Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Employment Challenges Facing Smaller City Downtowns

I recently wrote about the return of jobs to downtown in large tier one cities like Chicago. There are a number of factors driving this: the rise of the “global city”, the locational advantage of downtown for commuters, the significant rise in central city residency for professionals, etc. This has enabled the central cores of cities like New York to remain extremely strong even if in some sense they are losing job share to the suburbs or even outright losing jobs (as in Chicago).

Smaller cities, which I define as anyone below those tier one global type cities, face a much rougher challenge in my opinion. They operate under a different set of dynamics where many of the boosters to downtown employment are absent and indeed there are structural reasons for jobs to migrate to the suburbs. Some of these are:

1. Lack of downtown based industry clusters, notably finance. Cities with vital commercial cores are almost always major global centers for an industries that have historically been based in the core, and which benefit from clustering economics and face to face interaction. Notably, almost all of them are financial centers, often with financial exchanges. This extends far beyond the basic commercial banking sector found in most cities. Other core industries centered in Manhattan, for example, include publishing, media, and fashion. Smaller cities less often have has an equivalent to these industries. Generally the favored target industry clusters of today – life sciences, high tech, advanced manufacturing, etc. – are highly dispersed throughout the region.

2. Limited “global city” effects. As documented by Saskia Sassen in her book The Global City, globalization, while it enabled much routinized production to be done all over the world (the “flat world” of Tom Friedman), also created a need for new specialized financial and producer services. These are increasingly clustered in a limited number of global cities (the “spiky world” of Richard Florida). Smaller cities are often not a major producer of these services. While they may have law firms, accountancies, ad agencies, etc, most of them exist to serve a purely local market. Whereas those firms in global cities not only service the local market, they produce services for export to other markets. This benefits those global cities by creating outsized employment in sectors that are the “natural constituency” for their downtowns.

3. Favored quarter development pattern. Cities typically follow a so-called “favored quarter” development pattern. That is, development is not balanced throughout the region, but is biased to one quadrant, which is also home to a disproportionate number of the college degreed, white collar workers, and higher income groups. In the US, this is often the north side for historical reasons. Because the white collar labor force of the city is disproportionately located in the favored quarter, the approximate center of this labor shed is somewhere in the middle of that favored quarter. Thus a suburban location in the favored quarter may actually be closer to most workers than a downtown one.

4. Traffic and transit. Location in the favored quarter suburbs is further enabled by the small size and comparative lack of traffic congestion in smaller cities. This makes it feasible for workers from anywhere to commute to the favored quarter in a reasonable amount of time, even if they don’t live there. By contrast, the tier one cities are very large and have significant congestion. This limits the commuter shed of suburban locations. On the other hand, their downtowns have 360 degree transit access the enable commuting from anywhere, making it in many regards the most accessible location. (I believe the difficulty of cross-town commuting is one reason Pittsburgh’s downtown has remained relatively strong, for example).

5. Size. Additionally, the smaller size of these cities means for many businesses the entire metro area can be effectively served by a single location. In places like New York or the Bay Area, the regions are so large and spread out that frequently even if there is a suburban location, a second downtown location is also required. This isn’t always the case elsewhere.

6. Positive reinforcement from urban core residential development. Tier one cities have also experienced a significant resurgence in near downtown living by professionals. These people often display a strong preference for a downtown location, where they can avoid commuting in traffic congestion or even not own a car. While the greater downtown of smaller cities have started showing residential growth, it is not yet at a level to generate this type of demand, though it is possible it could at a future date.

Considering these different dynamics vs. tier one cities, the playbook and strategies for strengthening the downtown as a truly commercial center have to be different. I’ve yet to see a truly compelling plan for it anywhere. I can’t claim I’ve got a great one sitting on a shelf here at Atelier Urbanophile either. It’s a hard problem.

