Thursday, November 6th, 2014
The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data Smart Governance
by Stephen Goldsmith and Susan Crawford
Technology, and especially the use of data and analytics, has been transforming the way cities manage service delivery. Former Indianapolis mayor New York City deputy mayor Steve Goldsmith, and his colleague at Harvard Susan Crawford, recently wrote a book called “The Responsive City” looking at this technology revolution. I recently read the book and posted some thoughts in a review posted at City Journal. Here’s an excerpt:
The book chronicles more than just technology’s potential; it also highlights what some local governments have already achieved with innovative approaches. After several fires resulted in the deaths of five people, New York City built a system to identify buildings at high fire risk, using predictive models and integrating data from multiple sources. City inspectors are now aggressively targeting those buildings for upgrades. To fight its rat problem, Chicago is using data analytics to predict where rats will gather, instead of waiting for resident complaints. Boston has developed a civic customer-relationship management system, with mobile-device apps, to link residents more easily with city services. Mimicking the way that Yelp collects restaurant reviews, Washington, D.C. uses a website to solicit ratings of city services. Cities around the country are adopting open-data portals.
Goldsmith and Crawford are candid about the challenges facing their responsive-city vision. Progressive-era reforms designed to eliminate corruption also curtailed government employees’ discretion, leaving them with narrowly defined roles and limited ability to respond effectively to real-world problems. Rigid job descriptions, such as “temporary full-time permanent intermittent police officer,” are common in cities like New York, which has more than 2,000 such classifications. Procurement rules require that detailed specifications be prepared in advance, unlike in the private sector, where technology and other solutions are often developed iteratively. Government’s rigid contracting processes make it tough to respond to findings during development.
I also sat down with Steve Goldsmith recently to talk about the book, and some of the challenges and pitfalls of this technology-drive approach. If the audio embed doesn’t display for you, click over to listen on Soundcloud.
Wednesday, November 5th, 2014
Here’s a unique take on the time lapse genre the creator labels “layer lapse.” Boston needed some love in this genre anyway. If the video doesn’t display for you, click over to Vimeo.” h/t Peter Brassard
Sunday, November 2nd, 2014
I was out in Portland, Oregon last week and while there I sat down for an interview with Mayor Charlie Hales. We talked about the real Portland vs. the idea of Portland, the city’s industrial base, retrofitting suburban infrastructure, and a lot more. If the audio doesn’t display for you, click over to Soundcloud.
Mayor Charlie Hales. Image via Wikipedia
Here are some edited highlights of our conversation. For those who prefer reading to listening, a complete transcript is available.
Mayor Hales rejects the idea that we will have to strategically abandon infrastructure because the finances don’t add up:
My point here is that this is about political will. It is not inevitable or immutable that America is going watch its infrastructure decline. It’s a choice. It’s a bad choice to dither and do nothing. And it’s a good choice to step up and do something. And I think you’ll see more cities doing what we’re doing here in Portland. Which is to say, we’re going act locally, and then keep the pressure on Congress and the State House to do their part too.
Regarding how hard it really is to find a job in Portland:
Not hard. In fact, I think it’s 4.8% – the unemployment rate – among 25-34 year olds here – lower than New York, lower than a lot of places. We’re the 3rd greatest city in terms of college educated immigrants moving here deliberately. They move here, and then not long after, they find work. Or they create work by starting their own business because we’re a very entrepreneurial city as well. I did this in 1979. It’s not an original thing for Portland. In fact you could say it’s been happening since Lewis and Clark that we – that people immigrated here from elsewhere because they saw some opportunity here. We’ve been absorbing those people as they come to Portland. They find work. But that’s the value set of that 25-34 year old cohort. They care about quality of place, quality of life, and what they’re going do when they’re not working. And that doesn’t include, say, sitting in traffic in suburbia. So they like the idea of living in Portland, and they come here and try to make it work. And most of them do. Again, we have a better employment situation for those folks than New York City does. So it’s not true that young people come here and are stuck in jobs that they’re way over qualified for indefinitely.
About how the real Portland differs from the idea of Portland people have from the media:
Like all good caricatures, Portlandia makes fun of some things about us that are true. I mean, we do love localism, so Colin the Chicken is somebody that we would care about here in Portland. And we are relentlessly earnest about our values.
There some other ways that we don’t. We’re still an industrial city. We’re a big hands, port industrial city. We build boxcars and barges. We just cut the ribbon on the biggest dry dock in North America last weekend. So we employ a lot of welders and steel fitters and plumbers and pipe fitters, and all those hands-on trades. We build trucks here. We build boxcars. We make steel pipe. There’s a lot of traditional “old economy” industry here.
