Thursday, March 29th, 2012

The Great Reordering of the Urban Hierarchy

My latest blog post is online over at New Geography. It is called “The Great Reordering of the Urban Hierarchy.” In it, I look at how the relentless expansion of the US federal government and the “spiky world” forces of globalizations are revamping the urban hierarchy of the top tier cities in the United States. While not a definitive view, it seems that New York is going from strength to strength, while Washington, DC emerges as America’s new “Second City.” This has been to the detriment of Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston. It’s controversial to be sure, but I hope you’ll enjoy it. Comments definitely encouraged on this one.

Update: Richard Florida has more to say on this topic over at The Atlantic Cities..

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Manhatta

That great site How to Be a Retronaut pointed me at this great 1921 silent film of New York City by Paul Strand. It’s called “Manhatta” and provides a unique look at NYC at the early part of the 20th century. If the video doesn’t display, click here.

Also on the Retronaut recently was this 1925 “infographic” from Popular Science Monthly about how we may live and travel in 1950, and how this new world might solve congestion problems…..

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Applying Jane Jacobs Tenets of Vibrant Neighborhoods to Car-Based Cities by Tory Gattis

[ Tory Gattis is a former McKinsey consultant who writes about urbanism for the Houston Chronicle, in his blog Houston Strategies, and elsewhere. He’s an unabashed and articulate proponent of the “Houston model” of urbanism. In this post, he applies Jane Jacobs’ views of the virtues of density to a car-based city like Houston. While I realize many won’t appreciate this point of view, I want to continue to present a variety of well-argued positions that challenge the thinking of all of my readers at some point along the way. Next week, Tory applies the insights of this piece to Houston vs. Manhattan – Aaron. ]

Jane Jacobs four tenets of vibrant neighborhoods are, in short form:

  1. Mixed primary uses that create traffic/vibrancy throughout the day
  2. Short blocks to make neighborhoods more walkable
  3. Mixed age and overhead buildings to enable a diversity of businesses
  4. Population density

To put them in context, it’s important to understand that Ms. Jacobs formed these tenets while observing her Greenwich Village NYC neighborhood (and similar ones) during the 1950s (the book came out in 1961). It was an urban world in the midst of a major transitional upheaval, as the car moved from a luxury to a standard household item for the middle classes. Cities at the time had been built around walking and mass transit, and accommodating the car was traumatic: too narrow streets, not enough parking, and freeways plowing through neighborhoods. Today, the vast majority of us live in an urban/suburban landscape built around the car – with accommodations for parking and major arterials and freeways – which makes the tenets seem almost quaint and disconnected from our modern world.

The problem as I see it is that these four principles have hardened into dogma in the urban planning community without really understanding the meaning and philosophy behind them. To some extent, I even think Jane Jacobs herself suffered from this too-narrow understanding of her own insight. Let’s see if we can get to the true essence of these principles, and then talk about how they might apply to modern car-based cities.

The goal is a very subjective concept called “vibrancy.” What is vibrancy? To put it simply, vibrancy means a buzz of people interacting and transacting in win-win exchanges – both economic and social. Vibrancy was very visible in Jane’s world: people on the street and sidewalks, jostling and bumping as they went about their daily businesses, often in street-level retail establishments just off the sidewalk. In the car-based world, that vibrancy is more hidden. Sure, you can see the cars (sometimes way, way too many cars in congested traffic), but you don’t really see the people or the interactions as they hide inside the cars, strip centers, and office buildings. They’re there, but we don’t “feel” them as much as we do in a classic Jane Jacobs walkable neighborhood.

Vibrancy starts with a very simple decision: is there some interesting or necessary activity that draws me out of my home? Work? Shopping? Socializing? Whether I’m in a walk-up apartment in New York or a house in the suburbs, the question is the same. More options increases the likelihood of drawing me out. And I have to weigh-up those interesting options against the barriers to going out, particularly mobility: how much time, effort, and money is required to go do this activity? A good, cheap restaurant is an easy choice when it’s right down the street, but a harder one in heavy traffic with unpredictable parking or with some long walks and subway rides in possibly unpleasant weather. There’s always leftovers in the fridge and something on TV, the mortal enemies of “vibrancy”.

