Friday, November 1st, 2013
Much as been written about so-called gerrymandered political districts, ones warped into various contortions in order to create a favorable or unfavorable electorate as the case may be. But a number of cities have weird shapes as well. A lot of these result from various annexations designed for a whole host of reasons such as grabbing strategic territory or trying to avoid getting landlocked by competing municipalities. So other factors can produce strange looking towns.
But in at least one case, the town itself as the appearance of having been gerrymandered. I live in West Warwick, RI which looks like this:
It’s a bit of an odd shape, though not ridiculous. From what I’ve been able to glean of the history (based mostly on what people told me), West Warwick was once part of the neighboring city of Warwick. Eastern Warwick along the coast was mostly Republican and controlled the town. Western Warwick was a big mill district along the Pawtuxet River and mostly Democratic. Chafing that their needs were not being met by the Republican faction, they went to the Democratic controlled state legislature to get split off into their own town, West Warwick, which just turned 100 and is Rhode Island’s youngest town.
I don’t know all the details, but this makes it appear as thought the town was strategically drawn to take in the mills, but not much east of there. Hence the streets it follows along the curved section, which are in part roughly parallel to the river. Today the mills have long closed and West Warwick has economically struggled. Meanwhile, formerly rural Warwick is now a much more successful city thanks to freeway access, the airport, coastal access, etc.
Sunday, September 29th, 2013
[ I've always been a skeptic of industrial policy, and the travails of the various federal green programs and such make me feel justified my thinking in that regard. Yet, for struggling communities, clearly something needs to be done, even if not trying to pick specific winners and losers. In 1983 Rhode Island had an opportunity to have implemented an economic turnaround plan dismissed by critics as industrial policy, but voted it down. I recently took a look back and that, and the results of that decision that I think are relevant to other places trying to figure out what to do or not do. ]
I’m a relative newcomer to Rhode Island, but you don’t to be here long to hear about the infamous “Greenhouse Compact,” a state economic development strategy developed at the end of the Volcker recession in 1983 and voted down by the public in 1984. It is certainly one of the most remarkable economic development analyses ever performed. I have not seen a full copy, but the internet tells me it exists in at least two volumes with a length of at least 976 pages. There was a 47-page executive summary – not much shorter than many full reports these days – that I did manage to get ahold of and read, however. If the full report is as robust as that suggests, then I’ve never seen anything that appears to be so thorough and in-depth.
The Greenhouse Compact vs. Laissez-Faire
The Greenhouse Compact was the brainchild of Ira Magaziner, who went on to design Hillarycare, apparently not learning his lessons as that plan was developed and failed in a similar fashion. Though perhaps not the reason the Greenhouse Compact was voted down, it was roundly criticized by economists like Brown’s Allan Feldman, who strongly attacked it as industrial policy.
Magaziner and Feldman lay out starkly contrasting views of the matter. The Greenhouse Compact says:
Today, Rhode Island is in an economic crisis….When an economy has a vibrant private sector which can clearly provide the growth opportunities in investment that the economy needs to employ its people fully and raise its living standards then one can speak of a laissez-faire attitude as being appropriate. Rhode Island is currently far from that. It has many industries which are becoming subject to low wage competition; it has many others which are mature low wage rate industries with very little growth prospect but a need to modernize and develop new products; it has very few companies that have the prospect for significant growth and these are often being wooed by other states with particularly attractive incentive packages; and it has only a smattering of activities in new technology areas. Under these circumstances, a concerted economic development effort is the only way to create the momentum to build economic prosperity.
In the run-up to the vote, Feldman told the New York Times:
“I think this is not an appropriate thing for government to do, but that’s not my basis for opposition,” said Allan Feldman, an economics professor at Brown who is co-chairman of a group, Common Sense, formed to oppose the Greenhouse Compact. ”Beyond the ideological question, I think the economic analysis is terrible and the plan won’t work. It favors bankers, venture capitalists and high technology, and while it might be great for Terry Murray’s bank, it won’t help the average Rhode Islander.”
After it was voted down, he said in the Christian Science Monitor, “It was not economically sound, and would ‘offer very little to taxpayers.’” He also wrote an article in which he gloated that “industrial policy is dead.”