Another part of Portland that doesn’t show up in the caricature is…the other half of the neighborhoods that were half-baked suburbia when they got annexed into the city. And we’re trying to make them complete communities with a local economy in that neighborhood and those kind of services that you can walk to. And, oh yeah, in many cases, there aren’t even sidewalks, and there’s no neighborhood park. So, we’re spending a lot of effort and money on trying to retrofit those suburban parts of Portland, to not be physically identical to the old neighborhoods, but have those ingredients of a complete neighborhood that Portlanders like to see.
Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014
This week I want to share a couple of urban podcasts. The first is another installment in Carol Coletta’s Knight Cities program, this one featuring Vin Cipolla, President of the Municipal Art Society in New York. I should note that the MAS Summit for New York City is actually tomorrow and Friday. If you aren’t attending in person, previous ones were live-streamed I believe, so my assumption is that this one will be too.
Cipolla talks infrastructure, density, entrepreneurship, civic leadership, and outer boroughs in a talk focused on New York City but relevant to other places. If the audio player doesn’t display for you, click over to Soundcloud.
The second is a radio segment in Kansas City featuring Jarrett Walker talking about public transit. As always, this is fantastic, must-listen stuff. If the audio embed doesn’t display, click for the MP3.
Sunday, October 19th, 2014
The Lafayette (Indiana) Journal and Courier just ran a major article from a four month investigation called “The Great Chicago Migration Myth” which attempts to debunk the idea that poor Chicago blacks, especially former CHA residents, are moving to Lafayette/Tippecanoe County.
The J&C seems to do a good job of pouring cold water on the CHA idea. But they use that to make a claim they didn’t actually prove, namely that low income blacks aren’t moving to Lafayette from Chicago. What’s more, the data shows that there is material black migration from Chicago to Lafayette, contradicting the clear implication of the article. Additionally, the J&C fails to note the critical context that regardless of origin, Lafayette has been experiencing a black population boom that exceeds even Hispanic growth on a percentage basis.
In sum, this article provides an incomplete and badly misleading view of black demographic change in Lafayette.
Chicago demolished most of its high rise public housing complexes, prompting the obvious question of where the former residents ended up. I’ve been noticing news stories for several years suggesting that former CHA residents have been moving to places ranging from downtown Illinois to small town Iowa. I myself have heard credible reports from generally reliable people I know in public service who say they personally have seen an uptick in Chicagoans in their work.
It has long made me, and I know others, wonder: did Chicago attempt to effectively run its former black public housing residents out of town? I’ve tried to get many journalists who have written on Chicago’s demographics to investigate and get to the bottom of what’s really going on. Ed Zotti did a great series in the Chicago Reader covering some aspects of the issue (see part one, part two, and part three). But there are certainly a lot of open questions in my view and I’m surprised how little investigation I’ve seen of it.
The J&C story is the first part of at least two installments that attempts to do just this sort of comprehensive analysis from the standpoint of Lafayette, Indiana. Greater Lafayette is not the community I would have chosen as my test case. As home to Purdue University, there’s a lot of migration that’s driven by the inflow and outflow of students that can obscure the non-university trend. But obviously from the J&C standpoint it’s their community and so of course they pick it for their work.
Their own words speak for themselves:
Call it the Great Chicago Myth. For decades, the belief has been ubiquitous in Greater Lafayette that thousands of low-income African-American families packed up their belongings and headed down Interstate 65 straight to Lafayette, bringing with them rising crime and worsening drug problems and higher burdens on local social services….The Chicago Myth turns out to be completely untrue. A comprehensive four-month Journal & Courier analysis of data culled from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Chicago and Lafayette housing authorities and other sources shows that, while there has been some migration, relatively few people leaving Chicago end up in Tippecanoe County.
How accurate a portrayal does this provide?
Where Did Chicago’s Blacks Go?
I haven’t personally looked into former CHA resident migration, but Ed Zotti and the J&C convince me that this is not a material contributor to Chicago’s black population decline or to migration elsewhere. I’m sold on that point. However, Chicago has in fact lost a lot of black residents.
It’s well known that the city of Chicago lost 177,401 black residents during the 2000s. But as with out-migrants generally, the default assumption for most of them would be that they moved to the the suburbs and didn’t leave the region. However, the Chicago metro area as a whole saw a decline in black population of 45,689. Considering that there was surely natural increase (more births than deaths) in the regional black population, this implies a huge net out-migration. They had to go somewhere.
As it happens, the Census tells us where they went. I’m leaving metro area analysis for another day. But let’s take a look at the map of net migration of blacks in Cook County, Illinois. Red indicates net outflow, blue net inflow.
