Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Century of the City

Photo Credit: Flickr/davidsteltz

My latest piece is online over at Design Intelligence. It’s called “Century of the City.” It’s a good overview of some of my key themes from the blog, including the need for cities to differentiate themselves and forge their own distinct path, why cities should be true to their native soil at cultivate their terroir, the ability of cities to adapt to change as a core competency, and some provocations on thinking about the notion of disposable design as a better approach than design for the ages.

Here are a couple of excerpts:

While cities may specialize in different economic niches and have a historic legacy that gives them a unique built environment, they increasingly have turned to the same standard issue playbook for their development: boutique hotels, upscale housing, generic offices, international fashion labels, celebrity chef restaurants, and above all, starchitecture. The sameness of so many of these cities can be readily seen by flipping through the likes of the Wallpaper travel guides to various cities. On many pages, one would be hard pressed to determine what city is being discussed without looking at the spine.

All of this suggests the likely reality: The resurgence of so many cities was less a result of anything they did than of changing consumer tastes and macroeconomic forces. Global cities are an emergent property of our economic system. They are its artifacts as much as the architects.


For cities below the first rank, being different can be difficult to manage. These cities want to make it into the “cool kids club.” Like people going from high school senior to college freshman, their new aspirations and lower status makes them feel inadequate. They are desperate to fit in and prove their bona fides to the upperclassmen, so they self-consciously imitate the signifiers of their desired tribe. That high school letter jacket gets stuffed into the closet for years to come. It’s an embarrassing relic of what they think they are leaving behind.

But we mature in life, we grow more comfortable in own skin. We start to realize who we are and what matters to us, what our role is in life. While we never lose the desire to fit in with a tribe, we learn to find our own path as well. So too cities need to balance the need to learn from others with the self-confidence to chart their own destiny and not to be ashamed of their heritage.

Check it out.

Comments Off on Century of the City
Topics: Architecture and Design, Civic Branding, Strategic Planning, Urban Culture

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Yes, We Do Need to Build More Roads

When I started this blog I promised to call them like I see them, and not adhere to any particular dogma or policy blindly. In this case, while I know many won’t agree, in my latest piece over at New Geography I argue that Yes, We Do Need to Build More Roads.

The root of this is demographic, as the following chart shows, comparing city population (a proxy for transit friendly areas) versus just the population growth in the US in the last 10 years, a notably slow decade of growth at that.

And there’s 90 million more where that came from projected in the next 40 years. The numbers just don’t add up. I’m all in favor of more dense urban neighborhoods, more transit investments, and even “road diets” where it makes sense. But the reality is that even if we expand roads at a slower rate than population growth, we’ve still got to build.

By the way, that doesn’t apply in slow or negative growth regions like Detroit. The last thing they need is more infrastructure they can’t maintain. But that’s a story for another day.

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Place Is the Space by Ben Schulman

West Oakland – Photo Credit: nullboy – Creative Commons

In 1974, the jazz musician/philosopher Sun Ra released the film Space is the Place, his avant-garde sci-fi fantasy about the salvation African-Americans were to find in colonizing outer space. Ra’s vision grew out of his personal philosophy regarding music’s ability to act as both a literal and figurative catalyst for transformation. In Space, music becomes a delivery vehicle to the cosmos, a remedy for the ostracized, poverty-stricken African-American communities stuck in urban ghettos. Using early 70’s Oakland as the model, the film is essentially the story of how the inner cities have failed the black populations who live there. And while not expressed overtly, the underlying current running throughout the film is how the lack of opportunity and continued degradation and alienation of the community has led to a complete disengagement with its physical surroundings. Oakland, the inner city, the built environment – all have become, in a tangible sense, exhausted space.

Space is the Place speaks on various levels, and unfortunately remains relevant to many African-American inner city neighborhoods today. In light of the current recessionary hangover though, wherein we are all being forced to spatially reexamine the manner in which we live, the question of how to retain meaning within the surrounding environment is apt for nearly all communities. When examining the ways in which land-use must be reevaluated to infuse it with structural meaning and usefulness, Space speaks to a larger question of how to prevent disengagement with the places that make up our landscapes, and more aptly, reengage exhausted space. While Ra’s salvation came in colonizing actual outer space, the current reality begs us to evaluate how to actually bridge the disconnect between space and place. Or put more simply, how to make space become place. It’s a tangled process that touches upon many aspects of our development, and delicately unravels nearly 60 years of solidified notions about both spatial and economic growth.

