Tuesday, November 12th, 2013
[ Ramsin Canon is one of the most keen left political observers I know in Chicago. Among other things he's been the politics editor at Gapers Blocks, a union organizer, and is now a law student I believe. Needless to say, he's no fan of "neoliberalism", even when practiced by those on the left. Here he provides his frame and critique of the current reigning governance model in our various levels of government re:cities. I may revisit this topic with my own thoughts in the future, but I'd like to make a couple of observations here. 1) Canon sees the locus of the problems facing cities as being at the federal level or otherwise beyond their control such that the response he decries is at least somewhat rational (if not the right one in his view). I take this as similar to my view that "gentry liberalism" has a certain sort of logic to it. 2) His articulation of the background is one that even many with diametrically opposite policy views could endorse. They just might take different lessons away (e.g., that federal intervention in cities actually caused many of the problems, see:urban renewal, downtown freeways, war on poverty, etc). This provides potential touchpoints for debate. In any case, this definitely makes you think about where we are, how we got here, and what to do about it. - Aaron. ]
Jamelle Bouie, a moderate liberal writer for The American Prospect, tweeted this:
There’s nothing good for workers in places where cities scramble to give benefits to companies for a handful of shitty jobs.
— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) December 12, 2012
around the same time that Mick Dumke, a left-leaning Chicago Reader reporter, wrote this:
Desperate for money, state and local governments around the country have explored all sorts of privatization deals, or public-private partnerships, as advocates prefer to call them. Florida, Arizona, and other states have sent inmates to private prisons. Detroit has considered outsourcing management of its street lighting system…Chicago isn’t just part of the trend. For more than two decades, it’s been one of the privatization leaders. “You could say they’re at the head of the pack,” says Leonard Gilroy, director of government reform at the libertarian Reason Foundation. “Chicago is reflective of the outsourcing that’s been going on for years.”
Not long after, we read about this:
Beginning January 1, Chicago’s parking meters will be the most expensive in North America. It’ll cost drivers $6.50 per hour to park in the Loop. Near downtown the rate will be $4 per hour. Other metered areas throughout the city will be $2 per hour.
For Skyway drivers, tolls are going up from $3.50 to $4.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration will explore the possibility of privatizing Midway Airport but will take a shorter-term, more tightly controlled approach than was employed by former Mayor Richard Daley’s team on the city’s first go-round.
All the while, Mayor Rahm Emanuel continues to be lauded by left-neoliberals and fellow travelers for his aggressively pro-business economic development policies, including mass privatization. Meanwhile labor unions and community organizations scrambled to find a critique of these policies that will resonate with a public increasingly incensed with a policy atmosphere that regressively taxes them while slashing jobs and services.
With the election over and no longer sucking all the air out of the room, and with President Obama comfortable ensconced in his second term but before the 2016 jockeying starts in earnest, now may be the time to step back and think about the big picture. What is this amorphous policy regime to which Mayor Emanuel, and mayors across the country hew? A policy regime that is comfortable enough for the wealthiest and most powerful Americans that they can comfortably donate both to Mayor Emanuel and Mitt Romney?
What we’re feeling viscerally, but seeing from too close to appreciate, is the logical end of decades of neoliberalization of government, which has transformed a managerial state into an entrepreneurial one. Our Mayors are now “entrepreneurs-in-chief,” and the result is that governance has been transformed from a participatory process of pooling resources and regulating behavior for the public good into one of government by private negotiation and enticement of capital through competition between states, cities, and even neighborhoods.
The neoliberalization process, broadly speaking, began in the 1970s. Neoliberalization impacted local governments in various ways, but the most directly relevant are, first, the shift in federal policy from direct spending to “pro-growth” policies and, second, the liberalization of trade and regulatory regimes that introduced international competitive pressures on localities, particularly cities. The abandonment of federal and state commitments to infrastructure and social welfare programs required localities to resort to debt (in the form of bonds) and the active pursuit of capital investment to make up attendant budgetary shortfalls. The introduction of international competitive pressures made this need more acute.
In the pre-neoliberal Keynesian context, cities behaved more managerially, responsible for administering programs like public housing and developing regimes like Euclidean zoning, as well as encouraging business development and protecting labor interests. When cities were “disciplined” by a loss of federal and state funds, they were expected to either shrink in size or find private sources for revenue–the antithesis of the Keynesian principles of recession response. Both to avoid capital flight and to attract new capital, therefore, cities must act entrepreneurially, engaging businesses and enticing them to develop new projects.
Enticing investment can take many forms, of course. Among these are tax incentives like tax-increment financing (“TIF”) overlay districts or sales tax rebates, direct subsidies, and “particularized” regulations that permit the government to be more flexible to the needs of development parties. Particularized regulations (for example, development agreements with developers that exempt them from the controls in a zoning statute) counter the unpredictability and vicissitudes of the administrative and legislative process and thus have inherent value to businesses; it reduces risk by vesting contractual rights, and thus ensuring predictability. The parking meter “lease” deal is a perfect example.
The story of the parking meter lease deal is the perfect neoliberal story. Throughout the late 90s and early 2000s, Chicago’s budget survived in large part on a particular tax, the real estate transfer tax. In the housing bubble years, there was no problem relying on this revenue to fund transportation, mental health clinics, and living wage city jobs. But as with the neoliberal bubbles of the past, it couldn’t last; between 2006 and 2009, revenues from the transfer tax cratered, from $242 million to $63 million. Between 2007 and 2008, the drop was over $80 million–representing nearly 40% of the budget deficit in the year the parking meter lease deal was made. It’s no secret now that Mayor Daley entered the deal to make up for a huge deficit without raising taxes.