Net migration of black residents from and to Cook County, Illinois. Net in-migration in blue (positive), net out-migration in red (negative). Source: 2006-2010 ACS via Telestrian
Unsurprisingly, when you lose a lot of people, they move to lots of places. There are a number of net recipient counties for former black residents of Cook County. Many of them are in Illinois though not all. As you can see, Tippecanoe County is one of the recipient counties.
Are There More Blacks in Lafayette?
When people make statements like “There are a lot of poor black former CHA residents moving in here” there’s an embedded chain of reasoning that goes something like this:
There are more black people in Lafayette.
Those black people are coming from Chicago.
Those Chicagoans are poor.
Those poor people are former CHA residents.
The last statement may well be false without invalidating the others. I’m buying what the J&C is selling on that one. But let’s look at the other ones, starting with the first. Has the black population of Greater Lafayette been increasing? Yes, and by a lot too.
There were 3,752 black residents in Tippecanoe County in 2000. By 2010 that had nearly doubled to 6,913. This was a bigger increase on a total and percentage basis than any other small industrial county in Indiana. By 2013 it had added another 1,638 black residents (23.7% growth). This was the fifth highest total increase in black residents of any county in the state – this in a county that in 2000 had the 14th largest black population. Again, that growth outpaced all peer counties. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that a 128% population growth in black population since 2000 qualifies as a veritable boom, especially by the standards of slow-growth Indiana.
It’s worth comparing the trajectory of Tippecanoe County to Bloomington’s Monroe County, home of Indiana University, so I pulled some statistics into the following chart:*
|Tippecanoe County (Lafayette)||Monroe County (Bloomington)|
|April 1, 2000||148,955||120,563|
|April 1, 2010||172,780||137,974|
|July 1, 2013||180,174||141,888|
|Total Growth (2000-2013)||31,219||21,325|
|Percentage Growth (2000-2013)||21.0%||17.7%|
|April 1, 2000||3,752||3,615|
|April 1, 2010||6,913||4,491|
|July 1, 2013||8,551||4,898|
|Total Growth (2000-2013)||4,799||1,283|
|Percentage Growth (2000-2013)||127.9%||35.5%|
|Black Population Share 2000||2.5%||3.0%|
|Black Population Share 2013||4.0%||3.3%|
|Total Growth (2000-2013)||1,420||2,057|
|Percentage Growth (2000-2013)||1.8%||3.5%|
As you can see, these communities started off with roughly similar black populations. In fact, Bloomington had a higher black population share. But while Bloomington’s black population has grown only moderately more than overall population growth, Lafayette’s has grown at a substantially faster rate.
I should note that both of these towns have very small black populations compared to bigger cities. But that makes growth more easily visible as well, similar to how many small towns have noticed (and reacted) in the case of even limited Hispanic migration.
I put the jobs number in to see if there might be a pull there. Bloomington has actually done better on jobs. But this shows right away one potential root cause of anxiety over out of town migrants: job competition. Lafayette had added over 31,000 people since 2000 but only 1,420 jobs. Not all of those new residents are in the theoretical labor force pool, but I’ve got to believe more than 1,420 of them are. When you’re only adding 1,400 jobs, it doesn’t take a lot of migrants to make a competitive difference for job seekers. I think this is a big factor nationally in the public souring on immigration reform and it wouldn’t surprise me if something similar were at work here.
Whatever the case, it’s true that Lafayette has seen a significant increase in black population. So the reverse of the Chicago question applies here: where did they come from?
How Many of Lafayette’s Black Residents Are Coming From Chicago?
The J&C uses the Census migration data figures to argue that few Chicagoans of any type move to Lafayette. However, the Census Bureau publishes place to place migration by race from the five year ACS survey, so let’s consult that source.
Migration by race is provided in the 2006-2010 ACS through a special county to county migration data release. You can easily browse it through an interactive online map.
According to this data, 127 net black residents moved from Cook County to Tippecanoe County. That doesn’t sound like a lot. However:
- This is the third highest destination in Indiana for net black migrants from Cook County. Only Lake County (a Chicago suburban area) and Elkhart County ranked higher.
- No other county in the United States sent as many net black residents to Tippecanoe County as Cook County did. The second highest county is Lake County, Indiana, which again is also part of Chicagoland.
Other than third place Marion County (Indianapolis), nobody else even comes close to sending as many net black residents to Lafayette as Chicago does.
I should note that Tippecanoe is far down the list of net recipient counties from Cook. So from a Chicago-centric perspective, Lafayette is not a major destination for departing Chicago blacks, who are dispersing across many different destinations. Yet the Chicago region has nearly 10 million people and is losing a lot of black residents. Certainly no small city like Lafayette could ever be the destination for more than a small percentage of those leaving a near megacity region like Chicago.
