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Fracking, Youngstown and The Right to the City

9 hours 48 min ago

What happens when the Chamber of Commerce, labor leaders, and government officials, most of whom live outside the city, are pitted against a small yet influential group of community and university activists? That's what's going on right now in a debate over a ballot initiative that would prevent gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing — fracking — in Youngstown, Ohio. The proposed ordinance, Community Bill of Rights (CBR), is modeled on similar anti-drilling legislation in other Ohio communities that would largely block drilling, as well as shale gas extraction and injection wells, especially in urban areas.

This is the third attempt during the last two years to pass such legislation in Youngstown, and the vote has become closer each time. In the most recent try, 45 per cent supported the ordinance and 55 per cent opposed it. Supporters hope to shift the balance this time.

The underlying legal issue is whether local community restrictions can preempt Ohio’s legal framework for gas and oil drilling. Ohio is a home rule state where municipalities have authority "to exercise all powers of local self-government and to adopt and enforce within their limits such local police, sanitary and other similar regulations, as are not in conflict with general laws”. As proponents of the Youngstown ordinance point out, there is no exception in the Constitution for the oil and gas industry.

The Constitution would seem to give Youngstown the right to regulate fracking on the local level, but in 2004, the Ohio legislature passed a bill HB 278 explicitly denying that right. The bill was largely written by the oil and gas industry, which recruited support for it by flooding both Republicans and Democrats with campaign contributions, according to former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann. This happened before the industry expanded drilling in the Marcellus and Utica Shale regions of Eastern Ohio, suggesting that the industry knew it would encounter local resistance.

Resistance to fracking reflects concerns about the well-documented relationship between fracking and earthquakes, both nationally and in Youngstown, and related health concerns. But what makes the Youngstown fight so remarkable is the setting: a community with a long history of economic struggle.

Youngstown has been the poster child for deindustrialization and disinvestment since 1977. The city has lost over 30 per cent of its population in the last quarter century, and it has demolished over 3000 properties in the last five years. The average sale price for a home is $21,327. Other challenges include a median household income of $24,880 and a 36 per cent poverty rate. It’s also home to several prisons; one of every 20 residents is a prisoner. Alan Mallach, an urbanist and senior fellow of the National Housing Institute, notes that economic development efforts have not sufficiently addressed these problems, pointing out that “… factories or warehouses that the city has attracted usually move to the nearby suburbs, and four out of five jobs in the city are filled by people who commute from out of town.”

Those opposing the Community Bill of Rights capitalize on these difficulties. They have spent large sums to set up phone banks in black urban churches, promoting the idea that fracking will create jobs. Yet there is very little evidence that African Americans have benefited from the fracking industry, except as precarious laborers.

Many of those who are pushing for fracking don’t live in the city, and won’t have to live with its problems. These include Chamber members, labor unionists (especially the skilled trades), and city government employees who are exempted from local city residency requirements – a policy that contributed to the flight of middle-class white residents and the hollowing out of the city.

The difference between the influence of these non-residents and the less well-financed voices of those who live in the city has not been lost on Community Bill of Rights supporters. CBR leaders Ray and Susie Beiersdorfer, city residents and Youngstown State University geologists, recognize that the blitz of advertising by the oil and natural gas industry, promising future jobs, appeals to the largely working-class, mostly black residents who are most affected by the city’s high levels of poverty and unemployment. But as a group of YSU academics noted in a letter to a Youngstown newspaper, “The same can be said for the manufacturing of cigarettes, alcohol, drones, high-range missiles, and nuclear warheads.”

Youngstown, of course, is especially susceptible to the promise of jobs, even at the expense of the environment and health, and that has led some on the political left to either stay out of the fight or to oppose the CBR. Younger, environmentally-conscious city residents, including proponents of urban farming and sustainability, support the CBR. Other community groups think that the ban is too localized, and want to work on statewide fights. They argue that, because of the 2004 legislation, the local CBR is unenforceable and largely symbolic. Many local Democratic Party leaders also are visibly and vocally opposing the CBR. Democratic voters see their local leadership standing arm and arm with the many of same people who have attempted to undermine unionism and voting rights in Ohio.

The proponents of the ban have been particularly troubled by the role of the city’s largest institution, Youngstown State University, and the resources it has accepted from the oil and gas industry. The impact of the university’s support of fracking has been powerful. YSU has downsized or abolished Humanities and Arts programs, while expanding its STEM (science, tech, engineering and math) college and trumpeting its training programs for promised oil and gas industry jobs that have yet to materialize in any significant degree. Some educators, like Deborah Mower, have argued that this should not be the role of the University: “Instead of merely responding to the industry need and ignoring the problems of fracking that have plagued the industry for decades, the university could create an epicenter for redressing their problems…. Perhaps lost in this discussion is the nature of education.”

