Sunday, October 19th, 2014
The Lafayette (Indiana) Journal and Courier just ran a major article from a four month investigation called “The Great Chicago Migration Myth” which attempts to debunk the idea that poor Chicago blacks, especially former CHA residents, are moving to Lafayette/Tippecanoe County.
The J&C seems to do a good job of pouring cold water on the CHA idea. But they use that to make a claim they didn’t actually prove, namely that low income blacks aren’t moving to Lafayette from Chicago. What’s more, the data shows that there is material black migration from Chicago to Lafayette, contradicting the clear implication of the article. Additionally, the J&C fails to note the critical context that regardless of origin, Lafayette has been experiencing a black population boom that exceeds even Hispanic growth on a percentage basis.
In sum, this article provides an incomplete and badly misleading view of black demographic change in Lafayette.
Chicago demolished most of its high rise public housing complexes, prompting the obvious question of where the former residents ended up. I’ve been noticing news stories for several years suggesting that former CHA residents have been moving to places ranging from downtown Illinois to small town Iowa. I myself have heard credible reports from generally reliable people I know in public service who say they personally have seen an uptick in Chicagoans in their work.
It has long made me, and I know others, wonder: did Chicago attempt to effectively run its former black public housing residents out of town? I’ve tried to get many journalists who have written on Chicago’s demographics to investigate and get to the bottom of what’s really going on. Ed Zotti did a great series in the Chicago Reader covering some aspects of the issue (see part one, part two, and part three). But there are certainly a lot of open questions in my view and I’m surprised how little investigation I’ve seen of it.
The J&C story is the first part of at least two installments that attempts to do just this sort of comprehensive analysis from the standpoint of Lafayette, Indiana. Greater Lafayette is not the community I would have chosen as my test case. As home to Purdue University, there’s a lot of migration that’s driven by the inflow and outflow of students that can obscure the non-university trend. But obviously from the J&C standpoint it’s their community and so of course they pick it for their work.
Their own words speak for themselves:
Call it the Great Chicago Myth. For decades, the belief has been ubiquitous in Greater Lafayette that thousands of low-income African-American families packed up their belongings and headed down Interstate 65 straight to Lafayette, bringing with them rising crime and worsening drug problems and higher burdens on local social services….The Chicago Myth turns out to be completely untrue. A comprehensive four-month Journal & Courier analysis of data culled from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Chicago and Lafayette housing authorities and other sources shows that, while there has been some migration, relatively few people leaving Chicago end up in Tippecanoe County.
How accurate a portrayal does this provide?
Where Did Chicago’s Blacks Go?
I haven’t personally looked into former CHA resident migration, but Ed Zotti and the J&C convince me that this is not a material contributor to Chicago’s black population decline or to migration elsewhere. I’m sold on that point. However, Chicago has in fact lost a lot of black residents.
It’s well known that the city of Chicago lost 177,401 black residents during the 2000s. But as with out-migrants generally, the default assumption for most of them would be that they moved to the the suburbs and didn’t leave the region. However, the Chicago metro area as a whole saw a decline in black population of 45,689. Considering that there was surely natural increase (more births than deaths) in the regional black population, this implies a huge net out-migration. They had to go somewhere.
As it happens, the Census tells us where they went. I’m leaving metro area analysis for another day. But let’s take a look at the map of net migration of blacks in Cook County, Illinois. Red indicates net outflow, blue net inflow.
Net migration of black residents from and to Cook County, Illinois. Net in-migration in blue (positive), net out-migration in red (negative). Source: 2006-2010 ACS via Telestrian
Unsurprisingly, when you lose a lot of people, they move to lots of places. There are a number of net recipient counties for former black residents of Cook County. Many of them are in Illinois though not all. As you can see, Tippecanoe County is one of the recipient counties.
Are There More Blacks in Lafayette?
When people make statements like “There are a lot of poor black former CHA residents moving in here” there’s an embedded chain of reasoning that goes something like this:
There are more black people in Lafayette.
Those black people are coming from Chicago.
Those Chicagoans are poor.
Those poor people are former CHA residents.
The last statement may well be false without invalidating the others. I’m buying what the J&C is selling on that one. But let’s look at the other ones, starting with the first. Has the black population of Greater Lafayette been increasing? Yes, and by a lot too.
There were 3,752 black residents in Tippecanoe County in 2000. By 2010 that had nearly doubled to 6,913. This was a bigger increase on a total and percentage basis than any other small industrial county in Indiana. By 2013 it had added another 1,638 black residents (23.7% growth). This was the fifth highest total increase in black residents of any county in the state – this in a county that in 2000 had the 14th largest black population. Again, that growth outpaced all peer counties. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that a 128% population growth in black population since 2000 qualifies as a veritable boom, especially by the standards of slow-growth Indiana.
It’s worth comparing the trajectory of Tippecanoe County to Bloomington’s Monroe County, home of Indiana University, so I pulled some statistics into the following chart:*
|Tippecanoe County (Lafayette)||Monroe County (Bloomington)|
|April 1, 2000||148,955||120,563|
|April 1, 2010||172,780||137,974|
|July 1, 2013||180,174||141,888|
|Total Growth (2000-2013)||31,219||21,325|
|Percentage Growth (2000-2013)||21.0%||17.7%|
|April 1, 2000||3,752||3,615|
|April 1, 2010||6,913||4,491|
|July 1, 2013||8,551||4,898|
|Total Growth (2000-2013)||4,799||1,283|
|Percentage Growth (2000-2013)||127.9%||35.5%|
|Black Population Share 2000||2.5%||3.0%|
|Black Population Share 2013||4.0%||3.3%|
|Total Growth (2000-2013)||1,420||2,057|
|Percentage Growth (2000-2013)||1.8%||3.5%|
As you can see, these communities started off with roughly similar black populations. In fact, Bloomington had a higher black population share. But while Bloomington’s black population has grown only moderately more than overall population growth, Lafayette’s has grown at a substantially faster rate.
I should note that both of these towns have very small black populations compared to bigger cities. But that makes growth more easily visible as well, similar to how many small towns have noticed (and reacted) in the case of even limited Hispanic migration.
I put the jobs number in to see if there might be a pull there. Bloomington has actually done better on jobs. But this shows right away one potential root cause of anxiety over out of town migrants: job competition. Lafayette had added over 31,000 people since 2000 but only 1,420 jobs. Not all of those new residents are in the theoretical labor force pool, but I’ve got to believe more than 1,420 of them are. When you’re only adding 1,400 jobs, it doesn’t take a lot of migrants to make a competitive difference for job seekers. I think this is a big factor nationally in the public souring on immigration reform and it wouldn’t surprise me if something similar were at work here.