I speculate that today most smaller city CBDs have employment that is increasingly concentrated in two sectors: public and quasi-public sector, and the visitor and hospitality related sector. To the extent that there are still truly commercial headquarters and such, many of them are legacy. Every report I’ve seen where someone has done the research has shown consistent declines in private sector employment in downtowns. It will be interesting to see if there are market forces or strategies that can be brought to bear on these smaller city downtowns to enable some of the same results we’ve seen in the tier one cities.

44 Comments
Topics: Economic Development

44 Responses to “Employment Challenges Facing Smaller City Downtowns”

  1. Sid Burgess says:

    A great summary of challenges we face here in Oklahoma City, Aaron. I am curious why you left off health factors? Or do they not play as significant a role in CBD development?

  2. What do you mean by that?

  3. Sid Burgess says:

    I am not an expert on job creation, but I suspect that the less health a population is, the less likely it is to get and keep good jobs. Do CBDs in smaller cities attract enough healthy people as larger cities do? Perhaps there is no correlation but in my limited travels, it always seemed to me that in the most urban environments, people seemed generally more healthy.

  4. Greg says:

    I was in Knoxville last week and it certainly fits your public/quasi-public employer model. TVA, the University of Tennessee, courts, and municipal offices are large employers downtown. Quite a few hotels, restaurants, theaters and clubs too.

    There is a big variety of other small businesses downtown too though, and maybe that should be the target for the smaller metro areas. Entrepreneurs like to be downtown for access to services, and for the “cool” factor.

  5. Quimbob says:

    In Springfield, OH, the local community college, Clark State, has taken over 2 buildings that were built by a defunct insurance company & runs a state built entertainment facility in the CBD. What’s odd, to me, is that the school’s “daytime population” hasn’t spurred any private development in support businesses, primarily, in my mind, eateries.

  6. Rod Stevens says:

    One of the problems with “civic employment” is that it tends to be stultifying. Nor does the limited spending on dining out really support a good restaurant culture, unlike the private sector, which has expense accounts to subsidize things.

    We need new models for small downtowns. One is something other than retail as the basis. In most places, “boutiqueville” is not enough of a strategy. Bringing back in small offices and shops will make the place go, if there’s any kind of amenity to make people want to live there.

    A second possible strategy is viewing downtowns not just as the center of the city but as a neighborhood in and of themselves, a place where people live. Looked at this way opens up all kinds of thinking, about what it will take to make it a nice place to live (i.e. parks, schools, walks, open space, fountains, anything other than the faux main street solutions.).

    Living or working, the implications are the same. When you set aside the big budget projects, what does it take to make these places livable- by day for those who work or are retired, by night for those who want to live nearby and go for a walk. Delving into these questions might lead to the elimination of the one-way grid, to more small parks and fewer big streetscape projects.

  7. Andrew says:

    Very random small question: you mention that the favored quarter is often in the north for US cities. Why is this? Are there common historical reasons, or is it just a quirk of geography everywhere where this happens to be the case?

  8. Alon Levy says:

    In Providence, the issue is not that downtown has no jobs (downtown is fine judging by its high-rise building density), but that it is urban renewal hell. The neighborhood I’m going to live in is walkable and has streets that don’t have too much traffic as long as you avoid one intersection at its corner; downtown has freeways, arterials, uncrossable bridges over the rivers, and a shopping mall.

    Also, I don’t know about north-south, but if there’s an east-west pattern, the west side is the favored one. This is because the prevailing wind in temperate latitudes is westerly, which means that back when there were factories in the city proper, the western suburbs had cleaner air than the eastern suburbs.

  9. Andrew,

    In the US, rivers often flow north to south, and in the era before modern sanitation, being upstream mattered. If you look at cities along the Ohio River, which flows east to west, like Cincinnati and Louisville, the east side is favored over the west. As Alon noted, the western direction is often preferred as well because of the prevailing winds that carried pollution to the east.

  10. Matthew Hall says:

    Cincinnati’s relativley successful downtown is similiar to Pittsburgh’s in that crosstown travel is hard and no good secondary centers have emerged such as clayton in St. louis or Kansas City’s Country Club. Downtown cincy is simply the only game in town for a handful of industries. Day or night, downtown cincy is busier than it has been in 20 years.

