metric was the change in under 18 population. This to me is a huge measure of demographic health. Those children are your city’s future. If you don’t have them, you’re having a going out of business sale. Alas, many Rust Belt cities experienced large declines in children.

That’s serious. Some have claimed that the Pittsburgh demographics are skewed by a high elderly population. Perhaps that’s true, but the decline in children shows that Pittsburgh is far from demographically healthy. Again, there is quite the regional contrast. Some regional cities had the opposite situation. Indy’s child count grew by 12% compared with a national average of only 2.5%. Interestingly, Chicago became the only Midwest city to become “majority minority” in its population under age 18. Here’s a broader national view of the percentage of households who are families with children:

Reversing the Great Migration, blacks continued to move to the South. Atlanta added 445,578 blacks, reinforcing its position as the capital of black America. The next nearest competitors were Dallas and Houston who both added in the 100,000’s. That shows the overwhelming locational preference for Atlanta, which passed Chicago to have the nation’s second largest black population after New York City.

Lastly, Minneapolis-St. Paul was #7 in America in the worsening of income inequality. Holy Scandinavian scandal, Batman!

There are tons more interesting facts where these came from. You’d be well served to read the report for yourself, and look at the fact sheets on your city available for download from the Brookings website.

30 Comments
Topics: Demographic Analysis, Economic Development, Public Policy

30 Responses to “Brookings’ New Geography of Urban America”

  1. It will be interesting to see how the migration and demographic patterns affect the political map. Right now, the “red” states are concentrated along the southern border and coast (except California), the Rockies (minus Colorado), and the more rural parts of the Midwest; with the solid “blue” states found in the NE corridor, along the Great Lakes, and along the Pacific Coast.

    The Midwest has been in decline, population-wise, for a while–and you note a reverse migration back to the south. That would suggest a deeper reddening of these regions. But the reverse may well happen in the more urban Southern states such as Georgia; and the influx of Latinos into the Southwest, and the GOP-led reaction to this in places like Arizona, may also bode well for the Democrats.

    Of course, the gerrymandering of Congress in favor of rural areas is still in place, and is unlikely to change anytime soon…

  2. Daniel says:

    “One of the incredible stats in this report is that less than 25% of children under 18 in Los Angeles are white. In a generation or so Los Angeles will be a Latin American city in character.”

    I think there is a point to be made here, but this is kind of a silly way of expressing it. What exactly does it mean to be a “Latin American city in character”? Are we talking Buenos Aires? Sucre? Mexico City? There isn’t really much by way of “character” that unites those places.

    Various cultures from Latin America have had very prominent roles in LA for a long time, and that will probably become only more true. But 1) the children of the immigrants from those countries–and the immigrants themselves–become Americanized in very significant ways; and 2) those immigrants come from often very divergent cultural zones of Latin America, and don’t necessarily have that much to do with each other when they arrive. For both of those reasons, I think it’s kind of inappropriate to talk about them creating a “Latin American city” in Los Angeles.

    Plus, isn’t a huge part of LA’s growth happening because of Asians and other ethnic groups?

    You’re right, though, that the perception of racial cleavages can play a role in how people relate to other cities. Detroit certainly suffers in some ways from being known as a “black” city, over and above the economic and social issues it has. It’s been my impression, though, that former basket cases/current “global” cities like New York, Chicago and LA were *more* widely perceived as nonwhite in, say, the 70s or 80s, or even early 90s, than they are now. But I’m only 23, so I don’t really have any idea.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    The issue with LA’s perception is that Mexicans are so dominant there. It’s not just the low percentage of whites. New York and LA have about the same percentage of non-Hispanic white children. LA actually has a higher foreign-born percentage than New York. The difference is that in New York immigrants and minorities come from so many backgrounds that they’re not a unified bloc, which allows whites to retain more power. The same is true in black/white relations – contrast white perceptions of New York with white perceptions of Baltimore and Washington, whose non-Hispanic white percentages are hardly any lower.

    Los Angeles is not going to become Latin American. There’s a factor of 3 difference in per capita income there. If demographic trends continue, it’s at most going to look like Miami – an important port of entry from Latin America, and a city with strong Hispanic culture, but still more like Madrid than like Mexico City.