CBR proponents agree with that sentiment, but they might also point out that what is really at stake is, as the organizers of an upcoming international conference phrase it, the “right to the city” versus the influence of non-residents (disclosure: I'll be speaking in May on so-called "smart shrinkage" at The Right to the City in an Era of Austerity (1973-2014) .

The oil and gas industry has spent over $100,000 to defeat the CBR, and proponents have been sued to keep it off the ballot. Meanwhile, the Beiersdofers and other CBR organizers increasingly believe that public health, science and the ballot box are being overpowered by money. But they won’t let that happen in Youngstown without a fight.

John Russo is a visiting research fellow at the Metropolitan Institute of Virginia Tech, and former co-director of the Center for Working-Class Studies / professor (emeritus) in the Williamson College of Business Administration at Youngstown State University. He is a board member of the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative (MVOC) (Youngstown-Warren), and the co-author, with Sherry Linkon, of Steeltown U.S.A.: Work and Memory in Youngstown.

Flickr photo by Don O'Brien, Red, White and Blue: In Ohio, 100-barrel tanks used to contain crude oil from gas wells.

The New Downtown Los Angeles

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 22:38

There was a time when downtown Los Angeles was the commercial center of Southern California. According to Robert Fogelson, writing in his classic Downtown: Its Rise and Fall (1880-1950)"nearly half" of Los Angeles residents went downtown every day in the middle 1920s. A time traveler from 1925 might think that to still be the case, with the concentration of tall buildings, and the frequent press reports about downtown’s resurgence.  

Downtown LA got a late start with high-rises. Until the middle 1960s, there were few buildings exceeding the 13 story height limit repealed in 1958 by city of Los Angeles. The most important exception is City Hall, opened in 1928, which is 454 feet tall (137 meters). By 1989, the city's tallest building, Library Tower (First Interstate Tower), had been opened, topping out at 1,018 feet (310 meters). The under-construction Wilshire-Grand Tower will soon rise 80 feet (25 meters) above Library Tower. From the flight path to Los Angeles International Airport (above) and many ground vistas, the vertical profile of downtown Los Angeles will continue to stand tall over the city.

Yet, far less understood is that downtown has declined in metropolitan importance for decades. Now, downtown has only 2.4 percent of employment the metropolitan area (Los Angeles and Orange Counties).  Between the 2000 Census and the 2006-2010 American Community Survey, employment in the central business district dropped approximately five percent. At least four other employment areas, all freeway oriented with lower employment density, equal or exceed downtown's employment (these include the Airport-El Segundo area and nameless employment areas straddling the Santa Ana Freeway in Los Angeles County, the Harbor and San Diego Freeways in the South Bay and the Costa Mesa Freeway in Orange County). More important still, approximately two-thirds the metropolitan area's employment is not in a large employment area at all. This dispersion of employment is one reason why Los Angeles –despite its reputation for horrendous traffic – has the shortest one-way commute time of any world megacity for which there is data.

Shifting Downtown

Following World War II, the heart of downtown Los Angeles shifted west from Broadway, Hill and Spring Streets, leaving a large stock of quality commercial buildings vacant. This was well before the end of their useful lives, yet decades of disuse followed. Most of these buildings rose to the 13 floors height limit, though one, the 18 story United California Bank headquarters at 6th and Spring, was completed not long before its competitors hired moving vans to move west. Soon after, the United California Bank built the UCB Tower (now Aon Tower) on Hope Street, with 62 floors (1973), which at the time was the tallest building in the world outside New York and Chicago.

Adaptive Reuse

The UCB Building and many more on the now more residential east side of downtown been converted to apartments and condominiums under the city's creative "adaptive reuse" ordinance, which facilitates conversions from office to residential use. According to the city of Los Angeles, the ordinance has facilitated conversion of downtown commercial space into more than 3,000 residential units. Another 7,000 are either under construction or being considered.  

The conversion of office buildings to residential has spread to post war structures, such as the Mobil Oil Building (now the Pegasus Apartments). This building, on Flower Street, was one of the earliest examples of the more modern styles that were to proliferate throughout the downtown areas of the nation. The Signal Oil Building, also one of the first to exceed the 13 story limit has also become residential (1010 Wilshire). This building had been the subject of an unusual 1980s remodeling that enlarged the footprint and the floors, while materially changing the outside angles and the decor. Another nearby office building (1100 Wilshire) sat empty for two decades after construction, before being converted to residential use.

The shift to residential makes sense given that most downtown office buildings are having difficulty filling their space. Downtown's glutted office market is indicated by a 19.2 percent vacancy rate in the fourth quarter of 2013. This is better than such market laggards as downtown Detroit or downtown Dallas, both over 20 percent, but higher than the Los Angeles suburban office vacancy rate, at 15.9 percent. Downtown’s vacancy rate is also approximately double or more those of dynamic downtowns such as San Francisco, Boston, New York, and Houston, which are all under 10 percent (Figure 1).