Whatever the case, it’s true that Lafayette has seen a significant increase in black population. So the reverse of the Chicago question applies here: where did they come from?
How Many of Lafayette’s Black Residents Are Coming From Chicago?
The J&C uses the Census migration data figures to argue that few Chicagoans of any type move to Lafayette. However, the Census Bureau publishes place to place migration by race from the five year ACS survey, so let’s consult that source.
Migration by race is provided in the 2006-2010 ACS through a special county to county migration data release. You can easily browse it through an interactive online map.
According to this data, 127 net black residents moved from Cook County to Tippecanoe County. That doesn’t sound like a lot. However:
- This is the third highest destination in Indiana for net black migrants from Cook County. Only Lake County (a Chicago suburban area) and Elkhart County ranked higher.
- No other county in the United States sent as many net black residents to Tippecanoe County as Cook County did. The second highest county is Lake County, Indiana, which again is also part of Chicagoland.
Other than third place Marion County (Indianapolis), nobody else even comes close to sending as many net black residents to Lafayette as Chicago does.
I should note that Tippecanoe is far down the list of net recipient counties from Cook. So from a Chicago-centric perspective, Lafayette is not a major destination for departing Chicago blacks, who are dispersing across many different destinations. Yet the Chicago region has nearly 10 million people and is losing a lot of black residents. Certainly no small city like Lafayette could ever be the destination for more than a small percentage of those leaving a near megacity region like Chicago.
The university is a major wildcard. You would expect Chicago to be both a big source and destination for Purdue University’s student body, and certainly some of them must be black. Looking at our comparator, there were a net of 38 black Chicago migrants to Monroe County (Indiana University). So Lafayette is seeing a higher migration, but is also geographically closer keep in mind. I took a quick look at other Big Ten school counties and there’s huge variability so I’m not sure what we can say with regards to those schools without data from the universities themselves. The homes of Wisconsin and Iowa are the top net exporters of black residents to Chicago, for example.
To be sure, there’s statistical noise in this ACS survey data. And we only have one survey with race based migration available. The data is definitely limited here. So keep that in mind. But this does show a flow from Chicago.
The J&C did not use this data set for some reason, but relied on the overall migration levels (not broken down by race) between the cities. Regardless, we have a fundamentally different understanding of how to interpret the meaning of the survey data. I generally don’t work with the 5yr ACS, but that’s the only survey in which place to place migration is provided. (The IRS data is not broken down by race).
The J&C treats the migration values as the total migration over the five years of the survey. I actually called the Census Bureau and spoke to someone in their Journey to Work and Migration Statistics Branch that compiles this data. I asked them specifically if the migration values should be treated as a five year total or as a proxy for average annual migration. They told me the latter.
This person could have misspoken but if that’s correct, then the 127 figure would translate into 127 people per year – nearly 1,300 people over the course of a decade. That’s a material percentage of the total black population in town. That’s especially true if we are looking only vs. the increase in black population attributable to net in-migration.
So there does appear to be some data to indicate that part of the increase in the black population of Lafayette is due to migration from Chicago. Also, if the J&C wants to say that Chicago migration is not a material contributor to the robust black population growth in Lafayette, their claim would be a lot stronger if they documented where this increase actually is coming from.
Are Black Chicago Migrants to Lafayette Low Income?
Obviously if any sizable group of people move from one place to another, you’d expect some income diversity and some lower income residents. The J&C actually highlights specific people who made the move from Chicago and who have incomes low enough to qualify for public assistance (e.g., Section 8) though it doesn’t identify their race.
The Census also publishes net migration by household income level, which you can view in the same flow tool I linked to before. I didn’t look at all tiers, but I checked out the bottom few. Keep in mind these aren’t sliced by race. This is overall migration. Unlike in the race data, which appears exhaustive, this data has some suppression for privacy reasons.
According to that data, at the lowest level only a tiny net migration to Lafayette is reported – two people, which I suspect is within the margin of error of the survey. A couple of the higher tiers up actually show migration towards Chicago (87 in the $25K-35K range, for example).
Additionally, the J&C reports that they identified every single Section 8 permit that was transferred between Chicagoland and Lafayette, and found that there was actually a net flow towards Chicago. This data is also not classified by race, but is consistent with what I found in income migration.
So there does not appear to a flow of low income residents into Lafayette when race is not considered based on this survey data (which has similar limitations to the race data I gave above).
I would say based on the data sources I have that there’s no evidence that the black migrants from Chicago to Lafayette are disproportionately low income, though I don’t have a direct stat that speaks to the matter. As I said earlier, it seems pretty clear that there aren’t many former public housing residents (if any).
The J&C article takes what appears to be a fairly strong claim – that former Chicago public housing residents are not moving to Lafayette – and uses that to try to bolster the far weaker, though not implausible, claim that there aren’t low income blacks moving from Chicago to Lafayette. And to imply that basically no blacks at all are really moving from Chicago to Lafayette – something the available evidence contradicts. What’s more, it completely buries the lede on the strong growth in the local black population there.
I think this piece shows how black Americans are, as Ellison observed, simultaneously the most visible and invisible population in the country. The black population in Greater Lafayette has grown by 128% since 2000. That’s faster growth than even the Hispanic population (up 82%). Though the black population grew on a smaller base, the total adds weren’t that far off (4,799 black vs. 6,451 Hispanic).
In a community the size of Lafayette in a slow growth part of the country, that’s Big Deal growth, but it isn’t mentioned in the piece and I wasn’t able to find anything else written on it with a quick google. You can believe if a few thousand of a more exotic minority showed up, it would have been noticed. (In Indianapolis, for example, it’s news article stuff when a few thousand Burmese refugees or Sikhs arrive on the scene).
Statistics about black growth and migration from Chicago almost seem to be treated as embarrassing when in fact it could be something worth celebrating. See my headline for a potentially different way the J&C could have told the story. (Also look at how Amos Brown covers the census estimates release in Indianapolis).
I’ve observed before that black Chicago is not really part of the future success strategy of the city. Its black residents seem to be increasingly agreeing as they are heading for the exits. This creates a significant addressable talent market for savvy cities to target. Everybody and their brother is going after the same narrow demographics of 20-something app coders, artists, etc. So there are opportunities for people who spot an underserved market. As I noted less than a month after starting this blog all those years ago:
For the city that starts taking its black community seriously, and engages with it not just around modest goals but no less than in making that community a major force pushing the city forward, I believe there are huge competitive advantages to be reaped.