The university is a major wildcard. You would expect Chicago to be both a big source and destination for Purdue University’s student body, and certainly some of them must be black. Looking at our comparator, there were a net of 38 black Chicago migrants to Monroe County (Indiana University). So Lafayette is seeing a higher migration, but is also geographically closer keep in mind. I took a quick look at other Big Ten school counties and there’s huge variability so I’m not sure what we can say with regards to those schools without data from the universities themselves. The homes of Wisconsin and Iowa are the top net exporters of black residents to Chicago, for example.
To be sure, there’s statistical noise in this ACS survey data. And we only have one survey with race based migration available. The data is definitely limited here. So keep that in mind. But this does show a flow from Chicago.
The J&C did not use this data set for some reason, but relied on the overall migration levels (not broken down by race) between the cities. Regardless, we have a fundamentally different understanding of how to interpret the meaning of the survey data. I generally don’t work with the 5yr ACS, but that’s the only survey in which place to place migration is provided. (The IRS data is not broken down by race).
The J&C treats the migration values as the total migration over the five years of the survey. I actually called the Census Bureau and spoke to someone in their Journey to Work and Migration Statistics Branch that compiles this data. I asked them specifically if the migration values should be treated as a five year total or as a proxy for average annual migration. They told me the latter.
This person could have misspoken but if that’s correct, then the 127 figure would translate into 127 people per year – nearly 1,300 people over the course of a decade. That’s a material percentage of the total black population in town. That’s especially true if we are looking only vs. the increase in black population attributable to net in-migration.
So there does appear to be some data to indicate that part of the increase in the black population of Lafayette is due to migration from Chicago. Also, if the J&C wants to say that Chicago migration is not a material contributor to the robust black population growth in Lafayette, their claim would be a lot stronger if they documented where this increase actually is coming from.
Are Black Chicago Migrants to Lafayette Low Income?
Obviously if any sizable group of people move from one place to another, you’d expect some income diversity and some lower income residents. The J&C actually highlights specific people who made the move from Chicago and who have incomes low enough to qualify for public assistance (e.g., Section 8) though it doesn’t identify their race.
The Census also publishes net migration by household income level, which you can view in the same flow tool I linked to before. I didn’t look at all tiers, but I checked out the bottom few. Keep in mind these aren’t sliced by race. This is overall migration. Unlike in the race data, which appears exhaustive, this data has some suppression for privacy reasons.
According to that data, at the lowest level only a tiny net migration to Lafayette is reported – two people, which I suspect is within the margin of error of the survey. A couple of the higher tiers up actually show migration towards Chicago (87 in the $25K-35K range, for example).
Additionally, the J&C reports that they identified every single Section 8 permit that was transferred between Chicagoland and Lafayette, and found that there was actually a net flow towards Chicago. This data is also not classified by race, but is consistent with what I found in income migration.
So there does not appear to a flow of low income residents into Lafayette when race is not considered based on this survey data (which has similar limitations to the race data I gave above).
I would say based on the data sources I have that there’s no evidence that the black migrants from Chicago to Lafayette are disproportionately low income, though I don’t have a direct stat that speaks to the matter. As I said earlier, it seems pretty clear that there aren’t many former public housing residents (if any).
The J&C article takes what appears to be a fairly strong claim – that former Chicago public housing residents are not moving to Lafayette – and uses that to try to bolster the far weaker, though not implausible, claim that there aren’t low income blacks moving from Chicago to Lafayette. And to imply that basically no blacks at all are really moving from Chicago to Lafayette – something the available evidence contradicts. What’s more, it completely buries the lede on the strong growth in the local black population there.
I think this piece shows how black Americans are, as Ellison observed, simultaneously the most visible and invisible population in the country. The black population in Greater Lafayette has grown by 128% since 2000. That’s faster growth than even the Hispanic population (up 82%). Though the black population grew on a smaller base, the total adds weren’t that far off (4,799 black vs. 6,451 Hispanic).
In a community the size of Lafayette in a slow growth part of the country, that’s Big Deal growth, but it isn’t mentioned in the piece and I wasn’t able to find anything else written on it with a quick google. You can believe if a few thousand of a more exotic minority showed up, it would have been noticed. (In Indianapolis, for example, it’s news article stuff when a few thousand Burmese refugees or Sikhs arrive on the scene).
Statistics about black growth and migration from Chicago almost seem to be treated as embarrassing when in fact it could be something worth celebrating. See my headline for a potentially different way the J&C could have told the story. (Also look at how Amos Brown covers the census estimates release in Indianapolis).