  11. Wad says:

    To add to No. 1, the changed character of the finance world rules out the opportunities for a financial cluster to emerge in the smaller cities.

    If you look at banking before the personal computer era, you could trace a city’s growth and prosperity to a single bank or a regional finance cluster. These would be banks that wrote loans and handed deposits, but the bankers played a significant role as influence brokers behind the scenes. In these days, every city had an “old boys club.”

    The banking elites would often play the role of the enforcer. A fellow businessman’s ability to get a loan or continue other transactions was often tied to the bankers’ perceptions of you. In a more paternalistic time, if you carried yourself in a way that met the banker’s disapproval, your business and social circle would suffer.

    And that’s if you could get the banks to give you the time of day. Blacks everywhere were turned away. So were immigrant or ethnic groups, who had to establish parallel banks or financial channels like benevolent associations.

    While bankers often acted like the local caudillo, they also had a stake in the businesses they financed. Banks had a vested interest in the growth and maturity of the companies they financed.

    Today, though, such bonds are history as information and transportation dissolved them. Oh yes, banks are still very much around, but the banking culture is changed, too.

    Now, banks are national or global with localized presences. This has substituted the “old boys club” to a “branch office” culture where the big prizes are in transactional churn. Finance professionals are more account executives than bankers, focusing on sealing big deals and moving to bigger territories and up the chain.

    Also, the finance world is much more fragmented. Businesses don’t need to turn to banks in order to get financed. Also, commerce has a large, specialized field of financial sources, from investment banks to private equity firms to commercial paper underwriters and much more.

    These are actually spread far and wide, but unlike the banks of old that sought high-visibility through established brands and iconic headquarters, alt-finance prefers to be inconspicuous. They have unrecognizable brands, don’t employ many people and tend to occupy unassuming office space.

  12. John Morris says:

    A very high percent of U.S. smaller downtowns are urban renewal hell.

    The bottom line is that in most places, one can’t make a judgement about how popular or functional real walkable urbanism might be in most places cause this product is just not on offer.

    Aaron poited out that government jobs often dominate (jobs with no market synergies) many downtowns and that the rest of the space has been organised around-basically tourism.

    It’s not like any serious effort has ever gone into either creating walkable business, shopping districts or bringing in residents.

    The result is a donut downtown with a few legacy headquarters, large government buildings, a park, if your lucky and massive amounts of surface parking or garages for sports stadiums or other tourist attractions. All of this cut off from most surrounding neighborhoods by highways.

    That small populations of urbanists are showing up in many of these cities is an indication of potential demand.

    IMHO-the very obsession with suburban tourists is a core problem undermining the ability to create livable places the work for their residents.

  13. John Morris says:

    I’ve been meaning to do more in depth post about this, but generally, I think the total obsession with “reviving the downtown” is also misguided.

    A downtown is a product of it’s context and it’s really the death or clearance of the surrounding neighborhoods that created the dead downtowns. Also another linked cause is that in many cities there is a large industrial and or warehouse district near the downtown that is in flux and not fully redeveloped for other uses.

  14. Eric M says:

    I think part of the problem is that so many people have grown up in planned suburbs that they don’t even know how to live in a small town, let alone in a city. Since big cities with downtowns are often really more like dozens of small towns layers on top of each other, people who come from real small towns at least have a basis of comparison. People coming from sprawling suburbs often have no basis of comparison for how to live in an urban environment. I grew up in a century-old town of 540 people, but once I realized Chicago is really like dozens of small towns layered on top of each other, I was instantly able to adapt and fit in. Friends of mine from sprawl suburbs often take longer to assimilate, and sometimes they never really do and persist with doing things that even in a classic small town would be considered anti-social but are apparently common in sprawling suburbs.

  15. John Morris says:

    Logically fixing and connecting the surrounding neighborhoods will be more important for a CBD in a smaller city since building a large commuter rail network like Chicago, NY and Philly have is not possible.