It appears likely that the Crocker Citizens Plaza, opened as the city's tallest building in 1969 (42 floors), is slated for conversion to residential. After Crocker Bank moved to its new Crocker Center (now Wells Fargo Center) on Bunker Hill, Crocker Citizens Plaza became the AT&T Building. AT&T vacated the building and moved to the earlier 1960s Transamerica Building, which urban legend indicates was built well south of downtown because consultants convinced the developers that this would be the center of an even larger downtown. The Transamerica, now AT&T, is even more divorced from the commercial core than when it was built. By the time Crocker Citizens Plaza (now "611 Place") is converted to residential, it could be the third tallest mixed use building in downtown.

The second tallest mixed use tower could well be the prestigious Library Tower, which stands half-empty. There are rumors that the new owners may convert a large part of the structure to condominiums and a hotel. No major office skyscraper has opened in downtown Los Angeles in the last 20 years. Nor will that change when the Wilshire Grand Tower is completed. Wilshire-Grand will only be partially an office tower and will include a hotel. Only 30 of the 73 floors will be offices. This is a climb-down from the original design, which included two buildings – a 60 story office tower and a 40 floor hotel and condominium project. The new building is little of an endorsement of downtown's office demand.

Transitioning from Adaptive Reuse?

This conversions may be the tail end of trend. DT News reports that it has become more economical for many developers to construct new residential buildings, rather than to convert empty commercial buildings. As demand has increased, so have prices of existing buildings, which makes adaptive reuse   less attractive. Further, many of the structures on Broadway, which casual observation might indicate have potential for conversion, but the density of development may make offering enough natural light difficult for residences.

Ups and Downs of Downtowns

As employment has dispersed throughout the Los Angeles area, there has been less of a need for a central business district. Among the nation's larger downtowns, only downtown Los Angeles has undertaken wholesale abandonment of its commercial core and built a new one. Perhaps this is, in part, because the 13-story height limit rendered the older buildings uneconomic for the second half of the 20th century.

New York (Manhattan), south of 59th Street also has seen its ups and downs. But New York did not abandon large swaths of development, only to move elsewhere. Downtown Chicago expanded northward along Michigan Avenue, but little if any of the Loop was ever abandoned and it has undergone continuous renewal. The West Coast's premium downtown areas, San Francisco and Seattle, have interspersed new development along with the old, and remain more important to their metropolitan areas than downtown Los Angeles, accounting for from four to six times its employment share (though still less than 15 percent). Even Houston, which most resembles Los Angeles in its post war downtown rebuild, managed its transformation without abandoning the historic core. And, at the same time, all are enjoying increasing residential demand, like downtown Los Angeles.

Rising Demand

Downtown interests are rightly proud of the rising residential population. This has occurred in many downtowns across the nation. Between 2000 and 2010, areas within 2 miles of City Hall gained 206,000 residents in the major metropolitan areas (over 1 million population). However, within in the next ring, from 2 to 5 miles from City Hall the decline in population more than compensated for the core gains (minus 272,000).

The situation was the same in Los Angeles, where the Census Bureau reports that population within 2 miles of City Hall rose 12,000, while it declined 23,000 between 2 and 5 miles. The growth of downtown Los Angeles is impressive in part because it was stagnant for so many decades. In context, however, it is no "game-changer." Overall in the last decade all growth in the Los Angeles metropolitan area was outside the 5 mile ring, and 75 percent of that was more than 20 miles from City Hall (Figure 2).

A New Species is Born

It would be a mistake to characterize the emerging downtown Los Angeles as reasserting any economic primacy. Its former function is beyond revival. This was indicated by UCLA Anderson Forecast economist David Shulman, who indicated that he was "not bullish on Downtown Los Angeles." The report by public radio station KPCC continued:

"That view runs counter to the impression that downtown L.A. is staging an urban comeback. But the resurgence is more about sports and entertainment venues, restaurants and bars, loft conversions, and hotels than it is about companies that need a lot of floors in tall buildings. Nightlife and streetscapes trump florescent light and cubicles."

This refers to the new entertainment venues, such as the Staples Center, the Walt Disney Concert Hall and "LA Live," which may be joined by a new football stadium for a proposed National Football League franchise.

The transformation of downtown Los Angeles is not so much a renaissance of a business core, but a shift into a new, and different, function. The new downtown serves a function similar to that of Wilshire Boulevard’s more heavily residential high-rise district. But it's not likely to ever resemble the Upper East Side or Upper West Side in New York, not only because its residential base will remain  small, but because downtown is hardly an ascendant business center. Downtown’s recovery as a residential district – with a population roughly equivalent to the suburb of Diamond Bar – is indeed impressive, but its role as a vital urban economic center remains relatively small. 