I’d still say that today.
A lot of small Midwest cities have an opportunity here to lure Chicago’s departing black middle class before it moves somewhere else. The industries so many of these places are targeting like transportation and logistics are always complaining about labor supply challenges. Why not, for example, go show black truck drivers from Chicago the quality of life your town has on offer? IIRC, that’s exactly what brought of those Sikhs to Indianapolis. I seem to remember reading that many of them were truck drivers in California who took one look at what kind of house their salary would buy in Greenwood and took the plunge.
But in order to do that, you first have to perceive your black community as an asset. That’s something I hope Lafayette and its newspaper can achieve.
* The decennial census uses a different racial classification scheme for race than the population estimates. I pulled “Black Only” population from each but I want to caveat that these are not strictly apples to apples.
Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
[ The London School of Economics has an American themed blog called USA Policy and Politics. This piece on teardowns originally appeared there and I’m grateful for their permission to repost it – Aaron.
In many older American suburbs single-family housing is being demolished and replaced with new, larger single-family housing. “Teardowns” are dramatically transforming suburban neighborhoods. Using the inner-ring suburbs as a case study, Suzanne Lanyi Charles finds that teardowns occur in a variety of places ranging from modest middle-income neighborhoods to very highly affluent neighborhoods that often share a common proximity to well regarded schools. Teardowns began in areas with high property values, and as house prices rose rapidly through the first half of the 2000s, they expanded into adjacent, less affluent neighborhoods, contracting again at the end of the decade.
As older suburbs have aged, some have begun to experience declining populations, investment, and incomes, increasing crime, and shrinking tax bases. However, at the same time, others are receiving a significant amount of reinvestment. In some inner-ring suburbs the single family housing stock is being transformed through “teardowns”—the process when an older single-family housing is demolished and larger single-family housing is built in its place. An oft-cited teardown scenario is one in which an older, often architecturally significant house in a leafy, very affluent suburb is demolished and replaced. However, a more nuanced redevelopment process has been occurring in inner-ring suburbs. Teardowns occur in a variety of neighborhoods and manifest differently in different places, presenting varying implications for inner-ring suburban neighborhoods.
Though not ubiquitous, teardowns have had a substantial impact on many suburban neighborhoods. Rates of teardowns in the inner-ring suburbs of Chicago range up to 17 percent per census block group and are primarily confined to areas north, northwest, and southwest of the city of Chicago. (See Figure 1) In 99 census block groups, over 4 percent of single-family housing was redeveloped, and twenty census block groups experienced redevelopment of over 8 percent of single-family housing. However, over 60 percent of the census block groups (which include 56 percent of the housing stock) did not have any single-family residential redevelopment whatsoever between 2000 and 2010.
Figure 1 – Housing redevelopment rates in suburban Chicago
Suburban teardowns are often discussed as primarily occurring in historically wealthy neighborhoods. In neighborhoods with high property values, a prime teardown candidate is often the smallest, oldest, and least expensive house on the block. The house is demolished and replaced with a house in keeping with the rest of the neighborhood in terms of size and quality. But during the past decade, high rates of teardowns have occurred in a group of inner-ring neighborhoods that are more diverse in terms of property values, household incomes, and housing type. Figure 2 illustrates a teardown in a modest, middle-income suburb in which the rebuilt house is substantially larger and more expensive than its neighbors.
Figure 2 – Results of a teardown in middle income suburb in Chicago
Teardowns often occur in the wealthiest suburban municipalities, but they also occur at equally high rates in more modest neighborhoods in terms of household incomes and house prices. One thing that these neighborhoods have in common is that they are primarily located in very highly regarded school districts. Teardowns occur in neighborhoods spanning a wide range of middle-class neighborhoods; however they are not racially and ethnically diverse. These neighborhoods include residents employed in high-income, white-collar occupations as well as in middle-income, blue-collar occupations, but they are predominately white and non-Hispanic.
In many areas, a contagion-like effect takes hold, leading to the clustering of teardowns. Several identifiable clusters of teardowns occurred throughout the inner-ring suburbs of Chicago. (See Figure 3) (See here for methodological details as to how these clusters were identified). In general, these clusters of teardowns first appeared in places with the highest incomes and house values and the most highly ranked school districts. As house prices rose rapidly during the first half of the 2000-10 decade, teardowns continued apace and even accelerated in many affluent neighborhoods, while simultaneously expanding into less affluent neighborhoods.
Figure 3 – Clusters of teardowns in inner ring suburbs of Chicago
Teardowns were not observed in neighborhoods where previous disinvestment had occurred, unlike examples of redevelopment and gentrification in central cities. In fact, according to local real estate developers and municipal planners, teardowns occurred in neighborhoods in which original property values were stable or increased prior to the appearance of teardown clusters. Thus, suburban teardowns reveal a redevelopment process that is quite different from that which has been observed in early examples of central city redevelopment and gentrification.
According to local real estate developers and municipal planners, several of the first properties to be redeveloped in moderate-income neighborhoods were not speculative, developer-driven ventures—demolished, rebuilt, and later offered for sale—but were built for particular clients. Having accumulated wealth or perhaps gained easier access to financing, but not wanting to move to another area, these homeowners chose to rebuild a larger house for themselves in the neighborhood where they already lived. These teardowns set a precedent for developers to build much larger, new speculative housing in several of the more modest neighborhoods.
Developers also revealed that they preferred to undertake teardowns in areas where ones had already taken place, leading to the spatial clustering or contagion effect. They cite the increased profitability of these latter projects, as well as the decreased financial risk once the local real estate market demonstrated that it would accept the more expensive redeveloped properties as motivating factors. In some cases, developers created their own clusters of redevelopment by undertaking several teardowns in one neighborhood. Many undertook these projects in the neighborhoods in which they lived, bolstering their reputations as real estate developers by demonstrating their own investment in the neighborhood.
Teardowns have had very different physical impacts in different types of neighborhoods. Teardowns with the lowest ratio of new to original house floor area are located primarily in very affluent suburbs. The highest ratios—where the redeveloped house is over 3.5 times larger than the original house—occur in many places with moderate property values and household incomes. (See Figure 4) In neighborhoods of originally homogeneous postwar housing, the new housing was priced significantly higher than the original houses, and higher than the original residents of the neighborhood could likely afford. The price of a redeveloped house is typically at least three times that of the original house. In originally middle-income neighborhoods with moderately priced housing, teardown clusters have resulted in significant overall changes in the physical form of the built environment.
