Friday, March 4th, 2011


The next leg of our voyage also requires us to attract and keep people in our city. We must commit as a city to build our neighborhoods like we built our downtown and do the things which make our neighborhoods inviting for new residents, new ideas and new hope. That requires neighborhoods with better infrastructure, better education and better amenities. Basically, we must build an attractive urban environment. – Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, 2001 State of the City Address

Yours Truly was featured in a Swiss Public Radio feature on segregation in Chicago. It’s in German, but if you speak it, you can listen here.

I was also featured in this Indianapolis Star piece called Indianapolis Neighborhoods Battle Blight.

I get some interesting feedback on the links I tweet and post here, so I thought I’d make my editorial policy on these clear. I’m trying to provide a diversity of views and perspectives on cities, so I don’t necessarily have to personally agree with or endorse every aspect of the articles I link – or even the ones I repost from elsewhere. I’m a bigger fan of New Urbanism than Will Wiles, for example, but I think he brought an interesting perspective to the table that was worth listening too and made some important points. There’s far too much dogma out there, and I want this to be a place where all of us, including myself, get to listen to contrary views from time to time.

Top Stories

1. Ellen Dannin: Crumbling Infrastructure, Crumbling Democracy – This paper in the Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy looks at various contract provisions in privatization contracts that end up hurting the public. I think it’s fair to say that Dannin is no fan of privatization. I’m certainly more favorable to it than she is, but this paper does an important service in highlighting contract provisions that are seldom discussed, the sorts of things that constrain our ability to adapt public policy to changing public needs and desires over time. She also highlights how contrary to popular belief, often very little risk in these deals is actually transferred to the private company. A lot of the provisions that protect the private companies in this instance actually seem to have come out of contracts used for investment in third world countries. This is definitely recommended reading.

2. Newsweek: Chicago: America’s Hottest City – This profile is a bit over the top frankly, but still great press for the city.

3. San Francisco Chronicle: Low-flow toilets cause a stink – Bleaching the Bay

More Urban Data

In addition to my own urban data web site, I wanted to highlight a couple of other cool data apps.

The first is called FasPark. It’s an app for your phone that helps you find parking spots. Unlike other parking apps that failed because they tried to track the inventory of individual spots and couldn’t do it, FasPark works by giving you a route that is, based on historic spot availability, the fastest route for you to drive to find a spot. You can choose whether you want free, metered, etc. Right now it’s in beta and is only available in Chicago. My friends who created this are looking for people to test it out though. So visit their web site at and download the Android app (iPhone coming soon), or browse the app online from your phone. Here’s a screen shot:

The other is from my friends over at IBM and is called City Forward. It’s also a data terminal of sorts, though I think has a bit of a different focus from me. I like that they have data for some international cities and also that you can start collaborative discussions around a visualization. They got a nice mention in the Journal, so check them out.

World and National Roundup

Phillips has announced the finalists in their 2011 Livable Cities Award. You can actually vote on who should win if you’re interested.

The Economist: Londonism and Its Adherents

This Big City: London’s Transport System to Become a World Leader in Ticketing Technology

NYT: China Rail Chief’s Firing Hints at Deeper Problems

Politico: Transportation’s road to recovery

NYT: Broke Town, USA

Otis White: The Mayor as Manager

Rust Wire: Pros and cons of “Triumph of the City” – A review of Glaeser’s book.

Ed Glaeser: Plenty of reasons people want to live in Houston

NYT: Larger than life city of Dallas is barely growing

NYT: In Indianapolis, the World Comes to Eat – I refer the right honourable gentleman to the answer I gave some time ago. You might also be interested today’s Indy Star piece on the subject. Jolene Ketzenberger has also written on this area in the past as well.

UrbanCincy: Pushing the Racial Dialog in Cincinnati

ChicagoTribune: City conducts first bike count study.

Dennis Byrne: Wanted: The Suburbanization of Chicago

NextStL: Extracting the Silver Bullet from the Heart of St. Louis

NY Observer: Is Detroit the Next New York?