Photo: Downtown Los Angeles toward the Hollywood Hills and the San Fernando Valley (by author)

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He was appointed to the Amtrak Reform Council to fill the unexpired term of Governor Christine Todd Whitman and has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Why Some Nations Succeed

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 08:04

Why is it that some nations, such as Switzerland, respond quickly to the need for reform – improving railroads, health care systems and schooling – even before the systems break down? And why do other nations, such as Italy and France, wait until major crises are upon them before introducing institutional change? Some, such as Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, take a deterministic stance. The acclaimed writers of  Why Nations Fail  believe that cultural and geographical differences, or even historical accidents, put countries on to different trajectories of institutional development which are more or less conducive to growth. Although clearly relevant, this view is incomplete. There are often courageous individual leaders launch far reaching reforms that are initially unpopular, and gain acceptance first after they yield visible results.

Take Canada as an example. The country was in very bad shape when a new left-liberal government took over power in 1993. Newly appointed Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and minister of finance Paul Martin worked on introducing an ambitious reform agenda. The administration made the difficult choice of market reforms, focusing on liberalizations and reduced spending through action such as abolishing transport subsidies for farmers. These measures were not popular amongst interest groups, the general public, or within the liberal party itself. The new government even introduced higher taxation initially, in order to deal with the deficit and massive public debt. Although each of these steps on their own were anything but popular, voters acknowledges that they would together benefit the country in the long term. The Liberal party was re-elected, and continued with reformist policies. In the coming years, reductions in government spending were used both to deal with the debt and to reduce the tax burden. After yet another successful re-election, Paul Martin took over the reins and won a fourth consecutive term. Later conservative governments have built upon the same policies. Canada is now North America’s new free market role model, but combines this with more generous and effective social policies than its larger neighbor country.

In spite of ideological differences, experts often roughly agree on what reforms are needed to move forward. In Canada during the early 1990s, it was rather clear that a move towards more limited government and better business climate could boost job creation and entrepreneurship. At the same time it was also clear that similar changes were needed in countries such as Italy, France and Greece. Yet, only many years later, after experiencing stagnant growth and deep recessions, are the latter three countries grudgingly moving in this direction. One explanation might be that market reforms are less appealing in some nations than others due to ideological differences. Another is that structural changes overall are more difficult to introduce in some parts of the world. Jean-Claude Juncker, a likely candidate for the EU-presidency after two decades as Luxemburg’s Prime Minister, famously lamented “We all know what to do, we just don’t know how to get re-elected after we’ve done it.” What does it take for the general public to accept structural reforms, or even demand them?

In our new book “Renaissance for Reforms” we discuss the concept of “reform threshold”, the point at which a people demand change in response to a perceived problem or challenge. Switzerland is clearly a country with a low reform threshold. Swiss governments have reformed continuously without the catalyst effect of deep crises. According to the reform barometer compiled by the think tank Avenir Suisse, Switzerland has reformed slightly more deeply than Germany since the turn of the century. Germany reformed extensively for a few years between 2002 and 2005 as a response to high unemployment, Switzerland, without such an outside stimulus, has reformed steadily and slowly, and always from a position of economic success.

One example is that the Swiss made the unemployment insurance system stricter in order to incentivize people to find a new job. The reform in itself is not uncommon amongst developed countries. What sets Switzerland apart is that the change was introduced before dependency of unemployment insurance had reached high levels. In countries with a higher threshold for reforms, it would have been difficult to pass new rules in absence of an unemployment crisis. We believe that gradual and continuous reforms are in many ways a more advantageous approach, both from an economic and a social perspective, than major reforms following downturns. If the Swiss had opted to retain the previous system, a future crisis may have forced sudden and dramatic cut backs.

Canadians, much like the Swiss, have shown an interest in reforms that can boost growth, although the two nations already have amongst the best business climates in the world. One explanation is that previous positive experience has raised the appetite for change. Focus is more on how to expand economic and social opportunities in society overall, compared to France, Italy and Greece where the debate centers on how existing resources can be distributed.

Reducing the resistance to reform is easier said than done in most countries. What is needed is long-term commitment to change combined with an evidence-based approach where each reform is objectively studied by researchers in order to map its effects. Institutional competition is another key element. The Swiss test many ideas in their Cantons before introducing them on federal level. If the general public believes that changes are not introduces on a whim, but rather can be shown to have certain effects, support for change will likely increase. In the long-run, we believe that the low threshold for gradual institutional change that exists in Switzerland and Canada is a key for good governance. Perfect political systems are impossible to achieve, but it is still possible to adapt routinely to a changing world. And for each good policy, hopefully the threshold for introducing the next one can be lowered. 

Dr. Nima Sanandaji is a frequent writer for the New Geography. Stefan Fölster is Professor of economics at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden and director of the Reform Institute. The authors are upcoming with the book ”Renaissance for Reforms” which is co-published by Timbro and the Institute of Economic Affairs.

