Friday, April 25th, 2014

Migration Trend Report

The IRS recently released its place to place migration data for 2011. This data is reported at the county and state level, but I process it to enable analysis at the metro area level, which is something you rarely see. This is one of the many data sets available in my Telestrian system.

I’ve been playing around with it a bit and wanted to show a few trends. The first is slowing net out-migration to the suburbs, which is something I’ve highlighted before. Here’s a chart of net migration of people from the core county* to suburban counties in large Midwestern metro areas from 1995 to 2011 (the 1996 data is people who moved between 1995 and 1996):

I normalized this across metros by plotting the data as indexes. You’ll see that the trend was up, particularly during the housing madness, then turned south when the bust happened. All of these metros except Detroit have lower levels out net suburban out-migration today. Some of them are down to around only 25% of their 1995 value, and it’s not inconceivable they could see reversing migration if the trend continues. Keep in mind this is county level data, not city.

I decided to look also specifically at in-migration, people moving from a suburban county to a core county. That would help us see if the change is a result of declining out-migration or if more people are actually moving back closer to the center.

We do see that there’s been an increase in migration to core counties, though nothing of the magnitude of the net change. But there has been some modest increase in the numbers moving in. However, look closely: the second highest increase is Detroit – Wayne County, MI. So we can’t reflexively treat this as a pure sign of core health.

A Closer Look at the Twin Cities

Minneapolis-St. Paul had the biggest collapse in net suburban migration and the biggest increase in in-migration. I wanted to show the absolute levels where to give you a feel for what’s going on. This is an interesting case. Since these are twin cities and there’s no standard government definition of core county, I treat both Hennepin and Ramsey Counties as core counties. (Movements between them don’t count as suburban migration in or out). This makes the MSP case a bit different. But with that caveat, here’s the out-migration:

We see the rise and then fall, with the net result that people moving outwards has returned to the levels of the mid-90s, but hasn’t dropped much below that. Here’s in inbound:

Here we have close to a 50% increase in inbound migration from the suburban counties. The major rise seems to have paralleled the housing collapse, which could indicate people forced to move closer into the core for rentals because of foreclosure. The Twin Cities actually got hit hard in the exurbs during the bust, so it’s not surprising to see a change there. As housing markets normalize, it will be interesting to watch where this pattern goes.

Cleveland’s Great Divide

I’ve heard some people say that Cleveland is really the demarcation point between Chicago’s sphere of influence and New York’s, and that the West Side of Cleveland orients towards Chicago and the East Side towards New York. I can’t do an East vs. West Side comparison, but I did want to see how Cleveland’s migration patterns have changed with these two megacities over time. First let’s take a look at gross migration, or the total number of people moving in both directions between Cleveland and these cities. Gross migration is very important because two places could both have net migration of say 0, but one city pair might actually have nobody moving in either direction and the other pair might have 50,000 people moving in and 50,000 people moving out. The net value can obscure some of the most important human capital ties between cities:

As we see, Cleveland used to have greater church with Chicago, but now it is more equally balanced between the cities. Although there’s a slight uptick with New York, it appears mostly a decline vs. Chicago. This makes sense because as I’ve documented, it was Chicago that really boomed in the 90s, but suffered a lost decade in the 2000s.

Here’s the net migration:

This is interesting. Cleveland has experienced a net loss of people to Chicago every single year, whereas it actually attracted people on a net basis from New York. Is this because of lots of people moving to Chicago or fewer people moving from Chicago? I decided to take a look specifically at the in-migration:

Over this period of time, the two cities were actually very comparable in terms of how many people moved to Cleveland – almost equal in fact. So there must be something going on with out-migration. But rather than go that direction, I want to show another chart of in-migration, this time looking at income instead of people.

Here we see that although there’s a fairly balanced inflow of people from both megacities, Chicago is sending much more income to Cleveland. In a couple years there were big spikes, maybe indicating some high income movers. Things have evened out in the last few years, but historically Cleveland has been importing more income from Chitown than NYC.

This is just a quick look, but it shows you the type of relationship information between cities that can be picked apart a bit using this data. It was in part research based on this that led Cleveland State University to establish its Center for Population Dynamics with Richey Piiparinen to help Cleveland better understand its human capital flows in more detail. With the criticality of talent and human capital to urban success, understanding this with regards to your city is a must.

* Core for St. Louis is city+St. Louis County. Core for MSP is Hennepin+Ramsey Counties

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

More Fun With Per Capita Incomes

After yesterday’s post, I thought I’d throw up some additional comparisons, this time at the metro level. County and metro per capita incomes only go back to 1969, not 1929, but there are still interesting things to see. I’ll post these without analysis for you to ponder on your own. Again, all data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, with charts via Telestrian.

The five boroughs of New York City (Manhattan=New York County, Brooklyn=Kings County, Staten Island=Richmond County). In the case of Manhattan, it’s worth noting that this is a mean not a median value.

New York vs. Los Angeles. Keep in mind, the exurbs of LA are technically considered a separate metro area (Riverside-San Bernardino) and so aren’t included in the LA metro figures:

Chicago vs. Indianapolis:

Denver vs. the Twin Cities vs. Seattle:

Atlanta vs. Dallas-Ft. Worth vs. Houston:

Memphis vs. Nashville:

Cincinnati vs. Cleveland vs. Columbus:

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Replay: Minneapolis-St. Paul – White, Liberal, Cold

Note: This post originally ran on December 12, 2010.

As we are experiencing an early winter storm here in the Midwest, one that is particularly slamming the Twin Cities – the Metrodome roof just collapsed – perhaps it is time for a brief look at the Twin Cities.