Growth being the operative word. Since the end of WWII, physical growth has until recently been treated as gospel. Growth, horizontally, begat growth, economically, and the whole process reached Abrahamic levels of replicating. By encouraging spatial growth as economic growth, government channels helped foster a one size fits all application towards land-use and personal livelihood in all areas of the country. This outward expansion of physical space was based on the possibilities of abundant and inexpensive resources to act as a connective tissue between economic and cultural loci, and at its peak, brought about an age of unprecedented prosperity. This prescription benefited in part by drawing the assets away from a center, resulting in, amongst many other things, depopulated cities, vacant small-town squares, and a move towards the edge of places. Place was found in the spaces between the center, resulting in a disoriented view of place itself.

In a recent speech at the Global Metro Summit in Chicago, Bruce Katz, vice president and founding director of the Brookings Institute’s Metropolitan Policy Program, spoke of the ways in which this decaying dynamic collided with the Great Recession. Katz noted that the hardship and vacancy seen in towns outside of Chicago’s center, such as south-suburban Harvey, serve as “a microcosm of the failed economy and failed economic policy that has deeply touched the lives of tens of millions of Americans during this Great Recession. We had an economy and an economic policy which elevated consumption over production, financial chicanery over real innovation, near term speculation over long term growth. We lost our way and we got the economy and the Great Recession we deserved.”

Using his speech as a convincing jumping board for a new metropolitan-oriented development plan, Katz’s words ring true to those who recognize that cities must embrace what in reality they already are and have truly always been; namely, the drivers of our economy. But it speaks to a broader belief as well that can be applicable to spaces across the country. There’s a slow realization occurring that in the long run, physical growth will not beget any more economic growth. In realizing such, there’s not so much a Great Reset occurring as there is a Right Fix, wherein the elements of place that make our spaces distinct are being heralded and held up as concrete vehicles for investment.

In essence, the nation is asking Ra’s question of itself now: how do places undergo the process of reengaging space. As the outer reaches of the built landscape begin to face these questions, attention will turn to cities that have been dealing with these questions for years. Whether in large-scale redevelopment projects such as Pittsburgh’s South Side Works, San Francisco’s China Basin or small-scale projects in something simple such as the community garden at Hoxie Ave & 106th St. in Chicago’s Far Southeast Side South Deering neighborhood, taking ownership of exhausted space requires a process of reclamation, remediation, and reapplication to produce reengagement.

The first step in the success of such a process is not found in the design of the space necessarily, but in the design of the questions being asked to address the failures of the former space. Essentially, the design of the question will inform the design of the answer. And knowing that these questions of engagement go beyond physical space into managing how we want to live across all types of communities, it demands a non-confrontational and delicate design that recognizes the nuance and specificity of individual location. One need only look at the vitriolic versus mentality that infects the current political discourse at a national level to see to the ineffectiveness of poorly designed questions that inform poorly thought-out responses. The discussion needs to move beyond easy qualifications such as high-speed rail versus highway maintenance, green versus carbon, urban versus rural. Everything moves holistically as part of the same system now, which is chiefly what author Jeb Brugmann means when he states that the entire world has become a city in his recent Welcome to the Urban Revolution: How Cities are Changing the World.

Reengaging exhausted space, to make place, isn’t an easy or seamless process. It requires carefully designing questions that don’t alienate, and paying attention to the inherent attributes and assets of a place that can be reclaimed, remediated and reapplied in a locally apropos right fix to produce the most utility for all. It requires an acknowledgement, and then an inversion, of both America’s past 60 years of development and Sun Ra’s prescription for deliverance. Space, whether it be out among the stars, or out among the sprawl is actually not the place. Rather, it is the creation of meaningful place, effectively and honestly developed and engaged, that becomes the most successful form of space. Done correctly, perhaps the final ending to Ra’s sci-fi fantasy ends not in the Milky Way, but where it begins, in a reenergized and reengaged Oakland.