  4. Aaron:

    Thank you for this cogent commentary on the Brookings report. Your thoughts on the cultural shifts of urban America and how cities are drifting away rather than towards each other is something I have also noticed with slight alarm. I believe the average American city of Mid-Century (or even ealier) had far more in common than those same cities today. Economic shifts, in my view, are the largest cause of this, but that’s a discussion for another day.

    This post is a must read for anyone wanting to understand the challenges facing our ever more urban nation in the decades ahead, whether they be Midwetern cities or elsewhere. Kudos.

  5. Alon Levy says:

    More on-topic, I agree that Brookings’ high/low bifurication isn’t enough to distinguish cities. On growth, Brookings is lumping middle-growing Minneapolis, Seattle, and Washington together with boomtowns Raleigh, Houston, and Dallas.

    The real problem is the lack of concern with each metro area’s economic drivers. It’s in the classification I have – a guest article I’m working on very slowly. In a nutshell, it matters that New York, Boston, and the Bay Area are dominated by high-skills industries whereas Chicago and Los Angeles are more diverse, with much more manufacturing.

    Metro area growth rates are a really bad metric to use, since they obscure the gentrification trend – the gentrified cores are still too small to be visible. (Philadelphia’s City Center is booming, but that’s still not enough to prevent the city from having a population decline). It’s why you had to grandfather Chicago’s global city status: it’s well-poised to take advantage of this trend. Think of it as the fourth stage of human settlement: the countryside, then cities, then suburbs, now gentrified neighborhoods. You can’t use metro area growth to measure this latest transition for the same reason you couldn’t use it to measure suburbanization in 1920.

  6. Jim Russell says:

    Aaron,

    Great post and thanks for accurately representing my thoughts on the regional issue. I contend that there is more to be gained by pulling apart the Rust Belt than leveraging common ground. It’s debatable, but a conversation worth having.

    Regarding Pittsburgh’s unusual (and definitely unhealthy) demography, the region lost a generation in the early 80s. The exodus of the young and educated was impressive. It’s defined Pittsburgh for the last three decades. Population decline. Shrinking city. Brain drain. All of the above.

    But hidden in these unhealthy numbers are more than a few ironies. Total labor force has never been greater. It’s also never been better educated. Not even close. The talented workforce is growing.

  7. Thank you all for the comments.

    Perhaps I should have reworded that Los Angeles comment. I merely meant to say that it would have a heavily Latino/Mexican population, and that would play a role in how the rest of the US perceived it.

    Alexander, I do believe economics is the main driver.

    Alon, I’ll look forward to seeing your classification. Brookings did clearly base their scheme on demographic characteristics, not economic ones, no matter what names like “industrial core” might imply. Clearly, economic structure and other items also matter.

  8. As a Portlander, I thought the differing treatment of Portland and Seattle to be a bit… interesting. According to the classification scheme above, Portland is a “New Heartland” city whereas our neighbor to the north is part of the “Next Frontier”, and what drives the difference is Seattle’s slightly lower percentage of NHWs (non-Hispanic whites)–71.5% for the Emerald City vs 77.8% for the Rose–it appears that 73.1% was used as the cutoff level. Both cities are significantly majority-white; I’m not sure the differences that do exist (Seattle has far more Asians and blacks, Portland a larger share of Hispanics) matter all that much.

    Both cities enjoy high levels of population growth and educational attainment–the latter is a bit of a surprise given that Portland doesn’t have a top-tier research university to compare with the University of Washington (Oregon’s two large public research unis are both located downstate and guard their turf jealously).

    The biggest difference between the two is something that isn’t really addressed (directly) by the study; and that is capital base. Seattle has far more very wealthy individuals, and far more large corporations headquartered within. Portland has become, in many ways, a branch office town–much of the city and metro area’s economic activities are directed elsewhere.

    The biggest difference between the two

  9. Alon Levy says:

    Economically, Portland doesn’t have much to do with many of the other New Heartland towns. For example, if you look at Minneapolis’s per capita income, it’s like Seattle and Denver’s: high, and more or less steady, with just a small relative decline from 2000. Portland’s been declining steadily for the last 13 years, just like branch towns Raleigh and Charlotte.

