Friday, June 4th, 2010


“Forms of transportation and their attendant cultures have historically produced their most elaborate manifestations just after they have entered the period of their obsolescence. So it may be with megastructures and the freeway era that bred them. They are the last convulsive embodiment of a time passing, and they are a wretched model for the future of the city.” – William H. Whyte, the Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.

As you know, I have been publishing this bi-weekly news roundup under the name “Midwest Miscellany”. As less than half the articles are Midwest themed, it’s a bit of a misnomer. So starting today I’m rebranding it as the “Urbanoscope”. Also, I’m dropping the city specific article roundups at the end due to lack of click throughs.

And here’s another reminder that you should click over and check out the Atlantic Monthly’s “Future of the City” project if you haven’t already. Among the articles from the archives they’ve linked is this 1992 gem called “How Portland Does It.”


The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurship was released a couple weeks ago. Among its findings are that US startup rates reached their highest level in 14 years. Here are their state level map:

They also have data for the 15 largest metro areas available.

Housing Prices

Here’s a graphic of the change in housing prices over the last year, based on the Case-Schiller Index (h/t Richard Florida):

World Roundup

Jarrett Walker: Transit and the Hierarchy of Needs

Sydney Daily Telegraph: Fears for Crumbling Opera House – The famed Sydney Opera House is in a dangerous state of disrepair and might be forced to close with A$800M in repairs.

Investors Business Daily: Can Europe’s Economy Turn Around If Its Great Cities Continue to Wither?

US and Canada Roundup

Discussion here and elsewhere of the Brookings “State of Metropolitan America” report wondered what the implication was for the Great Lakes Economic Initiative. They put up a couple of posts on their blog addressing the matter: Who vs. Where and The Great Lakes are Dead, Long Live the Great Lakes. Jim Russell also had some further commentary. Clearly there is a conflict between Brookings’ two geographic conceptions, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I prefer to think of them as tools to address different matters. The notion of conflicting worldviews itself reminds us that there is no one true answer for cities.

Noted urbanist Joel Garreau gives his vision of what the future of the US will look like in a two part series called “Santa Fe-ing the World.” You can read part one and part two.

Richard Florida: Best Cities for College Graduates

Richard Florida: Toronto’s Challenge in the Great Reset

Conor Friedersdorf: In Defense of Los Angeles

San Jose Mercury News: Web 2.0 companies settling in San Francisco

Business Insider: Who will be NYC’s first Chief Digital Officer? – The listed salary range isn’t actually that high, so I wonder what level of person they are hoping to recruit.

Washington Times: Amtrak misled Congress on finances – An inspector general’s report found that Amtrak’s management lied about its dire financial condition about a decade ago.

Tim Logan: St. Louis must do more to spark startups to thrive after recession

Randy Simes: Cincinnati Enquirer Abandoning City Interests

Fantastic Journal: Hipster and Non-Hipster Urbanism – an interesting take on the High Line from Charles Holland, a principal at the London design firm of Fashion Architecture Taste, whose work I admire.

Where the Smart People Live

Rob Pitingolo posted a very interesting analysis of the density of people with college degrees in various cities. Here’s a sample chart, which I recommend you click to enlarge:

The Variety of American Grids

Discovering Urbanism had an interesting post on the different sizes of American blocks (h/t Thomas Frank). Here’s the main graphic:

The People of Detroit

Rust Wire pointed me at a wonderful new site called “The People of Detroit“, dedicated to telling the story of its residents, because, as they put it, “not everyone in Detroit eats raccoons.”

As one brief example, meet Karen Brown, owner of the Savvy Chic boutique near Eastern Market.

Changing Perceptions of Transit

Randy Simes over at UrbanCincy had a great post showing some popular culture examples of non-auto transportation in a positive light. One of them is a 30 second TV spot for AT&T Wireless of a love story in reverse, made possible by an instant train ticket purchase on a mobile phone. (If the video doesn’t display, click here).

Post Script

London’s Tower Bridge, under construction in 1892, via How to Be a Retronaut.


6 Responses to “Urbanoscope”

  1. GoIndyGo says:

    How awesome that the bar graph showing college degrees per square mile misspelled Marion County.

  2. John Morris says:

    Have to double check but I think Rob left out NYC for technical reasons involving data gathering.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    The grid graphic seems to have a mistake: the streets in Manhattan are 60′ wide, whereas as far as I can tell the graphic says they’re 50′ wide.

    In response to the question of why Western towns are built on a grid, the answer is that it’s really quick to map. When you want to build a railroad town or a state capital in a day, you need the street network that’s fastest to design. As for why they’re not long and narrow like in Manhattan, the Manhattan street grid incorporates a lot of legacy roads. 5th, Park, and 6th Avenues predate the grid, and I believe that so do Avenues A, B, C, and D. This influenced the decision of where to map the avenues; the streets were mapped mostly through farmland, so they were easier. In the 19th century, the 8-blocks-to-a-mile rule was rarely used in central cities; cities that used it, such as Chicago, often interpolated the blocks in the urban area, halving the size of each block.

  4. Well, I was going to thank you for the link until I saw you put me right next to Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

    North Americans may not be familiar with the lurid British tabloid on which the Telegraph is based. Whatever happens, you know there’ll be a screaming headline tomorrow, and unless the Queen is visiting it will be bad news, probably news designed to enrage or disgust you, but not news that matters, or news you can believe.

    In Sydney we downtrodden intellectuals call it the “Daily Hysteria.”

  5. That story was reported in multiple other papers – I just picked that one – for the reason you indicated!

  6. Surprised to see my adopted HT of Baton Rouge featured on block sizes, and even more surprised to see that the size appears to be average among the cities listed. I’ve never seen a place where the blocks are so consistently small. Perhaps, as Alon Levy asserts in NYC, the numbers aren’t quite correct.

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