More by Ben Schulman: Pittsburgh and the Magic of Failure

Ben Schulman is a Chicago-based writer on urban affairs whose work has been noted by outlets such as The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Burgh Diaspora, The Atlantic Online, and the National Review. One of the proprietors behind independent record label Contraphonic, Inc., Schulman also heads the Contraphonic Chicago Sound Series, an attempt to aurally document the city of Chicago through the medium of sound. In the coming year, the Sound Series is set to expand to Pittsburgh, and other cities across the country. Links to his freelance work can be found at, and he can be reached at

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Failure to Communicate: Accentuate the Positive

Late last spring I posted a piece called Beyond Starbucks Urbanism, which I billed as the first in a mini-series on urbanist communications failures. It’s later than I anticipated, but here’s the second piece.

I recently had the privilege of seeing Jan Gehl, godfather of Copenhagen’s bicycle network and a consultant to New York City and many others, speak. He was beyond awesome, but one thing that really stuck with me was how he got the tone completely right. One of his observations about how they transformed Copenhagen was, “We never talked about taking away things from people. We only talked about what they were going to get.”

This is a lesson too seldom heeded by urbanists, who almost seem to define themselves as much in terms of what they are against as they do what they are for. The anti-car rhetoric immediately comes to mind of course. All these things we want to do are talked about in terms of cars all the time. But what’s that got to do with it? If these are good policies, and have all sorts of good benefits for citizens, why can’t we talk about that? Why don’t we defend these things on their own merits?

Carol Coletta has a great saying that “eat your spinach” marketing doesn’t work. CEOs for Cities has been working for a while now to try to create a new vision of the American Dream, one rooted in a more urban context, something that would do for the city lifestyle what the GM Futurama exhibit did for the suburban, auto-based one. They want to create that positive vision rather than a dour one to inspire people to want to buy. That’s a hugely important initiative, and one that we should all seek to emulate.

Moving Beyond Sustainability

Nothing has done more to hurt the urbanist cause than it getting almost inseparably linked to the notion of “sustainability” and climate change. Sustainability has become almost a shibboleth of the right thinking urbanist. Architects, planners, politicians, journalists and more all try to out do each other with ever more rhetoric about radical transformations and grandiose, even science fictiony visions of the future low-carbon world. These might score points with the inside crowd, but they don’t impress the average member of the public all that much. Quite the opposite in many cases.

Right now in America millions of people are out of work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has had to invent new categories of long term unemployment to measure it. Ben Bernanke just said it might be five years before employment normalizes. Over 43 million people – one out of every seven in America – are on food stamps. That’s about the same size as the entire country of Spain. State and local governments are broke. Our local social safety nets are getting shredded as they cut back. The federal government is drowning in debt. Millions of people are or soon will be in foreclosure. Many more are underwater on their homes. People are hurting out there.

Against this backdrop, it should come as no surprise that Americans have roundly shown that they ain’t buyin’ it on cap and trade or other measures of sustainability. Apocalyptic but nebulous risks like climate change seldom resonate even in normal times. But especially with everything going on in America right now, it’s just not on the list. We might not like that, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It’s like Julian Simon put it, “No food, one problem. Much food, many problems.” Climate change is the concern of people who aren’t worried about where their next paycheck is coming from, where they are going to go after they lose their house, or how they are going to feed their kids.

Bill Clinton was right: it’s the economy, stupid. Urbanists prattle on about sustainability all the time as if the last few years didn’t even happen. No wonder it’s not working. And because pretty much all urbanist policies have been sold as about sustainability, there’s a linkage in the public’s mind, so that if they don’t believe in climate change or don’t rate it highly in favor of more immediate concerns, that takes urbanism down with it.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. With better packaging, I believe there is a case for pro-urbanist policies (including those that promote sustainability), one that can work with the times and the trends instead of against them. Some people will never be converted. But I’m convinced there’s a lot more people who would be open to various environmental and urbanist ideas if we talked about their practical benefits rather than how they are good for the planet (even if they are).

Delinking Conservation from Sustainability

Back in the early 1980’s my father ran a freon packaging plant. They took in bulk freon in rail cars and put it into smaller cylinders for the marketplace. When he came in, a lot of excess freon from the packaging process was simply blown off into the atmosphere. Now my dad’s not exactly a staunch environmentalist, nor was the ozone hole even on the radar then. But he calculated how much money they were losing from wasting all that product, and decided to install recapture equipment to eliminate that blow-off. It didn’t require any environmental consciousness. Eliminating waste was simply good business.