Bubble that made some people very rich bursts. Revenues disappear. Working class families pay the price (see above, “most expensive parking.”) Only two options are available to the government of the New Model Entrepreneurial City: race to the bottom in terms of taxes and regulations to encourage “growth,” and thus boost revenues, and start selling off assets.
Why not raise property or luxury taxes, or institute a city income tax, to make up the deficit? Why not divert money from the TIF districts?
See above; Chicago is no longer a political community, it is an economic entity that is in competition with other cities in the region, in the state, across the world. In that mental framework, tax is cost, or price. You raise prices, you drive away your clients. In the case of the neoliberal city, the client is the developer, the investor, the employer. The federal government and the state are not going to give the city any real money; they are not investing in infrastructure, or education, or social welfare in any real way, the way they did up through the late 1970s and 1980s. The name of the game is “growth” through enticement of capital.
And capital plays the game perfectly. They condition “jobs” they’re supposedly creating on tax rebates, regulatory relief (i.e., from zoning codes), and more and more say in how the city is run–World Business Chicago being an example of that. Big business can always periodically threaten to leave the city, setting off the competition between cities and states that drive down standards, that abrogates regulations, that eliminates taxes.
This is our challenge in the coming era. Breaking this backward idea that the purpose of the city is to prostrate itself in pursuit of investment that is never really satisfied. Part of this will be a political solution: we need a Mayor unsatisfied with his pathetic role as an entrepreneur begging for investment, and willing to work politically to change the status quo. The other answer is a social one: alternative models to big business investment. Whether that means large-scale cooperatives, developing local sources of investment that can be pooled to provide employment, or some other method doesn’t matter. What matters is that cities begin to show that they can remove themselves from the uneven geographic development of capitalism that forces cities to regressively tax working class families and immiserate workers through wage depression and service elimination.
This post originally appeared in Same Subject, Continued on January 4, 2013.
Thursday, October 17th, 2013
A couple weeks ago, noting the apparently immunity of global city Chicago to problems elsewhere in the city, I asked the question: What happens when global city Chicago realizes there’s a good chance it can simply let the rest of the city fail and get on with its business?
I’d argue we’re seeing the results right before our eyes.
At the same time murders in significant parts of the city are even higher than during the peak of the crack epidemic, when the city says its too poor to hire more cops, when 54 schools are closed and a 1000 teachers laid off, half the mental health clinics closed, libraries cut back, etc., Chicago has found a nearly limitless stream of money for elite amenities, most recently – and appallingly – $50+ million in TIF subsidies for a new DePaul arena. There’s also been hundreds of millions of dollars more in corporate welfare under Daley and Rahm.
Investing in success is a great idea – if you plan to harvest a return on that investment to fund city services and your safety net. It’s clear there’s no intention of doing this in Chicago. I discuss this in my most recent City Journal piece, “Well-Heeled in the Windy City.” Here’s an excerpt:
Clearly, cities like Chicago must retain a substantial portion of upscale residents and businesses. Detroit and other cities show the results of failure on this front. Yet the moral case for elite amenities has always rested on the assumption of a broader public good: what benefited the wealthy would also make life better for the rest of the city….Under Emanuel’s leadership, though, Chicago has made peace with a two-tier society and broken the social contract. Rather than trying to expand opportunity, Chicago has bet its future on its already successful residents—leading some on the left to call Emanuel Mayor 1 Percent. The Windy City isn’t alone in following this strategy. Detroit has gone bankrupt, but that hasn’t stopped city government from lavishing $450 million in subsidies on a new Red Wings arena.
Since I critique bike infrastructure as part of Chicago’s splurge for the elite, I want to clarify that point here where there are lots of bike advocates. I strongly support bike infrastructure. In fact, I once gave a presentation where I said protected bike lanes and bike share should be Rahm’s top two transport priorities on taking office because they are cost-effective and can leverage outside funds. However, even the most passionate advocates must admit that the optics are bad on making a full court press on bike lanes when cutting core services elsewhere. More importantly, Rahm’s explicit rationale on bike infrastructure has been luring talent for the tech economy, thus it is an elite focused venture. For example, the Sun-Times reported:
Emanuel called protected bike lanes central to the city’s sustainability plan and his efforts to make Chicago the high-tech hub of the Midwest. Chicago “moved up dramatically” in the list of major cities whose employees bike to work, he said.
“It’s part of my effort to recruit entrepreneurs and start-up businesses because a lot of those employees like to bike to work,” he said.
“It is not an accident that, where we put our first protected bike lane is also where we have the most concentration of digital companies and digital employees. Every time you speak to entrepreneurs and people in the start-up economy and high-tech industry, one of the key things they talk about in recruiting workers is, can they have more bike lanes.”
Thursday, October 3rd, 2013
Back in 2008 I posted a piece called “Corporate Headquarters and the Global City” in which I observed that global cities, which had previously been defined in terms of financial and producer services firms by Saskia Sassen, were now starting to attract corporate headquarters back as well. These weren’t the old traditional HQ’s, but rather what I called an “executive headquarters” consisting of just the top people.