    Doing things just demographically has very little predictive power. The problem is that only if the inflow of people is supported by an inflow of jobs can you expect an area to maintain boomtown status. It wasn’t hard to figure from the housing bubble that Texas was likely to keep growing and Florida wasn’t. But if you only looked at population growth you wouldn’t know it.

  10. I’m not sure I’d call Charlotte a branch town, when a good chunk of the US financial industry is located there–largely because it spent a great deal of effort marketing itself as a tax and regulatory haven compared to places such as San Francisco (which was, of course, BofA’s prior home before it packed up and headed east). Whether such inter-urban competition (and racing to the bottom is a good thing) is highly debatable.

    As far as Portland goes, many of the recent arrivals here don’t come with jobs waiting. In the high-tech boom years of the 1990s, the area attracted lots of high-tech talent to work in places like Intel; many of them moved up here from California, and brought large windfalls from selling expensive California real estate. Nowadays, much of the semiconductor fab work (other than at the high end) is now done overseas, and many recent arrivals aren’t coming with work waiting.

  11. Wad says:

    Aaron wrote: “[T]he new geography … goes a long way towards explaining why we’re gridlocked on so much policy at the national level and why we’ve got to grasp the nettle of urban/sub-national diversity at the federal level.”

    In terms of our government structure, the U.S. federally is structure-bound.

    The U.S. has kept the political institutions laid out by the Founding Fathers. Since there hasn’t been an overhaul of these institutions in more than 200 years, and the framework was designed to reconcile disputes of the late 1700s, today it has resulted in economically inert areas wielding disproportionate political power.

    Don’t count on lightly populated states to give up their political power.

    The best metropolitan areas can hope for is to subvert the donor/beneficiary game.

  12. Matt Petryni says:

    @Wad:
    “Since there hasn’t been an overhaul of these institutions in more than 200 years, and the framework was designed to reconcile disputes of the late 1700s, today it has resulted in economically inert areas wielding disproportionate political power.”

    There’s truth to this; but I would also suggest Reconstruction was a dramatic overhaul of these institutions, and the Warren Court may have been a second. I think it’s largely a myth that the United States remains the same Constitutional entity it was when our Founders tread this earth.

    @EngineerScotty:
    “As far as Portland goes, many of the recent arrivals here don’t come with jobs waiting. ”

    This is actually an interesting problem I’ve noticed as well. Portland is attracting the mobile unemployed. There’s a few articles on this, many of them interesting. It speaks to the issue of Portland’s unemployment: it’s weird. It doesn’t behave like the unemployment across the country. For one, it’s much higher. For two, it’s disproportionately well-educated. It’s this bizarre confluence of rapid growth, high educational attainment, and rapid unemployment.

    Joel Kotkin and other Portland-haters of his ilk believe that it’s a sign Portland’s environmental obsession stymies job growth. Others believe it’s more simple, that people are losing jobs in their home states and moving to Portland because they hear it’s cool. I think it’s probably a little of both, but I really have no idea what’s going on. Though I will say I’ve spoken with a vast number of educated, unemployed (or underemployed) people in Portland or planning to move to Portland. One e-mail I got from a potential subletter read thusly:
    “I will be driving from NY and arriving in Portland around May 23rd, and will be staying the entire Summer. I’m planning to get a job in a restaurant and volunteer at a park guiding nature walks as I will be getting an MS in Environmental Education. …and… That’s definitely helpful, I’ve never been to portland but everyone says its amaaazing so I can’t wait to get there!”

    That being said, there’s not a lot we can safely say right now about Portland’s future as a “branch town,” like Raleigh, or a “next frontier” more along the lines of Seattle and San Francisco. My personal leaning would be to see it move away from branch town status, but I don’t have much evidence of this shift as of yet.

    I’m liable to agree with your main point: Portland now has talent resources, but is severely undercapitalized. Seattle and San Francisco both differed in that they had fairly powerful industrial and financial economies before rolling out their tech sectors. Portland has suffered economic stagnation for a long time, it’s never enjoyed the influx of the kind of capital that financed both Seattle’s and San Francisco’s tech booms. That might be changing now, though, so we’ll see.

    While I’m waiting for that to pan out, it looks like I have a long report to read. Thanks also for the excellent analysis, Aaron.