Similarly at my old company, we talked about sustainability a lot. But what we talked about a lot more was cutting costs. Reducing our office space footprint, encouraging telecommuting, going paperless where possible and defaulting to double-sided printing, installing high end “telepresence” video conferencing reduce executive travel, etc, etc, etc. all reduced the firm’s environmental footprint a lot. But they also saved beaucoup dollars for the shareholders.

In an era of belt tightening, why not play up the money saving angle of conservation? After all, wasting all this stuff we do all the time costs a lot money – money many of us don’t have. There’s a real business case to be made here.

If I were mayor of a city, I’d be targeting my green message not at the sustainability-urbanist axis, but the taxpayers, making sure they know how much money I’m saving them. That’s the kind of green that resonates with them right now.

New York’s Positive Livability Message

When it comes to transportation policy and urban livability, New York City is setting the bar from a policy and taking action perspective. But they’re also doing it from communications one. I’ll show here again this great video on New York’s quality of life agenda. (If the video doesn’t display, click here).

Mayor Bloomberg, Janette Sadik-Khan and others don’t bury their environmental goals in the sand. She says the goal is to make New York “the greatest, greenest city in the world” and they do talk about taking space away from cars.

But the clear focus is the positive benefits to New Yorkers. Not only is the imagery great, so are the talking points, stressing quality of life – “We really try to focus on things that improve the quality of our lives today.” (Bloomberg) – safety (traffic fatalities down 20% since PlaNYC released, pedestrian safety improved by 60% in Times Square since closing Broadway), better services (reduced bus boarding times, faster bus speeds), the benefits to business – “Our agenda is to unclog our streets so commerce doesn’t get stifled” (Bloomberg), and the fact that businesses are pleased (sales are up) now that Times Square has been reconfigured – and the inclusive nature of the improvements – “It’s not just for the spandexed and the brave. It’s for moms, dads, kids, everyone.” (bike planner).

A recent article on Sadik-Khan in the Guardian reinforces the messaging:

Congestion – sclerotic city arteries clogged with traffic – is economically inefficient, ergo making mass transit work serves the city’s economy. Since 96% of Wall Street’s workforce goes to the office by subway, bus, boat, bike or on foot, keeping the city moving and making it prosperous are of a piece…. “The goal has been moving as many people as possible as quickly as possible – and safely,” she says. “Re-engineering streets is about re-imagining streetscapes, but it’s also about making streets safer.” … “What we’ve found is that we’ve not only achieved a 50% reduction in cyclist injuries where we have these lanes, but a 40% cut in all injuries because of the pedestrian refuge islands,” she says.

More Good Marketing Messages

New York isn’t alone in spreading the good news about practical benefits of these policies. If you ever get to hear Washington, DC planning chief Harriet Tregoning talk, she’s a fountain of evidence about how that city’s approach has paid off. For example, even during the recession, DC sales tax collections have been going up. Now obviously as the nation’s capital, there’s always unique dynamics there, but that blows me away.

She’s also been working hard to marshal statistics to help make business even better. For example, a lot of national retailers rely on traffic counts to decide where to locate stores. But in the city, there may be huge numbers of people passing by on foot or in buses that aren’t getting picked up by that measure. So they are working diligently to find ways to gather data to give a more accurate picture of demand to retailers. That’s the intersection of urbanism and business.

There are also sorts of fiscal benefits that can be talked up. As I like to say, “less lanes is less money.” Why spend money on more concrete for cars than you actually need by over-designing for peak of the peak and such?

I was also stunned to read in Streetsblog that all New York’s current bicycle initiatives combined only cost $8.8 million – and only $2 million of that came from the city’s budget. As bike commuting has doubled since 2006, albeit on a low base, it’s tough to imagine any investment that could be more cost efficient or have a higher ROI than that.

Let’s face it, most municipalities and states are broke right now. So looking at low cost, fast to implement, high impact changes like NYC’s public plaza program and pedestrian/bike improvements are clearly the way to go. We can’t afford anything else. In the short term especially, the pedestrian and bicycle need to be at the core of the transport policy for any city that hopes to have a fiscal future.