We see another example of that in the case of Archer Daniels Midland, the agribusiness concern. ADM is currently based in Decatur, IL but is planning to relocate its headquarters. It’s nominally a bake off but Chicago is the odds on favorite and I would expect them to win. Beyond the jobs, which at 100 would be fairly small, this would a nice HQ for the city to have. ADM is a marquee name.
Additionally, Chicago tech startup Braintree, a payments engine, recently announced its acquisition by Ebay/Pay Pal for $800 million. That’s a nice exit. Some people had predicted even bigger things for them, but if someone offers you enough money up front, there’s no shame in taking it! In a bit of further good news for the city, Chicago managed to lure a 10,000 delegate convention from Indy after implementing much-needed work rule changes at McCormick Place.
I could go on, but these few recent news items show that the global city side of Chicago continues to hum along apace. Yet all of this takes place against the backdrop of serious and severe problems in the “other Chicago.” For example, 13 people were recently shot in a park. The long term finances of the city are terrifying and Illinois seems incapable of getting its act together on pensions. And so on.
What does global city Chicago make of all this background? Apparently nothing. That’s not to say no one cares, but it would appear that none of the problems have affected the business climate or attractiveness of Chicago’s global city side at all. Even the prospect of a municipal financial trauma seems not to worry ADM.
Indeed, if you simply come to Chicago as a tourist, you’d probably never know there were any problems at all, at least if you don’t check the news. I was there a couple weeks ago and the Loop and North Side were pulsing with life. You would have thought I was in a boom town. And in a sense that’s right.
Some may say, “Aaron, weren’t you the one who said Chicago wasn’t a global city?” To which I’d respond, I’ve always said Chicago is a global city. I only think that the global city side of Chicago is not sufficient to carry the load for this gigantic region and state. It can’t even carry just the city, though to be fair if you broke off global city Chicago into a standalone municipality of 600-800,000 like San Francisco, Boston, and DC, it would be a very different story, at the municipal level at least.
Even back in the 90s Sassen had noted that globalization tended to detach the global city from its hinterland. However, for a place like Chicago, I had always thought that the two halves of the city would remain linked because global city Chicago would realize that an implosion elsewhere would eventually drag it down to.
But would it? Other than public finances, it’s tough to see trends in most other areas getting materially worse than they are now in the other Chicago. Yet it seems to be having little to no effect on the attractiveness or success of the global city. It’s like a multi-stage rocket separating. The smaller upper stage is rocketing up higher and higher while the larger earlier stage is falling back to earth and burning up on re-entry. But there’s no longer a connection of shared interests holding them together.
One troubling question: what happens when global city Chicago realizes there’s a good chance it can simply let the rest of the city fail and get on with its business? One can argue it’s already happening, but I’ll save that for a future post.
Sunday, August 4th, 2013
This post originally ran on August 19, 2012.
We hear a lot of talk these days about so-called “global cities.” But what is a global city?
Saskia Sassen literally wrote the book on global cities back in 2001 (though her global cities work dates back well over a decade prior to that book). She gave a definition that has long struck with me. In short form, in the age of globalization, the activities of production are scattered on a global basis. These complex, globalized production networks require new forms of financial and producer services to manage them. These services are often complex and require highly specialized skills. Thus they are subject to agglomeration economics, and tend to cluster in a limited number of cities. Because specialized talent and firms related to different specialties can cluster in different cities, this means that there are actually a quite a few of these specialized production nodes, because they don’t necessarily directly compete with each other, having different groupings of specialties.
In this world then, a global city is a significant production point of specialized financial and producer services that make the globalized economy run. Sassen covered specifically New York, London, and Tokyo in her book, but there are many more global cities than this.
The question then becomes how to identify these cities, and perhaps to determine to what extent they function as global cities specifically, beyond all of the other things that they do simply as cities. Naturally this lends itself to our modern desire to develop league tables.
A number of studies were undertaken to produce various rankings. However, when you look at them, you see that the definition of global city used is far broader than Sassen’s core version. Wikipedia lists some of the general characteristics people tend to refer to when talking about global cities. It cites a very lengthy list, but some of them are:
- Home to major stock exchanges and indexes
- Influential in international political affairs
- Home to world-renowned cultural institutions
- Service a major media hub
- Large mass transit networks
- Home to a large international airport
- Having a prominent skyline
As you can see, this is quite a hodge-podge of items, many of which are only tangentially related to globalization per se. In effect, many of them seek to define cities only in term of global prominence rather than functionally as related to the global economy. That’s certainly a valid way to look at it, but it raises the point that we should probably clarify what we are talking about when we talk about global cities.
To clarify our thinking, let’s look at how various ranking studies have defined global city for their purposes.
One oft-cited such ranking was a 1999 research paper called A Roster of World Cities. The authors, Jon Beaverstock, Richard G. Smith and Peter J. Taylor, explicitly reference Sassen’s work, seeking to define global cities in terms of advanced producer services.
Taking our cue from Sassen (1991, 126), we treat world cities as particular ‘postindustrial production sites’ where innovations in corporate services and finance have been integral to the recent restructuring of the world-economy now widely known as globalization. Services, both directly for consumers and for firms producing other goods for consumers, are common to all cities of course, what we are dealing with here are generally referred to as advanced producer services or corporate services. The key point is that many of these services are by no means so ubiquitous; for Sassen they provide a limited number of leading cities with ‘a specific role in the current phase of the world economy’ (p. 126).