  13. John Morris says:

    I don’t know if it’s good or bad yet, but Pittsburgh is starting to attract the “great place to be unemployed”, or under employed crowd which lends some substance to florida’s ideas about people choosing where to live and then trying to make it work.

  14. Michael the Gardener says:

    As a Northwesterner, I certainly found Portland and Seattle sharing too much in common statistically to be represented differently. In fact Portland has shown a larger growth in diversity and educational attainment than Seattle over the last 10 years despite being more homogeneous overall, but the overall difference appears to be total non-Hispanic white population.

    I found the real miscategorization to be Atlanta which certainly shares more in common with other “Next Frontiers” as D.C, Dallas and Houston. With its pan-cultural migrant community, high rate of both educational attainment, and new title as the top African-American magnet city, it seams odd to place Atlanta in the “New Heartland” category.

  15. John Morris says:

    I don’t understand the Atlanta category either, but honestly I find this kind of stuff labeling pretty stale and useless partly because a lot of the raw data in rapidly growing areas is too old.

    However, having at least a general idea that places are different and potentialy complementary is important. Pittsburgh for example has a tremendous potential strength as a research center, but look for lots of flat land, away from a flood plain to make things and sooner or later, you will look at Ohio.

    There are huge differences, for example, Western PA, and Ohio have tons of small and tiny colleges scattered around while further west it seems like it’s almost all Mega land grant Big Ten type schools.

  16. Wad says:

    Matt Petryni wrote:

    Portland is attracting the mobile unemployed.

    Remember a time when this was done by Generation X, and they were called slackers? :)

  17. As a Gen-Xer myself, I resemble that remark. :)

  18. Alon Levy says:

    EngineerScotty: Charlotte is a finance branch town. Once the financial crisis hit, firms had no reasons to stay there.

    Raleigh is a branch town as well, but Durham isn’t. If you look at the combined metro area, you’ll see a slow decline, which comes from flat (i.e. same as national average) growth in Durham and a large decline in Raleigh.

  19. While firms may have no reason to stay there, they have no reason to leave, either–other than a possible desire to be in New York instead, and the crisis making Manhattan real estate sufficiently affordable for such a move to be considered. :)

    To my mind, the mere presence of BofA in Charlotte argues against it’s branch-town status, at least in finance. Certainly, BofA could decide to move its headquarters (again) should it find a need or desire to do so–its operations are widely distributed, after all, and there are plenty of cities with the necessary skillsets among the workforce to host the BofA headquarters–but under that standard, most cities are branch towns, especially in industries such as finance which don’t have any ties to the geography or climate of a place. (Finance may be more desirous than other industries of a prestigious address–but that’s a cultural fact and not a technical one).

    In the classification scheme promulgated by the proprietor of this fine blog, a corporate headquarters, esp. of a Fortune 500 firm, is classified as “Indigenous Exports/Industry”. While firms move their headquarters, such moves are rare.

    Charlotte’s financial sector did take a hit when Wachovia was acquired, but it still has a broad base of large corporations which call it home, including 8 of the Fortune 500. The Portland metro area has only 2 Fortune 500 companies (Nike and Precision Castparts), despite being a city of approximately the same size.

  20. Carl Wohlt says:

    Well, the report seems to confirm what Aaron and many contributors to this blog have already addressed regarding the Midwest. And it seems to cover key issues that folks like Bill Bishop, author of “The Big Sort,” addressed a couple of years ago.

    However, none of the broad recommendations in the executive summary are really distinguishable from what others have been saying for years. In short, the while the demographic changes noted may be significant, the actionable options fall into the general category of PlannerSpeak:

    “Failure to maximize shared responses to the inevitable challenges of change, and common ownership of the solutions, will only serve to sow the seeds of intergenerational, interracial, and inter-ethnic conflict.”

    Huh?

  21. Punching the above into Google Translate, selecting PlannerSpeak to English, produces:

    “We’re all in this together”.

  22. cdc guy says:

    My translator came up with this PlannerSpeak to English translation:

    “Collaboration in the face of common problems is good, especially when we collaborate with those who look differntly and act differently.”

    I am concerned that increasing the altitude (or level of abstraction) obscures the real possibilities for dealing with any one city’s problems.