There’s a lot more where this came from. I think this is the type of thing that needs to inform our arguments to a much great extent going forward. As Jarrett Walker said over at Human Transit, let’s not talk about “coercion”. Let’s stop talking about what we want people to give up, and about how we have to do this or that to “save the planet.” Instead, let’s talk about why it’s just plain a good idea to do anyway. Let’s defend our policy prescriptions on their own merits – because I’m convinced they can stand on their own two feet.

More Goodness from Munich

I’ll leave you with another video. Copenhagenize pointed me at this video out of Munich, talking about marketing bicycling to help build the bicycle culture in that city. They want to produce something that inspires an emotional connection, that gets people to experience the “joy of cycling.” Marketing isn’t all just about dry facts and figures, though that’s what I stressed in this post. This short piece talks about how Munich developed their sales approach. (If the video doesn’t display, click here).

Friday, January 7th, 2011


I am a transplant to Louisville, and I must admit that the culture here has been difficult to adapt to, although I still try. There are many things I like about this city, but in terms of jobs, ambition, and looking toward the future, I have to say, these results are not surprising. I don’t get the impression, on the whole, that Louisville wants to move ahead. Every city has its faults. Clannish immaturity is Louisville’s. I hope that Louisville can retain its character while simultaneously opening up. It may not be possible. Young, educated workers do not want to recreate the 1970s in their work environment. I’m sorry if that’s harsh, but it’s the truth. – User “cccc2222” commenting on Courier-Journal story about Louisville’s failure to achieve its economic ambitions

I’m going to be on Chicago Public Radio’s 848 Monday at 9am talking transportation as part of their “Mayor Monday” series. They might even be taking listener calls, so check it out if you’re in Chicago.

Also, I’ll be participating in a panel discussion on quality of place and product at an event on Building Prosperity in the Greater Akron Region on January 18th, sponsored by Greater Ohio and the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce. There will be a lot of great speakers including Carol Coletta of CEOs for Cities, Julia Taylor of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and Paul Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation, along with many state and local leaders. If you’re in the region and want more information, click here.

How’s this for an offer? The Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago is looking for people to host house party gatherings to discuss issues about the next mayoral race. If you’ve got a group who would be interested, let them know and they’ll supply staff and resources. If you support CNT and their policy recommendations, they’ll actually do the work in educating your friends on them.

The National Film Board of Canada created an interactive site called Out My Window showing panoramic views from residential high rises and such with 13 families living in them in various cities around the world.

Top Stories

1. Ben Schmitt: Broken windows in the Motor City: A Detroit exit journal. A reporter talks about giving up on his plan to stake a claim in Detroit’s revival, and moving to Pittsburgh. This is a really tough story. “Those people who helped me that night, as we waited more than two hours for the cops to arrive, illustrate the fight inside many residents desperate to turn Detroit around. For a while I believed in that fight. I purchased a home in one of the city’s stable neighborhoods nine years earlier because it felt real. I scoffed at other colleagues and editors who drove to work on the freeways and never spent a minute in the city they covered. But when I heard my daughters’ screams that evening, I knew I was gone. No more compromises.”

2. Gov. Ed Rendell: The NFL Thinks We’re a Nation of Wussies – Not urban related per se, but I liked this piece. – “To call off this game because of snow is further evidence of the ‘wussification’ of America. We seem to have lost our boldness, our courage, our sense of adventure and that frontier spirit that made this country the greatest nation in the world. A little snow, a potential traffic tie-up, a long trip home caused us to cancel a football game? Will Bunch, a writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, said that if football were played in China, 60,000 Chinese would have walked through the snow to the stadium doing advanced calculus as they did so. He’s probably right, and it’s no secret why the Chinese are dominating on the world stage.”

3. Ed Glaeser: America’s Revival Begins in Its Cities

4. Demography Matters pointed me at a very interesting blog called Spike Japan that talks about a side of Japan we rarely see, a side falling into Rust Belt ruin – “It may come as a shock to almost all of you living outside of Japan, and to some of you living in the center of its big cities, that as we approach the summer of 2009, swathes of the country are in ruins. It came as a shock to me, too, I have to confess, having lived for almost all of the last decade in the bubble of central Tokyo and only venturing outside occasionally to get to the airport, nearby beaches, and old friends in the mountains.”