Minneapolis-St. Paul has always been a bit of an outlier in the Midwest. Its economy was originally based around grains and such, not the auto and metals axes that supported the rest of the Midwest. So it had a very different trajectory than most other regional cities. The economy, along with its location far to the north, meant that it experienced the Great Migration to an extent far less than other cities. Today, the Twin Cities are among the least diverse in the Midwest. The black population of Hennepin County is only 11% and Ramsey County 10%, compared to 26% for Cook County, Illinois, which is more representative of Midwest industrial cities. This, along with its Scandinavian demographics, give the Twin Cities a not entirely undeserved reputation as white cities, though there has been significant international immigration of late.

Minnesota is also famously liberal. Home to politicians like Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, Minnesota has long been known as a progressive bastion, something perhaps related to its Scandinavian heritage. Richard Longworth, for example, noted that in 1978 33 of the 37 corportations that donated 5% of profits to charity were located in Minnesota. The Twin Cities have a large gay population and it is among the most gay-friendly locales in the country. Yet the picture is more nuanced than that. Republicans have often been elected there. The current governor is a fairly conservative Republican. And as immigrants have moved in and the economy changed, state politics have shifted to the right and now more closely resemble American than previously.

And of course there is the weather. It gets cold in Minnesota, making Minneapolis perhaps one of the few cities that can justify its downtown skywalk system. Unlike places like Chicago, however, where people hunker down for the winter or migrate to warmer climates, Minnesotans embrace the winter and winter sports. Their love of the outdoors doesn’t stop in December, and many people enjoy outdoor winter activities.

White, liberal, cold. In my view that sums up the easy popular outside stereotype of the Twin Cities. And like many, it is not without its grain of truth.

Interestingly, that rep is not that different, except for the cold part, from places like Portland and Seattle, places to which the Twin Cities are sometimes compared. Indeed, we see that it is similarly very educated, with a metro area college degree attainment of 37.6%, #8 in the country among metro areas with more than one million people. There’s also a surprisingly strong biking community. The city of Minneapolis has 3.9% of all workers commuting by bicycle, which is #7 out of all cities in the US, trailing only Portland among larger cities. They built a light rail line. The Twin Cities clearly deserve a place in the top ranks of urban progressivist cities.

Indeed, despite the weather and lack of diversity (the political climate’s affect depends on one’s own orientation), the Twin Cities enjoy a strong reputation, especially regionally. Interestingly, when I visited there last spring, a lot of the locals were concerned that, like many other Midwest cities, they have low brand awareness in the marketplace and are often a cipher to people out there in the world. That may be true to some extent, but I can tell you that they are far ahead of most Midwest cities in this arena. Especially within the region, people clearly know the Twin Cities and hold them in very high regard, even if they don’t think a comparison is necessarily fair. One example, an uber-hip person in Indianapolis was talking about some aspect of that city he felt was particularly strong compared to the rest of the Midwest. When I brought up the example of Minneapolis, he said, “Yeah, but everything about that city is just cool.”

So I think the Twin Cities have a positive brand image, from an urbanist perspective at least. And I can tell you from my time visiting and working there that it’s a great city. I could definitely enjoy living there, though there are some caveats I’ll get to in a minute. And it’s not just cool living either. The city is home to many corporations like Best Buy, Target, and 3M as well as a major hub for Oracle and a large American Express facility. There are tons of white collar, knowledge industry type jobs there. Its per capita income is well above the US average, as is its per capita GDP. This is a city that appears to have transitioned well to the new economy, even if employment is a challenge and it has experienced some serious housing bust issues.

The other advantage it has is the the metro area has the trifecta of being the largest metro in the state, the state capital, and home to the main state university. It also has a large share of the state’s population, giving it influence in the statehouse that a Columbus or Indianapolis could only dream of. The geographic downside is that it is remote, and geographically located near the fringe of the US, though it does have good air connectivity.

There are some caveats for outsiders, however. Although the region is below my large Midwest metro average for percentage of residents who were born in their current state of residence (possibly also affected by being a bi-state metro), I definitely get the impression of lots of Minnesotans every time I go there. That’s not necessarily bad, but as with many Midwest towns, it reinforces the feeling of being an outsider if you aren’t one, at least to me.

Possibly that’s a bit because the Twin Cities is a bit of an isolate in the Midwest. In Chicago, you always run into people from where ever it is you are from, especially if that’s in the Midwest. I don’t experience that in the Twin Cities. Indeed, looking at the numbers, other than Chicago and Wisconsin, the Twin Cities do not appear to draw a major number of migrants from other Midwest cities. Denver, San Diego, and Seattle send more people to the Twin Cities than do Detroit, Kansas City or St. Louis. It gets more people from Portland than from Columbus or Indianapolis. The Twin Cities seem more connected to other talent hubs than the rest of the Midwest.

The other thing I notice about the Twin Cities is a very old money feel to it. Perhaps it is just the local style, but the natives I know there often seem to have a somewhat patrician bearing and speaking style. Virtually everyone I’ve met who is a native whose origins I can conclusively identify is somehow connected to money or power. And even for those I can’t, there are strongly indicative things, like a stray mention that, “I grew up in a house along the other side of the lake.” Perhaps because I grew up in a poor rural area, I notice that stuff more, and it’s a little disconcerting. It gives off the impression that there’s a club, and you’re not ever going to get to be a member.