They took lists of firms in four specific service industries – accounting, advertising, banking, and law – and determined where those firms maintained branches and such around the world in order to determine the importance of various cities as production nodes of these services. This has some weaknesses in that it doesn’t necessarily distinguish whether say a particular accounting firm is doing routine type work of the sort accountants have always been doing, or performing advanced work of a type specific to globalization, but it at least tries to derive lists related to the production of services.
As the global city concept grew in popularity, various other organizations entered the fray. Most of these newer lists take a very different a much broader approach closer to the Wikipedia type lists of characteristics rather than a Sassen-like definition.
One example is AT Kearney’s list, developed in conjunction with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Their most recent version is the 2012 Global Cities Index. This study uses criteria across five dimensions:
- Business Activity (headquarters, services firms, capital markets value, number of international conferences, value of goods through ports and airports)
- Human Capital (size of foreign born population, quality of universities, number of international schools, international student population, number of residents with college degrees)
- Information Exchange (accessibility of major TV news channels, Internet presence (basically number of search hits), number of international news bureaus, censorship, and broadband subscriber rate)
- Cultural Experience (number of sporting event, museums, performing arts venues, culinary establishments, international visitors, and sister city relationships).
- Political Engagement (number of embassies and consulates, think tanks, international organizations, political conferences)
The Institute for Urban Strategies at The Mori Memorial Foundation in Tokyo published another study called “The Global Power City Index 2011.” This report examined cities in terms of functions demanded by several “actor” types: Manager, Researcher, Artist, Visitor, and Resident. The functional areas were:
- Economy (Market Attractiveness, Economic Vitality, Business Environment, Regulations and Risk)
- Research and Development (Research Background, Readiness for Accepting and Supporting Researchers, Research Achievement)
- Cultural Interaction (Trendsetting Potential, Accommodation Environment, Resources of Attracting Visitors, Dining and Shopping, Volume of Interaction)
- Livability (Working Environment, Cost of Living, Security and Safety, Life Support Functions)
- Environment (Ecology, Pollution, Natural Environment)
- Accessibility (International Transportation Infrastructure, Inner City Transportation Infrastructure)
Another popular ranking is the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global City Competitiveness Index. They rank cities on a number of domains:
- Economic Strength (Nominal GDP, per capita GDP, % of households with economic consumption > $14,000/yr, real GDP growth rate, regional market integration)
- Human Capital (population growth, working age population, entrepreneurship and risk taking mindset, quality of education, quality of healthcare, hiring of foreign nationals)
- Institutional Effectiveness (electoral process and pluralism, local government fiscal autonomy, taxation, rule of law, government effectiveness)
- Financial Maturity (breadth and depth of financial cluster)
- Global Appeal (Fortune 500 companies, frequency of international flights, international conferences and conventions, leadership in higher education, renowned think tanks)
- Physical Capital (physical nfrastructure quality, public transport quality, telecom quality)
- Environment and Natural Hazards (risk of natural disaster, environmental governance)
- Social and Cultural Character (freedom of expression and human rights, openness and diversity, crime, cultural vibrancy)
Note that these were not all equal weighted. Economic strength is paramount.
Yet another ranking comes from the Knight Frank/Citibank Wealth Report. This ranking is purely subjective and was based on surveying wealth advisors as to which cities they felt would be most important to their clients today and in the future based on four areas: economic activity, political power, knowledge and influence, and quality of life.
It’s worth noting that Sassen contributed to various of these surveys.
Looking at the newer surveys versus the Roster of World Cities, it’s clear that the game has changed. Rather than attempting to look at specific global economic functions, the global city game has become effectively a balanced scorecard attempt to determine, as I like to put it, the world’s “biggest and baddest” cities.
There are quite a few differences in methodologies, which is inevitable. But a few things jump out at me. First the focus on aggregate measures in these surveys. For example: total GDP, total foreign population, number of headquarters. There is a remarkable lack of attention to dynamism variables such as growth in various metrics, though the Economist survey includes a couple.
The focus on static totals versus dynamism tends to reward large, developed world cities versus rapidly growing or emerging market cities. (The AT Kearney survey has a separate emerging cities list). In a sense, these rankings are biased in favor of important legacy cities.
It’s also interesting to see what was included vs. not included in quality of life type ratings. For example, items like censorship, media access, the rule of law, and the environment are listed. But measures of upward social-economic mobility or income inequality or not.
Lastly, a number of the rankings suggest a self-consciously elite mindset, such as shopping and dining options. As with many quality of life surveys, these seem to orient them towards expatriate executive types rather than normal folks.
Looking at these, I can’t help but think that the criteria were the product of an iterative process where the results were refined over time. Thus in a sense the outcomes were likely somewhat pre-determined. That’s not to say that the game was rigged necessarily. But I suspect if anyone were doing a global city survey and London and New York did not rank at the top, the developers would question whether they got the criteria right. In a sense, a global city is like obscenity: we know one when we see it, but we don’t necessarily have a widely agreed upon objective set of criteria to measure it by.
I sense that these rankings attempt to look at global cities in four basic ways:
1. Advanced producer services production node. This is basically Sassen’s original definition. I think this one remains particularly important. Because the skills are specialized and subject to clustering economics, the cities that concentrate in these functions have a Buffett-like “wide moat” sustainable competitive advantage in particular very high value activities. For cities with large concentrations of these, those cities can generate significantly above average economic output and incomes per worker.
2. Economic giants. Namely, this is a fairly simple but important view of that simply measures how big cities are on some metrics like GDP.