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

The trailer for a forthcoming documentary about the infamous Pruitt-Igoe public housing project in St. Louis, which was designed by starchitect Minoru Yamasaki – architect of the World Trade Center – and demolished in 1972. The trailer looks very interesting, so I’ll look forward to seeing the whole thing. (If the video doesn’t display, click here).

World and National Roundup

Miller-McCune: A road less traveled – Have we reached “peak travel” in the industrialized world?

Human Transit: Do roads pay for themselves? – Jarrett Walker looks at a recent study on the matter by the liberal non-profit US PIRG.

Daily Mail: Eco-light bulb cost to triple as ban on old style bulbs kicks in – well surprise, surprise.

Jim Russell: The End of Migration

The Atlantic: Dire States – more bad news about state finances

Alex Marshall: Distinctiveness: A Big Secret to Cities’ Success

Tim Campbell: Cities on the Prowl

Ed Glaeser: Behind the population shift – He credits it to housing regulation.

Business Insider: The 11 State Pension Funds That Will Run Out of Money – No surprise Illinois is #1, but Indiana is #3, and it also scores poorly in many other pension rankings though the pension situation does not even seem to be on the radar in the state. Odd.

New Geography: Washington opens the virtual office door

City Roundups

Next American City: Interview with NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe

LA Times: In a region that imports water, much goes to waste – A discussion of how rain that does fall in LA is basically just channeled off into the ocean instead of captured and reused.

Richard Longworth: A New Year for the Midwest

NYT: Chicago to redevelop US Steel site on lakefront

Chicago Tribune: Chicago’s transportation infrastructure weakening.

Chicago Tribune: Will Chicago think big after Daley?

Chicago Reporter: Loopholes – Despite the huge investment in TIF money, central Chicago actually lost jobs.

Megan Cottrell: Did public housing destroy Chicago’s black voter base? – I’m convinced there’s a Pulitzer for the person who tracks down where the former residents of Chicago’s demolished public housing projects went. A have a friend who is a cop in Gary who says there has been a big influx of ex-CHA residents there. Dittos a friend in Danville, Illinois. And I’ve heard similar reports out of Iowa. It immediately raises the question, was demolition of the projects less about helping the people who lived there than about a deliberate deracination program?

Indy Star: New projects could boost city’s entertainment districts – Quotes Yours Truly plus Kevin Kastner of Urban Indy.

Indianapolis Business Journal: Indianapolis startup scene gains momentum

Cleveland Plain Dealer: In hard times, Cleveland blacks’ views about immigrants shifting

NYT: Trying to overcome the stubborn blight of vacancies in Youngstown

Audrey Russo: Immigration and In-Migration in Pittsburgh

Pittsblog: The New Pittsburgh

Detroit Free Press: Risky best cost Detroit pension funds $480 million and Where the Detroit pension funds went wrong

NYT: In Michigan, Hamtramck pleads for a bankruptcy option

Welcome to Cleveburgh

Chris Briem had a great op-ed piece in the Post-Gazette this week touting a super-regional “Cleveburgh” corridor running from Pittsburgh to Cleveland. If a true mega-regional concept is ever really going to take off, the first step is probably this sort of cross-metro collaboration between neighbors. Here’s Briem’s Cleveburgh map:

Will the Boondoggles Never Cease?

UrbanCincy reports that in it’s latest five year construction plan, the Ohio Department of Transportation, an agency that doesn’t have enough funds to maintain the roads it has in a state in the middle of an acute economic and fiscal crisis, has allocated $809M to extend I-74 through Hamilton County.

Huh? I can’t believe anyone would put this high on a needs list, if indeed it is needed at all. I certainly don’t think so. Hamilton County actually has fewer people today than it did in 1970s, the region is growing more slowly than the national average, and it may already have more miles of six-eight lane freeway than any peer city in America.

Here’s a great chance for new Gov. Kasich to show his conservative bona fides. He cancelled the less expensive 3C rail project as something that state couldn’t afford. (I was also not a fan of that project). Here’s another one he can kill.

I’m a big believer in building infrastructure, and yes, even in building more roads where appropriate. But even among nominally fiscal conservative governors, it’s tough to find any highway boondoggle big enough that they are willing to cancel it. Here’s a perfect opportunity for Kasich to distinguish himself and step up to the plate.