    I’m not saying that working on the downtown isn’t important but it’s more about having a realistic direction that sets things in motion in the total area. For example, Pittsburgh has a small downtown that can’t rell revive itself–but some improvement in the downtown has spurred development in The Strip.

  16. Chris Barnett says:

    East of the Mississippi, upstream is also generally east. Living on the west side of a city typically means commuting east into the sunrise and west into the sunset, which makes it less favorable. It’s certainly not favored in the “no obstacle” cities like Columbus and Indianapolis: both of them have always had the nicer ‘burbs east and north.

    West of the Big Muddy, the sun and water fight as “downstream” there is often east; MSP and KC are twin-city metros with completely different dynamics.

  17. John Morris says:

    “I’ve yet to see a truly compelling plan for it anywhere. I can’t claim I’ve got a great one sitting on a shelf here at Atelier Urbanophile either. It’s a hard problem.”

    Honestly this is a somewhat absurd statement.

    The fault is in how you state the issue. Perhaps-for a while one just isn’t going to create massive job growth and dynamism.

    What’s wrong with just accepting a more low key revival built around the people who really want to live and work in the city?

    Youngstown-so far with it’s more low budget revival centered around Youngstown State and the cheap business incubators is one example of something that’s clearly working.

    Perhaps in many towns a much better plan is to have multiple areas with solid density and employment rather than the “big downtown”.

    Pittsburgh’s first real “sucess stories” happened in neighborhoods like Shadyside and The Southside. The very lack of dingbat projects and the inevitable broken street grids they create is what made the Southside work.

  18. Derek Rutherford says:

    I agree with John Morris – I think over-focusing on 1900-era downtown forms is too limiting. For most cities, the focus should be on healthy, vibrant neighborhoods that revolve around the people who live and work there, and not as much on a “big downtown”. Remove the obstacles some places have on unusual development patterns and see what happens.

    Cities could have the chance to look more dissimilar, which I consider a positive. Too often I go to a new city and see the same-old-same-old: an aged downtown with a generic set of improvement ideas that could be anywhere (sport stadium boondoggles, half-empty light rail, a few tourism-oriented developments). There is too much nostalgia for a form that served an earlier age. Let’s see what cities adapt best to our own age, rather than subsidize a form whose merits are passing.

    I know some cities are exceptions to part/all of the above, and more power to them. But most small/medium-sized cities, or cities whose growth is mostly post-WWII, are not being well served by trying to recreate an earlier era.

  19. John Morris says:

    I’m not absolutely saying the downtown or certainly the urbanist form is not valid.

    One huge issue is just that the cure people have come up with targeted at drawing huge single event crowds has actaully undermined the urbanist potential.

    There are actually quite a few cities now where I expect a revival-everywhere else-except where these giant projects are.

    The nostalgia doesn’t seem to be about creating a great downtown-but getting the suburban crowds back in the city-even a few times a year.

  20. lou says:

    the philadelphia pa region has two favored quarters. Generally it is the main line, west of the city to the north as far east as the border with nj. The schullyill river towns are the dumps because of the industrial roots even though they are in the favored quater.

    South jersey has its own favored quarter following routes 70, part of 30, 38, and 73. These roads have good access to philly and are closer to nyc for jobs. But beware, the closer you get to camden (driving west) the worse it gets and the farther into the pinebarrens the worse it gets (driving east).

  21. George Mattei says:

    Columbus’ “perferred” (higher wealth) areas tend to be north and west actually, which follows the common wisdom. However, Ohio State affects that greatly. It’s north of downtown and has much better access from the west than the east. Recently the establishment of New Albany and Easton by Les Wexner (our resident billionaire titan and head of Limited Brands) has brougth some cachet to the northeast side.

    I’m glad to see this post by Aaron. I had mentioned in Aaron’s previous post about downtowns that I thought smaller cities had different dynamics for many of the same reasons Aaron posted here.

  22. George Mattei says:

    I think one of the main reasons for wanting a nice downtown is the “interview” appeal. If you go and meet a prospective employer for the first time and don’t put on your best suit and look nice and spiffy, that’s going to hurt your chances, fair or not. You may be the best employee ever, but if you can’t put your best foot forward, you hurt your chances greatly.