3. International Gateway. Measures of the importance of a city in the international flows of people and goods. Examples would be the airport and cargo gateway figures.
4. Political and Cultural Hub. An important distinction should perhaps be made here between hubs that may be large but of primarily national or regional importance, and those of truly international significance. For example, there are many media hubs around the world, but few of them are home to outlets like the BBC that drive the global conversation.
There may potentially be other ways to slice it as well. The fact that these various ways of viewing cities can often overlap can confuse things I think. For example, New York and London score highly on all of these. And there are surely underlying reasons why they do. Yet trying to sum it all up into one overall ranking or score, while making it easy to get press, can end up obscuring important nuance.
So when thinking about global cities, I think we need to do a couple of things:
1. Clarify what it is we are talking about at the time.
2. Relative to the definition we are using, seek to identify the specific parts of the city in question that generate real above average value at the global level.
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.
Wednesday, June 19th, 2013
I was recently invited to give a short talk on why cities, and especially global cities, are so important to the world today and in the future. My case for an urban future generally is more quantitatively oriented, but my global city section focuses more on the unique role they play in our world. I also issue a challenge to understand and contextualize solutions to the things that make every global city (and every city period, actually) so unique and different from any other in the world.
This was at an event that was making a pitch for the importance of cities to religious mission, but my talk is secular. Other than a short mathematical analysis of the implications of urban growth for spiritual infrastructure investment, there’s no religious content in this talk and my case is applicable to any endeavor.
If the video doesn’t display, click here.
Monday, May 13th, 2013
Last summer I was invited to speak at a conference called “Milwaukee’s Future in the Chicago Megacity” put on by the Marquette University School of Law and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. It was an interesting day of conversation about mega-regional integration between the two metros. In follow-up, Marquette Lawyer magazine asked me to write a piece for them about it. I’m including the full text of that article below. However, the current issue of the magazine has a couple of other major articles on the same topic. These are “Thinking and Acting (and Flourishing?) as a Region” by Alan J. Borsuk and “Rivalry, Resignation, and Regionalization” by John Gurda. I recommend both of these.
In the meantime, my article is below. The first part of it includes material and ideas from my “Don’t Fly Too Close to the Sun” post, but most of the article is original. Enjoy.
Milwaukee and Chicago sit a mere 90 miles apart on I-94. Growth in both metro regions has led to near-continuous development along that corridor, which is being expanded to handle the increasing traffic between the two regions. Amtrak links downtown Milwaukee with downtown Chicago in only 90 minutes, which is shorter than some Chicago commuter rail trips. The two cities share a lakefront heritage and similar industrial history.
With their closeness and parallels, the idea that there’s benefit for the two cities in mutual collaboration is almost obvious. This is particularly the case for Milwaukee as it looks to differentiate itself from peer cities. What does it have that those places don’t? Chicago. This idea was even the subject of an entire conference called “Milwaukee’s Future in the Chicago Megacity,” sponsored by Marquette University Law School and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. This essay further explores Milwaukee’s relationship to Chicago.
Is Proximity to Chicago a Positive?
In most discussions of the topic, the increasing integration of Chicago and Milwaukee is assumed to be a positive. But we should ask whether this is so. For other examples of close cities around the country suggest that perhaps a more cautious view should be adopted.
Indianapolis analyst Drew Klacik has suggested a reason to be skeptical about Chicago–Milwaukee. He promotes a model of the Midwest as a solar system with Chicago as the Sun. His idea is that Indianapolis is Earth—it’s the perfect distance from Chicago. A place like Cleveland is like Uranus—it’s too far away and doesn’t get enough heat and light. But in this model Milwaukee is like Mercury—it’s too close to the sun and gets burned up.
Of course, Klacik comes from Indianapolis. But is there something to this notion of being “too close to the sun”? Taking a look at other similarly situated cities suggests some indications that it isn’t always healthy to be located next to a megacity. Providence, R.I., about the same size as Milwaukee, sits just 50 miles from Boston, but shows little signs of life. Neither does New Haven, Conn., 80 miles from New York, or Springfield, Mass., 90 miles from Boston. But these post-industrial cities have struggled for reasons completely independent of megacity proximity.
A more positive example might be Philadelphia, which is 90 miles from New York and seems to be seeing a resurgence due to what we might dub the “Acela effect,” as runaway gentrification chases people from New York. Yet Philadelphia is also a near megacity in its own right. Various post-industrial cities such as Aurora, Elgin, and Joliet have seen new growth as Chicago enveloped them, but they are much closer and much smaller than Milwaukee, and in the same state as Chicago. To the extent that they’ve benefited from being close to Chicago, it’s because Chicago has turned them into suburbs.
The key takeaway might be that Milwaukee’s proximity to Chicago is potentially either a pro or con. It is something that must be studied, and managed as well as possible, to both regions’ benefit. There is no choice to grow together or not grow together. The two regions are growing together as we speak, driven purely by market forces. It is happening on its own. The real question is what, if anything, should Milwaukee’s leaders do about it.