Figure 4 –Floor ratios for new vs. original houses in suburban Chicago
Teardowns occur in a range of suburban neighborhoods and manifest differently in different places, presenting varying implications for inner-ring suburban neighborhoods. They are often controversial, resulting in the replacement of older housing with that which is more in keeping with currently popular trends in house size, features, and style, attracting new higher income households, raising property values, and creating additional municipal revenue through increased property tax assessments. And they change in the physical character of neighborhoods and reduce the stock of smaller, affordable (or mid-priced) housing. Local policy makers and residents have an interest in better understanding teardowns occurring in older inner-ring suburbs in order to equip themselves to address it proactively.
This article is based on the paper, “The spatio-temporal pattern of housing redevelopment in suburban Chicago, 2000-2010” in Urban Studies.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of USApp– American Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics.
Shortened URL for this post: http://bit.ly/1rfjsTk
Suzanne Lanyi Charles is an Assistant Professor in the School of Architecture at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Charles’s scholarly interests include residential redevelopment and neighborhood change with a particular interest in the changing suburban landscape. Her current research examines physical, social, and economic changes in postwar suburban neighborhoods. Her research has received research grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Real Estate Academic Initiative at Harvard University.
This post originally appeared on October 7, 2014 in the London School of Economics USAPP blog.
Sunday, October 5th, 2014
The New York Times ran an article last week that’s nominally about football, but really gives insight into the decline of the Midwest and the rise of the South. Called “As Big Ten Declines, Homegrown Talent Flees,” this piece ties in perfectly with my recent essay on the differing social states of the Midwest and South. The NYT’s money quote says it all:
Ironically, it is the formerly stigmatized “backwoods” South that has embraced excellence while the former industrial champion of the Midwest has spurned it. I don’t think that Midwesterners understand how much things have changed in the South. I hear the same stereotypical view of the South that might have had a lot of truth decades ago but have changes substantially. For example, those who think it is both a good thing and bad have quipped that Indiana is like an extension of the South into the Midwest. I don’t think so.
For example, Charlotte built a light rail system. Dallas has poured a billion dollars into a downtown arts district. Atlanta has a multi-billion infill strategy around its former Belt Line railroad. Nashville eliminated downtown parking minimums and implemented a form based code. South Carolina has its German style apprenticeship program. North Carolina built Research Triangle Park – in 1959. Southern cities like Atlanta have proudly claimed and built success around their black heritage. And Charlotte’s Chamber of Commerce CEO said, “To understand Charlotte, you have to understand our ambition. We have a serious chip on our shoulder. We don’t want to be No. 2 to anybody.” Outside of Chicago, does anybody in the Midwest talk like that?
Sure, there are bits and pieces here and there in the Midwest that speak to excellence. But they are the anomalies in a region that has retrogressed. Whereas in the South they’ve massively elevated their game in the last 40 years and are working hard to keep getting better. Sure, low costs and taxes play a role in their success. Climate and the universality of air conditioning as well. But they aren’t content to rest on just that. They want to get better. Meanwhile the Midwest is regressing towards what the South used to be such as, for example, by turning paved roads back to gravel because they can’t afford the maintenance.
The NYT piece brings up an interesting factor driving the rise of the SEC vs. the Big Ten, namely the shift in underlying population ratios over time: “An instructive comparison is Michigan and Georgia. In 1960, Michigan had twice Georgia’s population; in 1990, it was nearly one and a half times as big; today, their populations are roughly equivalent.”
The decline in Midwest population and economic heft brings with it a price that has to be paid. It’s showing up in the football world today. But it’s sure to hit the academic prowess of the Midwest’s major state schools as well. How long can these places maintain their relative rankings of excellence without the financial firepower to play in the big leagues? There’s more inertia on the academic side, but don’t think it won’t eventually happen here as well. The same is true in many other aspects of civic life. Even mighty Chicago has nearly bankrupted itself in its efforts to keep up with other global cities.
The Big Ten obviously saw the writing on the wall and decided to expand outside the region. I dislike this for reasons of, naturally, tradition. But it’s a rational response to a declining marketplace. Similarly, the Cleveland Orchestra established a Miami residency in the pursuit of cash to keep its artistic excellence intact. Might some of these institutions at some point become Midwest in name only? Time will tell.
Tuesday, September 30th, 2014
Detroit’s bankruptcy judge just ruled that he can’t halt water shutoffs in the city. I make the argument that Detroit should continue with its shutoff program in my latest piece at City Journal called “Detroit Water City.”
To be sure the process was bungled out of the gate. The city first should have started with commercial accounts, for example. But in a country where we have food stamps, Medicaid, Section 8 and a slew of other poverty programs up to an including so-called “Obama phones,” does anyone really believe we never thought that poor people needed water? Of course those with bona fide hardships should get a repayment plan option and assistance where necessary. But those complaining don’t seem interested in validating actual need. The Detroit Water Project, for example, which allows donors to pay overdue water bills on behalf of Detroit residents, doesn’t even ask about whether or not the recipient is in need. It specifically boasts, with emphasis, that there’s “no paperwork required.”
As I put it in the piece:
What Detroit’s citizens need most from their government is well-functioning public services. A water utility with 50 percent delinquencies is a reflection of a city that has failed its basic responsibilities. Fixing DWSD is but one of the many changes necessary to restore Detroit—but if city officials don’t have the stomach to collect long-overdue water bills, how will they undertake tougher reforms?
Click through to read the whole thing.
Also at City Journal, Steve Eide has an article sounding a note of optimism about Detroit, reminding us of the state of the South Bronx in the 1970s. It’s called “Lessons From a Catastrophe.” Here’s an excerpt:
The most important lesson that Detroit can derive from the South Bronx’s experience is that things can get better. Many despaired over the South Bronx’s future during the 1970s out of conviction that New York City was ungovernable. How could a city incapable of preventing 14-year-olds from defacing subway cars be expected to revive a neighborhood resembling post-World War II Berlin? But the skeptics were wrong, as more effective government—as opposed to simply less or more—proved central to New York’s epic crime decline and many other municipal improvements. As encouraging as the news is about its downtown, we’ll know Detroit has turned a corner when local government has shed its reputation for dysfunction in the eyes of independent observers and, even more importantly, local taxpayers.
Wednesday, September 24th, 2014
Carol Coletta is now with the Knight Foundation, where she’s started up a podcast series called “Knight Cities.”
Her most recent episode is an interview with economist Joe Cortright about a study he did about the evolution of poor neighborhoods in America. This is an important, if depressing, study in which he looked at how poverty changed in city neighborhoods at the census tract level from 1970 to 2000.