In short, while I really like the city and think I might enjoy living in it, I’m not entirely comfortable there. And I know I’m not the only one. I know multiple people who moved to Minneapolis and left it because of difficulty fitting in or penetrating the social structures there. This might be one cultural weakness of the city. In the type of dynamic, diverse world we live in, cities that turn off a significant number of people can be limited on the talent front. Also, the fact that I’ve heard reports of difficult to penetrate and navigate social structures is also not a good thing.

Nevertheless, given the strong structural advantages of the region, its educated workforce, its air connections, the strong and diverse base of employers, and its ability to attract immigrants, Minneapolis-St. Paul looks to be a successful place going forward, unless they screw it up somehow. What I don’t see yet is a catalyst for turning the region into a real economic dynamo that would strongly grow employment, population, etc. It strikes me that the most likely course is a more restrained and stable path into the future. Regardless, the economic state of the Twin Cities is one which many Midwest towns would dearly love to have.

PS: Here’s a video of the collapse of the Metrodome roof from the inside (if the video doesn’t display, click here):

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

Minneapolis-St. Paul: White, Liberal, and Cold

As we are experiencing an early winter storm here in the Midwest, one that is particularly slamming the Twin Cities – the Metrodome roof just collapsed – perhaps it is time for a brief look at the Twin Cities.

Minneapolis-St. Paul has always been a bit of an outlier in the Midwest. Its economy was originally based around grains and such, not the auto and metals axes that supported the rest of the Midwest. So it had a very different trajectory than most other regional cities. The economy, along with its location far to the north, meant that it experienced the Great Migration to an extent far less than other cities. Today, the Twin Cities are among the least diverse in the Midwest. The black population of Hennepin County is only 11% and Ramsey County 10%, compared to 26% for Cook County, Illinois, which is more representative of Midwest industrial cities. This, along with its Scandinavian demographics, give the Twin Cities a not entirely undeserved reputation as white cities, though there has been significant international immigration of late.

Minnesota is also famously liberal. Home to politicians like Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, Minnesota has long been known as a progressive bastion, something perhaps related to its Scandinavian heritage. Richard Longworth, for example, noted that in 1978 33 of the 37 corportations that donated 5% of profits to charity were located in Minnesota. The Twin Cities have a large gay population and it is among the most gay-friendly locales in the country. Yet the picture is more nuanced than that. Republicans have often been elected there. The current governor is a fairly conservative Republican. And as immigrants have moved in and the economy changed, state politics have shifted to the right and now more closely resemble American than previously.

And of course there is the weather. It gets cold in Minnesota, making Minneapolis perhaps one of the few cities that can justify its downtown skywalk system. Unlike places like Chicago, however, where people hunker down for the winter or migrate to warmer climates, Minnesotans embrace the winter and winter sports. Their love of the outdoors doesn’t stop in December, and many people enjoy outdoor winter activities.

White, liberal, cold. In my view that sums up the easy popular outside stereotype of the Twin Cities. And like many, it is not without its grain of truth.

Interestingly, that rep is not that different, except for the cold part, from places like Portland and Seattle, places to which the Twin Cities are sometimes compared. Indeed, we see that it is similarly very educated, with a metro area college degree attainment of 37.6%, #8 in the country among metro areas with more than one million people. There’s also a surprisingly strong biking community. The city of Minneapolis has 3.9% of all workers commuting by bicycle, which is #7 out of all cities in the US, trailing only Portland among larger cities. They built a light rail line. The Twin Cities clearly deserve a place in the top ranks of urban progressivist cities.

Indeed, despite the weather and lack of diversity (the political climate’s affect depends on one’s own orientation), the Twin Cities enjoy a strong reputation, especially regionally. Interestingly, when I visited there last spring, a lot of the locals were concerned that, like many other Midwest cities, they have low brand awareness in the marketplace and are often a cipher to people out there in the world. That may be true to some extent, but I can tell you that they are far ahead of most Midwest cities in this arena. Especially within the region, people clearly know the Twin Cities and hold them in very high regard, even if they don’t think a comparison is necessarily fair. One example, an uber-hip person in Indianapolis was talking about some aspect of that city he felt was particularly strong compared to the rest of the Midwest. When I brought up the example of Minneapolis, he said, “Yeah, but everything about that city is just cool.”

So I think the Twin Cities have a positive brand image, from an urbanist perspective at least. And I can tell you from my time visiting and working there that it’s a great city. I could definitely enjoy living there, though there are some caveats I’ll get to in a minute. And it’s not just cool living either. The city is home to many corporations like Best Buy, Target, and 3M as well as a major hub for Oracle and a large American Express facility. There are tons of white collar, knowledge industry type jobs there. Its per capita income is well above the US average, as is its per capita GDP. This is a city that appears to have transitioned well to the new economy, even if employment is a challenge and it has experienced some serious housing bust issues.

The other advantage it has is the the metro area has the trifecta of being the largest metro in the state, the state capital, and home to the main state university. It also has a large share of the state’s population, giving it influence in the statehouse that a Columbus or Indianapolis could only dream of. The geographic downside is that it is remote, and geographically located near the fringe of the US, though it does have good air connectivity.

There are some caveats for outsiders, however. Although the region is below my large Midwest metro average for percentage of residents who were born in their current state of residence (possibly also affected by being a bi-state metro), I definitely get the impression of lots of Minnesotans every time I go there. That’s not necessarily bad, but as with many Midwest towns, it reinforces the feeling of being an outsider if you aren’t one, at least to me.