To show the double-edged sword of proximity, consider the case of General Mitchell International Airport. How is service at this airport, and thus for Milwaukee generally, affected by Chicago’s proximity? There are many ways. For example, to the extent that it is more convenient or has lower fares, Mitchell Airport can draw from the Northern Chicagoland region, becoming a de facto third airport for Chicago. This is a positive for Mitchell Airport and Milwaukee. However, to the extent that Chicago has better nonstop flight options, especially internationally, people may choose to drive from the Milwaukee region to O’Hare for a nonstop flight rather than connect. This potentially suppresses Milwaukee air traffic, particularly for international flights. Among metro areas with more than a million people, Milwaukee ranks only 41st in the United States in originating international air passengers per capita, according to Brookings Institution research. This is a negative for Milwaukee. But the flip side is that Milwaukeeans, by driving to O’Hare, have access to many nonstop flights that aren’t options for people in other small cities.
In short, the dynamics are complex and cut both ways. That’s why simple surface thinking will not suffice to manage this problem. It requires a lot of careful analysis and new types of thinking.
Milwaukee Must Go It Alone
Additionally, in its attempts to manage the increasing integration of Chicagoland with Milwaukee, Milwaukee should expect largely to have to go it alone. People from Chicago may come to the occasional conference, but it’s unlikely that Milwaukee will capture much time and attention from Chicago’s leadership. Milwaukee is much smaller. Chicago already has all the scale it needs to compete in its chosen global-city strategy. And Chicago and Illinois both have serious near-term problems that must urgently be addressed. The leadership of the Chicagoland region is mostly Chicago-focused. It can even be difficult to get Chicago and its suburbs to pay attention to each other or get on the same page—how much more so Chicago and Milwaukee. Thus the next key question to ask is this: What can Milwaukee do by itself for itself, without much help from its larger neighbor? What should Milwaukee do to try to shape its future in the Chicago megacity?
A Plan of Attack
Here are some potential ideas to explore.
1. Think “Different.” Milwaukee is similar to Chicago but smaller; hence it can at times view itself as a little brother or “Mini-Me” version of the Windy City. But the approach of being like Chicago is not a positive for integration. Economic gains come from specialization and the division of labor. You can only take advantage of this to the extent that you are different. On a football team, not everybody can be a quarterback or a linebacker. Everybody has to know his role on the team. Milwaukee would be much better served to be a starting wide receiver to Chicago’s quarterback than to settle for second-string QB.
Mike Doyle illustrated the downsides of thinking too much like Chicago in his critique of a local tourism campaign aimed at Chicagoans. One tagline from an outdoor ad was “Beer. Brats. If you had another hand, we’d go on.” But, as Doyle notes, Chicago is arguably already as good a beer and brat town as Milwaukee. Why would people make the trip for something they can already get at home?
Milwaukeeans instantly understand that you go to Chicago to get what you can’t get at home. The city needs to invert that thinking to figure out what it is that you can get only in Milwaukee and not in Chicago. That is where you market your city.
Similarly, in thinking about the best way to relate to Chicago economically, Milwaukee should sort out how the two cities can have complementary specialties.
2. Promote an Expanded Labor Market. Another area of integration is to better market the two cities as an extended labor market. This could take place in various ways. Naturally, making the sale to talent you are trying to attract to Milwaukee that Chicago is a piece of Milwaukee’s value proposition is a given. There may also be people who want to live in Chicago but could potentially be attracted as employees in downtown Milwaukee. This is particularly true if a person needs to be on site only part-time, such as a software developer. Many people reverse commute from the city to the suburbs of Chicago on Metra. There’s no reason they can’t do it on Amtrak as well. Figuring out the addressable market and how to sell it on Milwaukee is the “to do” here.
3. Market Nearshore Outsourcing. The move from Chicago to Milwaukee provides a steep cost gradient while maintaining good physical proximity in a way that provides opportunities for periodic face-to-face interactions. The globalized economy appears to be currently rewarding two models. The first is the “flat world” model of Tom Friedman in which work travels to wherever in the globe it can be produced most cheaply. The second is the “spikey world” model of Richard Florida in which intensive face-to-face collaboration is so valuable that it forces clustering of people and businesses in locations such as downtown Chicago.
Is there an intermediate model where reducing costs is important for certain activities, but face-to-face meetings are still valuable? If so, this is where Milwaukee–Chicago would have a very strong play. Examples may be various types of legal work or business-process outsourcing. For example, Walgreens maintains an operations center in Danville, Illinois, some 135 miles to the south of Chicago along the Indiana border. This is not only lower-cost than Chicago, but it allows executives from Deerfield to make day trips, enabling much better oversight and collaboration than an overseas location would, particularly with the time zone commonality. These types of applications would be something that could be highly beneficial for economic development in Milwaukee.
4. Eschew the Amenity Arms Race. Many cities of the same general size as metro Milwaukee spend much of their time trying to produce amenities that prove they are a “big-league city.” For many of these—stadiums, hotels, convention centers, department stores, high-end restaurants—there is a sort of “nuclear arms race” between cities in which one city after another pumps large subsidies into bolstering these high-end sectors in order to try to distinguish itself from the pack.
For Milwaukee, proximity to Chicago reduces the ability of the city to attract and support these types of amenities. Consider one example: high-end department stores. An analysis by David Holmes discovered that Milwaukee had fewer high-end department stores than regional peer cities. He also noted that when plans for a Nordstrom in Milwaukee were announced, it was reported that the city was the largest in America without one.
This is unsurprising. The incredible wealth of high-end amenities in Chicago siphons off money from high-end consumers by shifting it south. This reduces the effective capacity of the Milwaukee region to support amenities. This might be seen as a negative. However, the situation holds two key positives that also should be mentioned. The first is that, again, Milwaukee can take advantage of everything Chicago has to offer, which is something other places can’t. This is vastly more than Milwaukee could ever support by itself. And, secondly, many other cities give a lot of subsidies in attempts to lure these types of amenities. That’s money Milwaukee can keep in its pocket.