I’ll use the cover art embed so you can put the face to the voice. If the embed doesn’t display for you, click over to Soundcloud.
By the way, Cortright also posted a rebuttal to the NYT Magazine piece on Portland.
Sunday, September 21st, 2014
The genius of the Indiana Toll Road lease is now on display again as its private operator is declaring bankruptcy. Mitch Daniels once said that it was “the best deal since Manhattan was sold for beads – only this time the natives won.” We now have the proof on display.
I continue to be mystified that people can still claim this was a bad deal for the state (see former Indiana House Minority Leader Pat Bauer and this Shaw Friedman guy). Hello? If the operator is going bankrupt, it’s because they overpaid. The revenue projections they made were so inflated that the tolls couldn’t even cover the debt service. That means Indiana got way, way more than the road was actually worth.
It may well be that you can have various objections to the deal. Maybe the state should have better anticipated some compensation events. Maybe you don’t like some of the projects the proceeds were spent on (there are a few I think are dubious). But just because the deal might fall short of some theoretically perfect ideal that nothing ever achieves doesn’t mean it wasn’t a massive win for the state overall – especially financially.
Those who claim that the state could have better monetized the highway itself beyond stretch credulity. After all, the state never made a material profit on the highway in the 50 years it owned it and it had badly deteriorated in many places. To think that state would have been able to generate more than the private concessionaire paid ($3.9 billion in cash and upgrades) with a revenue stream that has proven manifestly inadequate to even keep the private firm afloat is, shall we say, a bridge too far. (You might be able to try a Laffer Curve type argument, but I’ve never heard anyone actually make it. And if cutting tolls would have optimized revenues, you can believe the private operator would have tried it).
Daniels did once say that the state would retake responsibility for the road back if the vendor declared bankruptcy. He clearly misspoke on that. The state won’t get the road back until the lease expires (though still has and never did lose ownership). But if the bankrupt or restructured entity defaults on its obligations under the lease, the state very much can take it back. So the state is protected. Who care’s who the operating entity is as long as it’s delivering on the contract?
I don’t think that government should try to sign “gotcha” deals with private parties that sends them into bankruptcy. Ideally such deals would be win-win. But given how many terrible deals have been signed with cronies and such out there, it’s good to see one where the public gets a clear win. Cintra and Macquarie are big boys who surely already protected themselves (and have a large portfolio which likely includes some big winners for them). Though a new operator may try, and they’d be crazy not to, there’s no reason for the state to renegotiate on this one.
Sunday, September 14th, 2014
Former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut used to like to say that “you can’t be a suburb of nowhere.” This is the oft-repeated notion has been a rallying cry for investments to revitalize downtowns in America for three decades or so now. The idea being that you can’t have a smoking hole in your region where your downtown is supposed to be. This created a mental based on a donut. You can’t let downtown become an empty hole. For reason that will become apparent soon, I call this model “the old donut”:
Filling in the hole became every city’s mission. Pretty much any city or metro region of any size has pumped literally billions of dollars into its downtown in an attempt to revitalize them. This took many forms ranging from stadiums to convention centers to hotels to parking garages to streetcars to museums and more. It’s popular today to subsidize mixed use development with a heavy residential component.
These efforts have paid off to a certain degree. Most big city downtowns have done very well as entertainment and visitor districts, eds and meds centers, etc. More recently we’ve seen an influx of residents, even in places where the overall city or even region has struggled or declined. Cleveland added about 4,000 net new downtown residents in the 2000s. St. Louis added 3,000. With most cities in some stage of an apartment building spree consisting of a few thousand units, these numbers should only improve.
Key weaknesses remain in private sector employment (declining in most places) and retail (not enough high income residents yet). And other than the tier one types of cities like Chicago, few places seem to have reached a sustainable market rate development level yet – pretty much everything is getting public assistance. Yet its pretty evident that most larger downtowns have made huge strides and are experiencing overall reasonable health.
In short, the donut hole has been filled in. Where does that leave us? I’d argue with a paradigm I call “the new donut”:
In this model, the old donut is inverted. What used to be the ring of health – the outer areas of the city and the inner suburban regions – are now struggling. Whereas the downtown is in pretty good shape, and the newer suburban areas are booming. (You might add in a fourth outer ring with troubles – these were the exurbs where very low-end housing proliferated because development standards were very low).
You see this in the population figures. Wendell Cox cranked the numbers and found that major metro areas gained 206,000 residents in the two mile radius from the center, but lost 272,000 residents from the 2-5 mile ring. Growth picked up strongly beyond that arc. This is the new donut area, though the start and end of it vary by metro and some have thicker rings of challenge than others.
We’ve got three decades of experience in downtown revitalization, but much less in dealing with this newer challenge zone. I’ve said that suburban revitalization may prove to be the big 21st century “urban” challenge. This is where it is happening in many cases. These areas have an inferior housing stock (often small post-war worker cottages or ranches), sometimes poor basic infrastructure, and are sometimes independent municipalities that, like Ferguson, MO, are often overlooked unless something really bad happens. Unlike the major downtown, they are often “out of sight, out of mind” for most regional movers and shakers.
What’s more, while downtown provides a concentrated location for massive public investment, this more spread out area is too big to fix by throwing money at it. And how many stadiums and convention centers does a region need in any event?
This is where we need to be doing a lot of thinking about how to bring these places back, look at what’s being done, etc. And also, given the inequality in the country, to try to think about ideas that don’t involve gentrification. One project that appears to be in this kind of zone, for example, is Atlanta’s Beltline project, though there’s a gentrifying aspect to this one. Regions that figure this one out will be at a big advantage going forward.
Thursday, September 4th, 2014
It’s no secret that the status quo in higher education is facing a lot of pressure from things like skyrocketing tuition, ballooning student loan debt, people questioning the need for higher education, difficulties graduates are getting established in careers, etc.
One organization focused on helping universities navigate the transition to a new future and boost higher educational attainment rates in the US is the Lumina Foundation. Lumina is a $1 billion foundation in Indianapolis – no, they don’t give out scholarships! – focused on “increasing the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates and other credentials to 60 percent by 2025.”
I recently sat down with Danette Howard, VP of Policy and Mobilization for Lumina, and talked a bit about their work and the future of higher ed. Danette was formerly Secretary of Higher Education for the state of Maryland. If the audio player embed doesn’t play for you, click over to Soundcloud to listen.