Possibly that’s a bit because the Twin Cities is a bit of an isolate in the Midwest. In Chicago, you always run into people from where ever it is you are from, especially if that’s in the Midwest. I don’t experience that in the Twin Cities. Indeed, looking at the numbers, other than Chicago and Wisconsin, the Twin Cities do not appear to draw a major number of migrants from other Midwest cities. Denver, San Diego, and Seattle send more people to the Twin Cities than do Detroit, Kansas City or St. Louis. It gets more people from Portland than from Columbus or Indianapolis. The Twin Cities seem more connected to other talent hubs than the rest of the Midwest.

The other thing I notice about the Twin Cities is a very old money feel to it. Perhaps it is just the local style, but the natives I know there often seem to have a somewhat patrician bearing and speaking style. Virtually everyone I’ve met who is a native whose origins I can conclusively identify is somehow connected to money or power. And even for those I can’t, there are strongly indicative things, like a stray mention that, “I grew up in a house along the other side of the lake.” Perhaps because I grew up in a poor rural area, I notice that stuff more, and it’s a little disconcerting. It gives off the impression that there’s a club, and you’re not ever going to get to be a member.

In short, while I really like the city and think I might enjoy living in it, I’m not entirely comfortable there. And I know I’m not the only one. I know multiple people who moved to Minneapolis and left it because of difficulty fitting in or penetrating the social structures there. This might be one cultural weakness of the city. In the type of dynamic, diverse world we live in, cities that turn off a significant number of people can be limited on the talent front. Also, the fact that I’ve heard reports of difficult to penetrate and navigate social structures is also not a good thing.

Nevertheless, given the strong structural advantages of the region, its educated workforce, its air connections, the strong and diverse base of employers, and its ability to attract immigrants, Minneapolis-St. Paul looks to be a successful place going forward, unless they screw it up somehow. What I don’t see yet is a catalyst for turning the region into a real economic dynamo that would strongly grow employment, population, etc. It strikes me that the most likely course is a more restrained and stable path into the future. Regardless, the economic state of the Twin Cities is one which many Midwest towns would dearly love to have.

PS: Here’s a video of the collapse of the Metrodome roof from the inside (if the video doesn’t display, click here):

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

Midwest Miscellany

High Speed Rail and Transit Roundup

John Hilkevitch had a great column this week putting the matter of 110MPH service vs. real high speed rail on the table.

A Milwaukee Road rail line coal-burning locomotive was clocked going 124 m.p.h. on a stretch between the Twin Cities and Chicago — in 1939. Such long-distance trains routinely barreling across the Midwest at speeds exceeding the century mark may have been far ahead of their time 70 years ago. On the other hand, today’s back-to-the-future plans by the federal government to encourage development of 110-m.p.h. train service in parts of the U.S. may simply lack the spirit and forward-looking approach that was alive back then, or even as recently as the 1960s, when 200-m.p.h.-plus “bullet train” systems were built in Asia and Europe. It’s a touchy subject that has received scant attention as politicians glom onto the idea of investing billions of taxpayer dollars on high-speed rail to stimulate the U.S. economy.

It’s a must-read.

A Cincinnati blog compares the cities and distances in the proposed Midwest high speed rail system with those of the successful TGV system in France. The Midwest stacks up favorably. Clearly it is not an apples to apples comparison, but still an interesting data point

If you want to get depressed, watch this Fortune magazine video on China’s $300 billion bullet train. There are some embarrassing errors by the narrator, but still a good one.

The Chicago Transit Authority Board this week approved moving forward with three L expansions: a Red Line extension to 130th St, an Orange Line extension to Ford City Mall, and a Yellow Line extension to Old Orchard. The Red Line extension is the biggest news in terms of ridership – and cost. The extension is projected to add 41,000 new daily riders. It’s 5.3 miles long and $1.2 billion. Stay tuned to this blog for more on that.

Indianapolis Transit Video

People for Urban Progress and IndyCog put out this humorous but sad video about Indianapolis transit.

Minneapolis Pictures

Washington DC blogger Alex Block who writes CityBlock recently visited Minneapolis and put up some nice series of photos of that city’s LRT system and more. Check them out, and check out the rest of the blog while you are there.

Here are some samples to whet your appetite:

What Pittsburgh Can Learn from the Netroots

Mike Madison’s great Pittsblog has a great post up on what Pittsburgh can learn from the netroots. He has a cautionary warning about the limits of Internet activism. Urban enthusiasts around the Midwest should take heed.

Reckless optimism is sometimes warranted; once in a great while, it pays off. The younger/progressive wing of Pittsburgh can learn from NetRoots that naive enthusiasm is not enough. I talk to younger people in Pittsburgh who are wildly and unrealistically optimistic about Pittsburgh’s bright future; they are unaware of the daunting financial challenges that lie ahead. They can learn that social media and connectivity are not enough …. You have to have a message, and you have to connect the content to on-the-ground strategies. Content matters; you have to have something that’s worth saying. And that wing can learn that a narrow base isn’t enough.
….
Turning from younger/progressive end of the socio-political spectrum to the older/establishment end of the socio-political spectrum, there are complementary lessons to be learned: Adapt or be swept away. When the younger/progressive wing gets better organized and gets more strategic, and if it can come up with serious arguments on the structural economic and financial problems facing the region, then that wing becomes a force to be reckoned with. It isn’t necessarily an irresistible force, but it has to be acknowledged in a way that in Pittsburgh, today, it rarely is.

Frontier Follow-Up

NPR did a story in the Detroit-as-new-frontier genre. It’s similar to the ones I linked to before. More evidence.