A bit later, as Rhode Island’s economy was looking up, Feldman appeared vindicated, telling the Washington Post in an article titled “Rhode Island: Rags to Riches”, “Governors delude themselves. They like to think they’re responsible for everything.” In the same piece Magaziner stuck to his guns, saying, “We should be fixing the roof when the sun is shining. We really should have invested more than we have.”
The Greenhouse Compact Vindicated
Fast forward 30 years and what has history shown? The predictions of the Greenhouse Compact have been entirely vindicated and the approach of Feldman and company has perpetuated the economic ruination of the state. Rhode Island’s post-recession bump wasn’t a real recovery; it was a dead cat bounce.
The Greenhouse Compact had said, “Overall, prospects are bleak. Industries which are likely to lose employment or at best stay stable far outweigh those with growth prospects. Those companies with growth prospects often plan to expand out of state….Given the current structure of Rhode Island’s economy, these jobs are unlikely to emerge.” This report included a sector by sector analysis in which it concluded that with the exception of eds and meds, the future didn’t look bright. And while it may have been off in some details, clearly history has borne out the Compact’s central claims.
It certainly possible that the Greenhouse Compact’s recommendations would have failed to stem the tide. But it’s hard to see how they could have made things much worse, thus pursuing the strategy likely made sense on option value alone.
What Feldman and the ultra-purists on the right fail to fully recognize is that creative destruction is real. Just as in the commercial marketplace where almost all firms ultimately fail, the vast majority of places will end up failing as well. Once they reach the top of their maturity curve, they’re done, and unless they reinvent themselves and begin a new growth curve again, they sicken and enjoy a long stagnating decline. Rhode Island reinvented itself three times from agriculture to seaborne merchant trading to industry, but failed to pull-off a fourth reinvention. Any CEO of a company facing a similar need to reinvent itself certainly would not take the attitude that he should let the market sort it out and do nothing but manage costs. But that’s the prescription too many give to public sector leaders.
From ‘Industrial Policy’ to ‘Conventional Wisdom’
Not all of the Greenhouse Compact’s recommendations make sense. The $138 million (a lot more than that now when you factor in inflation) in incentives to existing industries seems more like a fillip to interest groups to secure their buy in than a real strategy, for example. But a lot of it, including the eponymous “greenhouse” component, were ahead of their time and indeed have become almost conventional wisdom.
The Greenhouse idea was to basically have some public sector support to nurture emerging industries that were research and technology related in areas where Rhode Island was perceived to have some potential to play. These would include a marketing and civic booster program, as well as a venture capital fund, including some unique components such as allowing the state’s pension fund to invest in startups.
Pretty much every state has adopted a similar model in the last decade. Even Tea Party friendly politicians like Indiana Governors Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence invested heavily in Biocrossroads, which is the umbrella organization for that state’s “greenhouse” in life sciences, for example. They may be fiscal conservatives, but they’re not dumb. Pretty much every single city and state has variations on these. Another example: one of the plan’s suggestions was to create a Rhode Island Academy of Science and Engineering to boost the supply of talent into those industries. This idea was recently implemented – by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is opening a new technical and engineering college on Roosevelt Island in conjunction with Cornell and Israel’s Technion backed up by significant public investment. Look at any city or state, and you’ll see them trying some variation on the greenhouse theme, though with different terminology. Many of these programs are ‘me too’ initiatives that aren’t likely to be effective. But where the approach is applied to areas where a state or metro area has a potential advantage, it makes a lot of sense.
It’s interesting that the Greenhouse Compact even specifically warned against 38 Studios style cross-border raiding, saying, “To some states, economic development has meant trying to convince industries in other states to close down and move. This will not be Rhode Island’s approach. We are not interested in ‘stealing’ another state’s companies.”
Now plans aren’t implementation, and obviously the reality would have involved a lot of politicization. I’m not so naïve to believe that poaching attempts would have been eliminated just because this report said so. But the bottom line is that Rhode Island had an opportunity to be 20 years ahead of its time, and took a pass. Free market types might argue that their preferred policies were never implemented either, but that’s the right-wing equivalent of “true communism’s never been tried.” The results are in and the Rhode Island experience makes it very clear that while some of these approaches that might have had aspects of industrial policy (though certainly nothing like the botched federal green subsidies and such that rightly give industrial policy a black eye) may not have been the right idea, doing nothing certainly didn’t work.