As a preview, here’s an excerpt of her response to those, especially in tech industry, challenging the idea, particularly heard in the tech industry, that people don’t need to go to college:
We hear all the time about these incredible outliers. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are not your traditional college dropouts, and I really wish that people would stop holding them up as the example. Because for every one of them, there are millions of others who also didn’t complete college and whose lives are not nearly as successful as they would be if they had some type of post-secondary credential, in my opinion. And, it’s a fact that post-secondary education is still the best predictor of lifting oneself out of poverty. So if you want to have a better life for yourself, and you are starting at the lowest income levels, your surest best of doing that is getting a college degree or credential. That’s an undisputed fact.
Update 9/9: I want to add as a disclosure that I’m a finalist in a competition that’s being sponsored by Lumina. Though as far as I know Danette has nothing to do with that. I first made contact with her as part of researching an article on college tuition.
On the same topic, City Journal also has an article out called “Slimming the College-Tuition Beast.” Here’s an excerpt:
Some states are proposing to get rid of pay-as-you-go tuition altogether. Citing the “increasing unaffordability of college education,” Oregon’s legislature unanimously approved a plan last summer—“Pay It Forward, Pay It Back”—that would make tuition free for resident students attending the state’s public universities and community colleges. In exchange, the students would sign “binding contracts” requiring them to pay a percentage of their future income, over a set number of years, to the state. Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) will determine how much students will pay and for how long, and come up with a funding source for the first 15 to 20 years of the program. After HECC works out the details, it will send its recommendations to the 2015 legislative session. The plan will launch initially in a few pilot schools.
Given the good deal that Pay It Forward offers students, it’s no surprise that the program emerged from a classroom—one belonging to Portland State University professor Barbara Dudley. A cofounder of Oregon’s left-wing Working Families Party, Dudley wanted to offer a senior capstone class on a subject that was, in her words, “relevant to the community.” So she chose the economics and politics of student debt, asking her students to propose a solution to the growing tuition burden. After reviewing research from Seattle’s Economic Opportunity Institute, the students came up with Pay It Forward. Kevin Rackham, one of Dudley’s former students, tells me that he lobbied for the idea “because of my experience with debt, because I know how much this debt is going to impede my ability to do things like buy a car and house and start a family.” After developing Pay It Forward further with the Oregon Students Association and the Working Families Party, Dudley’s students approached a group of state legislators, who introduced a bill based on their suggestions.
Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014
This is the third installment of my series on corruption (see part one and part two). Today I’ll share a few of my thoughts on the matter, particularly with regards to US cities. Please consider these incomplete and a work in progress.
Corruption seems to be incredibly durable where it has taken root. I mentioned before the continued drumbeat of scandal in Illinois, despite a slew of high profile prosecutions there. Chicago is also the homeland of community organizing, but despite all of the tactical successes of Saul Alinksy and his many followers over the years, little durable change has been produced.
But in many cases reform isn’t even attempted seriously. This is for several reasons. Many urban areas have no real partisan political competition. Single party systems (which can include Republican suburbs as well as Democratic big cities) remove a check on abuse. That’s why even though I’m a supporter of local autonomy, I recognize that state oversight is important. Also, in places with lots of corruption, the parties can tend to be more like business partners than competitors. In Illinois, columnist John Kass has appropriately labeled this general environment “the Combine.”
A tough commentator like Kass isn’t always around either. Molotch noted back in his growth machine paper that the local newspaper was part of the growth machine nexus. This means local media is often more civic cheerleader than watchdog. Fiscal distress in the newspaper industry has left most papers a shell of their former self in any case. This is also putting pressure on reporters and columnists to be working on their exit strategy by writing favorable coverage of the establishment in hopes of a job later. So there isn’t necessarily a tough, strong media on watch.
Local prosecutors are elected officials who are part of the political system and are thus not motivated to change things. What’s more, aggressive corruption prosecutions at the local level always have a partisan air about them. Far better would be more disinterested federal prosecutors. However, federal prosecutors are political appointees, and by tradition are selected by senators from the states. This often neuters them as well. (It’s notable and no surprise that it was maverick independent Republican Senator Peter Fitzgerald who picked Patrick Fitzgerald (no relation) as Chicago area prosecutor. Has a more establishment Illinois Republican held that seat, there’s a good chance Blago and Ryan might not have ended up in prison).
Add this up and there can actually be few voices or players of significant influence who want things to change. How do we make progress in that case?
I think there are two key pieces of preliminary research that need to be undertaken:
One is to create a power map of the city. That is, identifying the power players in a community and the relationships between them. This can be time consuming, but there are ways to do it. For example, looking at interlocking board relationships is a common strategy. Sean Safford did something like this for his famous “Garden Club” study of Youngstown to show the social networks of Youngstown and Allentown. A leftist academic named Dan La Botz used the technique for a study called “Who Rules Cincinnati?” looking at that city. We want to unearth who the real players are (which is not always obvious), what their relationships are, and how decisions get made. As part of this you are filtering out so-called “NINAs” – people with No Influence and No Authority. (Most bloggers are NINAs, for example).
Two is to do the historical analysis I’ve advocated elsewhere. This is important because a lot of political relationships go way back, and you need to get a sense of how the urban regime functions over time. Also you want to understand a bit of the city’s culture, which is fundamental to any change.
Armed with this information, you analyze the system to determine its weak points and design a disruption strategy. I’m not sure what exactly this would look like – it obviously depends on the research findings – but I’ll give three levels of response types: avoiding naivete, avoiding co-dependence, and building a political effort for change.
1. Avoid Naivete. I think too often we urbanists are naive when it comes to politics. We tend to be motivated by some personal vision of the public good, and so assume other people must similarly be so motivated. That’s not always the case. And you can’t take what political people tell you at face value. They excel at telling people what they want to hear or mouthing some of the right words, but don’t necessarily assume they mean them or that if they do they will expend personal capital on the behalf of what they say. My rule of thumb here: judge political people and power broker types by what they do, not by what they say. And then ask what Occam’s Razor suggests about the reasons why they did what they did (which is often self-interest).
2. Avoid becoming co-dependent. A lot of times I listen to people complain about bad decisions or this and that about their local community, but they don’t ever speak out publicly or challenge what’s going on. Their theory seems to be to prioritize their standing in the system (maintaining the relationship if you will) on the idea that this gives them the ability to be an influencer and help nudge things in the right direction. That’s not necessarily wrong. But we see a lot in personal relationships that sometimes we do the same with people who have addictions or other behavioral problems, and then before we know it, we aren’t helping them, but rather we’ve become co-dependent enablers of bad decisions and immoral behavior. I think we need to look at many of our cities as the civic equivalent of alcoholics who refuse to get help. You may still love them, but engaging in their dysfunction is not beneficial. Instead, stand aside let them reap the harvest of what they are sowing. Don’t put your stamp of validation on it. Realistically this is a difficult decision for a lot of people because they aren’t in a good place to put their job at risk, etc. But until there’s a price to be paid for the way people are doing business, don’t expect any change. It may well be that any one individual or organization is of no importance, but you have to start somewhere.