Chicago Lakefront Trail

I think Copenhagen’s bike infrastructure is great, but it’s always great to get nice videos that come from other places too. Here’s one that Joe Peterangelo put together of the Chicago lakefront trail. (If the video doesn’t display, click here).

Post Script

Here’s another amazing early film, this done in 1897 by Thomas Edison of the intersection of State and Madison in Chicago. Hat tip How to Be a Retronaut. (If the video doesn’t display, click here).

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

2010 Urbanophile Year in Review

Happy New Year everybody. As we embark on a new new year, I want to take a look back at the year that was here at the Urbanophile in 2010.

Last year was another huge year here at Urbanophile HQ. We added more readers in 2010 than we did in 2009, which is great. I was also privileged to be able to include more posts from other writers. Part of what I’m trying to do here is stimulate new thinking and serious conversation, so I want to bring as broad a range of serious ideas as I can to the table. And having been fortunate enough to build the Urbanophile into the major national platform that it is today, I want to be able to use that to bring attention to and showcase other thinkers, and particularly new names you may not yet know. I’m extremely grateful to those who have helped me along, particularly when I was just starting out, and I want to pay it forward as much as I can.

My ambition continues to be nothing less than to be America’s premier place for serious, in depth, non-partisan, and non-dogmatic discussion of our urban present and futures. And to provide insight and analysis that is available no where else. Thank you all so much for reading. I truly appreciate the encouragement you’ve given, the comments you’ve left, and so much more. Without all of you, I would have given this up long ago.

Here are some highlights from last year:

I wrote about Portland both in a blog post on my own site, and in an op-ed in the Portland Oregonian.
Jarrett Walker asks us to consider “Learning, Again, from Las Vegas
And I shared a framework for thinking about transit ridership development.

I looked at some of the downsides of city-county consolidation.
And Peter Christensen looks at why transit used to be profitable, but isn’t now

I compared “brain drain” to “steel drain”.
Megan Cottrell says to be careful not to fall in the poverty trap
And I discuss various aspects of the concept of the city as a platform

I investigate some of the parameters around a federal policy for cities.
The need for both top down and bottom up leadership.
Chuck Banas looks at sprawl in its purest form in Buffalo.
Ryan Avent explores the urban economy.

A look at Carmel, Indiana, which I label the next American suburb.
I also dig into Brookings new geography of urban America as unveiled in their State of Metropolitan America report.
Richard Herman encourages Cleveland to turn to immigrants for revitalization.

I talk about why it is worth fighting to save Buffalo.
I was able to feature an excerpt from Richard Florida’s new book, the Great Reset.
And I did a major photo spread on the neighborhoods of Cincinnati.

I talk about the structural advantages of Chicago and how those should be used as the basis for economic strategy, and particular how the city needs to focus on building “Professional Services 2.0”
I discuss why Columbus, Indiana is the best performing industrial city in the state. Hint: it’s not just the architecture.
Over at New Geography, I discuss LeBron James leaving Cleveland.

I talk about a new international style in architecture.
I also talk about why, though privatization can be good, parking meters are the wrong choice.

I explain why there’s no such thing as green industry.
I talk about the power of brand Detroit.

I take on NJ Governor Chris Christie’s cancellation of the ARC tunnel project.
I show how Chicago’s economic competitiveness is eroding, particularly in contrast to New York.
And the Atlanta Journal-Constitution carries an updated version of a piece I originally wrote for New Geography, “Is It Game Over for Atlanta?

Ben Schulman talks about Pittsburgh and the magic of failure.
Richard Longworth asks if global cities can work
And I show that in fact people are not especially fleeing shrinking cities – quite the opposite in fact.

Looking again at college degree density.
A discussion of Minneapolis-St. Paul’s culture.
And a look at Silicon Valley’s enduring advantage

There’s lots more like this if you are interested. All of my archived articles are linked in the left sidebar of my site. Almost every day people land on the blog and end up spending an hour or two reading through old posts, so there’s lot of good stuff in there to check out.

Thank you all again for staying with me and I look forward to another year ahead. I’d like to also thank all those who linked to me, featured my writing, used me as a source, or booked me to speak at their event. In particular, I’d like to thank Joel Kotkin and the team at New Geography, where I have been a regular contributor.

Best wishes for a prosperous 2011 to you all!

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.

About the Urbanophile


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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