Friday, January 21st, 2011


If the two options are federal aid or shutting down local services, I’m all for federal aid. Yet these states are not intrinsically broke – there is plenty of wealth in California and Illinois and New York – the problem is politics, which are not improved by the prospect of a federal bailout. – Ed Glaeser

Here’s a head’s up that I’m tentatively scheduled to be on WGN-AM in Chicago around 11:05am this Saturday talking about parking meters.

I was on Chicago Public Radio last week talking transportation and the mayoral election. I’ll embed the audio below. If the player doesn’t display for your, click here.

Top Stories

1. NY Times: Portraits from a Job Starved City – A powerful interactive feature with audio statements from people living in Rockford, Illinois.

2. Jason Tinkey: The New Provincials

Freeway Lane Miles

The Texas Transportation Institute just released its 2010 Urban Mobility Report. This data has been recently critiqued by CEOs for Cities and others. But even if you don’t like the way congestion is measured, there’s still a treasure trove of data in here.

Here’s one quick sample: the top ten urban areas for freeway lane miles per capita (per 1,000 population), for metro areas over one million in population

Looks like Kansas City has enough roads to last a lifetime. Cleveland and Ohio in particular look to be in a tough spot, as with a declining population the burden of maintaining all those roads will loom large.

The lowest per capita value? Chicago at 0.35.

What Makes a City Smart?

This video from Time has brief snippets of big city mayors giving their thoughts on smarter cities. (If the video doesn’t display, click here). It includes the mayors of LA, Chicago, and Philadephia.

World and National Roundup

The Observer: 25 Predictions for the Next 25 Years

El País: Bullet train, white elephant – An interesting article out of Madrid (in English) showing how the high speed rail debates are not limited to the US.

The US HSR debate appears to be taking a tilt to the anti-side, not just with Republican governors cancelling projects, but even the likes of the Washington Post editorial page saying Hit the brakes on California’s high-speed rail experiment.

Randy Simes: The Surprising Story of Sustainability in Seoul

NYT: State bankruptcy option is sought, quietly – Uh, oh.

WSJ: Amid Downturn, Sunbelt Gains College Grads

Streetsblog: Cycling up 70% on London’s bike superhighways

Ed Glaeser: Why Green Energy Can’t Power a Job Engine

NY Magazine: Who is the greatest mayor of New York?

AM New York: The Lost Generation: NYC losing young people to cheaper cities

Michael Barone: The Great Lone Star Migration

Greg Meckstroth: The Midwest’s 21st Century ‘Place Proximity’ Asset

Detroit Free Press: Detroit’s profile grows as investors, young professionals return to city

Planetizen: Dreaming Detroit: Decline to Renaissance

John Hilkevitch: Transit is a sleeper issue in race for Chicago mayor

James Warren: Wisconsin Sounds Off, But Misses the Point

James Warren: President Hu’s Visit Proclaims a Rising Chicago

It’s very interesting to contrast these two consecutive columns by Warren, one chiding Wisconsin, the other an unabashed paean to Chicago. The Wisconsin column is an example of the type of journalism we need, pointing out the bigger picture and where the purely local thinking of regional leaders is missing the point. The Chicago column is everything that’s wrong with the Windy City. It is 100% right down the rails of the party line of Chicago and how incredibly wonderful it is, not a cloud in the sky. The 350,000 jobs we lost in the last four years? The fact that Chicago is trailing even US peers on most economic metrics ranging from GDP to personal incomes? Etc., etc. That doesn’t seem to factor in. The throwaway bit at the end about cuts seems more a product of Warren’s center-left PoV, a general indictment of cutting government, than of Chicago. This is why Chicago has been struggling. Because people aren’t asking the tough questions. They’d rather lord it over Wisconsin. Let’s take the log out of our own eye first. I’m glad to see the Tribune starting to step up. Let’s hope that new attitude starts getting spread around a bit more.

I do believe in Chicago’s transformation. I wasn’t here in the 70’s in 80’s so perhaps don’t fully appreciate it as viscerally as Warren, but even since my first arrival in 1992 it has been a massive change. That’s a bona fide, legitimate part of the story. Guys like Kass who are still stuck in 60’s “Machine” thinking are missing the boat on this one. There really is a huge amount to celebrate here. But the transformation is only part of the story, even if a big part. Too many people seem to think it’s the whole story. It’s too bad Warren couldn’t have applied the same magnifying glass he took to Wisconsin to Chicago.

Chicago’s Bus Tracker on Streetfilms

Streetfilms paid a visit to Chicago recently to profile bus tracker. They focus less on the system itself than on a project in Bucktown/Wicker Park to stream bus tracker data to monitors in local shops and such. Pretty cool. (If the video doesn’t display, click here).

Cycling Sucks

A hilarious video on Copenhagenize. (If the video doesn’t display, click here). I believe this was a student project out of the Netherlands.