3. Create a political movement for change. Ultimately, change in the political system will require a political movement. As the power broker class is as a rule uninterested in change, this will need to be a populist type movement. I see three templates of this.
One is the insurgent outsider candidate who wins election and proceeds to start cleaning house. An example here might be the election of Antanas Mockus as mayor of Bogota. The documentary about him that I previously linked is well worth watching. Mockus was quite a character, but he had some ideas about eliminating corruption and changing societal expectations that were effective, if unconventional. For example, he fired the entire police traffic squad and replaced them with mimes. The problem is that you need a candidate who can get elected, has high moral fiber and strength of character himself, and who has the chops to make change. Generally speaking, insurgent candidates seem to fail on one of those points. It’s especially hard to govern as an outsider, as you don’t have a posse to bring with you to the job, and so end up dependent on the usual suspects to run things and quickly get turned into their pawn.
Two is some type of grass roots movement. I think it’s clear that the most effective grass roots political movement in the US in recent years has been the Tea Party. It may be that their goals and policies aren’t shared by some, but you can’t deny their impact. This makes them a useful case study.
I happen to believe that the intransigence which is so bemoaned by many is actually the secret to their strength and effectiveness. They are willing to burn down their own party’s house rather than compromise. I once had a senior staffer from Ron Paul’s presidential campaign tell me point blank, “Better a Democrat than a RINO” (Republican In Name Only).
Because of this, the Tea Party has to be taken seriously by Republicans. By contrast, Occupy Wall Street got taken out like the trash and was a completely impotent movement. Nor have we seen any legitimate leftist populist insurgency at the national level. Why not? It’s simple: no progressive is ever willing to defect from the Democratic reservation if it would mean a Republican would win. No matter how much they may refer the President as “0bama” (zero-Bama), they will have his back in any conflict or scandal with the Republicans. Hence, they lose the game of chicken every single time. You only see real progressive movements in places where the Republican threat is non-existent, like New York City, for example.
The lesson in my view is that a local reform movement probably needs to be pretty hard core. But it also needs to intelligently attack the structure based on all that research I talked about earlier, and put some thought into how to effect systemic change and how to effectively govern if it obtains power. Though in this case the ultimate agenda may not be electoral control. The Tea Party seems to have been largely beaten back, but they certainly achieved their goal of shifting Republican policy to the right. The fact that there’s even a debate about reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank shows their influence, for example.
The third template would be some type of lawfare approach. Michael Shakman’s lawsuits over patronage in Cook County, Illinois are a good example of this. This would obviously require a large bankroll and a lot of patience. I tend to as a rule dislike approaches like this as anti-democratic, but clearly lawfare tactics can be effective.
These are just some musings. As I said, I don’t have a fully thought out program in mind, so please share your thoughts.
Friday, August 29th, 2014
A whimsical fairy tale convenience store in Kokomo, Indiana
Bruce Katz at the Brookings Institution likes to talk about a paradigm called “cut to invest.” The idea is to cut spending on operations and lower priority items in order finance investments in higher priority infrastructure or other projects. Nice theory, but who is actually doing it?
One example is Kokomo, Indiana. It’s not the mythical tropical island paradise you may have heard about from the Beach Boys. Instead it’s a small industrial city of around 57,000 people about 45 miles north of Indianapolis. After I posted a piece from Eric McAfee about Kokomo’s intelligent rail trail design, someone from the city reached out and invited me to come for a visit. So that’s what I did this week.
What I discovered is that Kokomo has done a lot more than just build a trail. They’ve deconverted every one way street downtown back to two way, removed every stop light and parking meter in the core of downtown, are building a mixed use downtown parking garage with a new YMCA across the street, inaugurated transit service with a free bus circulator, have a pretty extensive program of pedestrian friendly street treatments like bumpouts, as well as landscaping and beautification, a new baseball stadium under construction, a few apartment developments in the works, and even a more urban feel to its public housing. Like Eric, however, I wasn’t just struck by the projects themselves, but they obvious attention to detail that went into their design. And especially by the fact that they’ve done it almost all by paying cash – no debt – in a city that went through an economic wringer during the recession.
A lot, though not all, of this has been pushed by Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight, who’s gone from factory worker to politician during his career. He also appears to be an urban planning geek, as the stack of books behind his desk shows.
I sat down with the mayor and chatted about how the city pulled off this program of investment. After the jump I’ll visually walk you through a number of the projects. If the audio player doesn’t display for you, click over to Soundcloud.
Now let’s take a look at what’s going on. I mentioned the pedestrian bumpouts. Here’s an example of one:
Pretty much every downtown intersection has a treatment like this, including landscaping. Taking a page from other cities’ playbook, Kokomo has invested in beautification, including not only landscaping of pedestrian bumpouts, but also hanging flower planters we’ll see later. These were actually put into place by Goodnight’s predecessor and were a huge source of controversy at the time, though seem to be well-accepted by now.
Here’s another example on a street heading out of downtown.
I’m actually of two minds about bumpouts. They do facilitate pedestrian crossings, but also can force bicyclists out of the curb lane into traffic. I’ve generally found them obnoxious when bicycling. The street widths through the bumpouts look ok here, but I didn’t put it to the test. A number of streets have painted bicycle lanes, where this is definitely not a problem.
Eric’s blog post was about the Industrial Heritage Trail. Here’s a shot of that through downtown:
I think this is really attractive. It reminds me of a red brick version of the Indy Cultural Trail. This section actually has a separate sidewalk from the biking trail, but that’s not the norm. Kokomo has really made a point to include some ped-bike protection wherever possible. So the landscape buffer is narrow, but effective and attractive. (It doesn’t use bioswale type green stormwater detention like the Indy Cultural Trail, though). There’s also ample street lighting and street furnishings.
As one nice touch, note the back side of the stop sign. It’s black to match the color of the other items, not just plain galvanized steel. This treatment is done throughout downtown and adds a bit of refinement.
Here’s another shot of a segment a bit south. Note the bespoke bike rack.