In a lesson to Tea Partiers everywhere, the Greenhouse Report summed it up, “If Rhode Island is to undergo an economic renaissance, investors must have significant positive reasons for investing in this state rather than any other. The absence of negatives will not be enough.” A Tea Party style focus on nothing other than taxes and costs – removing the negatives – is insufficient and history has borne that out (just as is now being repeated in many Midwestern states that are becoming Rhode Islands despite their nominally attractive business climates). Want to oppose plans like the Greenhouse Compact? Fine, but show us your plan and give us a reason to actually believe it will work.
Based on what I read in the executive summary, though there area a number of anachronisms and areas I didn’t agree with, the Greenhouse Compact actually stands up quite well today. If it were simply implemented as is, it would still probably be an improvement over the status quo, but now that everybody and their brother has piled on, the big returns have, sadly, already been harvested elsewhere.
This article originally appeared in GoLocalProv on September 23, 2013.
Monday, September 2nd, 2013
Lots of cities in America are struggling with low population growth and sluggish economies. Poor demographics and economics lead to fiscal problems that result in more people and businesses leaving, perpetuating a downward spiral. Detroit, which recently filed bankruptcy, is an extreme case, but many cities and states find themselves in similar straits, including much of New England and especially most of Rhode Island.
How to places break out of this and renew prosperity? Looking at cities where there has been change, I have observed several basic patterns of turnaround.
Many cities failed for structural economic reasons like deindustrialization and globalization. Similarly, many ended up reviving for similar external reasons. In her seminal book The Global City, Saskia Sassen noted that while globalization permitted the dispersal of economic activities to lower cost locations, it created a parallel need for specialized financial and producer services to manage and control those global production networks. These services were disproportionately concentrated in so-called “global cities” like New York and London. While once those cities had fallen on hard times (in NYC’s case, nearly going bankrupt itself in the 1970s), globalization more than any other factor perhaps brought them back to life. Unfortunately, localities have no ability to conjure up these macro-economic changes.
Natural Lifecycle Progression
In a few places, notably Pittsburgh, it seems that the problems simply reached the end of their life cycle. To borrow a phase, they “hit bottom” and started reviving, if slowly. Of course, many places hit bottom and stayed there. Pittsburgh has been helped by the presence of large, world-class institutions. Being in the Marcellus Shale formation that’s the epicenter of the American gas fracking boom doesn’t hurt. It’s worth nothing that Pittsburgh has been fairly slow growth and still faces big challenges, including major pension and infrastructure problems.
Other cities hit a growth inflection point when they were able to attract a critical mass of outsiders. I have argued that having a critical mass of outsiders, that is, of people who aren’t long time natives or “boomerang” migrants, is almost a prerequisite for major civic change:
You need them, and you need enough of them that they a) don’t get beaten down by the man, so to speak and b) that they become a base of support for change in their own right. Once this group becomes large enough, it opens up the field of possibilities. They have the insights and different ideas from having lived elsewhere. They aren’t bought into the status quo or burdened by the baggage of the past. They are willing to question they way things are done. They are more likely to want change. In short, outsiders are the natural constituency for the new. That’s why outsiders are so important for a community to change, and why absent enough newcomers, change is difficult if not impossible.
Of course, this almost begs the question: how do you attract those outsiders? This would appear to be a second order factor. It would be worth doing a deep dive on how significant inward migration began in these places. Also, the places that seemed to do well on this model – like Nashville or Denver – are places that weren’t in terrible shape to begin with.
Any number of cities lend themselves to a narrative of transformational change led by a particular leader or group of leaders. You can think of Richard M. Daley in Chicago or Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg in New York. Cory Booker in Newark may be an emerging story in this mold. Or in previous generations there were business magnates like J. Irwin Miller in Columbus, Indiana that through superior vision combined with clout were able to put their community on a different path than other similarly positioned cities. (Among other things, Columbus, Indiana is an internationally renowned center of modernist architecture, with no fewer than six National Historic Landmarks in a modernist style).