The flip-side perspective is that of the business owner: what kind of reasonable customer base will I be able to draw on? The more barriers between me and them, the less likely they are to patronize my business. What is my “draw zone”? The more people – and the more money – in that draw zone, the better my prospects. That means a larger diversity of businesses can be supported.

Looked at through these lenses, Ms. Jacobs’ four tenets make instant sense. If you assume walking as the primary mobility mode, distance becomes a major barrier to vibrancy. Taxis are expensive – not to mention a major pain to flag down, even in NYC – and transit is generally a hassle, slow, and loses time in waiting and transfers. Thus we need as many interesting activities and options as possible within as short a distance as possible to get vibrancy. Mixed-use and mixed-cost buildings increase the variety of options within that short distance – and more options increases the likelihood that one or more of them will be attractive enough to draw you out on a given day, evening, or weekend. Short blocks make walking routes more direct, and put more options within the same travel-time range. And density provides the raw fuel of consumers to keep all those interesting street shops economically viable. The more eclectic a business, the larger the draw zone – in size and population – it needs to stay viable: convenience stores and dry cleaners are easy – offbeat bookstores and sushi restaurants are harder to support. The mobility zones are so limited in this world, that the only way a neighborhood reaches critical mass for vibrancy is to stack as many people as possible right on top of the businesses: mixed-use and density.

In the car-based world, distance becomes far less of an impediment. Speed determines the “mobility/draw zone” – fast arterials and freeways with minimal congestion. Short blocks and mixed-use become somewhat irrelevant because the pertinent geography now spreads over miles instead of blocks. Mixed age/cost buildings are still important, but over a much larger area. Harsh zoning and permitting can limit commercial space availability, increasing scarcity and prices and driving out lower value uses, thus limiting commercial diversity (see yesterday’s post on Opportunity City vs. Pleasantville). Density still matters somewhat, but far less than before. Generally speaking, in Jane’s world, mobility is relatively fixed and slow (walking, transit), but density is variable – therefore the key to vibrancy is to pump up density. In the car-based city, density tends to stay in a reasonably narrow and low range because of the need to accommodate cars and parking – plus consumer preferences for stand-alone homes – but mobility is variable: average trip speed is very dependent on the availability of high-capacity, smoothly-running arterials and freeways. I would go so far as to call the freeway the “short block” of the car-based city because of its similar relative improvement to the size of the mobility/draw zone.

So the four tenets of vibrancy transformed for the car-based city get reduced to two:

  1. Loose zoning/permitting constraints to enable both a wide diversity of businesses as well as population density where there is consumer demand (apartments, condos, townhomes)
  2. Maximized mobility with a well-designed, high-capacity arterial and freeway network

These two principles maximize the population within the largest possible mobility/draw zone, which gives vibrancy its best chance of reaching critical mass and flourishing.

All of this is not to say that car-based cities like Houston don’t need mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods – but they’re not required for us to be a vibrant city/metro. A “nice-to-have” amenity, if you will. What’s going on in downtown, uptown, midtown, and The Village (among others) are good, healthy developments – and I think Jane would approve – but they’re not the end-all/be-all of vibrancy.

Next week, we’ll go into more depth on density vs. mobility by comparing Manhattan and Houston trip scenarios, and what that means for vibrancy, “suburban monotony”, frontage/feeder roads, and Jane Jacobs’ “dead zones”.

This post originally appeared in Houston Strategies on May 3, 2006.

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Replay: Buffalo, You Are Not Alone

It hurts. When a bigtime Harvard economist writes off your city as a loss, and says America should turn its back on you, it hurts. But Ed Glaeser’s dart tossing is but the smallest taste of what it’s like to live in place like Buffalo. To choose to live in the Rust Belt is to commit to enduring a continuous stream of bad press and mockery.

I write mostly about the Midwest, but whether we think Midwest or Rust Belt or something else altogether, the story is the same. From Detroit to Cleveland, Buffalo to Birmingham, there are cities across this country that are struggling for a host of historic and contemporary reasons. We’ve moved from the industrial to the global age, and many cities truly have lost their original economic raison d’etre. Reviving them requires the hard work of rebuilding and repositioning them for a new era, a daunting task to be sure.

But beyond their legitimate challenges, these cities also face the double burden that they are unloved by much of America, and all too often by their own residents. They are forlorn and largely forgotten, except as cautionary tales or as the butt of jokes.