    In other words, haven’t we had enough of “adopting best practices” and “world class” this and that? A particular solution to a particular problem in Cincinnati is unlikely to work the same way in, say, St. Louis or Milwaukee.

    But neither do I subscribe to the neighborhood-level micro-planning notions currently in vogue in community development. City-level problems need to be addressed at the city level, where the responsibility and authority lines meet. Bottom-up solutions seldom consider the balance of interests that must be addressed when dealing with issues common across an entire city or metro area.

    And there’s the rub that keeps coming back: US metros have outgrown the 1700-era governance model. The only thing close to a substitute is the Federally-mandated MPOs. Thus transportation policy tends to set regional agendas by managing metro economic geography through highway and transit spending.

    Control the MPO, control the metro?

  23. cdc guy says:

    Left out a bit; insert before “And there’s the rub”:

    Alas, “city” is no longer a good proxy for “metro”. There is a clear urban-suburban divide that is played out in many state legislatures as the “anti-city” sentiment Aaron pointed out; all too often the suburban and rural/small-town legislators team up.

  24. pete-rock says:

    Aaron, thanks for your review of the Brookings study. I’ve read it also and had many of the same observations as you.

    Some of the commenters here might be a little troubled with the metro area typology and how some metros fit within them, but I think that misses the broader point. Metros are becoming more dissimilar from each other, and their respective economies, growth and diversity patterns are continuing to fragment the country overall. This will have an overall obvious impact on the national political environment, probably visible over the next decade, but will also have even bigger social and cultural impacts that will become evident over generations.

    The next step for Brookings and others is to develop strategies for improving metros and uniting them.

    I keep thinking, however, that this macro metro area analysis can be applied at the micro level also. A region as large as Chicago can be called a Diverse Giant (if “diverse” is simply to mean demographic diversity), but each of the hundreds of city neighborhoods and suburban communities could be classified themselves as being anywhere from Next Frontier to Industrial Core.

  25. steel says:

    I have not yet read the report so my comments are based on this story here only.

    This report seems to be an observation on some criteria which show similarity between cities that may or may not be meaningful. I would not throw out the old regional comparison study so fast. Buffalo and Rochester for instance share the unfortunate circumstance of being in the same state as super mega city New York. This report ignores this important factor. This hyper imbalance of influence flowing downstate ties these cities into a similar fate not shared by cities elsewhere which may be categorized alike in the report. Then also look at Buffalo’s boarder position within a very easy 1.5 hour drive to Canada’s high growth mega city of Toronto. Is this not a factor worth noting? This report also does not seem to take into account the effects of likely unsustainability of places like Phoenix and other mega sprawl regions or the bust in the phony housing fueled economy on many south and south west cities.

  26. George Mattei says:

    Aaron, quick thought on your comments about the U.S. becoming more like “ultra-politically correct Europe, where national-ethnic undertones are a big part of the debate over the bailout of Greece”. While in a sense this is true, consider the fact that America has been accepting large numbers of immigrants throughout its history. Europe has not until recently. You can look at the slums filled with Muslims at the edge of Paris to see how Europeans often treat outsiders.

    I am currently reading a book “City-Urbanism and its End” by Douglas Rae. In it he delves into the social fabric fo New Haven, CT in the early 1900’s vs. the 1950’s during Urban Renewal. One thing he notes is how ethnic groups were assimilated into New Haven over time:

    1. They start out as very clann-ish and isolated, with little power and influence. They are isolated culturally and often through language barriers. This is how the Irish were in the first decades of the 1900’s and the Italians were in the 30’s.
    2. The next generation is somewhat integrated, but still aren’t part of the power structure. This leads to strife, where the group strongly identifies with ethnic politics and goals, and are seen as “uspstarts” that are rocking the boat.
    3. The ethnic group finally achieves some form of parity in political and economic power with other groups and “blends in” to the existing power structure. In doing so, they often let go of many of their ethnic political issues in favor of broader ones. New arrivals are more quickly integrated into society.

    We are probably somewhere in the second phase with the Hispanic population in the U.S., and perhaps some others as well. In a generation, we will probably be in the third stage.

    Europe is a whole different case, as they are separate nations. We may find that our differences fade over time.