I’ve observed before that black Chicago is not really part of the future success strategy of the city. Its black residents seem to be increasingly agreeing as they are heading for the exits. This creates a significant addressable talent market for savvy cities to target. Everybody and their brother is going after the same narrow demographics of 20-something app coders, artists, etc. So there are opportunities for people who spot an underserved market. As I noted less than a month after starting this blog all those years ago:
For the city that starts taking its black community seriously, and engages with it not just around modest goals but no less than in making that community a major force pushing the city forward, I believe there are huge competitive advantages to be reaped.
I’d still say that today.
A lot of small Midwest cities have an opportunity here to lure Chicago’s departing black middle class before it moves somewhere else. The industries so many of these places are targeting like transportation and logistics are always complaining about labor supply challenges. Why not, for example, go show black truck drivers from Chicago the quality of life your town has on offer? IIRC, that’s exactly what brought of those Sikhs to Indianapolis. I seem to remember reading that many of them were truck drivers in California who took one look at what kind of house their salary would buy in Greenwood and took the plunge.
But in order to do that, you first have to perceive your black community as an asset. That’s something I hope Lafayette and its newspaper can achieve.
* The decennial census uses a different racial classification scheme for race than the population estimates. I pulled “Black Only” population from each but I want to caveat that these are not strictly apples to apples.
Friday, October 17th, 2014
First, an administrative note. I am suspending all commenting on this site until further notice.
I have always allowed free rein to the comments on my site. I allowed anonymous comments and have continued to allow them while most major sites have switched to systems that require identity. I don’t pre-moderate unless my software flags something as potential spam, and only delete bona fide spam. I’ve allowed and even encouraged people to disagree with me and even allowed people to insult me on my own site.
Unfortunately, my hospitality has been repeatedly and increasingly abused. As a result, the quality of discussion in the comments has been severely degraded. I used to get emails from people telling me that the conversations in the comments were often as or more stimulating than the original posts. But in the last few months I’ve just been getting emails complaining about the commenting.
As the owner of the site, I’ll take responsibility for that. I should have taken stronger action to evolve the commenting platform all along. I’ve been putting off action here because of major forthcoming changes to the site. But I’ve decided I’m not going to wait until then. So as of today, commenting is suspended.
Next, Branden Klayko has rebooted his Louisville blog Broken Sidewalk. He asked me to contribute a piece, and as I was doing a tour of the Southern Indiana area as part of a project there, I put together a short overview post of some developments there. Here’s an excerpt:
The commercial development, particularly restaurants, in New Albany was impressive. Several Louisville establishments have set up shop there, joining locally-based businesses that offer a wide range of high quality goods. I’m talking about places like New Albanian, Quills Coffee, Toast, The Exchange, Bread and Breakfast, and more. There have also been a lot of infrastructure upgrades since I last lived there. For example, a recent streetscape project on New Albany’s Main Street was underway while I was visiting….There are some similar developments in downtown Jeffersonville, where the impact of the full opening of the Big Four Bridge as a pedestrian and bike crossing has been huge. I’ve walked across it several times now and am always amazed by the crowds.
Thursday, October 16th, 2014
City Lab ran an interesting piece about Mark Lamster, architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News, called “Dallas Finds Its Voice.” Lamster was brought to the city from New York by a joint hire between the newspaper and the University of Texas at Arlington. The goal was apparently to bring in a top notch out of town critic who wasn’t afraid to apply the same lens to Dallas that he did to the Big Apple. He appears to have succeeded:
Mark Lamster’s very first assignment for The Dallas Morning News was a bombshell. His review of the George W. Bush Presidential Center appeared on the front page of the paper in April of last year, days before the library opened to the public. It didn’t pull any punches. “Everywhere competent, it nowhere rises to a level of inspiration,” Lamster wrote. The newspaper’s newly minted architecture critic called out the project’s host, Southern Methodist University President R. Gerald Turner, for a directive that “precluded a work of more adventurous design.”
“It was very embarrassing to a lot of what I’d call boosters in town,” says Bob Mong, the editor-in-chief of The Dallas Morning News, who brought Lamster down from New York. Mong nevertheless put it smack dab on A1. “It got everyone’s attention, let me tell you. When you stand back from it and look at what he wrote, it holds up very well today.”
Readers greeted Lamster cautiously. “Must be a Democrat,” said one commenter. “The review was written before the yankee [sic] got there,” chimed another.
But while Johnny Football would’ve ruined one of Dallas’s greatest institutions, Lamster is elevating the city through his reporting and criticism. “Welcome to Dallas: Paradox City,” a September report on the conflicting interests driving development there, could double as a mission statement for his work as a critic. Earlier this month, he explained the function and history of a complex of jails that he describes as the “unholy gateway to our city.” That report segues neatly into “Building the Just City,” the title for the third annual David Dillon Symposium, a conference he is helping to host today and Saturday for the University of Texas at Arlington School of Architecture.