These cities aren’t sexy. They aren’t hip. They don’t have the cachet of a Portland or Seattle. The creative class isn’t flocking. They are behind in the new economy, in the green economy. Look at any survey of the “best” cities and find the usual suspects of New York, Austin, San Francisco. Look at yet another Forbes “ten worst” list and see Cleveland and Toledo kicked again when they are down. They are portrayed as hopeless basket cases with no hope and no future.

But I reject that notion. I do not believe in the idea that these cities are beyond repair and unworthy of attention—or affection.

Someone asked me once why I bother. Why does it matter that these cities come back? Why not just let nature take its course? Why not let Buffalo die, and its people scatter to the winds?

It’s because it doesn’t just matter to a few proud people in Buffalo, it matters to America. The idea of disposable cities is one that is incompatible with a prosperous and sustainable future for our country. Fleeing Rust Belt cities for neo-Southern boomtowns is nothing more than sprawl writ large. Rather than just abandoning our cores, we’ll now abandon entire regions in the quest for new greenfields to despoil. We can’t have a truly prosperous and sustainable America with only a dozen or so superstar cities that renew themselves from age to age while others bloom like a flower for a season, then wither away. An America littered with an ever increasing number of carcasses of once great cities is not one most of us want to contemplate.

But beyond that, it’s because I believe we can make it happen. Look closely and the change is already in the air. Globalization taketh away—but it also giveth. Cities like Buffalo or St. Louis now have access to things that even people in Chicago didn’t not that long ago. Amazon, iTunes, and a host of specialty online retailers put the best of the world within reach. Where once you couldn’t get a good cup of coffee, there are now micro-roasters aplenty. Where once your choices were Bud, Miller, or Coors, an array of specialty brews are on tap, often brewed locally. Restaurants are better, with food grown locally and responsibly. Slowly but surely the ship is turning on sustainability, with nascent bike cultures in almost every city, LEED certified buildings, recycling programs, and more. House by house, rehab by rehab, neighborhoods in these cities are starting to come to life.

Where once moving to one of these cities would have been likened to getting exiled to Siberia, it’s now shocking how little you actually give up. And for every high-end boutique or black tie gala you miss, you get something back in low-cost and easy living. The talent pool may be shallower, but it’s a lot more connected.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s still a long and hard journey ahead. And not every place is going to make it, particularly among cities without the minimum scale. We have to face that reality. But more of them will revive than people think.

That’s because a new generation of urbanists believes in these cities again. These people aren’t bitter, burdened by the memories of yesteryear and all the goodness that was lost. The city to them isn’t the place with the downtown department store their mother used to take them to in white gloves for tea. It isn’t the place full of good manufacturing jobs with lifetime middle class employment for those without college degrees. The city isn’t a faded nostalgia or a longing for an imagined past. Most of them are young and never knew that world.

No, this new generation of urbanists sees these cities with fresh eyes. They see the decay, yes, but also the opportunity—and the possibilities for the present and future. To them this is Rust Belt Chic. It’s the place artists can dream of owning a house. Where they can live in a place with a bit of an authentic edge and real character. Where people can indulge their passion for renovating old architecture without a seven-figure budget. Where they have a chance to make a difference—to be a producer, not just a consumer of urban life, and a new urban future. Above all, these people, natives or newcomers, have a deep and abiding passion and love for the place they’ve chosen—yes, chosen—to live.

Still, it can get lonely, and often depressing. It so often seems like one step forward, two steps back. Making change happen can seem like pushing a rock uphill, like you are up there on some far frontier of the country alone, fighting a quixotic battle. Every historic building demolished, every quality infill project sabotaged by NIMBY’s, every massively subsidized business-as-usual boondoggle, every DOT-scarred transport project is a discouragement.

But Buffalo, you are not alone. It’s not just you, it’s cities and people across across this country, from St. Louis to Pittsburgh to Milwaukee to Cincinnati to New Orleans to Birmingham, fighting to build a better future. There’s a new movement in all these cities, made up of passionate urbanists committed to a different and better path. Sometimes they are few in number, but they are mighty in spirit— and they are making a difference. Together, they and you can win the battle and make the change happen.