Copenhagenize the planet!

City of Gold

Here’s an interesting rap video about Detroit. (If the video doesn’t display, click here).

Thanks to Everett Keyser for sending this to me.

Ohio River Bridges Project Is Still a Boondoggle

Indiana and Kentucky have supposedly agreed on a plan to chop $500 million off the cost of the Ohio River Bridges Project in Louisville. Now the project will cost “only” $3.6 billion, or almost $3000 for every single man, woman, and child in the entire metro area – and a heckuva lot more than that once financing costs and user delay cost during two decades of construction are taken into account.

This project seems to be a quest for an answer to the question: How big a boondoggle does a highway project have to be before even the most fiscally conservative of politicians will go for a rethink? It’s amazing that leaders on both sides of the rivers continue to push for this plan that will be little more than a cash drain on the region. And a destructive one, obliterating a number of historic buildings in downtown Louisville and erecting an even more gigantic barrier across the riverfront.

There is a better way: 8664. This project will save a couple billion – and reconnect downtown Louisville with the river to boot. Much better, much much cheaper. What’s not to love? Go forward with the adjustment to move the pedestrian path the Big Four, then take the rest of the steps to make 8664 a reality.

By the way, the Star said this was a “Kentucky delegation” and didn’t mention any Southern Indiana representation. I noted one of the cost saving measures was downscoping the east end bridge. Did Kentucky pull a fast one on Mitch? The east end bridge goes through Louisville’s equivalent of Zionsville and the big money types there – who are hugely influential – have never and will never give up on cancelling that bridge outright or, failing that, reducing it as much as possible. This looks to me like Kentucky maneuvering for position moreso than cost savings. Watch out, Indiana.

Post Script

The Economist had another fun map naming each state after the country that most closely approximates its state GDP.

Topics: Transportation
Cities: Chicago, Louisville

5 Responses to “Urbanoscope”

  1. the urban politician says:

    Come on, Aaron, can anybody say anything good about Chicago?

    Is that allowed in your book? You aren’t the only judge in the world of these things, you know. Reality is, you have your own flaws: your point of view itself is fickle enough that just barely 2 years ago you were declaring Chicago to be reaching new heights in your post “Chicago: A Declaration of Independence”, and now with one of the worst economic downturns in recent history you use every opportunity to attack the place.

    Plenty of people are asking hard questions: I find it laughable, even arrogant, that you actually think you are the only person recognizing & discussing what is going wrong with the city. I read Warren’s article and it is FAR from being an unabashed paean to Chicago. He is simply acknowledging what a far cry Hu’s visit to Chicago is, compared to perhaps 10 or 20 years ago, when the visiting Chinese President was scared to leave his hotel.

    Reality is, you over and over again display the same behavior as many non-Chicago midwesterners who quietly disdain the city (even if they live there) while favoring the hometown which they left. How many more glowing reviews about Indianapolis and places in Indiana are you going to keep posting, ad nauseum? You even go out of your way to post little tid bits, like a growing community in Indianapolis to seed tech companies–well hello, that’s not unique to Indy, my friend.

    Yet any good news posted in Chicago, especially in these depressing times, is derided as “boosterism”, and you pull out of your old bag the same criticism of “you’re not asking the tough questions”. You must be too focused on what’s going on everywhere else, then, because I hear the same tough questions in the press every single day: “where are the jobs?” “why are they raising taxes?” “how can we end patronage?” “why is the CTA in such a state of disrepair?” “why are jobs flowing out of the state?” “why are people flowing out of the state?” and on and on. In addition, I recommend you step away from the Indianapolis section at the SSP/SSC forums and come to the Chicago section, where a large community of people criticize what is going wrong with the city on a near daily basis, and have been doing so for years.

    Yet there’s just one article that celebrates something that’s actually gone well for Chicago, and you label it an ‘unabashed paean’. I think that’s ridiculous.

  2. 3rdDegreeBurns says:


    I like that you are pointing out that many of our nation’s poorest cities are saddled with over-built freeway systems that they can no longer afford to maintain. However, I think only showing freeway lane miles by metro area might be a bit misleading because how metro areas are defined varies significantly from city to city. I’d love to see the freeway lane miles calculated per sq. mile of urbanized area, by MSA, or by regional planning jurisdiction as well. I’d bet you would find some surprising differences.

  3. the urban politician says:

    The sad thing about that map of States is that Mississippi is matched with Bangladesh, yet Bangladesh may actually be smaller than Mississippi…

  4. 3rd degree, while I used MSA population to filter the list down to only places with more than a million people, TTI actually doesn’t use MSA in their data. I believe it is a custom urban area definition. That data is based on that urban area freeway miles and population.

  5. TUP, I figured you wouldn’t like my take on Warren’s piece. But for the record I have thrown many pies in Indy’s face. See the “Could Marion County Implode?” piece on the left sidebar for example.

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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Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

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