It’s worth reading the whole thing.
Lamster’s hiring seems to have filled a key gap in Dallas, namely finding a knowledgeable critic who is willing to call them like he sees them. Finding this sort of realistic self-assessment is very hard for cities that aren’t in the first cultural tier. In my experience, grade inflation and softball reviews are rampant.
I’ve thought about the dynamics of this with regards to smaller cities for a while. One is that the audience is primarily made up of locals who aren’t plugged into cultural capitals. The comparison is generally versus what existed in the local market previously – which often results in seeing marked improvement – rather than a comparison against an outside standard or a comparative benchmark. One reason I started my blog as a regional blog is that so few people were aware of what was going on in places even just a short drive down the interstate that they believed things like downtown condo construction meant something special was happening in their town – as opposed to the reality that it was simply a trend that was hitting everyone else also washing over their city. Critics, maybe because in smaller cities newspapers and such sometimes simply assign a local reporter to that beat, seem to judge by the same standards.
A second problem is social. And it’s a two-fold problem. The first part is that strong critique has likely never been a part of the local culture, thus it’s simply not how things are done in the town. It’s hard to argue with this in a sense as a community is certainly free to adopt those values. But such a value set comes with consequences.
The other part is that even in regions as big as two million or more, the cultural class isn’t that large and is very interconnected. It’s inevitable that you are going to have to interact with the people you write about socially at some point. So if you write a critical review, that’s going to make for some awkward moments. In a place with no culture of it, people might not react well to being critiqued, and the reviewer himself probably doesn’t have a lot of experience at dealing with blowback, and so is emotionally sensitized to it.
Thirdly, there’s generally a desire in these places to want to support local businesses, cultural groups, etc. A lot of the folks engaging on the field of battle culturally are those who could have left town, but elected to stay. And there’s a desire to support them in their choice. In fact, the people who did make that choice can even feel entitled to that support. This isn’t just in small places either as “buy local” reigns almost unquestioned as preferred among the intelligentsia.
Again, that’s a valid cultural decision to make. I myself prefer to patronize local establishments where I can, and I’m even willing to pay a bit of a penalty in terms of price and quality to do it. But too often I think local purveyors of various products and services and cultural activities are basically given a free pass on quality. And often the people doing the truly best work aren’t appreciated, particularly if it’s innovative. By definition innovative work is contrary to the conventional wisdom, and to the extent that smaller local markets seek to boost their status by glomming on to trends, innovators can seem genuinely uncool. Additionally, people locally may not recognize or be willing to pay for true quality. For example, their definition of a luxury watches might include Rolex, but they’ve never even heard of say FP Journe.
Now Dallas is bigger than the regions I had in mind. I speculate based on the article that they had a similar relationship to criticism, however. It would take a local to say for sure what cultural factors are at work. But it’s interesting to see them stepping out a bit. I haven’t done enough analysis of Lamster’s work to judge, but if the comments even on City Lab are any judge, he’s already stirring up trouble.
Whatever the case, this shows that the Dallas Morning News at least wanted to try to elevate the game of Dallas. As I wrote in a previous post, some in Dallas are no longer satisfied with purely commercial success and are seeking, like other boomtowns before it, for Dallas to get classy too. This would appear to be in line with those efforts. That requires a community that’s willing to take a hard look in the mirror and be honest with themselves about where they don’t measure up versus their aspirations (and boosterism rhetoric). When it comes to architecture, they’ve apparently gone in search of someone who will hold up that mirror. The question is what they are willing to do with the images they see.
Wednesday, October 15th, 2014
Time for another round of videos that I’ve had in my to-post list for a while.
The first is a short documentary piece on two skyscrapers in New York that were built specifically a telco switching points: the AT&T Long Lines Building and the Western Union Building. They are still in use today. If the video doesn’t display for you click over to Vimeo. h/t BLDGBLOG
The next is another installment in the “Time-LAX” series of LA timelapses. If the video doesn’t display for you, click over to Vimeo.
Lastly a TV news segment in Indianapolis from 1978. It’s a look back at a 25-year futuristic vision of the city from 1953 that was featured in the Indianapolis Star. Lets just say the vision didn’t quite come true. If the video doesn’t display for you, click over to YouTube. h/t We Are City
Sunday, October 12th, 2014
This post originally appeared on October 27, 2013.