The Rise of the Executive Headquarters

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 22:38

Headquarters were once a defining characteristic of urban economic power, and indeed today cities that can still brag of the number of entries they boast on the Fortune 500 list of largest American firms. Yet as urban centers increasingly lost headquarters, boosters started to downplay them as a metric, particularly with the rise of the so-called “global city” concept. Today the HQ is back into the urban mix, but increasingly as what I would call the “executive headquarters” which brings bragging rights to a city but not much in terms of middle class jobs.

The corporate headquarters in a downtown skyscraper took a beating during the 70s, 80s, and 90s as America’s inner cities went into decline. Why locate in a decaying, lawless, dysfunctional urban setting that seemed destined for the scrap heap when the shiny suburbs beckoned?  Indeed, companies increasingly vacated downtowns for massive suburban office campuses, frequently in idyllic, pastoral settings where employees would exist in a cocooned bubble without any but approved distractions such as on site gyms, dry cleaning, cafeterias, and daycare.

Tom Wolfe, writing of the early 90s recession in New York, presciently pointed out the one thing that continued to hold urban allure for many CEOs, namely the lavish lunch:

Eight years before 9/11, financial services and commercial real estate were superseded as driving forces in the New York economy by the restaurants appearing in boldface in Zagat’s. The exodus of corporations from New York during the near-depression of 1992-95 was stanched by a single thing: lunch. The C.E.O.’s would do anything rather than give up the daily celebrations of their eminence at eateries in the town where the wining and dining were as good azagats. (I know, I know; just read it out loud.) The case could be made that any post-9/11 federal appropriations to prop up business in New York should go first to the places where you can get Chilean sea bass with a Georgia plum marmalade glaze on a bed of mashed Hayman potatoes laced with leeks, broccoli rabe and emulsion of braised Vidalia onions infused with Marsala vinegar.

Many CEOs might prefer to be close to home, but others enjoyed hobnobbing with their peers and getting treated like royalty at the Four Seasons.

Yet even as many corporate headquarters were leaving and as Time magazine published its “Rotting of the Big Apple” cover in 1990, it was clear major change was already afoot. The cleanup had begun in the mid-1980s and by the 90s Americas biggest cities were on the way back.

How could the urban center be coming back while headquarters bled away? The answer was the rise of the global economy and the services based “global city”. Saskia Sassen and other writers pioneered the analysis of this new entity.  In this world the complexities of the global economy generated demand for new forms of financial and producer services needed to manage and control the far flung networks of the global corporation. These highly specialized services providers were subject to clustering economics and concentrated in large urban centers like New York, London, and Chicago where they provided a new type of urban economic vitality.

Sassen specifically says, “The key sector specifying the distinctive production advantages of global cities is the highly specialized and networked intermediate economy rather than corporate headquarters. In developing this argument, I am responding to a very common notion that the number of headquarters is what specifies a global city.”

This not only provided an explanation for why urban centers could economically rebound while simultaneously losing headquarters, but from a civic marketing perspective it provided a justification for pooh-poohing the loss of HQs as much ado about nothing.  Headquarters were yesterday’s news anyway.

Except that they weren’t. In recent years we’ve seen increasing evidence of the return of the corporate headquarters to the global city, a phenomenon I identified in 2008.  Today the “back to the city” theme for corporations is much written about, and the headquarters is once again conveniently seen as a signifier of urban strength.

But in most cases this is not the old monolithic headquarters of yore, with their thousands of employees. Rather this takes the form of an “executive headquarters.” That is, a headquarters consisting largely of the C-suite and a small number of other very senior leaders and support staff.

These have been around for a while, but traditionally existing to serve the desire of the CEO to live in a particular city. Men’s Wearhouse established headquarters in Fremont, CA for example, but most of the corporate employees are located in Houston. Lincoln National moved its executive headquarters to Philadelphia from Ft. Wayne, IN but the distribution of employment was barely affected. Both were CEO living preference driven.

The people in “executive headquarters” are precisely those who most need proximity to the global city service providers that increasingly form a key part of company operations. Also, recruiting executive talent and proximity to airports play a role. And when companies want to think in a totally global manner, they can want to have their main office physically separate from any particular operating location.

There are numerous examples. In Chicago alone, MillerCoors moved its top staff from Milwaukee. Mead Johnson Nutrionals established an executive headquarters in the suburbs away from its main Evansville, IN base. Boeing’s move to Chicago from Seattle can be seen in the same light. And just recently agribusiness giant ADM announced it was moving its HQ from Decatur, IL to Chicago.

The Mead Johnson case is instructional. According to press reports at the time:

Working in a large city will make it easier to conduct business throughout the world. Mead Johnson makes Enfamil and similar products and about half of its sales come from overseas. Having offices near Chicago, for instance, will place executives in close proximity to global-business consultants, leaders in the field of nutrition and an international airport.

Between 40 and 60 people will work in the corporate offices, most of them in new positions. Evansville will retain the company’s operations in research and development, U.S. sales and marketing and information management, as well as a bulk of the finance and human-resources departments, Paradossi said. Mead Johnson’s liquid products will continue to be made in Evansville, he said.