    I think it’s the same with cities. A good percentage of visitors go downtown first. It’s a region’s “front door”. In a sense it’s your first interview with many visitors. If your downtown is a dump, people think your whole town is a dump, even if its not.

    Many strategies used to try to make downtowns nicer may be wrong, and maybe focusing on the neighborhoods around downtown and having reasonable expectations is the best way to generate downtown demand and move forward. However, the obsession with “reviving downtown” is not totally misplaced in my opinion. It just may need to be tempered a bit.

  23. Chris Barnett says:

    I agree with George (#21, not #20) regarding downtowns.

    Re favored quarter in Columbus: I don’t think you can ignore Bexley. It is due east and was already “favored” when Dublin, Hilliard, and Westerville were just farmland. Wexner lived there before he was superrich; I’m relatively certain it’s still highly desirable.

    Today, modern upscale suburbs completely ring cities like Columbus and Indianapolis where there are no real obstacles to sprawl.

  24. John Morris says:

    These projects as a whole have not been directed at creating a “nice downtown” in many cases, but a downtown oriented around large events, tourists and at getting suburbanites in and out of the city in their cars. Often the end result is a downtown that is desolate in off hours and like Cleveland’s.

    Aaron once published an article showing that the vast majority of downtown public “investments” have been geared to tourism or retail and very little at ammenities residents would want.

    By definition, it’s almost impossible to have a downtown scaled for peak traffic loads in a few areas to not require masses of expensive, ugly parking. The only people impressed by places like this are those who have no experience in real cities.

    What we really have is people p–ing on our legs and telling us it’s raining.

    Luckily in Pittsburgh, the hotel staff directed people to the Southside.

    A far better policy is to target those groups and areas already showing revival. The Southside was doing well-so they added the retail and offices like the American Eagle HQ. More residential could of and would have been built had not the city signed a deal limiting construction.

    In the case of Pittsburgh’s downtown, nothing has helped as much as the emerging urban campus of Point Park University or The Art Institute’s new downtown dorms.

  25. Rod Stevens says:

    Stepping back and away from the “form” issue frees up all kinds of possibilities. All place compete for people’s time, money, attention and loyalty. What do we actually want down towns to do for us? How can they compete with other places.

    I’m convinced that most old down towns do indeed need to become more neighborhood-like, that they are places where people who want to see each other frequently can live. For people who want to be able to walk to the library, to coffee, to some sort of activity hub. For people who will trade a front and back yard for the ease of access. For people who may want an office that does not put them out on their own all day, where they can take a break, walk out and see people.

    The fact is that in most cities you can get all this in mid-town shopping areas, the old shopping streets surrounded by nice older neighborhoods, often by the established hospital in an area. These places are not too big, they don’t have too much retail space, they usually have narrower, tree-lined, cooler streets, and they don’t usually have street people issues. Typically they don’t have signs lit up at night that say, “bail bonds”. It’s not hard to call to mind the dilapidated downtown. Prettying these things up is not go to take care of the basic question that no one wants to go there. I was recently in downtown Camden, NJ. Ugh! It could not have been farther, in appeal, from Society Hill, in Philadelphia, right across the river. There is a model of urbanism, and perhaps we simply need to go to the great old places, figure out what makes them attractive as places to live, and then start applying those qualities.

    I read the word “nostalgia” here, and I do think too much of the thinking goes back to a Pre-WW II vision of what downtowns were like and how they functioned, back in the street car era. Given that that music stopped in 1929, we’re not too many years from a century away from the conditions that drove that development. When I was young, we would no more have looked back to the Civil War for models than we would have to Revolutionary times, and yet that is what we are doing with small downtowns. Isn’t it time to find a new function for them, one that makes people want to go there? Maybe that function is simply called “inner city living”.

  26. Alon Levy says:

    London and Paris both have their richer suburbs to the west; the prevailing wind in Europe is the same as in the US, so that particular dynamic can be observed outside the US as well.

