Friday, August 27th, 2010


The emphasis on little neighbourhoods, the stoop, local shops and walking distances, the ‘human scale’ only tells part of the story of the city – after all, these things can be found in villages and small towns. All cities need sublimity, a touch of holy terror, a defiance of human scale that asserts connection to the greater urban whole. Elevated highways, crowds, tall buildings, interconnection and confusion – these things can be to some people dismaying and unpleasant, but the awe they strike is the overture of accepting the condition of living in a city. – Will Wiles

Top Stories

1. Will Wiles: Saint Jane – A reappraisal of Jane Jacobs.

2. Parag Khanna: Beyond City Limits – “The 21st century will not be dominated by America or China, Brazil or India, but by the city. In an age that appears increasingly unmanageable, cities rather than states are becoming the islands of governance on which the future world order will be built. This new world is not — and will not be — one global village, so much as a network of different ones. ”

3. Alan Murray: The End of Management – “Corporations are bureaucracies and managers are bureaucrats. Their fundamental tendency is toward self-perpetuation. They are, almost by definition, resistant to change. They were designed and tasked, not with reinforcing market forces, but with supplanting and even resisting the market.”

4. William Strauss: Is US Manufacturing Disappearing? – “The manufacturing sector remains vibrant and innovative. Manufacturing output has been rising at a solid pace over time. Most of this growth, especially over the past 30 years, has been achieved by improving productivity. Of course, for some workers and towns, this increase in productivity has been a double-edged sword, since highly productive operations can achieve their output goals using fewer workers.”

5. Jay Green: My Quest to Live in Detroit is on the Ropes – This is an eye opening account of the difficulties Green has encountered trying to buy a home in Detroit. FannieMae continues to be a menace. I think this also goes to illustrate the problems of the poor investment climates that dog our urban cores, even in cities that are conventionally viewed as pro-business. Only the absolutely most motivated are willing to put up with this stuff. The vast majority just put urban investment in the “too hard” pile.

Global Cities

Foreign Policy published its 2010 edition of their global cities index. They don’t give an accounting of their methodology, but here’s the list. Their top ten:

  1. New York
  2. London
  3. Tokyo
  4. Paris
  5. Hong Kong
  6. Chicago
  7. Los Angeles
  8. Singapore
  9. Sydney
  10. Seoul

I should note that this list was prepared in part by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Isn’t home cooking delicious? FP also has a nice slide show to accompany the list.

Railigion in Action

Tampa mayor Pam Iorio made a comment that I thought was very revealing of the thought processes around light rail:

Light rail is the only choice for major local transportation corridor improvements, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said Thursday, while acknowledging federal requirements to study alternatives.

“I’m not afraid to say it – bus rapid transit is not acceptable,” Iorio said in an interview with The Tampa Tribune editorial board. “You tell us why Charlotte, N.C., Phoenix, Salt Lake City should have light rail and not Tampa.”

What’s interesting about this?

1. It’s again another small city mayor disparaging bus. You don’t see places like New York or Chicago doing that. In smaller cities without much in the way of transit cultures, citizens don’t have much personal experience or knowledge of transit and thus are vulnerable to demagoguery on the issue.

2. Despite Ms. Iorio’s gender, the penis-envy factor of other cities is clearly in play. Why should other places get one and not us?

3. The answer is preconceived and the alternatives analysis is a sham.

I don’t hate light rail and would support it where it make sense. But this approach of just build light rail, facts be damned only puts ammunition in the weapons of people who aren’t inclined to support any transit in the first place. And it makes you wonder if transit actually has anything at all to do with wanting to build light rail.

World and National Roundup

Rick Harrison: The Year 1959. Rick links to this amazing 1959 video describing sprawl and its problems in America in almost identical terms to those used today. Unfortunately, he did not make it embeddable. It’s from the National Association of Home Builders, so obviously has a PoV, but worth a watch anyway.

Richard Longworth: All Aboard – Talking high speed rail.

Joel Kotkin: Why suburbs, not dense cities, are the future

Tory Gattis keeps everyone up to date on Houston over at his Houston Strategies site. One of his recent pieces talks about Houston’s first official jitney service. And he also notes that Houston was number one for total job growth in America in the last five years.