Note the stated reasons for the move, as well as the small number of people involved.  The ADM move is similar, with only about 100 jobs initially. This suggests that while headquarters are in some cases coming back to the global city, they aren’t brining many jobs.  Also, many second tier business centers like Indianapolis continue to see their downtown job base hollowed out apart from hot sectors like technology.

The executive headquarters is one more example of the increasing bifurcation of America’s elite cities. A handful of top executives gather in America’s capitals of capitalism while the good paying core of the old headquarters – including many upper middle class positions – remain in more workaday cities. This but one example of the “growth without growth” model in which cities dispense with “old fashioned” notions like population and job growth in favor of higher per capita GDP and income in which parts of cities thrive by becoming downtown versions of the exclusive gated subdivision.

A few cases have gone beyond this, with even more wholesale moves back to the core. United Airlines moved 3,000 to the Chicago Loop from Elk Grove Village. And Google is moving 2,500 people from Libertyville as a result of the Motorola Mobility purchase. (This unit is already being sold to Lenovo, however). These more substantial moves could bring more bread and butter jobs.

But as a recent column in the Economist noted, investors are putting huge pressures on companies to slim down bloated overheads. This does not bode well for bringing middle-skilled jobs to expensive headquarters locations. Additionally, the rise of telecommuting the and 1099 economy, just in time offices, co-working spaces, etc. are transforming the way people work and putting further pressure on the traditional HQ.  Office floor plates are expensive, and increasing numbers of people no longer want to spend their days toiling away in the salt mines of cubicle farms anyway.

Where does this lead?  If there’s one thing the last few decades have shown it’s that the only constant is constant change.  With unpredictable market dynamics and various iterations of the cycle of reincarnation (centralizing vs. decentralizing, etc), even the shift to selected downtowns may bring fewer benefits to the urban economy than imagined, and could ultimately accelerate the bifurcation between a small elite population and largely poor communities around them.

Aaron M. Renn is an independent writer on urban affairs and the founder of Telestrian, a data analysis and mapping tool. He writes at The Urbanophile.

Boeing Chicago photo by J. Crocker.

Don't make big-city mayors regional rulers

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 22:38

Given the quality of leadership in Washington, it’s not surprising that many pundits are shifting focus to locally based solutions to pressing problems. This increasingly includes many progressives, who historically have embraced an ever-more expansive federal government.

In many ways, this constitutes an extraordinarily positive development. Political decentralization is built into the very framework of American democracy, as Alexis de Tocqueville, among others, recognized. If Paris dominated France and London dominated England, in America, he noted, “intelligence and power is dispersed abroad.”

Yet, there’s a problem with how the decentralist argument is taking shape. Increasingly, it is becoming a movement to create ever more powerful regional governments, which tend to be dominated by large cities, their mayors and their power blocs, whether unions, bureaucracies or politically connected developers. The notion of mayors running the world has been endorsed by writers such as Benjamin Barber, and has had the strong backing of Bruce Katz of Brookings, who appears to have lost sight of his long-held faith in the federal government.

Not surprisingly, Katz and other have found a new way to press their agenda: regional governments as essentially extended cities. Like many progressive decentralists, he likes handing more power to big-city mayors, themselves generally presiding over one-party (Democratic) systems.

This notion of mayors uber alles was recently celebrated at an event in Chicago where mayors such as Atlanta’s Karim Reed, Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, New York’s Bill de Blasio and Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel claimed that big cities were the future and, where, as Reed put it, “the action is.”

It’s hard to underestimate the hubris of this assessment. Despite the slowing down from the Great Recession, the vast majority of American demographic growth and job growth continues to go either into the suburban rings or to low-density sprawling regions, such as Houston, Phoenix and Dallas-Fort Worth, where urban areas and their peripheries are more similar than different.

U.S. suburbs now account for 2.7 times the population of core cities. High-density migration, much-heralded by the urban decentralizers, remains a distinctly minority phenomena, while the largest outmigration tends to be from big, dense cities and to suburbs, less-dense and smaller cities and towns.

Nor can we see in the mayors some sort of archetype for greater governance. Chicago, under Rahm Emanuel, is hardly an exemplar of efficiency or good fiscal management. The city’s credit rating is among the worst of any municipality, while the economy remains “sub-par,” as a recent bank analyst report shows. Chicago schools are almost bankrupt, and the city’s murder rate is higher than during the Prohibition years.

In fact, the city, whose debt load is now the heaviest of any large American city other than Detroit, has now experienced repeated downgrades, and estimated debt now exceeds, by some estimates, more than $60,000 per household.

Yet despite this, Emanuel is still hailed, most recently in a Financial Times profile, as “Mayor America” and even touted as a presidential candidate. Emanuel’s backers can note that many of these problems stem from the more than two-decade Daley regime. Yet, Emanuel was, and remains, part of the Daley machine, and even got his start as a Daley fundraiser. To consider him primarily a tough reformer – outside his often foul-mouthed manner – is patently ludicrous.