5. Avoid Other Sectors Where Proximity to Chicago Is a Disadvantage. Consider where Milwaukee’s proximity to Chicago is a disadvantage, and avoid those sectors. This is particularly true when solutions targeting these sectors are popular and thus tempting for Milwaukee to try. For example, both Indianapolis and Columbus have focused on building tons of bulk distribution space. But because of Chicago’s terrible traffic and Lake Michigan as a barrier to the east of Milwaukee, Milwaukee may not be as good a fit for that type of business, which is a low-wage industry in any case.
6. Improve Rail Connectivity Between the Cities. The highway linkages between Chicago and Milwaukee are already being upgraded, but the rail system requires improvement. The cities are currently linked via Amtrak’s Hiawatha service, which is subsidized by the state of Wisconsin. As noted, it provides a 90-minute journey time with seven trips per day. This route has received little investment compared to similar types of corridors, such as the Keystone route linking Harrisburg, Pa., to Philadelphia and on to New York.
Unfortunately, the state and federal political climates are not favorable to significant rail upgrades at this time. Ideally, the route would have hourly frequencies and shorter journey times (though true high-speed rail along the lines of that found in Europe is not needed). In the meantime, Milwaukee leaders should look to explore ways to better manage the existing service. Ideas include Metra-style boarding in Chicago instead of making passengers queue in a waiting room, variable pricing to better utilize and allocate capacity, and amenities such as Wi-Fi.
Milwaukee should also establish policies favorable to curbside bus operators such as Megabus that might provide additional connectivity to Chicago.
Milwaukee Is Blazing the Trail
There has been a lot written about so-called mega-regions, from people such as Richard Florida to the Regional Plan Association of New York. The concept is that cross-regional collaboration such as between Milwaukee and Chicago is the next level of regional economy that will become a basic competitive unit in the global economy.
There’s just one problem: other than building high-speed rail in these mega-regions, there’s a paucity of ideas about what one would actually do to make these mega-regions work. The public policy ideas for this are few.
Milwaukee and Chicago provide an excellent test bed for the mega-region concept. They are close enough together to be nearly an economic unit in formation already, but far enough apart to truly be two metro areas with two centers of gravity. If Chicago and Milwaukee can’t figure out how to generate value from the mega-region concept, it’s unlikely many other people will, apart from pure market forces.
This means Milwaukee has the exciting opportunity to be a trailblazer. Given that the regions continue to grow together day by day with no intervention from the outside, this is a challenge that is coming Milwaukee’s way whether Milwaukee wants it or not. Chicago may be able to ignore it, but Milwaukee has no such luxury.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Marquette Lawyer magazine.
Sunday, April 28th, 2013
I had an interesting conversation about Washington, DC with Richard Layman a few months back. One of his observations, rooted in Charles Landry’s, was that great global cities don’t just take, they give. To the extent that Washington wants to be a truly great city, it needs to contribute things to the world, not just rake in prosperity from it.
Affecting the world, often for good but unfortunately sometimes for bad, is a unique capability that global cities have because they are the culture shaping hubs of nations and world. When an ordinary city does something, it can have an effect to be sure. But things that happen in the global city are much more likely to launch movements.
For example, Chicago did not invent the idea of doing a public art exhibit out of painted cow statues. I believe they copied it from a town in Switzerland. But when Chicago did it, it inspired other cities in a way that Swiss town did not. In effect, ordinary cities influence the world usually by influencing a global city, which then influences the world. Often it is the global city that gets the credit although the actual idea originated elsewhere. Thus the role of the global city is critical. But we shouldn’t assume that all ideas originate there or that other cities can’t profoundly influence the world.
We might also think of bicycle sharing, which was around in various forms for quite a while. But it was the launch of the massive Paris Vélib’ system in 2007 (which according to Wikipedia was inspired by a system in Lyon) that made bicycle sharing a must have urban item the world over.
Similarly it was the High Line in New York that has every city wanting to convert elevated rail lines into showcase trails. New York is really the city that made protected bike lanes the new standard in the United States as well.
Beyond simple urban amenity type items, global cities can also launch profound cultural and social transformations. A few examples.
The first is from Seattle, a sort of semi-global city. It was in such a depressed state in the 1970s that someone put up a billboard that’s still pretty famous: “Will the last one leaving Seattle please turn out the lights?” Yet in Seattle there was a coffeehouse culture that spawned a movement out of which came Starbucks which literally revolutionized coffee drinking in America and event pioneered the entirely new concept of the “third place.”
A lot of people like to attribute the emergence of Seattle as a player to Microsoft moving there from Albuquerque in the late 1970s. However, I think the coffee example shows that there were interesting things already happening in Seattle long before that. It was a proto-global city waiting for a catalyst.
Another example would be the emergence of rap music out of New York City. Or house music from Chicago.
Or consider the 1963 demolition of Penn Station in New York in 1963. The wanton destruction of this signature structure horrified the city and led to the adoption of its historic preservation ordinance. This was not the birthplace of historic preservation in the United States, but this demolition played a key role in bringing historic preservation to the fore, not just locally but nationally.
Lastly, the Stonewall Riots in 1969 clearly played a signature role in the gay rights movement in America. Many pride parades today are scheduled to fall on the anniversary of the event.