BROOKS: Cooley is 33. He grew up in Michigan and worked as a banker in Chicago. But four years ago, attracted by cheap property, he returned to Detroit and bought these three buildings for a little more than $200,000.

Mr. COOLEY: We thought that was really inexpensive.

BROOKS: For a couple hundred thousand dollars, right? And you got three buildings.

Mr. COOLEY: Yeah.

BROOKS: And in Chicago, not possible.

Mr. COOLEY: No. And in fact, we were looking at something similar in Chicago, and we were looking at, like, just a building that would – needed a whole lot of work for about 800,000.

BROOKS: Cooley runs a real estate business in one of the buildings. And in another, he helped open Slows Bar BQ restaurant, which has became hugely popular and the anchor of a mini one-block urban renaissance. His partner is his 31-year-old brother, Phil Cooley.

Mr. PHIL COOLEY (Real Estate Developer): I found that this is a city that really was wide open. I would definitely consider myself young and dumb, you know. I’ve learned far more from my mistakes here than I have from my successes. It’s lovely to be able to afford to do that here because one, the community is forgiving, and two, it’s less expensive than other places, so it’s affordable.

BROOKS: Phil Cooley worked as a fashion model in cities around the world, but he says he would rather live here in Detroit.

Mr. KOLTAY: And the thing is the spirit of the people that I know is what drew me here. I met people that are like, yeah, I got my own metal shop. And sure, I sleep here and it’s weird and I made this loft in the back of the place. And, you know, for a year I lived there without hot water, it was gnarly, but whatever. Now I’m golden. I’ve never seen a city that has this kind of opportunity for growth. And I think that’s beautiful.

Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert from the NYT piece also figure in this one. Perhaps they are good at getting in the papers, but I think it does offer a cautionary counter-note that, as in many Midwest cities, while great things are happening, the pool is still pretty shallow, so to speak. Via Rust Wire

Elsewhere on the Detroit front, former Bush speechwriter David Frum had a widely debated opinion piece on “What killed Detroit?“. His answer? Poor race relations and the rejection of intellectual pursuits in favor of brawn. It’s worth a peek, and is not entirely unsympathetic to the city.

And Michigan snagged $1.4 out of $2.4 billion in federal grants for battery investments. The state hopes to create a technology epicenter with this money. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. Even without the bailouts, Michigan was going to receive most of any new investment from auto companies into new tech because the headquarters are there. Now with the Obama Administration’s own credibility on the line after its rescue of GM and Chrysler, the federal government as well has an incentive to stuff money into Michigan. Ohio and Indiana would appear to be the losers here.

Why the ‘Livable City’ Rankings Are Wrong

Joel Kotkin had another great piece last week that got widely discussed around the web as his stuff is wont to do. This one criticized all those more livable cities awards out there.

Cultural institutions, public safety, mass transit, “green” policies and other measures of what is called “livability” were weighted heavily, so results skewed heavily toward compact cities in fairly prosperous regions. Most of these regions suffer only a limited underclass and support a relatively small population of children….These places make ideal locales for groups like traveling corporate executives, academics and researchers targeted by such surveys. With their often lovely facades, ample parks and good infrastructure, they constitute, for the most part, a list of what Wharton’s Joe Gyourko calls “productive resorts,” a sort of business-oriented version of an Aspen or Vail in Colorado or Palm Beach….Yet are those the best standards for judging a city? It seems to me what makes for great cities in history are not measurements of safety, sanitation or homogeneity but economic growth, cultural diversity and social dynamism….Such places are aspirational – they draw people not for a restful visit or elegant repast but to achieve some sort of upward mobility. By nature these places are chaotic and often difficult to navigate. Ambitious people tend to be pushy and competitive.

That’s why the world’s truly great cities – London, New York, Chicago, etc. – don’t rate well in these surveys. Their energy, density, and chaos keep challenging you and makes you stay on your toes. These are the places that power the world economically and culturally. And they are the places that offer the greatest scope – and incentive – to personal growth and transformation.

It reminds me of my own previous article “Impossibility City“:

I don’t think people truly get the link between a broad vision of what a city is, a large sphere in which individuals can pursue divergent activities and goals, and economic success. As Sam Jacob of FAT put it, “Cities are not about the perfect vision; they are not about a singular idea. They are about a collision of all kinds of incompatible demands.” The life of the small town or the suburb are rigidly circumscribed. They might not be about a single vision, but they are about a more narrow and defined view of what life should be. They demand conformity. A place like that, no matter how large or even how successful, is not a true city.

A collision of incompatible demands. What a great way to put it. It is in containing that collision within a geographical, political, social, and culture context that a city creates its meaning. Cities can resolve the paradox, reconcile the incompatible into something new and powerful. It isn’t always pretty. The results are sometimes messy or unpleasant. But its in that resolution process that we create the energy and innovation that moves the city forward and allows its residents, business, and institutions to reinvent themselves and their lives if they so choose.

New York Bike Racks

Somebody snapped a photo of the new city standard bike rack in New York City. (From Streetsblog & @zacfrank)

Looks nice. People do seem to be wondering if it might be too easy to break these off and stea them. New York plans to install 5,000 of these over the next three years.

With things like their bike rack programs, LED streetlights, the High Line, and their Street Design Manual, New York is really has some of the most progressive street/trail design going on out there. While the whole Midwest is behind, I’d like to particularly call out Chicago.

Chicago has done some amazing things with bike lanes, streetscape improvements, etc. But it has stuck with cutesy retro design approach that is very generic, and also has not been a source of major innovation the way places like NYC and Portland have. Chicago uses generic, off the rack u-shaped bike racks, antique gas lamp replicas, basic bike lanes, etc. It is now copying New York with its Bloomingdale Trail – with some of the design team previously having worked on the High Line. With its vast mileage of abandoned elevated freight tracks, Chicago could have and should have been first to this.