Crosscut: Seattle is big for new media initiatives

St. Louis Business Journal: Most Arch design teams support removing I-70.

Chicago Tribune: State, feds move to force cleanup of Chicago River for recreation

Gothamist: Anti-Cyclist Scaremongering at a Boiling Point

Cleveland Plain Dealer: High tech carts will tell on Cleveland residents who don’t recycle – and they’ll get fined $100.

Gapers Block: Pittsburgh and the Magic of Failure.

Leaving Indiana

I learned this week that Bil Browning and Jerame Davis, co-founder of the Bilerico Project, are moving to Washington, DC where Davis is taking a job with the Stonewall Democrats. I’m no brain drain believer, but in the Bilerico Project, one of America’s absolute top LGBT sites, Browning and Davis proved themselves among the city’s top internet entrepreneurs and clearly the city’s leading media entrepreneurs. As with, this is a big loss for the city. That’s doubly true given the way the Bilerico Project was able to broadcast a far different view of Indianapolis to the world than the one that is commonly believed out there in the world. Best of luck to Bil and Jerame in their new home.

Columbus Branding Follow-Up

After my recent Columbus branding post, someone pointed me at this Chamber of Commerce video promoting the city. (Click through if the embedded video doesn’t display). I won’t opine on it, but let you decide for yourself what you think of it.

Little Big Berlin

A great tilt-shift video of Berlin, and some of what its people are up to. And a great soundtrack too. (If the video doesn’t show for you, click here).

Post Script

Here’s a very cool 1943 picture of Chicago that was part of a photo series of full color Depression/WW-II era snaps that have been circulating around the web. Check them out on the Denver Post web site.

Topics: Transportation, Urban Culture
Cities: Columbus (Ohio), Indianapolis

7 Responses to “Urbanoscope”

  1. Joe says:

    In re: Columbus video

    So much time spent explaing how you can leave when you want to.

    This could have been an advertisement for Indy, Cincy, Grand Rapids, St. Louis, or any other B level city.

  2. AK says:

    Hey I hear “many” people who choose to live elsewhere in the world choose to live in Columbus. I also hear that “many” people choose to live in “many” other places, statistically.

    What a sadly generic video.

  3. AK says:

    er, *”many” people who could choose to live elsewhere in the world

  4. cbustransit says:

    such a terrible columbus video…no substance…and no reason for people to visit/live…so you can go somewhere else? come on

  5. Rod Stevens says:

    The video reminds me of a spice rack bought at Target- all the usual ingredients, in all the usual packaging.

    I was really hoping for something distinctive. About half way through I felt like I was on a repeating loop. The dominant message isn’t “it’s easy to go somewhere else”, but that’s certainly one of the main themes, all too common for cities with inferiority complexes. And this city shouldn’t have one, from everything I’ve read and heard.

    There’s something distinctive about this place that the leaders themselves haven’t come to terms with that defines them. Don’t know what that is, but every place has some unique personality, and the challenge is to find it and take pride in it. Perhaps they’re confused by the very set up of the challenge- trying to find something to sell and impress other people with, when the real goal is simply to describe themselves as they truly are. And perhaps it is too much to try to boil this down to one idea. This is what poets do (or at least what Carl Sandberg did for Chicago), and perhaps the challenge is too great for a chamber of commerce. Instead of throwing everything in the blender and hoping a wonderful smoothie comes out, perhaps the place would do better not trying to generalize, and create vignettes instead.

  6. CDS says:

    That was bad and generic, but then what would a good Columbus promo video have?

    I think Sioux City has an answer:

  7. Carl Wohlt says:

    The Berlin video is phenomenal. The range of images, the warmth of the light and the elegant music (juxtaposed against snippets of conventional urban sounds) convey a distinctive and compelling image of the city. You can’t take your eyes off it. Best of all, no script or voice over. No hard sell. Viewers are allowed to determine whether or not the Berlin brand presented is authentic and desirable.

    Thanks for sharing.

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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