Sunday, October 31st, 2010


These [ city branding campaigns ] have been tried for years, but they often don’t work, mostly because few cities are willing to be known for something, and would rather be known for everything. – David Gross

The latest edition of Lapham’s Quarterly is dedicated to the city. It’s worth checking out for sure.

Top Stories

1. The Guardian: London Bike Share Program to Turn Profit. It’s early days yet, but it is looking like the London bike share program is trending towards fully covering its operating costs in three years, and then implementation costs after that. Pretty impressive.

2. Rust Wire: Erie, PA Expatriates Seeking Jobs…in South Korea

Indianapolis Parking Meters

The city of Indianapolis made some changes to the proposed parking meter lease in response to public criticism. Among these are adding the ability to terminate with a penalty at ten year intervals. While I give the city credit for making some modest improvements to the contract, I still urge the council to vote it down. Key reasons are:

  • Parking meters are still the wrong asset to be signing a long term lease on.
  • The benefits to the public are modest even in the best case. This will only generate $20 million in upfront money (only 5% of the $400 million the water company transaction spun off). I cannot understand why the city is so strongly pursuing a deal with this little gain to the city given the nearly universal disapproval of the deal by everyone outside the administration.
  • The city’s claim that it cannot afford to do the upgrade itself and keep 100% of the money for the public instead of giving away over half the value to a private vendor has been completely discredited by recent events. The city just found $8M/yr in downtown TIF money to send to the CIB, another $2.5M/yr for libraries, and has found millions more to subsidize the North of South and Clarian developments. There is simply no way to plead poverty on a $10M one time upgrade (and that cost is likely inflated) in light of all that.
  • The contract terms remain poor for the city

Bike Share Status

There’s a very cool online application that shows the real time status of bike share systems. Here’s a sample of London, but they’ve got quite a few cities in there:

And here’s another really cool one called the Bike-O-Meter, which gives real time stats on system utilization in cities around the world. This screen shot shows some sample cities:

I see there’s a divide by zero error in the code.

Where the World’s Brains Are

Richard Florida posted this very cool map of where the world’s top brains are located. You can also check out his accompanying commentary.

The Spiky Social Network

Richard Florida also has an interesting take on the NetProspex 2010 Social Business Report city rankings. Here’s the graphic as a teaser:

World and National Roundup

The Guardian: Europe on track for Kyoto targets while emissions from imported goods rise – Unsurprisingly, while regulation in Europe reduced carbon emissions there, the savings were offset by importing more products from carbon havens. These programs are not helping the environment, but are only feeding the offshoring of industry from the developed world to places with weak environmental protections. If you want to reduce carbon, a global Carbon Added Tax is the way to go.

NYT: Japan goes from dynamic to disheartened

WSJ: Hard hit areas could lag for decades

WSJ: Racing to build US rail line

Forbes: Municipal pension tabs average $15,000 per household – It’s a whopping $42,000/household in Chicago.

David Brooks: The Paralysis of State

National Affairs: The Trouble with Public Sector Unions

Governing: Inefficient Government Rules and Regulations

Megan Cottrell: How Segregation Actually Caused the Housing Crisis

Richard Florida: Suburban Renewal

Virginia Postrel: The Bike Helmet Wars

Greater Greater Washington: What will autonomous cars mean for cities?

Architect’s Newspaper: Christie’s Choice on ARC Tunnel and related in the WSJ: Where Infrastructure Estimates Come Up Short

Inc.: Five Reasons to Start a Business in Detroit

WaPo: A distressed canvas in Detroit

Detroit Blog: Blues Streak

IBJ: Downtown Indianapolis praised for livability but needs more residents

Urban Out: Cincinnati – America’s First (and Next) Boomtown

NYT: Ohio’s Attorney General Fights Against Wall Street

Chris Jones: Dear Mr. New Mayor, whoever you are … An open letter about theater and the arts in Chicago

Lynn Becker: Chicago Architects’ Post-Mortem on Daley: Too Much Sugar? – A “manifesto for fresh thinking”

Chicago Tribune: David Brooks on Chicago’s social fabric

Greg Hinz: Who has the scissors to cut City Hall biz red tap?

WSJ: Tech Buoys San Francisco

There’s an interesting discussion in the comments on this thread at Glass House Conversations: What are the opportunities and risks of these emerging geopolitical constellations, and how should we prepare for an urban, post-national future?

Indian Railways Advertisement

Here’s a wonderful one minute ad for Indian Railways. (If the video doesn’t display, click here)

Halloween Critical Mass in San Francisco

Copenhagenize posted this fun video of last year’s San Francisco Critical Mass ride on Halloween. (If the video doesn’t display, click here).