My understanding is that there’s a vacancy over at the top at CDOT. Whomever the mayor puts in that position needs to bring a strong sense of design and an innovation mindset to help Chicago catch up in this area.

National and International Roundup

Speaking of New York, here’s a super-cool map of the daytime and night time populations of Manhattan that @PD_Smith pointed us at on Gawker. Click for full size.

Check out the 20 finalists in the Re-Burbia competition.

The psychology of economic development in New Brunswick. “Attitude matters. Psychology matters. If we can reset the narrative on Northern New Brunswick and point it in the right direction, we will have taken a huge step forward.” (via @intelegia)

Why Seattle won’t grow as fast as planners say.

Neukölln: Gentrification as it should be?

More Midwest

The Journal had coverage of the “Living Cities” conference in Dayton. This was a gathering of people from the 10 cities Forbes labeled “dying” in one of its infamous lists.

Chicago
Chicago’s murdered children (The Guardian) – Chicago’s violence wave gets international press. I’ve got my quibbles with their methodology. I wouldn’t call an 18 year old a “child” for example. But this is clearly a whole bunch of Not Good.
CTA, Pace feud getting nasty (Greg Hinz @ Crain’s Chicago Business)
Saga of the Burnham Pavillions (Blair Kamin @ Tribune)

Cincinnati
Poison pill amendment is about less, not more (Enquirer editorial) – The Enquirer weighs in against the proposed anti-rail charter amendment.
$10 million upgrade and expansion for tennis stadium (UrbanCincy)

Columbus
Foreclosures grow in fertile suburbs (Dispatch)

Cleveland
A new wing, a new direction (WSJ) – Great national piece on the Cleveland Museum of Art and its expansion plans

Detroit
Detroit school woes deepen (WSJ) – 257 ghost payrollers, five people indicted
Jobs recovery may bypass Michigan (Detroit News)

Kansas City
Downtown, surrounding areas get marketing boost (KC Star)
Funkhouser lists what he hopes to achieve in Kansas City (KC Star)

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Midwest Miscellany

How many people want to move to the Midwest? Not many, according to a new study from the Pew Charitable Trust. Among the 30 largest metros in the Midwest, the eight least favorite in the country were all in the Midwest. The only Midwest city not in that group at the bottom was Chicago, and it has nothing to write home about, coming in at #18, well down the list. Usual suspects like Denver, San Diego, and Seattle top the league tables. I haven’t digested this fully myself. When did they survey people, for example? If it was in the winter…. Anyhow, I don’t think this will surprise anyone. And it goes again to illustrate the long road ahead even top performing Midwest cities have. Cincinnati was second to last on the list, and UncleRando over at UrbanCincy posted his response to that finding.

I know many folks won’t care for Wendell Cox, the pro-sprawl, anti-transit gadfly, but his group recently published their annual survey on housing affordability. The Midwest scores well here, with Indianapolis once again topping the list of most affordable markets. Of course, the story above might have something to do with the low prices, but you can’t dismiss the benefits of flat, wide open spaces.

Big news out of Chicago this week as an Illinois appeals court struck down the city’s landmark protection ordinance. Loyal readers of this blog know that I am not a fan of historic districts. The court struck down the Chicago ordinance for much the same reason I don’t like them: overly vague criteria that more or less give officials the right to make totally arbitrary judgements and historic commissions that are stacked with activists of one type or another. You can read reaction from Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin here and from noted Chicago architecture blogger Lynn Becker here.

I would like to stress that I am a big fan of historic preservation (see “Preserving our Mid-Century Heritage” for an example). I actually don’t have any problem with narrowly tailored historic preservation ordinances that are designed to protect exceptional, bona fide significant sites. In fact, I think at least part of the Chicago approach, landmarking of individual structures, is the best way to go versus districts in most cases. The big problem I have is that there has been an extreme proliferation of historic districts around the country of dubious merit, almost entirely driven by upscale neighbors who are mostly interested in achieving land use control that is more properly the province of zoning. The fact that unlike zoning, historic districts are totally arbitrary, with no objective standards, is part of their appeal. Often the neighbors don’t even disguise that this is their real reason for wanting one. They say that want to “preserve the character” of their neighborhood. That’s exactly the same argument people made against fair housing laws. Indeed, I think there’s an argument to be made that historic districts should be invalidated on fair housing grounds. Where ever you find historic districts, extremely high home prices that render the district unaffordable to much of the community are often found right along with them. When I was living in Evanston, Illinois some years back, a group of neighbors promoted a historic district with the explicit intention of preventing Northwestern University from establishing any facilities in their neighborhood. They were quite transparent about this in the media. These types of arguments – over use types, density, etc – are more properly the province of the normal planning and zoning process, where neighbors do in fact have a seat at the table, if not the dictatorial power they would love to have.

The Chicago Sun-Times profiles new Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman. In this, Huberman acknowledges in the media for the first time what was already widely known, namely that he’s gay. (hat tip Chicago Carless).

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP – the region’s MPO among other things), has published some uber-cool maps of traffic congestion. Read ‘em and weep. I’d love to see other cities produce great graphs like this. Here’s a sample from the Kennedy Expressway:

On, and it a bit of blog craziness, it seems the developer of the north side Wilson Yards project is suing to uncover the identity of bloggers who have criticized the project. Classy.