The obvious question here is how much leadership had to do with it. So many of these large tier one type cities came back at the same time that it seems likely some common outside force like globalization was the real driver. Or at least that it was a prerequisite to enable the leadership to be effective. However, there are some examples like Columbus that appear to be less the result of outside forces.
Civic Sector Led Revitalization
Some cities have done well in models without a single dominant leader such as a larger than life mayor. In Indianapolis, for example, it was a broader coalition of business, community, and institutional leaders that championed items such as their sports hosting strategy that had a transformational impact. This is the model most cities try to use, but it has failed nine times out of ten in delivering transformational impact, so would appear to be a very high risk strategy.
What other models suggest themselves? I won’t claim this as a comprehensive list.
A Look At Providence and Rhode Island
Where does Rhode Island fit in? Well, it hasn’t seen a turnaround yet. But there has been a sort of slow growth in personal incomes that could add up over time. In this light, Providence would be a sort of Pittsburgh-like city from a lifecycle perspective, though I should note with a much smaller asset base. Alon Levy made the case for this view last year in a piece called “The Quiet Revival”:
Rhode Island may have one of the highest unemployment rates in the US today, but income growth is high; things are slowly getting better. The most visible growth in the US is in population rather than income, and so the usual markers are new housing starts, new infrastructure, and a lot of “coming soon” signs. Providence of course doesn’t have much of this. Instead, people are getting richer, slowly… Economic growth in the richest countries is slow enough that people don’t perceive it. Instead, they think it’s the domain of countries that are catching up, such as China, where it’s so fast it includes new construction and the other markers that signify population growth in the first world. In the long run, it matters that a city’s income grows 1.8% a year rather than 1.1%, but it’s not visible enough to be captured by trend articles until long after the spurt of growth has started.
Given the lack of structural economic forces boosting the city, and a comparatively small base of newcomers, particularly outside of Providence proper and other core cities, this will likely have to do for now, unless we witness the emergence of a disruptive and transformational type leader.
This post originally appeared in GoLocalProv on August 26, 2013.
Sunday, August 18th, 2013
Among post-industrial cities in America, one of the things I observe is a sort of malaise in the civic character. Many of these places have been beaten down so hard for so long that a sort of defeatist attitude has set in. This can include bitterness about what was lost, a self-loathing mindset, and cynicism and negativity about any proposed efforts to improve things.
Our Backyard Rhode Island
This negativity has inspired efforts in some places to first change local perceptions about their community before trying to market to the world. One such initiative was recently unveiled by the Rhode Island Foundation and is called “It’s All in Our Backyard.” This effort grew out of a civic brainstorming event from last fall called “Make It Happen Rhode Island.” While the name makes it sound like an internally focused tourism campaign, the idea to sell residents on the positive side of their community in order to provide an uplift to the civic spirit.
I was apprehensive about this when I heard about it, as most place-based marketing campaigns out of officialdom anywhere are dreadful, tending towards the generic and the earnest, and are often actually counter-productive. So I was glad to see that It’s All In Our Backyard is actually pretty good.
Here’s an example of one of the videos, which is a company feature of textile business Hope Global, based in Cumberland (if the video doesn’t display for you click here):
This example works on a variety of levels. It’s a historic business in the textile manufacturing business that has been core to the state’s economic identity. There are nice shots of a historic building and a WPA-style mural along with modern machinery, a female CEO, and discussions of globalization that show a piece of authentic Rhode Island’s character successfully repositioned for the 21st century.
I might have suggested some tweaks. It’s not exactly clear what this company actually does, though the one example was given pretty compelling. (Hope Global is adding workers while exporting shoe laces to China for premium branded products in what appears to be an example of re-shoring). But my lack of familiarity with the company doesn’t diminish the quality of the piece, which comes across as solid and convincing in contrast with so many place marketing videos that can easily be picked apart like a bad action movie plot.
At the more grass roots level, Andy Cutler and some associates have been trying to put out a positive word as well, but aimed at external as well as internal audiences. He laid out a vision in an op-ed piece on GoLocalProv. He also convened a small gathering of folks to brainstorm what’s great about Providence. This resulted in two online efforts branded “OurPVD.” One is a Twitter account @OurPVD (and #OurPVD), which is designed to get out the word on cool things in Providence. Similarly, there’s a Pinterest page that is pretty good. Cutler is also trying out a bit of “citizen diplomacy” with an effort called “Smaller Cities Unite!” that led to a trip to Copenhagen and at least one mention of Providence in Copenhagenize, arguably the world’s most influential urban bicycling blog.