  27. Chris Barnett says:

    I agree with Rod about midtown areas: they are the most fertile for redevelopment and resettlement at neighborhood scale in most small/midsize cities. This is so because land value drops off quickly from the CBD in a smaller city, and such midtown districts are still close enough to downtown to take full advantage of the regional attractions there.

    One of the functions of a city downtown is as the center of the metro area, providing the “regional center” uses: universities and central libraries; med centers; courthouses and government centers; convention, dining, lodging, entertainment (including museums, performing arts, and sports) centers; and the office/regional retail CBD.

    This is economic specialization at work: the land is too valuable for low-density residential. And in lower-cost (smaller) cities, it’s impossible to sell high-density residential at anything near the cost to build it. Likewise the “neighborhood retail” that would support lots of people living in a “downtown neighborhood”.

    By their nature, the regional entertainment, convention, and and other leisure-time centers are “lumpy” (i.e. require large land area) but are complementary to the CBD uses, as all require people to travel from all over the metro area…and outside of a handful of cities, that means “by car”. So weekday work parking is evening and weekend leisure parking.

  28. John Morris says:

    In many cases, the “lumpy” uses are all there is and hog a very large chuck of available land.

    Are many of these really that valuable–right away that you need to give up land area for this? My general advice is that to a very large extent the city should plan place residents and local convenience value above a lot of this stuff.

    It’s a chicken and egg situation I know, but the need for these “lumps” reflects a general lack of concern for residents and building back the areas near the downtown and often also a misguided reflection of bad city marketing.
    “Nobody would come here if there wasn’t a game”.

    NYC has this much more thought out. If you can’t deal with the city on it’s terms, it’s best you stay out of town.

  29. John Morris says:

    “So weekday work parking is evening and weekend leisure parking.”

    And what about the residents, business owners who don’t want to locate somewhere, half the buildings are garages? I mean what are you selling once you undermine the whole value of being in a city? How is this different from a an office park with worse traffic and a few nice old buildings?

    What happens when potential demand develops for more construction? Is it banned so one can keep the parking?

    This is the fundamental rub. One now has many downtown players like staidium owners who need parking above all other things and don’t really have an interest in allowing or promoting dense development.

  30. John Morris says:

    This is just sick thinking. The funny thing is it’s not supported by the facts. Most cities have some old part of town that remains like Pittsburgh’s Southside with a dense mixed use old streetscape and very often these places attract and frustrate motorists who want to go there to shop, eat or soak in the street life.

    In spite of almost always being short of parking, these are often the most popular places in the city. In fact putting the squeeze on parking in the popular places is the best possible idea.

  31. Aaron’s arguments are quite sound, and very consistent with the Sassen view of Global Cities.

    However, there is a definitive move towards migrating to CERTAIN smaller cities and even non-metropolitan areas, especially by retiring baby boomers. Go google Peter Nelson and John Cromartie’s research in this arena.

    If possible (i.e., financially feasible), many retiring baby boomers seek a high quality of life, sense of community, outdoor amenities (and not just a park with nice ponds), and something that gives them a sense of small town America. Of course, the challenge is that many of these small towns/cities are hurting because of broader economic forces.

    But, look at Bend, Oregon; Sun Valley, Idaho; Charlottesville, Virginia; Hanover, New Hampshire; Madison, Wisconsin; etc. and you will find a stealth economy of retiring baby boomers who are bringing their savings (albeit a bit dwindled) and the ability to continue their work with customers/clients in far-reaching national and international places (i.e., they are a “basic” economic sector bringing dollars into the local economy). There is a lot of power there that is not measured in the typical economic statistics (because many of these new migrants are not counted due to their sole proprietor status).

  32. John Morris says:

    I think that’s a huge factor generally. Lots of self employed people choose to ive in cities and there’s a very blurred line between residential and business.

    I would argue that business convenience is the number one single reason people live in dowtowns–that is places that actually are allowed to function as downtowns and not event parking.