And here’s a great blog entry from a guy who walked 23 miles of Kedzie Avenue. Great stuff.

The Twin Cities are usually considered among the top cities for life sciences, particularly medical devices, in the United States. But an interesting report out this week suggests that Minnesota is in fact falling behind in medical technology. I always find these types of studies interesting. There are usually two flavors. Flavor one is designed to showcase how great a region is doing. Flavor two is designed to show that a region is falling behind, usually as part of a call to action for some type of public policy response. It would be interesting to see the dynamics of how these get produced. Nevertheless, I do find it interesting that Minnesota is doing a “type two” study. The BioBusiness Destination 2025 study web site is here. The report isn’t online. I’ve emailed to ask for a copy so stay tuned.

There’s a really awesome thread over at DetroitYES with a pictures of historic street lights. Incredibly, many of the street lights in operation in Detroit are a century old or so. One advantage of having a city that is broke, I guess, is that so much really old stuff just gets left in place. Again, these things appear not to just be old, but actually still in service. This perhaps points to an asset Detroit has that no other city can match. Remember how I said we should invert the world? How many other cities have such a genuine collection of historic artifacts in their town? Take your weakness and make it into a strength somehow.

Nuvo Newsweekly in Indianapolis reports that they were the only local mainstream media outlet to cover the Pride of Indy band playing at the Obama innauguration. Can we imagine this happening for any group other than gays and lesbians? I’ll say it again, Indy will never reach its potential as a city if it treats its LGBT community like second class citizens.

Let me put the argument in terms of pure self-interest. Indy can build the best airport in the United States, can have the greatest branding campaign out there, can spend a billion on first class stadiums and convention centers, but if it actively denigrates its gay and lesbian population, all of that hard work and money will never take the city where it wants to go. I showed before that people glom on to anecdotes that reinforce what they already believe. People around the country think Hoosiers are socially backwards retrogrades. Look at the top of this post for what people think of the Midwest. I don’t happen to agree with that, but stuff like this only let’s people feel good about their stereotyping.

Like it or not, the fact is that LGBT acceptance is going mainstream in America today. Heck, as my story above about Chicago appointing a gay schools chief shows, in lots of places, it is already here. You can treat this fact like all too many Midwest cities treated globalization – by sticking your head in the sand and pretending it doesn’t exist because you don’t like it – but we’ve seen where that gets you. I am not saying that Indianapolis needs to try to be a gay mecca or do anything whatsoever special for gays and lesbians. But the city’s LGBT community cannot be singled out for second class treatment. It is impossible to conceive of a local high school band, or African American band at the inauguration not getting coverage. Now let me say that the Star did give coverage to the Indy Pride parade last year, and did a nice story on the local gay library. So I don’t think this is actively malicious. But I do believe the local media needs to be sensitive to things like this, and, as they say in the business world, set the tone from the top about how things need to be.

Now, since I’ve often argued that following trends isn’t always the best approach, let me just say that if you think there’s a way to profit from slighting your gay community, by all means make the case. But I don’t think there’s a good one to be made. Maybe there are people out there that feel so strongly that homosexuality is wrong that they are willing to go down with the ship, so to speak, just as we’ve seen so many old manufacturing towns fall into ruin as their residents refused to change. I certainly hope, however, this is a view held by only a small minority.

On a more positive note, the IBJ covers the formation of the Central Indiana Transit Task Force. This is a huge positive development in Indianapolis transit. The MPO has studied rail lines and done great work in getting ridership figures and such accepted by the FTA. But this group is going to take a more holistic look at transit locally. What’s more, these are people who can build concensus in the community around actually moving forward with a system that is likely to cost a significant amount of local dollars to implement. I’ve said it before, but Indy has one of the strongest “civic sectors” in America. When the local armada gets into formation, watch out. Because when Indy decides it is going to do something, it does it. We’ll see what emerges from this, but I’m very optimistic. Oh, and right on cue, Mayor Ballard adds his support with an op-ed in the Star.

Over in Ohio, Governor Ted Strickland is calling for a massive overhaul of schools. I haven’t looked at this in specifics yet myself, but it definitely appears worth study.

From the “Simply Unbelievable” department comes the high profile story from Brandeis University, which wants to close its campus Rose Art Museum, and sell off all the art works to raise general funds for the school. This is simply unconscionable. The worst part is not what just floating this idea does to Brandeis, namely deservedly turn its name to mud, but the chill it sends across museums nationally. Expect that donors are going to be demanding ever greater ironclad legal strings on their donations, which only will hamper the mission of museums over time as more and more encumbrances are piled on. In the long term, even the most well-intentioned strings lose their meaning and come to hinder rather than help or preserve. The challenge is that when you can’t trust museum administrators, this is what you get. Terrible news indeed.

A group called The Transport Politic has a proposal for a national high speed rail network. Their Midwest segment differs significantly from the Midwest high speed rail association proposal.

Remember that fantastic “Bird’s Nest” stadium in Beijing? Apparently it now sits empty, with paint peeling off, and is planned to anchor a shopping center.

More News Briefs:

Chicago:
South Shore reject cooperation on buses. (Times of Northwest Indiana). Hello???????
When CTA drivers runs light, you pay (Tribune – Hilkevitch)

Cincinnati:
Delta Queen to become hotel in Chattanooga. (Business First of Louisville). Thank you Congress.
Orchestra falls $3.8 million short (Enquirer)

Indianapolis:
Master plan for IUPUI (Circle and Squares)
City’s grades on snow have a long way to go. (Indy Star – Tully).
Snowbound streets have residents fuming. (Indy Star)

Louisville:
$20 million gift to fund UofL energy center (Courier-Journal)

St. Louis:
Billions of dollars blown in regional development subsidies (Post-Dispatch)

Twin Cities:
Minnesota road/bridge projects could get green light (Star-Tribune)
Noblesville ready to start $20 million road project (Indy Star).