  27. Bruce says:

    While firms may have no reason to stay there, they have no reason to leave, either–other than a possible desire to be in New York instead, and the crisis making Manhattan real estate sufficiently affordable for such a move to be considered. :)

    To my mind, the mere presence of BofA in Charlotte argues against it’s branch-town status, at least in finance. Certainly, BofA could decide to move its headquarters (again) should it find a need or desire to do so–its operations are widely distributed, after all, and there are plenty of cities with the necessary skillsets among the workforce to host the BofA headquarters–but under that standard, most cities are branch towns, especially in industries such as finance which don’t have any ties to the geography or climate of a place. (Finance may be more desirous than other industries of a prestigious address–but that’s a cultural fact and not a technical one).

    In the classification scheme promulgated by the proprietor of this fine blog, a corporate headquarters, esp. of a Fortune 500 firm, is classified as “Indigenous Exports/Industry”. While firms move their headquarters, such moves are rare.

    Charlotte’s financial sector did take a hit when Wachovia was acquired, but it still has a broad base of large corporations which call it home, including 8 of the Fortune 500. The Portland metro area has only 2 Fortune 500 companies (Nike and Precision Castparts), despite being a city of approximately the same size.

  28. Bruce–I’m assuming you didn’t mean to repeat my comment above, with no other words of your own. :)

  29. Matt Petryni says:

    Yeah, also, I think a city can be home to even several major companies and still be a “branch town.” BofA is definitely a significant player to be home to – no doubt about that – but at least when I’m using the term “branch town,” I’m referring more to a particular urban capital structure.

    In other words, a branch town suffers a constant struggle in retaining its urban capital, whatever its resource base, talent pool, or corporate campus count. Nonetheless, while I think Charlotte and Portland remain branch towns right now, both are definitely in a state of transition with Charlotte a little further along. Unless the entire banking system fails (been there before), or all the banks are severely broken up (a move I might applaud), it’s likely Charlotte will continue to emerge as a significant metropolitan economy. And it has the numbers to prove it: I think Charlotte, despite suffering losses in the recession, is very good economic shape overall.

    Portland is, in my estimation, much less predictable. It’s probably safe to say that it has become very intellectually influential: many of the “best practices” being implemented everywhere for better or worse are stolen from Portland’s playbook. But its economy continues to slumber along, remaining in a position that looks poised for growth but never substantially growing. For all of its quality-of-life accolades, there’s not much to show for it in terms of short-term prosperity. In some respects, that’s actually part of the point: Portland is, more or less, trying to implement a very conservative, long-term development strategy. One that will likely be assessed on a 50- or even 100-year time horizon rather than over a decade.

    In essence, they’re hoping that the infrastructure investments and growth management restraints that cost them in terms of 10-year job/capital growth will show tremendous gains in 100-year growth, as the economy of the world changes to cope with declining resource supplies. This kind of post-Industrial economic development regime makes the 10-year picture very unflattering, and the 100-year picture a matter of incredible speculation. I guess we’ll know better when/if the recovery picks up, and maybe will be able to predict Portland’s economic future with much more accuracy.

  30. Steve says:

    While firms may have no reason to stay there, they have no reason to leave, either–other than a possible desire to be in New York instead, and the crisis making Manhattan real estate sufficiently affordable for such a move to be considered. :)

    To my mind, the mere presence of BofA in Charlotte argues against it’s branch-town status, at least in finance. Certainly, BofA could decide to move its headquarters (again) should it find a need or desire to do so–its operations are widely distributed, after all, and there are plenty of cities with the necessary skillsets among the workforce to host the BofA headquarters–but under that standard, most cities are branch towns, especially in industries such as finance which don’t have any ties to the geography or climate of a place. (Finance may be more desirous than other industries of a prestigious address–but that’s a cultural fact and not a technical one).

    In the classification scheme promulgated by the proprietor of this fine blog, a corporate headquarters, esp. of a Fortune 500 firm, is classified as “Indigenous Exports/Industry”. While firms move their headquarters, such moves are rare.

    Charlotte’s financial sector did take a hit when Wachovia was acquired, but it still has a broad base of large corporations which call it home, including 8 of the Fortune 500. The Portland metro area has only 2 Fortune 500 companies (Nike and Precision Castparts), despite being a city of approximately the same size.

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