Rockford, Illinois: Our City, Our Story
An interesting initiative out of Rockford, IL called “Our City Our Story” is another example. This one is a sort of intermediate level initiative between the two Rhode Island ones. Filmmaker Pablo Korona was tired of Rockford taking a beating, such as in a major New York Times feature called “Portraits From a Job-Starved City.” He launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a video community storytelling project to give a different perspective on the city. While still an outsider effort that local officialdom seems not yet to have fully embraced, in a sense it has “gone legit” and gained quite a bit of traction as well as national press. (See, for example “How a Branding Vigilante Is Saving His Town With a Rogue Website” in Fast Company).
There are 16 videos so far, each featuring some interesting character from Rockford. These range from a tailor who in a previous life was a singer, songwriter and owner of a record label that took a pass on signing the Jackson 5 to a kid jailed for tagging become a legitimate street artists lauded by the very mayor who bragged of having him arrested.
Here’s one that is similar to the Hope Global story above. Called “Our Curiosity”, it’s a look at a local machine shop that cut all the gears on the Mars rover Curiosity. (If the video doesn’t display for you, click here):
Again here the “our” motif reveals the inward focus of the piece.
Thanks for Carl Wohlt for pointing me at this.
When a new CEO takes over a company that has struggled, one of the things he has to do is rebuild corporate morale. These various efforts show examples of how local people are trying to initiate an improvement in their region’s civic morale and break the cycle of self-loathing, a very important task.
As a post-script, I’ll highlight one more Rhode Island video. The typical “What’s so great about your community?” video is terrible. Again, usually it is either generic items most communities would likewise brag about, or comes across as exaggerated. This one, which appears to be mostly sort of outtakes from the various other videos produced, shows how a small community can pull this off. This is because the producer and the people in it have some fun with the state. For example, the guy who in reference to the small size of the state says, “Well, I feel like the size one is one everybody’s going to talk about. What are other people saying?” Or the guy who says, “First of all, my wife’s from Rhode Island, and I absolutely love her.” . (If the video doesn’t display for you, click here):
When you’re small, you can’t take yourself too seriously or you’ll look like you’re trying to hard. Not being afraid to have some fun with yourself is a great way to disarm that. Not bad for what appears to be an “extra” production, though the claim of diversity is a bit of a head-scratcher.
This post originally appeared in GoLocalProv on August 12, 2013.
Thursday, August 1st, 2013
My latest post is online at GoLocalProv and discusses a few pieces of positive data around growth in exports, GDP, personal incomes, and educational attainment. Oh, and interestingly, Providence has the second highest availability of broadband internet at speeds of 1Gbps or greater of any major city in America (after Portland).
Friday, July 19th, 2013
My latest post is online at GoLocalProv and is called “Rhode Island Needs Tolls.” While I am specifically addressing a case in Rhode Island, I explore the bigger picture and explain why across America we are likely to see expanded use of tolling – and why that’s probably the right thing. Here’s a sample:
According to Standard and Poors, the US has an accumulated infrastructure spending deficit of $2.2 trillion. Beyond the Sakonnet, an estimated 70,000 bridges need replacing nationwide. Needs range from replacing Cleveland’s decaying Innerbelt to a major transit rail investment need in New York City to upgrading America’s air traffic control systems.
Gridlock and fiscal pressures in Washington, America’s traditional infrastructure financier, compound the problem. As the Washington Post noted last year, “The bill for all that, and more, eventually will land on taxpayers’ doorsteps. But the postmark won’t read ‘Washington.’ Instead, the tax bill will come from state or local governments struggling to fill the growing void in federal funding.” Gridlock makes it difficult to get anything done at the federal level, leading to default policies like sequestration. But even if Congress did start making progress, huge fiscal imbalances (the “good news” is that our 2013 deficit will be “only” $759 billion) mean it’s unlikely the feds are going to be paying for this. That leaves states like Rhode Island on their own.