Who knows what might have happened with coffee in America without Seattle. But I think it’s clear that both the historic preservation and gay rights movements would have emerged at some point anyway regardless of what happened in New York. However, the events in New York clearly provided a sort of ignition and acceleration.
How many historic buildings in America were saved because Penn Station was lost? (Think about how many might have been destroyed had the historic preservation movement emerged later).
Think about a state like Iowa where gay marriage is legal. How many people in Iowa 40+ years ago had any idea that an obscure incident in New York City would ultimately transform the social conventions of the rural heartland?
I think this shows the power of the global city. I’m sure that there are things happening underground in New York and elsewhere that right now that we don’t know anything about yet that will ultimately transform our world 10, 20, or 30 years down the road. It’s crazy to think about.
Tuesday, April 16th, 2013
[ This week's guest post comes courtesy of reader Scott Beyer - Aaron. ]
Last Sunday, as the issue was being prepared for Congress, I was witnessing the remunerative effects of immigration firsthand on city streets just an hour north. This was while at Chicken Rico, a Peruvian hotspot in Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood. After eating a plate of chicken and plantains–priced, as usual, at under $5—I stepped outside onto Eastern Avenue. This crowded thoroughfare is the center of Baltimore’s Hispanic community, which stretches a half-mile through the city’s southeast side, even merging into what’s known as “Greektown.”
But Highlandtown wasn’t always like this. Although once working-class, it suffered, like much of the city, through decades of industrial decline. In 2000 the City Paper quoted an official who represented it in the 1990s, when it teemed with “absentee landlords, dysfunctional families, loss of businesses,” and a robust drug trade. Its revival, just then beginning, has continued the last decade because of public improvements, and gentrification in nearby Canton. But this revival is also due to immigration, suggesting a potential long-term fix for Baltimore, and other declining cities.
After all Baltimore, a city that for decades was mostly black and white—and heavily segregated—has reestablished its role as an immigrant enclave, adding 20,000 the last two decades. During this it lost 115,000 people overall, mirroring similar population declines in every decade since the 1950s, and making one wonder what would’ve become of the city without these new foreigners.
According to a report by the Abell Foundation, a local non-profit, it occurred here in Baltimore because of the communal nature of immigrants, who after settling somewhere often invite friends from back home. But it’s continuing because of conscious efforts to attract them under Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. In 2011 the mayor announced an initiative to add 10,000 families to Baltimore, declaring immigrants instrumental for this. A year later she signed an order preventing policemen from questioning people’s citizenship status. She also started Spanish-only classes within city-run schools, and community groups that help immigrants with paperwork. As a result housing is being filled and businesses started in once-dying neighborhoods, not only by Hispanics, but West Indians, Jews, and Koreans. According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, these and other immigrants now compile 9% of Baltimore’s population but 12% of its workforce, and a whopping quarter of its small-business owners.
Baltimore is an example of how the benefits of immigration can vary by locality. In many growing municipalities, immigrants have overwhelmed the services, causing resentment and even legal backlashes. But in declining cities, they’re considered essential for survival. This includes not only in Baltimore, but in Detroit, where “Mexicantown” is one of the only functioning neighborhoods, and heavily-Arabic Dearborn one of its nicer suburbs. Immigration has also helped St. Louis, Birmingham, and Richmond, VA; and has accelerated growth in emerging but relatively-homogenous cities like Charlotte and Nashville. Its benefits were recently validated by both the Cato and Manhattan Institutes, who published papers linking immigration with greater innovation and productivity.
But how can the issue become localized when enforced at federal level? One way, said demographer Joel Kotkin in an interview, is for declining areas to attract, on their own, the immigrants that do exist. This doesn’t necessarily mean taking Baltimore’s aggressive measures, but simply providing the same things, like jobs and affordable housing, that also attract natives. In his article “California Needs More Immigrants”, he explained that the state’s failure at providing this has caused sharp immigration declines, which have dovetailed with its economic decline overall. Instead immigrants now settle for states with lower taxes and living costs, like Texas, and that to attract them back California must adopt similar policies.
Nonetheless Kotkin also saw a “compelling argument” for a federal program that directed immigrants to where they were most needed. This was explored recently in an article by Nancy Scola about Canada’s “Provincial Nominee Program”, which enables provinces “to self-determine the sort of immigrants they’d like to admit.” The program has matched immigrants and their skills with relevant locations and industries, creating, for example, an influx of garment workers in Winnipeg and truck drivers in Saskatchewan. The same strategy, she wrote, could be implemented in the U.S. with “place-based visas” that enable states to select their preferred number of immigrants, who must then remain for a given time.
Of course this would limit both the number and the quality of locations available to immigrants, generating, for example, what Scola imagined might be a robust “Detroit Visa” program. But it would still grant states more autonomy than federal policy now does in dealing with the issue. And while some states would use this stringently, others would become immigrant welcoming mats, only to watch their inner city neighborhoods become hotspots for cheap eating, eclectic shopping, and revived entrepreneurialism.
Scott Beyer writes about cities at Big City Sparkplug.
Wednesday, February 6th, 2013
As a companion to my City Journal piece Hail, Columbia! that documents the stunning rise of Washington, DC to the point where it appears to be becoming nothing less than the new Second City of America, you can listen to the podcast below in which I discuss the piece with City Journal managing editor Ben Plotinsky. If the podcast player doesn’t appear for you, click here for the raw MP3.