  33. Thanks for the comments.

    I’m less concerned about form than function. Great cities have always been built on commerce and conquest. If your central city has no commerce (and keep in mind the industry has mostly long since left too), then it isn’t likely to survive as a purely bedroom community for suburban business (unless you’re San Francisco).

  34. John Morris says:

    Fuunction is exactly what I’m talking about. The average downtown doesn’t offer a substantial level of convenience to it’s small entrepreneurs or density of potential interactions over it’s suburban competitors.

    This is very much a product of design. How does a 100,000 seat stadium that’s full about ten times a year help the business function of a city? How does sticking 3 or more such “ammenities help” convince people this is a great place to do business?

    How does the highway that cuts off the surrounding neighborhoods that can’t be torn down because it’s needed because of the stadiums help?

    What role does the role of the threat of eminent domain play in average downtown in which this is the method of development?

    How does creating land use patterns that undermine transit in the central hub of many transit systems affect the whole system?

  35. Chris Barnett says:

    John, think like an economist. The cost of land in downtowns is just too high for most small businesses and single-family neighborhoods, unless the business is providing high value-added services or goods.

    A quaint near-downtown neighborhood that becomes an attraction ISN’T downtown. It’s a neighborhood; many small to midsize cities have them. They weren’t built as “attractions”, nor were they built to handle the intensity of activity (i.e. number of car trips) that they are now required to support.

    It’s clear that you don’t like big-league sports or the subsidies they receive, but again, think somewhat objectively about the operating economics. Who do you think buys all those expensive seats and boxes in big-league stadia? Do you think it’s solely for the purpose of conspicuous consumption? Why do you think companies are willing to shell out big money for stadium sponsorships and in-stadium ads and naming opportunities? Can you document a downtown NFL stadium that is actually used only 10 times/year?

    NFL football stadia are typically used for other large-scale events, such as soccer, college and high-school sports, motocross, concerts, and the NCAA basketball Final Four. The Georgia Dome in Atlanta and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis are both attached to convention centers, allowing either large-scale displays or large-scale gatherings to be part of conventions there.

  36. John Morris says:

    LOL, think like an economist? Is that a joke? Just why doesn’t NYC have a either a baseball or football stadium in Manhattan. Are they dumb. Why are the loser downtowns in cities that are mostly losing population some kind of model? NYC also is far from having the largest convention center.

    It’s also one of the few cities that where the “downtown” actually bankrolls the rest of the city and not the other way around.

    As to why, at least for a while, many downtowns cannot be good places for small busineeses is a huge question. Could the cost of minimum parking be a big factor?

    Why exactly does it cost so much to build or rehab buildings? Why can’t many of them be rehabed gradually while still being rented–the way it happened in NY.

    There is actually a pretty long record of what has worked and what hasn’t. People just want to keep on doing what they are for a variety of mostly corrupt reasons.

    Anyway, no two downtowns are exactly the same and if you have lots of space, perhaps you can play these destructive games throwing away land value. Just don’t try to tell people that the space you create with 30- 50% parking garages is a downtown or that lack of demand shows that there is no market for urban space.

    As far as the use of the stadium-I am talking the number of times a year it is actually full. Heinz Field rents small parts of the stadium for events. It also does things like host regional high shool championships which bring in less than 10 thousand fans.

    Even if one stretches the number out to 20 full days/nights it’s hardly a good deal.

  37. John Morris says:

    I’d like an exact number but the Cleveland Browns stadium was likely used less than 15 times last year yet is one of the single biggest influences on the development of the downtown and lakefront.

    http://hankdrake.blogspot.com/2011/01/mistake-by-lake.html

    One just can’t gat away from the fact that in many cities the structure of the downtown is determined by these projects.

  38. Chris Barnett says:

    John, I don’t even know where to start. Aaron’s post was about small-to-midsize cities, not NYC, Chicago, or LA. NYC’s peers are HK, Singapore, London, and Shanghai, not Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Indianapolis.