As a rule we should be moving towards user fee systems for roadways. For too long we’ve given away roads “for free,” resulting in congestion, sprawl, environmental degradation, and yes, crumbling infrastructure. All of these come in part because we do not pay the full cost of the driving trips that we make. Pretty much anything we only indirectly pay to consume ends up over-used and under-maintained. That’s the tragedy of the commons.
Tuesday, July 16th, 2013
[ My friend Daniel Howe and I both saw Providence resident Andy Cutler featured in a post on Copenhagenize. Daniel looked him up and we all connected for coffee one morning where I learned more about Andy's "Small Cities Unite!" concept. Kind of crazy to make a connection with someone ten miles away from you via Copenhagen, but that's the world we live in. Andy describes his adventures in citizen diplomacy, and what it could mean for small cities. This piece originally appeared in GOOD's Building Blocks of Citizenship, which you may also want to check out - Aaron. ]
What does Copenhagen have in common with Providence, Rhode Island? Both are small cities known globally for their arts and design communities, academics, and their locations as “gateway cities” in their regions. But each is unique as well: Copenhagen, for example, is a world leader in bike infrastructure and energy independence, and Providence is becoming known for its unique approach to mentoring innovators working in areas ranging from design, to social entrepreneurship, to edtech. These cities—along with other small cities around the world—have important lessons to learn from each other.
Two years ago I set out on a journey to discover how cities could collaborate with one another, inspired by my own experience living and working in a smaller city, and after advising students from Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design on A Better World by Design, a conference that brings people together from around the world to discuss and progress cutting-edge initiatives on making the world a better place to live. Thousands of hours of research later, after talking to colleagues across the globe, I came up with a new model for connecting cool smaller cities with populations of 1.5 million or less and exploring collaborative opportunities in the areas of arts and culture, economic development, entrepreneurship, policy, and student engagement. It’s called Smaller Cities Unite!
What if smaller cities and their residents explored interesting and impactful ways in which they could collaborate, creating new paradigms for problem solving, product and policy development, as well as engaging its citizenry, particularly its student populations? Smaller Cities Unite! is a platform that wishes to explore a new form of citizen diplomacy—one that is based on trust, respect and action, proving to the world that smaller cities can align quickly, open their networks easily, and create new kinds of relationships leading to unique forms of engagement.
Smaller cities understand and work within the confines of their size each and every day. Size matters, and smaller cities have the power to enlist professional (and personal) networks in order to bolster ideation and ultimately create meaningful change quicker than their larger counterparts. Cities with complementary resources, experiences, and challenges can work together if they view what they do well as “exportable,” have an underlying environment of learning and teaching, and are seeking active ways to engage citizens.
Smaller Cities Unite! will ignite and catalyze new relationships, which can:
- Find new ways to engage its student populations through internships and projects aimed at creating change, promoting place, and developing new ventures (e.g., internships, job opportunities, case studies and classroom projects based on real-world issues).
- Create new forms of arts and cultural exchanges between cities that were once non-existent (e.g., exploring ways to promote up-and-coming individuals’ work in various communities; learning from different arts and culture models dealing with education, learning and creativity; inviting unique artistic endeavors into new locales; viewing the arts as a form of cultural export that can benefit other communities as well).
- Foster student and professional exchanges that can take full advantage of each community’s academic assets (e.g., through coursework, case studies, classroom learning, experiential learning, and research).
- Leverage existing events and conferences to engage other communities and showcase an interest in building new bridges of understanding between locales (i.e., inviting change agents/innovators to participate in each locales world-class conferences and events).
- Enhance the quality of interaction of cities by opening new channels of understanding and information sharing (e.g., how can a city become more bikeable or bike-friendly; awareness of each others unique startup communities) and
- Explore new economic development opportunities on both large and small scales (i.e., import/export of physical products as well as new business models).
One month ago, several entrepreneurs based in Rhode Island believed in this venture enough to fund an exploratory mission to Copenhagen. Over an 11-day period I met with students and professionals representing Aalborg University-Copenhagen, IT University of Copenhagen, Danish Design Association, Copenhagen Business Academy, Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen School of Design & Technology (KEA), State of Green, Danish App Lab, Silicon Vikings, Creative CPH, Copenhagen Free Walking Tours, Startup Bootcamp Copenhagen, Cykelsuperstier, Goodvertising Agency, Institute for Happiness, Bicycle Innovation Lab, Copenhagenize, Danish Cyclists’ Federation, Gehl Institute, VisitDenmark, Copenhagen Post, and numerous startups.