If you look at the list of target industries for any given city or state, you usually find several from the same list of five common items: high technology, life sciences (under various names), green tech, advanced manufacturing, logistics. Take a few from this list, and add a legacy industry if there’s one or two where you are already particularly strong, and there you have it.
The problem is that everybody and their brother is now claiming to be a tech or startup “hub”, etc. And there’s probably some fairness in that. Starting companies is much easier than it used to be, and despite the so-called “20 minute rule”, venture capitalists seem very willing to travel to find deals where they can make good money. For example, payments startup Dwolla didn’t have trouble attracting top name backers even though it was in Des Moines.
So in a sense everybody can play right now. At some point though, there will inevitably be another shakeout of sorts. If you want to be a long term survivor, have a claim to fame that will make you stand out from the crowd, generate above average returns, etc., you need to have something that makes you distinct.
One way to do that is to be sub-specialized. “High tech” is an extremely broad category. A city could have a large number of nominally high tech companies that are totally unalike, and which do not form any type of real ecosystem, integrated supply chain, etc. This is a cluster in name only.
One way to stand out is a concept I’ve called “microclusters”. That is, rather than simply saying “We’re high tech”, you have some specialty within the broader tech industry where you can be a real national leader.
A couple of news stories make me revisit this with regards to the internet marketing microcluster in Indianapolis. Like most cities, Indy is targeting, you guessed it, high tech, life sciences, green tech, advanced manufacturing, and logistics. The main promotional organization for high tech is called Techpoint. (I should note this organization does double duty as a statewide group as well).
But somehow, organically, within tech generally Indianapolis had a lot of startups in the internet marketing space. There were something like 70 or so last time I saw someone who had made a list. One of them, Exact Target, was recently acquired by Salesforce.com for $2.5 billion. That’s a legitimate exit by any standards. Also recently, a content marketing cloud provider called Compendium was bought by Oracle for its own marketing cloud suite. (Terms not disclosed but surely much, much smaller).
When two tech bluechip names decide to go fishing in the same pond for companies in the same field, you start to think there’s something to it. (Salesforce and Oracle weren’t the first either. Terradata bought out a company called Aprimo for $525 million a couple years ago). Wanting to build on the momentum, Techpoint just held a big shindig called M-Tech to launch a campaign they are launching in an effort to boost the city’s marketing technology cluster.
What will this turn into? I don’t know. A news report about M-Tech noted potential challenges from competitors. What’s more, if there’s no pipeline of new companies, this sort of thing will fizzle out. But if money and talent continues to develop new solutions and companies in a place where there’s real domain expertise and a bona fide ecosystem, it will potentially give the city a niche where it can be a truly top tier player and not just another me-too startup hub.
On a more mature level, I wrote some years back about the motorsports industry cluster in Indianapolis. Everybody knows the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 500-mile Race, but Indianapolis Raceway Park (now Lucas Oil Raceway) in Brownsburg also happens to be home to arguably the top drag racing event in the US. It’s near Brownsburg predominantly where a collection of (as of 2008 when I got the last report) 400 motorsports companies, employing 8,800 people at average wages of around $50,000/year is centered. Thus this cluster is both a sub-industry (a type of advanced manufacturing) microcluster and a geographic one. (I might note it’s certainly not the only global location in this industry as places like London and Charlotte also have such clusters). People have actually moved to Indianapolis from as far away as Australia and England to start companies in this space, a pretty good indicator it’s a real opportunity zone.
Again, both of these grew organically, so I don’t want to suggest that you can conjure one up with an economic development program. But I suspect most cities have a few of these out there or in the process of developing. It just so happens I know Indianapolis well and so can name what’s there. Identifying these and providing institutional or infrastructural support (e.g., specialized community college training programs) is probably a worthwhile endeavor.
Today’s economy doesn’t have one plant employing 10,000 people. But a good microcluster can be as impactful if not more so. Obviously the smaller your metro, the bigger a splash something like this will make. What’s more, specialization and a true integrated ecosystem can produce what Warren Buffett calls a “wide moat” business that can be defended against upstarts. Also recall that Jack Welch at GE famously didn’t want to be in a business if he couldn’t be #1 or #2 at it. It’s not realistic for smaller cities to ever think they’ll be #1 or #2 in tech generally, nor even have the large tech scene of a New York or Chicago. But they can find particular areas where they can punch above their weight. And as the recent Indy acquisitions show, generate legitimate big dollar exits.
Update: Richard Layman posted some additional thoughts on his blog.
Friday, October 10th, 2014
Not everyone was critical but the ones that were basically say that it’s ludicrous to say that football proves anything. I don’t think that it does. But I will make three points:
1. The differing fortunes of the two conference is yet another in an extremely long series of data points and episodes that demonstrate a shift in demographic, economic, and cultural vitality to the South.