There aren’t people in these photos, you might have noticed. I was doing this walking tour on a Tuesday morning, and it wasn’t super-crowded but I did see multiple people out biking and walking on these trails.
On the south side of downtown, the IHT crosses and east-west path called the “Walk of Excellence.” I love the name because reminding Hoosiers that a focus on excellence is an absolute must to survive the brutal global competition. Here’s a shot:
Again, very attractive. And again, a narrow but nice buffer between the trail and the street, even though the roadway is little more than an alley or driveway. This is very consistently done, in another place even where the trail just passes through a parking lot. That’s what I mean by attention to detail. There’s a stream running to the left of the trail which adds to the pleasant effect of walking along it.
Here’s a street crossing:
The trail has its own traffic control signs, as well as a street sign near bicycling eye level to tell users what street they are at. In my experience, that’s too rare in trail design. You can also see bumpouts here along with large concrete planters that add beauty and make the crosswalk and street narrowing very visible to drivers.
Here’s another crossing example, showing the different crosswalk shading as well:
Here’s a bike route sign, with the city seal on it. That’s another nice touch and one that shows a certain pride of place versus a generic sign.
Moving on, here’s a median treatment on a major street. This goes on quite a distance:
Not only is this very nice, including more flowers, decorative street lights, etc, but the metal railings are especially unique. The railings were actually custom fabricated by the high school’s shop class. Not only was this great real world practice for the students, but the city paid for the railings and the students are all ending up with $1,000 scholarships to college out of it. I’m told this was the superintendent’s idea. (Kokomo’s superintendent grew up in Corydon in my county and his wife actually still works part time in Laconia, the tiny town where I grew up!)
Eric mentioned the school district’s International Baccalaureate program. But I don’t believe he mentioned that they also run an exchange student program. IIRC, students from 15 countries attend high school in Kokomo, and a number of them are actually housed in dormitories in downtown Kokomo. This injects life into downtown and creates a more international flavor in the city. I didn’t take pictures, but the school district is also renovating a 1914 vintage auditorium back to its original design that will be very cool (and also paid for without recourse to debt).
Trails and bumpouts have a fairly limited cost, but the city is also doing some bigger ticket items including two recently-constructed fire stations, a million dollar renovation of city hall, a parking garage, and a baseball stadium. Pictures of those in a moment but it’s worth ask how the city was able to pay for them without debt.
The first is that there was no legacy debt. I’m not anti-debt in all cases, but if a mature city like Kokomo is saddled with heavy debt repayments, that’s not good. By not having any legacy debt, the city’s tax base isn’t encumbered by repayments. A good part of our federal deficit these days is simply interest on our gargantuan debt load. That’s a dynamic Kokomo avoided. (The city does have some utility debt, but it’s revenue bond type stuff).
Secondly, the mayor says that he was able to reduce the city’s workforce by close to 20%, going from 521 employees just before he took office to only 415 today. That’s a significant reduction, especially given the fact that during that time the city annexed seven square miles and added 11,000 new residents (though some of them were already receiving some city services). Some of this was achieved through efficiencies. For example, the city went to single side garbage pickup, where all garbage is collected on one side of the street, eliminating the need for trucks to traverse each street twice. The mayor, council members, and department heads have also had a pay freeze during that time, with at least some time in there in which all city employees had their pay frozen during the recession. Keep in mind, the city experienced a severe revenue crunch during the auto bankruptcies, and Chrysler, the town’s largest employer, failed to pay its tax bill. This created an urgent need for cuts.
It’s possible the cuts and freezes have gone too far. I don’t know the full history of what has happened to services. But I speculate that having something like this can potentially act like a forest fire. It allows for longer term, healthier growth, whereas continuous growth in employees and compensation over time leads to serious fiscal problems.
In any case, these reductions freed up cash flow as the city recovered, letting Kokomo allocate a decent chunk of its revenues to capital investment. This is running at about 5% of the overall budget, plus an additional sizable sum (for a city of that size) from an economic development tax. This is an example of the cut to invest strategy in action. Without the cuts and tight budget management, there would be no money to invest. Indeed, some other Indiana community have found themselves asking questions like “what fire station should we close?” as they feel the sting of decline and tax caps.
Here are a few more photos, then some additional observations. Here’s that parking garage I mentioned. (This was originally debt financed, but the city paid off the bonds early when it decided to borrow for the baseball stadium).
This supposedly has some all day free parking, designed to attract downtown employees. There’s also going to be apartments on the top floor. It looks like there’s no ground floor retail, however, which will create a bit of a dead zone.
Here’s the YMCA construction site across the street. You can see the old Y in the background:
A painted railroad viaduct on Sycamore St. heading into downtown:
An alley treatment:
The baseball stadium under construction:
Here’s a picture of an older style public housing building. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s done in a traditional duplex style reminiscent of early suburbia.
Here’s a new development in a more urban form next door:
I think the fenestration is poor which gives the design a public housing look. Nevertheless, I appreciate that the city is even thinking about the design of public housing downtown as part of its strategy. After all, why shouldn’t public housing residents get to take advantage of high quality urbanism downtown like everyone else?
Overall, I think they’ve done a number of good things, and I especially appreciate the attention to detail that went into them. You clearly get the feel of them walking downtown streets. I would say the commercial and residential development lags the infrastructure, however. That’s to be expected. They do have an Irish Pub, a coffee shop, a few restaurants, and other assorted downtown type of businesses. This will be an area to watch as some of these investments mature.
When I talked to the mayor about this he took the long view, saying that Columbus, Indiana has been at its architecture program for decades, that Indy’s sports strategy is 40 years old, etc. Substantive change takes time. For example, Mayor Goodnight says it isn’t realistic to think that older workers who commute in to Kokomo will uproot themselves out of their established lives in other communities and relocate. But he’s more hopeful that as workers retire and are replaced, he’ll capture the “next generation” labor force.
That’s obviously a more realistic ambition. But will an impatient public buy it? We’ll see. Clearly Goodnight has his critics. More than one of them has dubbed him the “King of Kokomo.” A newspaper article fretted about gentrification (level of realistic concern about that: zero). I didn’t do a deep dive into the other side, so keep that in mind reading this. But the baseball stadium would appear to be the most controversial item as near as I detect.
Regardless of any controversy, when you look at the downward trajectory of most small Indiana industrial cities, the status quo is not viable option. Kokomo deserves a lot credit for trying something different. And regardless of any development payoffs, things like trails and safer and more welcoming streets are already paying a quality of life dividend to the people who live there right now. It’s an improvement anyone can experience today just by walking around.