Friday, October 24th, 2008

Kansas City in Monocle, Cincinnati in Minneapolis

Regular readers know that I’m a fan of Monocle magazine. While it certainly has its “lifestyles of the rich and famous” side to it, which might turn some people off, it also has great international and urban affairs coverage. This month there was a nice four page spread in there about Kansas City. It includes several pictures, including the skyline, the Power and Light District, the airport, and more. Give the demographic of this magazine’s readership, with a large international contingent, this is great exposure.

Monocle articles aren’t online for non-subscribers, but here are some excerpts:

“When Sean Hopkins first visited Kansas City for a job interview, he had no clue what to expect. The stereotypes rolled through his mind: farms, cornfields, Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. Upon arrival though, California and Florida bred Hopkins was pleasantly surprised. ‘I loved the feel and the flavor’, he says. ‘Kansas City has something to offer that a big city doesn’t – a slower pace of life that’s good for the soul.'” Ok, that might not be what city leaders would hope to advertise, but it is still a positive statement.

“Like many US regions, Kansas City touts itself as a biotechnology hub and seems to be making progress. The Stowers Institute for Medical Research opened in 2000 with a €1.3 billion endowment. It has lured 400 world-class scientists, including neuro-biologist Debra Ellies”. This is an interesting story. Kansas City is one of the rare big cities without a medical school and academic medical center. Concerned they would miss out on what they saw as an essential industry of the 21st century, life sciences, local billionaires decided to endow a medical research center from scratch. This reminds me of what I said previously about being hungrier when you don’t have anchor legacy assets to fall back on. This may not have been the right industry for KC to focus on, frankly, given that they started from a weak base, with no intrinsic competitive advantage, and this is an industry everybody wants a piece of. Still, you have to admire the “go large” philosophy.

The #1 thing Monocle says needs to be fixed? Public transport. Kansas City is going to the ballot on Nov. 4th to vote on constructing a 14 mile light rail line. This involved a sales tax increase. It will be interesting to see how this fares, so to speak.

Update: A local Kansas City blog reaction – priceless.

Meanwhile, a group of leaders from Cincinnati paid a visit to Minneapolis to see that city up close. I think these sorts of things are critical. You have to get out into the world and see what is going on. So many people never visit the city right down the street, much less successful places around the country and the world that might have lessons to be learned. If you are never exposed to the best of what is going on elsewhere, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing the narrative of your own progress. By that I mean that most cities are constantly undertaking civic improvement initiatives. It is is very easy to judge the success or failure of these solely in terms of what they replaced. New convention center on what used to be a weedy lot? It must be great, right? But when you actually visit other places, especially top performing cities, you see where you really stack up. Every city these days has restaurants going in downtown, condos, etc. So much of what is conventionally viewed as progress is really just riding the trends.

Minneapolis is a good place to visit because it is a bit larger, but not so different as to make its lessons seem inapplicable. I also has a great reputation for its progressive urban policies, has a thriving urban center, a major airport, many corporate HQ’s, etc. Here are some sample excerpts:

“I was impressed by the Minnesotans’ self-esteem. They really seem to believe they are exceptional.”

“Charlotte and Minneapolis are very focused on the future, while we talk too much about the past”

“If we want our region to stand out as one of the best places to live, work and play, then we have to have big, bold ideas and not be afraid to get out of our comfort zone to implement ideas.”

“I was not in Charlotte, but I did go to Minneapolis, and I heard the question come up a second time: How do we define ourselves as a region? What do we do well that makes us unique? What can we tell someone about our city in the length of an elevator ride that might make them want to move here?”

Again, Minneapolis is a place with a lot of pride, swagger, and ambition. They don’t let being in the frozen north be a deal killer. Instead, they embrace the winter and winter sports with pride. They are going out and hiring the top world architects to design their major civic structures, such as a Jean Nouvel’s new Guthrie Theater. They are building light rail lines. Basically, they took the conventional wisdom about what a hip, livable city should be and are trying to really implement it. And they are having some success. Again, our friends at Monocle put them on the list of top 25 global cities.

Still, a lot of this is not distinguished. Starchitecture and light rail only get you so far. The more important things to me are items like the embrace of the outdoors and natural landscape of Minnesota. The other key thing that is often overlooked is how Minneapolis-St. Paul made having “twin cities” be an asset for them, not a liability. In many places this would have simply caused unbearable civic strife. They figured it out. Again, it’s not the hand you’re deal much of the time. It’s how you play it. Invert the world.

Also, a visit can highlight what is not replicable. Minneapolis-St. Paul is the only true primate city in the Midwest. It dominates its state as thoroughly as Chicago does Illinois, but is also the state’s capital and home to the state’s flagship university. Also, one visit to Minnesota will quickly leave one with the impression, and a correct one, that this is one of the single whitest cities in America. Check the racial makeup of that city sometime. It’s easy to talk a good game of urban progressivism when your entire metro area is lily white. Notwithstanding that, as immigrants have started arriving in the area, the politics have shifted to the right, a trend Longworth noted in his book.

In Other News

To bring this back around to Monocle. They recently held an online panel discussion about the future of the city. It’s 20 minutes long and definitely worth watching online or downloading to your iPod.

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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