When I think of these assets linking up with assets we have in Providence in the form of faculty and students from our leading institutions of higher education like Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, University of Rhode Island, Providence College and Johnson & Wales University, etc.), entrepreneurial and design communities (e.g., DesignxRI, a statewide design movement; Betaspring, a widely respected global startup accelerator program, it’s alumni and mentors; and an arts organizations (e.g., The Steel Yard, AS220) and events that is known the world over (e.g., A Better World by Design, BIF Summit, Waterfire, and FirstWorks, etc.), the possibilities to exchange knowledge, ideas, products, and people seem limitless.
I met many individuals who were open to creating new bonds, partnerships, and collaborations with another community of creative talent. I found that these individuals appreciated the idea of expanding their networks, having the opportunity to progress projects in both cities. But most importantly, I found in both cities, a lack of awareness of the other, but a genuine interest to learn more. That is a great place to start.
If you are interested in learning more or finding out how to join in, you can contact Andy at email@example.com.
This post originally appeared in GOOD on April 10, 2013. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Thursday, July 11th, 2013
My latest post is online over at GoLocalProv, and while it’s titled there “Some Legitimately Good Economic News For Rhode Island,” there are national implications.
Per capita income is one of the key economic measures people use for states and cities. But the raw figures can mislead because the cost of living varies by region. The US Bureau of Economic Analysis has been releasing regional purchasing power indexes to try to capture this purchasing power variability for states and metropolitan areas, and they recently applied these to per capital incomes. My piece takes a look at that, with national maps for states and metros. Here’s the map of real, adjusted per capita personal incomes for metro areas in 2011 (data in thousands of dollars):
Check the whole piece for more.
Friday, June 7th, 2013
My latest blog post is online at GoLocalProv and is called “Three Economic Ideas for Rhode Island.” In it I give three ideas for improving the state’s economy, one tactical, one strategic, and one I call “the impossible dream.” Here’s a sample:
A more difficult but potentially more beneficial item would be regulatory harmonization with Massachusetts. Trying to negotiate with them would be pointless. Trying to beat them is nearly impossible. But neither is required. Simply pass a law that says, in effect, “If it’s legal in Massachusetts, it’s legal in Rhode Island. If you’re licensed to do it in Massachusetts, you’re licensed to do it in Rhode Island.”
What a scheme like this does is in effect creates a common market between the states, similar to the European Union except not based on treaties and bureaucracy. A state like California can get away with bespoke regulations like proprietary emissions standards. California is a huge and rich state, so businesses simply can’t ignore it.
By contrast, Rhode Island is small and not rich, so companies and people will not pay and price, bear any burden for the privilege of living and doing business here. But by in effect joining forces with Massachusetts, you’ve now got a market of seven million, which is more attractive.
This approach also reduces to some extent border arbitrage, and lets Rhode Island and Southern Massachusetts function as the integrated economy that they are. There will still be fiscal policy disparities, but you can’t fix everything at once. But anything reasonable that reduces barriers to doing business in Rhode Island is a good idea.
Thursday, May 23rd, 2013
My latest post is up over at GoLocalProv and is called “How White Providence Really Is.” I contrast the strong diversity of the city and some other urban core type places versus the extreme whiteness of the rest of the region. New England generally is lacking in diversity. Boston, for example, is by far the whitest tier one type city in America. I’ve got a chart on that as well. Here’s an excerpt:
The city of Providence is a very diverse place. In fact, it’s over 62% minority, making it a so-called “minority majority” city. However, the city of Providence is only a very small part of the overall state and region.
Metropolitan Providence is one of the whitest major regions in America. Looking at metro areas with more than one million people, Providence ranks third in the country for the total non-minority population. The percentage of the population that is “white only, non-hispanic” – Hispanic people can be of any race – is nearly 80%. Only Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are higher.
Minority population growth actually bailed out the entire region. During that 11 year period metro Providence actually lost over 81,000 non-hispanic white residents. Without minority population growth, the region would have actually shrunk in population.