It won’t be easy. The road will be long. Some, like the great cathedral builders of Europe, may never see completely the fruit of their labors. But the long-ago pioneers who founded these great cities never got to see them in their first glory either. We’ve come full circle. We are present again at the re-founding of our cities. This is the task, the duty, the calling that a new generation has chosen as its own, to write the history of their city anew.

Go make history again, Buffalo.

This article originally appeared in Buffalo Rising on June 14, 2010.

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

NYC Energy Use Infographic

The Guardian data blog is running a very cool interactive infographic of energy use by block in New York City. Apparently it originated at the Modi Research Group at Columbia University. Here’s a non-interactive screen shot to whet your appetite:

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

MiniLook Kiev

Here’s another stunningly “Wow!” tilt-shift, this one from Kiev. It’s called “MiniLook Kiev” and this is definitely one to view in full screen high definition. If the video doesn’t display for you, click here. What I love about this is that, like “Little Big Berlin,” it captures the people, not just the buildings of Kiev.

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Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Consensus and Vision by Alon Levy

[ Here’s part three of Alon Levy’s series on cities and consensus. Again, I’d encourage you to check out his blog Pedestrian Observations. He continues to provoke in his thinking, such as in his recent post on how transit agencies are forced to pay for highway projects – Aaron. ]

The death of Steve Jobs has led to impromptu discussions about the nature of his genius, causing some to call for a Steve Jobs of transit. Human Transit quotes such calls in comments and tries to strike a balance between good organization and singular vision; Market Urbanism tweets that it’s impossible only because of public control.

Instead of this fantasy for someone who will have enough power to make transit great, let us step back and ask what makes transit cities work. It’s not really vision – the inventions that have made transit more useful in the last few decades (for example, the takt and the integrated timetable) are so distributed that it’s impossible to assign them a single inventor or even agency. And in the US, the last true visionary of urban transportation, Robert Moses, had about the same effect on the city he ruled that such visionaries as Stalin and Mao had over their countries.

The absolute worst quote one can invoke in the field is Henry Ford’s apocryphal claim that if he’d asked customers what they’d wanted, they’d have said faster horses; Ford may never have said that, but he believed something along these lines, and as a result lost the market to General Motors in the 1920s. People tend to project the same attitude, with far more success, to Steve Jobs: he saved Apple from ruin when he came back, he saw potential in Xerox’s computers that nobody else did, he focused on great design above all. Some of this is due to the cult of personality Jobs created around himself, unparalleled in the industry; a better assessment of Apple’s early growth comes from Malcolm Gladwell, who dispenses with Great Man histories and talks about innovation as an incremental process requiring multiple different business cultures to get anywhere.

In cities, there really is a need for consensus rather than autocratic vision. The reason Moses was so bad for New York is not just that he happened to be wrong about how cities should look. Roads were not his only sin, and on one account, the use of tolls, he was better than the national road builders. No; he reigned over a city that to him existed only on maps and in models, routing expressways through blocks with the wrong ethnic mix and depriving neighborhoods of amenities in retribution for not being able to complete his plans. Because he was insulated from anyone who could tell him what the effect of his policies was, and had no effective opposition, he could steamroll over just anyone.

The reality is that any Steve Jobs-like autocrat is going to act the same. Moses did it; Janette Sadik-Khan is doing it, delaying even popular projects in Upper Manhattan because of the perception that it’s against livability; Jaime Lerner did it, moving pollution from Curitiba to its suburbs and slowing but not preventing the spread of cars. In contrast, Jane Jacobs’ own observations of her struggle are the opposite, focusing on consensus and participation and crediting “hundreds of people” with saving the West Village. Everything I said about consensus and cities and about democratic consensus applies here.

The same is by and large true of transit. Although the subject is more technical, the role of experts is similar to their role in urbanism: answering narrow technical questions (“does the soil allow this building type to be built?”, “how much will it cost to run trains faster?”), helping people see tradeoffs and make their own choices, bringing up foreign examples that local activists may not be familiar with. They’re just one of several interest groups that have to be heard.

I think people who ascribe invention to great individuals finding things consumers didn’t even know they wanted are projecting the history of the 19th century to present times. At the time, invention was done individually, often by people without formal education. It was already fairly incremental, but much less so than today, and was portrayed as even less incremental since to get a patent approved the inventor had to play up his own role and denigrate previous innovations. Since it was not done in the context of large companies or universities, the corporate culture issue that Gladwell focuses on didn’t apply. The economy, too, was understood as a process involving discrete inventions, rather than a constant rate of growth, as Andrew Odlyzko’s monograph on the Railway Mania discusses in chapter 15.