Much the same can be said about L.A.’s Eric Garcetti, who, although certainly an upgrade from Antonio Villaraigosa, was a member, even president, of the same City Council that has driven the city to the brink of financial ruin.

Much of the problem stems from union power: the city is spending 18 percent of its budget on pensions, three times the level a decade ago. Los Angeles has among the nation’s weakest urban economies – 28 percent of residents are considered poor – and its unemployment rate of roughly 10 percent is well above both the county and statewide averages and twice that of San Francisco.

In many ways, Atlanta’s Reed is barely qualified to speak for his region, as his city constitutes not even 10 percent of the area’s population. Nor is it a particularly successful locale, suffering among the highest crime rates of any big city in the country and, according to one recent study, the most severe inequality of any U.S. core city.

Generally speaking, big-city leaders chant a populist rap, but generally it’s the densest urbanized places – San Francisco, Washington D.C., Boston, New York, Miami and, sadly, Los Angeles – that are also the most unequal places.

Perhaps the only real potential reformer in the group is New York City’s de Blasio, who took office a few months ago. While de Blasio wants to shake things up, his tendency seems to be making things worse. Certainly his attempt to shut down charter schools, which offer an alternative to traditional public schools, particularly for poorer families, hardly represents a step forward. He may be the people’s choice, but it’s likely he will serve, first and foremost, public employee interests, who have been his main political backers.

This story originally appeared at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

City Hall photo by Flickr user OZinOH.

No Joke: It Couldn't Get Much Better In Fargo

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 07:14

This week the coastal crowd will get another opportunity to laugh at the zany practices of those living in the frozen reaches of the Great Plains. The new television series “Fargo,” based on the 1996 Coen brothers movie, will no doubt be filled with fearsome violence mixed with the proper amount of Scandinavian reserve and wry humor — the very formula that made the original such a hit.

Yet how much will “Fargo” the series resemble the real places? Probably not much. For one thing the series only uses Fargo as a kind of marker; the action actually takes place in Bemidji, Minn., a small town of 12,000 over two hours away. I know distances are seen differently in the northern Plains, but the whole idea seems a bit of a stretch. Located in forest and lake country, many locals would not even consider the Minnesota town part of the Plains.

Less known to the sophistos who will watch the show is that Fargo, a metro area with over 200,000 people, and the state of North Dakota have been enjoying a sustained boom for a decade. This resurgence — in demographics, economics and real estate — follows decades of relative decline and an almost sullen sense of isolation that drove many people out of the state.

In a state where the unofficial motto seems to be “it could be worse” — not a bad notion given the often miserable weather — things couldn’t be much better. North Dakota leads the nation in virtually every indicator of prosperity: the lowest unemployment rate, and the highest rates of net in-migration, income growth and job creation. Last year North Dakota wages rose a remarkable 8.9%, twice as much as Utah and Texas, which shared honors for second place, and many times the 1% rise experienced nationwide.

The once dreary predictions of demographic decline — epitomized by the proposal two New Jersey academics to turn the area into a “Buffalo Commons” — have been reversed. North Dakota now lures many college graduates from out of state and keeps more of its own as well. Today more than half of North Dakotans aged 25-44 have post-secondary degrees, among the highest percentages in the nation, and well above the roughly 40% number for the rest of the country.

Many will ascribe the state’s rise primarily to the energy boom. To be sure the fastest growth in North Dakota and other Plains states has been in the areas closest to the oil and gas finds. But over the past decade, the population of the Plains has expanded by 14%, well above the national average and far faster than the Midwest, the Northeast or California.

This Plains resurgence is taking place even in areas far from energy development. Fargo, for example, is six hours hard driving from Williston, the center of the Bakken range. Yet despite this the area’s population has been growing, up 20% in the last decade, twice the national average. Since 2010, over 8,000 more people have come to the Fargo metro area, which extends to the Minnesota city of Moorhead, than have left. In fact, the small cities of the Dakotas have been growing faster than the nation for well more than a decade, before the recent energy boom took off.

The growth in Fargo has come not so much from energy, but an expanding industrial and technology sector. STEM employment is up nearly 40% since 2001, compared to 3% nationally. It also leads all other U.S. metro areas in the growth in the number of mid-skilled jobs, providing good wages to people with two-year or certificate degrees. Between 2009 and 2011, mid-skilled employment grew 5%, roughly 10 times the national average. No surprise then that the population with BAs in Fargo has grown 50% in the last decade, well above the 40% rate for the rest of the country.

Yet perhaps nothing illustrates the dramatic changes in Fargo better than its downtown area. Twenty years ago, when I first visited the city, downtown was torpid on a good day. Storefronts were old, funky and often empty. The local hotels ranged between acceptable to sorry.