2. Sports is one of the many areas in which Midwestern states have clung to traditional approaches, even though those approaches haven’t been producing results.
3. Demographic and economic changes have consequences. It’s not realistic to expect that the Midwest’s excellent institutions will necessarily be able to retain excellence when supported by hollowed out economies.
I’d like to throw up a couple of charts to illustrate the longer term trends at work. The first is a comparison of per capita personal income as a percent of the US average for Illinois vs. Georgia since 1950:
Here’s the same chart of Ohio vs. North Carolina:
If I put up the population or job numbers, the same charts would show the South mutilating the Midwest. (Indiana, Georgia, and North Carolina were all about the same population in 1980, but the latter two have skyrocketed ahead since then for example). What’s more, the South’s major metros score better on diversity and attracting immigrants than the Midwest’s major metros as a general rule.
These charts show the convergence in incomes over time. The decline in relative income of the Midwest is possibly in part to increases elsewhere, not internal dynamics. But think about what the Midwest looked like in 1950, 60, or 70 vs the South, then think about it today and it’s night and day. The Midwest may still be endowed with better educational and cultural institutions than the South, but we can see where the trends are going. Keep in mind that those things are lagging indicators. Chicago didn’t get classy until after it got rich, for example.
Now we see that Southern income performance hasn’t been great since the mid to late 90s. This is a problem for them. As is their dependence on growth itself in their communities. I won’t claim that the South is trouble free or will necessarily thrive over the long haul. But they seem to have a clearer sense of identity, where they want to go, and what their deficiencies are than most Midwestern places.
Longworth seems to buy the decline theory but has a different explanation of the source, namely that Chicago has sucked the life out of other Midwestern states:
In the global economy, sheer size is a great big magnet, drawing in the resources and people from the surrounding region. We see this in the exploding cities of China, India and South America. We see it in Europe, where London booms while the rest of England slowly rots.
And we see it in the Midwest where, as the urbanologist Richard Florida has written, Chicago has simply sucked the life – the finance, the business services, the investment, especially the best young people – out of the rest of the Midwest.
To any young person in Nashville or Charlotte, the home town offers plenty of opportunities for work and a good life. To any young person stuck in post-industrial Cleveland or Detroit, it’s only logical to decamp to Chicago, rather than to stay home and try to build something in the wreckage of a vanished economy.
This seems to be a common view (see another example), even in the places that would be on the victim side of the equation. But I’ve never seen strong data that suggests this is actually the case. Are college grads and young people getting sucked out of the rest of the Midwest into Chicago?
Thanks to the Census Bureau, we now have a view, albeit limited, into this. The American Community Survey releases county to county migration patterns off of their five year surveys sliced by attribute. There seems to be some statistical noise in these, and for various reasons I can’t track state to metro migrations, but thanks to my Telestrian tool, I was able to aggregate this to at least get metro to metro migration. So here is a map of migration of adults with college degrees for the Chicago metro area from the 2007-2011 ACS:
Net migration of adults 25+ with a bachelors degree or higher with the Chicago metropolitan area. Source: 2007-2011 ACS county to county migration data with aggregation and mapping by Telestrian
This looks like a mixed bag to me, not a hoover operation. What about the “young and restless”? Here’s a similar map of people aged 18-34:
Net migration of 18-34yos with the Chicago metropolitan area. Source: 2006-2010 ACS county to county migration data with aggregation and mapping by Telestrian
This is an absolute blowout, with a massive amount of red on the map showing areas to which Chicago is actually losing young adults. Honestly, this only makes sense given the well known headline negative domestic migration numbers for Chicago.
I do find it interesting that there’s a strong draw from Michigan. Clearly Michigan has taken a decade plus long beating. There’s been strong net out-migration from Michigan to many other Midwestern cities during that time frame, and its the same in Cleveland, which also took an economic beating in the last decade. This is just an impression so I don’t want to overstate, but it seems to me that a disproportionate number of the stories about brain drain to Chicago give examples from Michigan. Longworth uses the examples of Detroit and Cleveland. These would appear to be the places where the argument has been truly legitimate, but that doesn’t mean you can extrapolate generally from there.
What’s more, even if a young person with a college degree does move to Chicago from somewhere else, will they stay there long term? They may circulate out back to where they came from or somewhere else after absorbing skills and experience. It’s the same with New York, DC, SF, etc. I’ve said these places should be viewed as human capital refineries, much like universities. That’s not a bad thing at all. In fact, it’s a big plus for everybody all around. Chicago is doing fine there. But it’s a more complex talent dynamic than is generally presented, a presentation that does not seem to be backed up by the data in any case.