We no longer live in such a world. Fixed-route public transportation has existed since the 1820s. Practically all innovations within transit since have been slow, continuous improvements, done by large groups of people or by many individuals working independently. Even implementations of previous ideas that became wildly successful are rarely the heroic fit of a mastermind. The few cases that are, such as Jaime Lerner’s dirt-cheap BRT, indeed spawn rants about democratic consensus and raves about vision and fast decisions.

In contrast, I do not see any mention in mainstream US media of the role of Swiss consensus politics in the backing of the Gotthard Base Tunnel or in SBB’s 50% over-the-decade growth in passenger rail traffic. If there’s a story about Tokyo or Hong Kong, it’ll be about skyscrapers and development, not about their collective decisions to restrain car traffic while rapid transit was still in development. And while China’s rapid expansion of transit and high-speed rail, at much lower cost than in the US, has gotten much media coverage, scant attention has been paid to Spain even though its costs are lower and its expansion is nearly as rapid.

What’s happening is that people imagine single heroes to do what is really the work of many. Alternatively, they romanticize autocrats, even ones who were unmitigated disasters, such as Moses. Even stories about consensus and social movements get rewritten as stories about great people, for example Jane Jacobs, or more broadly Martin Luther King. It’s an aesthetic that treats everything as a story, and in the 19th century, it often was: in other words, it’s steampunk. The difference is that steampunk artists don’t wish to return to a world in which women have to wear corsets. And in similar vein, people who imagine benevolent, visionary dictators should not try to confuse their fiction with reality.

Also by Alon Levy:
Cities and Consensus (first part in this series)
Democratic vs. Elite Consensus (second part in this series)
The Urgency of Reforming the Federal Railroad Administration

This post originally appeared in Pedestrian Observations on October 11, 2001.

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

The Chicago Tribune Doesn’t Get It On Regional Economic Development

For years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors – and vice versa. – Charlie Wilson, President of General Motors (often misquoted)

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently released a 332-page economic report on greater Chicago. This one, like Rahm Emanuel’s own economic plan, is very candid about the economic and demographic problems facing Chicago. I will be saying much, much more on this subject in the near future.

In the meantime, I want to focus in on the Chicago Tribune’s reaction to the OECD study. They published an editorial about it concentrating on one finding, one that’s absolutely no surprise to anyone who has ever given Chicago even a cursory review, namely that there are way too many units of government in Chicagoland – over 1,700 to be precise.

The Tribune correctly notes that jurisdictional boundaries are often irrelevant to economic geography. But this particular piece caught my eye:

State borders should not matter, the OECD concludes, because the entire Midwest depends on the economic engine of its largest city. What’s good for Chicago is good for Indianapolis. Did you hear that, Mitch Daniels? Or is the Indiana governor too busy recruiting Illinois companies to move across the state line?

While I can’t read the Tribune editorial board’s minds, it isn’t difficult to see why they pick on Mitch Daniels. He has launched a campaign to try to lure businesses from Illinois (and other surrounding states) to Indiana. Indiana also pointedly declined to be part of the OECD study when they were invited, even though Northwest Indiana is clearly part of Chicagoland. In explaining the state’s rationale, economic development director Mitch Roob said, “We don’t do studies, we do deals.”

Far be it from me to defend Indiana’s decision not to participate in the study. It clearly shows a lack of understanding of modern economic geography. The approach of focusing on poaching businesses from surrounding states reveals Indiana’s strategy of trying to be “the best house on a bad block” and is a tacit admission it really can’t compete at the national much less the global level. What’s more, it’s another example of how Indiana hasn’t gotten it on the centrality of metro regions to the modern economic. (See “A New Approach to Regional Economic Development in Indiana for further thoughts on this). Incidentally, Indiana’s strategy isn’t working very well. Since 2004, the year Daniels was elected governor, Indiana actually lost a greater percentage of its jobs than Illinois, and the flow of people moving from Illinois to Indiana has dropped as well.* Underperforming dysfunctional Illinois is quite a feat.