State of Downtown Chicago

The Chicago Loop Alliance published a very interesting report will all sorts of facts about downtown Chicago. The most troubling was featured in a Sun-Times article discussing how employment in the Loop fell from 338,000 in 2000 to 275,000 in 2010, a 63,000 decline or 18.6%, which is a whole heaping bowl of Not Good.

But there is plenty to celebrate in the report as well, including an exploding residential base, rising residential real estate prices, and a huge college presence. The colleges known collectively as “Loop U” now have 65,000 students, making the Chicago Loop in effect the state’s biggest college campus. There’s also strong pedestrian traffic downtown, as this cool chart shows:

Love the Future

Daniel Lippman pointed me at an interesting short from BMW called How We’ll Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Future about transportation technology changes. (Click the link if the video doesn’t display for you).

Post Script

Via Dezeen, here’s a very interesting looking orange cube of a building:


Cities: Chicago

8 Responses to “Urbanoscope”

  1. david vartanoff says:

    so, no surprise, the densest ped routes are bridges from the Loop to Metra Suburban train stations and State St in front of Marshall Fields (Macy’s is a name like Ave of the Americas) another hot spot is the path to the replacement La Salle St Suburban Station.

  2. Interesting, in regards to: In Indianapolis, the World Comes to Eat. I never thought the elementary school I attended, Winchester Village, would ever be referenced in the New York Times…

  3. aim says:

    I call bogus on the claims that the low-flow toilets are causing sludge build-up in the SF sewer systems. First, considering the age of the city, there’s likely as many non-low-flow toilets as there are the low-flows. Second, the sewer system takes in far more than just what goes down the toilets. Unless SF residents aren’t showering, aren’t brushing their teeth, aren’t running their dishwashers and aren’t doing their laundry, there’s still a lot of water going down the drains. Third, SF has a combined storm and sewer system which means rain water is going down the same system as sewage. One good rain storm sends far more water down the system than would ever be sent by all the non-low-flow toilets in the world.

  4. the urban politician says:

    Anybody who actually wants to take a nuanced look at things would know that comparing 2000 (the peak of the 90’s economic boom) employment data to 2010 (the nadir of the recession) data in downtown Chicago is worthless.

    But whatever, lets just keep praising Indianapolis’ suburban strip mall culinary scene. After all, no other city in the country has Indian restaurants in their suburbs…

  5. david vartanoff says:

    @urban politician, for Indian restaurants in nearly every strip mall you need to visit Fremont CA. I will agree about 2000 v 2010 ##.

  6. Wad says:

    My contribution to the Urbanoscope linkroll is this Los Angeles Times story from Monday.

    Forbes magazine named Stockton America’s most miserable city for a second time. Stockton removes its glove, smacks Forbes in the face and demands satisfaction.,0,3710394.story

    Go Stockton!

  7. Keith Morris says:

    Re: Indianapolis neighborhoods battle blight; it’s great to hear about improvements in an area like the Near East side. I can’t get enough of the Mapping America tool which serves as an excellent guide for current and prospective urban pioneers. Take, for example, the Near East just east of Downtown including Woodruff places which saw home prices increase from a whopping %32-49% between two census tracts there (tracts 3545 &3544). What else you learn is that these tracks have the right education levels (around 30% of households w/ bachelors degrees) and income levels (over 30% making $50,000-$74,999 annually): this is the foundation for residential and commercial revitalization to take place. There’s also a lot more of the same demographic around the railroad tracks to the east also off of E 10th. In between, you have some intact urban commercial blocks that can like this one at E 10th & Dearborn which could both serve as quality neighborhood destinations and attract more people to revitalize the nearby not-so-great residential streets.

    Of course, I think the one thing that urban pioneers need to understand and be vocal about, whether it’s Indianapolis or Minneapolis, is bringing back streetcars to these business corridors. They need to understand that as highways continue to pull investment and development away from the inner-city that streetcars would help pull some of that back investment and development into the inner-city and give a real boost, fast, to revitalization efforts. Unfortunately, I doubt that enough people there currently understand and as a result actually want to see a streetcar run down E 10th to bring businesses there and a non-bus connection to Downtown. And in this economy, the ship is sailing on having the money to invest in the right kind of transportation system to serve as a solid anchor in these long-neglected urban neighborhoods (pardon the maritime metaphors).

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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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