    However, growth and worldwide change have made the core of mid-tier cities function as “regional centers” instead of “downtowns”. Economically and geographically, the high-value regional activities that require a large geographic area to support will tend to cluster at the center of the region…in or near what used to be “walkable downtowns”. (Over time, even Manhattan’s built form has changed from mostly single-family neighborhood residential to the dense megalith that it is today…all in response to its ever-larger economic footprint.) This is what I meant by “think like an economist”. Economic transformation of a city inevitably leads to physical transformation, and things will be bigger.

    You REALLY need to come to Indianapolis and walk around an active, revived mid-size city downtown. 30 years ago it was dead and depressing. The first domed stadium hadn’t been built. The Colts were in Baltimore and “Manning” was the name of an NFL quarterback in New Orleans with three young sons at home. At 5:05 on a Friday, you saw a lot of taillights, unless the Pacers were playing.

    Today in Indianapolis there’s a newer arena, a mall, a replacement domed stadium, a triple-A (top-level minor league) baseball stadium, three new museums (one of which is attached to the NCAA headquarters), a zoo/botanical garden, and a downtown home for the year-round symphony. The structure of downtown has been shaped by sports, but not defined by the sports structures. In addition to sports, the key drivers have been conventions, hotels, restaurants, tourism, symphony and theater along with commitments to move or stay downtown by big local companies (Lilly, Wellpoint and more recently Exact Target and Rolls Royce).

    The downtown buzz is definitely event-driven, and people definitely want to be there. Apartments are about 96% full. The key may be having LOTS of events: 60-70 baseball games, 40-50 basketball games, 10-12 NFL and several more college and high school football games, NCAA and Big Ten basketball and football playoffs, frequent conventions, indoor and outdoor popular-music concerts in many venues, and year-round arts (symphony, plays, movies and innumerable festivals). There’s an annual juried film festival, and a quadrennial juried international violin competition.

    None of this is even related to the racing for which the city is best-known internationally, and which attracts hundreds of thousands of people to only three events a year.

  39. John Morris says:

    “Aaron’s post was about small-to-midsize cities, not NYC, Chicago, or LA. NYC’s peers are HK, Singapore, London, and Shanghai.”

    He also said quite accurately that very, very few small to midsized cities have managed to create viable downtowns-in terms of population or solid business base.

    I do find it somewhat interesting and possibly connected to the way most smaller cities have organised their downtown around mega complexes requiring masses of parking, highways and the dead space they create.

    Care to put an exact number on the “96% rented apartments” How many?

    I’m also not making a point that an urban area doesn’t benefit from some of these things-just that placing them all in a small area of dowtown usually subtracts more than it adds.

  40. John Morris says:

    Anyway, whatever downtown Indianapolis is, I rest my case about it not being a place that puts business convenience and livability first.

    Indy looks somewhat typical in that most cities have placed status events over the more practical issues of business convenience and livability.

  41. John Morris says:

    In the case of Providence, the East/West divide likely just has more to do with the development of industry along the Blackstone River which flows through the more eastern areas.

  42. John Morris says:

    @Chris Barnett

    This may be a little fluffed up with hype but it looks like Detroit may be finding another path to create a dynamic downtown.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/03/fashion/the-young-and-entrepreneurial-move-to-downtown-detroit-pushing-its-economic-recovery.html?src=ISMR_HP_LO_MST_FB

    Yes I know Detroit does have downtown stadiums but what’s going on doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with them.

  43. John Morris says:

    Novel ideas –actually reach outside the city and not just to the suburbs to attract people! Which is also what Youngstown has done.

    Set up start up incubators-which is also what Youngstown has done.

    Offer subsidies and deals to people who chose to live in the city.

    Anyway, Indy’s plan to make the town as easy and convenient to not live in is about as dumb as it gets.

    My personal guess is that Detroit is at the start of a real roll.

  44. Jon Hendricks says:

    Welp, Bill Testa has a piece up over at his blog, “Chicago’s Center Leads the Way?” dated July 11, 2011, in which he posts rather positive wage and job data for central city Milwaukee and Indianapolis where it turns out number of jobs and wage earnings are substantially up for 1994-2008.

    http://midwest.chicagofedblogs.org/

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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