Post Script

I’ll end on a sad note. I was walking down Damen Ave. near my house in Chicago last week when I saw the bicycle death memorial below. According to a note posted at the site, Liza Whitacre was a 20 yer old junior at Loyola University and barista at Metropolis Coffee Company. She was killed on October 21 when she was riding by this spot and “she slipped off her bike and fell under a truck.” It makes me sick to see this happen, but sometimes, despite all that we do to create a safer city, tragedy strikes anyway. My condolences to Liza’s family and friends.

Topics: Transportation

11 Responses to “Urbanoscope”

  1. Danny says:

    Wow. The public sector union pieces broadsided me. I thought I knew how bad the problem was, and I was wrong.

  2. Chris Barnett says:

    It was clear to me in the early-to-mid 1990’s that then-Mayor Steve Goldsmith’s privatization initiatives in Indianapolis were (in part) an attempt to mitigate the municipal pension overhang.

    Ultimately, cities and states will be forced to do a GM-like radical restructuring of retiree-benefit and pension obligations.

    One thing that would help is ending defined-benefit government pensions NOW for new employees. Government employees are just about the last large class of people in the US covered by such systems; the rest of us have 401k and 403b plans, for which the only guarantee is employer contribution, not payout.

  3. George Mattei says:


    The piece on Japan was quite troubling. While it’s true that our governmental and social structure is more flexible than Japan’s in some ways, in politics it seems to be getting more rigid. Everyone is retreating to their base instead of developing new ideas for our nation, and I fear this will hamper us as Japan was hampered by their social structure.

    Unfortunately I believe our debt on national and personal levels will continue to weigh down our economy for a long time.

  4. the urban politician says:

    I’m sick of hearing about tech and the west coast.

    It’s like a broken record. Go away!

  5. Pete from Baltimore says:

    MR Renn
    As always, thank you for providing the collection of links.Some Urbanoscopes have one or two of links that im interested in.Most have 5-10.This one had 14 articles that i was interested in.

    Thank you for running this blog.

  6. Alon Levy says:

    Completely off-topic, I’m currently applying for jobs. One of the places I’m applying to is IUPUI. That’s because it has a strong research program in dynamics. It’s not, as the university application guideline-cum-pep talk says, because “With 1.5 million people living in its metropolitan area, Indianapolis is the 12th largest city in the U.S. with the sixth largest African-American population in the Midwest and a growing Latino population.”

    I’ve looked at several dozens of those application guideline pages, and not a single one other than IUPUI raves about how many people live in the metro area.

  7. Chris Barnett says:

    Some “progressive” people in Indy have the idea that people in other places still think of Our Fair City as the capital of whitebread middle-class “nice place to raise a family” Flyover Country.

    I suspect this causes some to argue preemptively that “it’s better than you might think” on various diversity points…fallout from having internalized the Florida “Creative Class” ideas.

    Strangely (for a boosterism piece), IUPUI is low by almost a half-million people on the most-generous measure of “metro”, CSA.

    For a self-service tool to extract various social and demographic indicators, go to . SAVI is a project of IUPUI.

  8. Cobo says:

    This may be a little off topic, but why is the geography in these maps (like most other infographic maps) always soo bad?

    What is the point of a map if the respective cities aren’t within the same state as the map indicates. For example Minneapolis isn’t in north central Wisconsin like the social professionals map would make you believe.

    If your going to spend that much time gathering info is it really that hard to check your work when put the pins in the map?

  9. George Mattei says:


    Unfortunately I think that white-bread family-oriented flyover IS what many coastal folks at least think of Midwest cities, with a few exceptions like Chicago. I grew up there and kind of thought that. Then I moved here, and now I know better.

    I think the key is to not get too wrapped up in trying to tell them how wrong they are. Midwest cities, especially sucessful ones like Indianapolis, should not get too involved in trying to “explain away” this notion. Then you just come off sounding like someone’s little brother on the court that insists he can play too.

    Instead cities have to focus on targeted efforts to get their message out to certain groups (i.e. business marketing) that they want to attract, and other than that just let their actions do the talking.

  10. Chris Barnett says:

    I think that Alon was pointing out one of those targeted efforts: one to attract diverse populations to IUPUI. Strangely, the home bases of Big 10 universities seem to have an easier time of it.

    I think we all see it as a version of “come to Indy, it’s not as bad as you think” or “try it, you’ll like it”. It may be a bit misguided, but it’s a targeted effort.

    It could be worse. Think of all the fun the University of Oklahoma and city of Norman will have explaining away their state’s recent vote to ban Sharia and international law from consideration in the state’s courts. And their recently-elected governor’s strange campaign focus on her (female) opponent’s lack of husband and family.

    It’s one thing to be perceived as whitebread flyover country. It’s another thing entirely to confirm it.

  11. Alon Levy says:

    I haven’t even heard of those Oklahoma political things.

    Anyway, putting the metro area’s population on a postdoc application guideline is the opposite of targeted marketing. People who apply to academic jobs do not have control over location; we just apply everywhere and hope to land a job vaguely near an expert in the field.

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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