But while there’s plenty of room for Indiana to change its thinking, the Tribune’s editorial isn’t likely to inspire anyone in Indiana or elsewhere to do it. Quite the opposite in fact.

Consider their statement “What’s good for Chicago is good for Indianapolis.” This sounds nearly identical with the oft-mangled misquoting of Charlie Wilson as telling Congress “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.” I wonder if Tribune ever considered the converse of their statement, namely that what’s good for Indianapolis is good for Chicago. Do you think they believe that? Do you think they or any other member of the Chicagoland’s leadership ever spent any time time thinking about what was good for Indianapolis or Milwaukee or Madison or Des Moines or Grand Rapids? I haven’t heard anything to suggest that they have.

If you are the big dog, which in this case Chicago clearly is, and you want other people to work with you, then you need to make the first move to prove your good intentions.

This is perhaps best illustrated by former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith. In Indiana, east-west roads that form a county boundary are the maintenance responsibility of the county to the north. 96th St. is the boundary between Marion County (Indianapolis) and Hamilton County, home to the most rapidly growing and affluent suburbs in the region. (Chicago residents can think “Lake-Cook Rd.” though the analogy is imperfect). There was a critical need to upgrade the corridor and build a new bridge across the White River at 96th St. Under Indiana law, this was Hamilton County’s responsibility, but because the cost of the project was so steep, it went nowhere for a long time. What’s more, plenty of folks in Indy weren’t too keen for it to happen, because they saw it as benefiting primarily the suburbs and enabling them to suck more life out of Indianapolis.

Goldsmith saw it differently. He saw how it would open up land in his own city to development as well. And he didn’t see the suburbs as the enemy. So although he was under no obligation to do so, he stepped up and told Hamilton County he’d pay for 50% of the road project even though legally it was 0% his responsibility. The project got done.

Later, on the other side of the county, it came time to widen South County Line Road. This time it was Indianapolis responsible for the cost. But because he had first paid for 96th St. when he didn’t have to, Goldsmith had the moral authority to go the county south of him and ask them to pay half of the County Line expansion, which they did.

This is how regional cooperation works. The big dog has to step up first. Getting it right on regional questions like this – it also has a regional non-compete where various cities and towns won’t offer subsidies to induce a business to relocate within the region – is one of the reasons Indianapolis has led the way in the Midwest on population and job growth in the last decade.

I absolutely agree that it is in the interest of the Midwest for Chicago to be strong and prosperous. And vice versa. So cooperation is in everyone’s interest. But to make it happen, it is Chicago that is going to have to step up and first and prove to the rest of the region that it is as invested in their success as it expects them to be invested in Chicago’s. Without that, maybe places like Milwaukee and Grand Rapids will continue to pursue closeness to Chicago on their own because they have few other good options, but any broader cooperation of the type the Tribune apparently wants to see happen is likely doomed.

As I’ve argued before, Chicago and Indianapolis are very complementary. (The same is true of various other Midwest cities with Chicago). They are very different and are not good substitutes for each other. Hence they can benefit from specialization and cooperation. What we see instead is opportunistic swipes at each other, such as Indy trying to lure the CME away and Chicago saying it wants to poach sports events that are hosted in Indy. While I actually don’t think these sorts of things are necessarily unhealthy in and of themselves – I don’t want to stamp out inter-geographic competition – they are unfortunately all there is. There should also be more cooperation to create the sort of “coopetition” situation we’ve seen touted as one of the keys to Silicon Valley’s success.

As I said, Chicago will have to make the first move. The first one to make is to get the rhetoric right, which the Tribune clearly didn’t do. Chicago’s media and civic leadership need to show first through their statements that the success of the broader Midwest is important to them personally, and that they see it as critical to the future of success of Chicago. Then they need to figure out how to show they mean it through their actions.

* Total Non-Farm Employment, annual average, 2004-2011. Illinois lost 2.6% of its jobs. Indiana lost 3.4%.

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Metro Job Recovery in 2011

The latest BLS release for metro area unemployment has full year averages for 2011 available, so we can see which cities added the most jobs last year. On the whole, it was a much better year for metros than we’ve seen in the recent past. The national economy added jobs, and all but two large metros did as well. New York City added the most jobs of any region, but given that it is far and away the biggest city in America, it should do so. NYC ranked only the middle of the pack on a percentage growth basis. On that measure, Austin, Texas was number one.

The top percentage gainer in the Midwest region? Detroit, Michigan. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising either, as manufacturing is pro-cyclical.

Here is the performance of the metro areas in the United States with more than one million people, ranked by percentage change. The data is also available in spreadsheet form.

I should also mention that the analysis for this was done in next to no time using my data platform Telestrian, which I’d encourage you to try out if you haven’t already.

Rank Metro Area 2010 2011 Total Change Pct Change
1 Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX 769.5 791.4 21.9 2.85%
2 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 855.2 878.2 23.0 2.69%
3 Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX 2528.1 2593.1 65.0 2.57%
4 Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC 807.5 826.7 19.2 2.38%
5 Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN 734.3 751.7 17.4 2.37%
6 Salt Lake City, UT 608.1 622.0 13.9 2.29%
7 Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI 1737.1 1775.3 38.2 2.20%
8 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 2860.9 2921.7 60.8 2.13%
9 Raleigh-Cary, NC 498.1 508.6 10.5 2.11%
10 Pittsburgh, PA 1125.3 1148.6 23.3 2.07%
11 Oklahoma City, OK 558.5 569.6 11.1 1.99%
12 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 1112.0 1132.3 20.3 1.83%
13 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 968.8 986.1 17.3 1.79%
14 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 1697.1 1727.1 30.0 1.77%
15 Baltimore-Towson, MD 1274.0 1293.5 19.5 1.53%
16 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 1641.2 1666.1 24.9 1.52%
17 Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, CO 1193.5 1211.6 18.1 1.52%
18 Columbus, OH 903.3 916.9 13.6 1.51%
19 Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL 2185.6 2218.3 32.7 1.50%
20 Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, AZ 1688.9 1712.8 23.9 1.42%
21 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA 2272.6 2302.9 30.3 1.33%
22 New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA 519.1 526.0 6.9 1.33%
23 San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 843.0 853.2 10.2 1.21%
24 Richmond, VA 602.4 609.5 7.1 1.18%
25 New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA 8306.8 8403.9 97.1 1.17%
26 Indianapolis-Carmel, IN 871.1 881.2 10.1 1.16%
27 Jacksonville, FL 583.1 589.6 6.5 1.11%
28 Rochester, NY 503.1 508.7 5.6 1.11%
29 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 2962.9 2995.5 32.6 1.10%
30 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT – Metro 533.2 538.9 5.7 1.07%
31 Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI 4246.6 4291.4 44.8 1.05%
32 Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 805.8 814.1 8.3 1.03%
33 Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN 592.9 599.0 6.1 1.03%
34 Kansas City, MO-KS 971.6 981.4 9.8 1.01%
35 Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 1001.1 1011.0 9.9 0.99%
36 Memphis, TN-MS-AR 589.8 595.4 5.6 0.95%
37 Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN 980.8 989.4 8.6 0.88%
38 Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY 538.2 542.7 4.5 0.84%
39 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 1880.2 1894.3 14.1 0.75%
40 Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH – Metro 2426.5 2443.3 16.8 0.69%
41 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA 5126.8 5162.2 35.4 0.69%
42 San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA 1222.8 1231.2 8.4 0.69%
43 St. Louis, MO-IL 1286.9 1295.4 8.5 0.66%
44 Las Vegas-Paradise, NV 803.6 808.3 4.7 0.58%
45 Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 1125.9 1129.7 3.8 0.34%
46 Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 2697.0 2705.9 8.9 0.33%
47 Providence-Fall River-Warwick, RI-MA – Metro 541.3 542.8 1.5 0.28%
48 Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC 735.2 736.8 1.6 0.22%
49 Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH 991.1 992.7 1.6 0.16%
50 Birmingham-Hoover, AL 489.5 488.6 -0.9 -0.18%
51 Sacramento–Arden-Arcade–Roseville, CA 809.9 802.0 -7.9 -0.98%

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

On the Riverfront in Cincinnati

It’s about time one of the smaller Midwest cities got a cool timelapse. Here’s a short one of the Cincinnati riverfront. It’s done in an ultra-widescreen format that perfectly symbolizes a river itself. I recommend watching in full screen high definition. (If the video doesn’t display for you, click here).

h/t UrbanCincy

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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