But in the past decade downtown Fargo has seen a crush of new investment; property values have more than doubled since 2000. Mid-range apartment complexes are sprouting up, all pitching themselves to millennial professionals who value a more pedestrian-oriented environment. The founder of Great Plains Software, now Microsoft Business Systems, Doug Burgum, has proposed to build a 23-story office tower downtown. Not surprisingly, it would be the tallest building in the state.

Some are rightfully skeptical about some of these ambitious plans given the low cost of development on the periphery and the region’s basically non-urban mindset. But the feel has certainly changed, with several high-end restaurants, huge numbers of bars (befitting the German and Scandinavian roots of the area’s population), offering a rising number of local brews. There’s even a boutique hotel, the Donaldson, founded by Burgum’s ex-wife Karen, decorated with Plains art, and run by a friendly, highly professional staff.

The people even look different than a decade or two ago. The bars and restaurants now host a more attractive group of young professionals and meandering divorcees. The change is so striking that I have been pitching friends in L.A. to produce a North Dakota version of the “Real Housewives” reality series.

None of this is likely to be revealed in the new “Fargo” TV show. After all, the place has one of the lowest crime rates in the country, a full third below the national average; with only 11 murders since 2000, it’s hardly the Baltimore of the “Wire” or “Treme.” But murder sells better than contentment, or at least makes for more riveting entertainment about the place, unless I can find buyers for my “Housewives” idea. But unlike in the past, Fargo residents don’t have to cringe about this latest Hollywood assault and its impact on their image. Things are good enough that they can afford to laugh; it certainly could be a lot worse.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Hotel Donaldson photo By jeffreykreger

Guess What? The Parties are About Even!

Wed, 04/09/2014 - 22:38

I’ve written extensively about American presidential elections, trying to understand the nature of Democratic success in 2008 and 2012. Many pundits use these elections and changing demographics and public attitudes to write off the future of the Grand Old Party. But this would be a mistake, because we also know that Republicans have a majority in the House of Representatives and in the state legislatures. They also could well get a majority in the US Senate in 2014. Hardly a death spiral.

Certainly, gerrymandering played a role, and Democrats won a majority of the popular vote for Congress, but the majority was smaller than the margin for president, which was not as large as widely believed, and considerably less than in 2008. Given this confusion it is worth trying to make a more accurate assessment of the D and R balance.  It turns out that there is a peculiar geography of the electorate at all levels and across states, that tends to help Democrats at the statewide level, due to concentrated block voting and concentrations in cities while Republicans, who hold sway over a wider geographic area, at sub-state levels. Obama won 332 electoral votes, 61%, far above his 52% share of the national vote. Democrats won 51 % of the total vote for Congress but won only 200 seats, 46 % of 435, a shortfall of up to 21 seats.

Besides the votes for president and the House of Representatives in 2012, we can look at the latest result for all 100 Senate seats, for governors of the states, and for all state legislators, in order to get a more honest assessment of Red and Blue America. What states are truly blue or red, and how many are actually more balanced than we might have thought?  Finally it may be useful to compare the actual votes with opinion polls, which seem to show a country somewhat less “liberal” than electoral results. Perhaps voters are a little more liberal than they admit, but let’s see what the fuller set of data show.


Democrats won 332 electoral votes, 52 or 10% more than their “fair share” of 280  (52% of 538 electors).  The reason for the imbalance is simply that the peculiar geography in 2012 gave the Democrats small margins in some critically large states. For Obama, CA, 55 electoral votes, FL, 29, NY, 29, IL, 20, PA 20, OH, 18, and MI, 16, versus for Romney, TX, 38, GA, 16 and NC, 15. If Romney had carried just the close OH, FL, and PA, he would have won the election!  No wonder Republicans became interested in adopting the Maine and Nebraska allocation of electors by congressional district! However there is no logical basis for allocation by congressional districts, an unrelated office. Rather there is a rational and logical argument to allocate simply by the party shares of the popular vote in states. Table A shows the effect. Obama would have won but by the small margin of 275 to 263 electoral votes, reflecting the actual close division in the electorate.

Table A Electoral Votes 2012 Electoral Votes 2012   Actual D Electoral Votes Actual R Electoral Votes D If Allocated by Statewide Vote Shares R If Allocated by Statewide Vote Shares AL 9 3 6 AK 3 1 2 AZ 11 5 6 AR 6 2 4 CA 55 33 22 CO 9 5 4 CT 7 4 3 DE 3 2 1 DC 3 3 0 FL 29 15 14 GA 16 7 9 HI 4 3 1 ID 3 1 2 IL 20 12 8 IN 11 5 6 IA 6 3 3 KS 6 2 4 KY 8 3 5 LA 8 3 5 ME 4 2 2 MD 10 6 4 MA 11 7 4 MI 16 9 7 MN 10 5 5 MS 6 3 3 MO 10 4 6 MT 3 1 2 NE 5 2 3 NV 6 3 3 NH 4 2 2 NJ 14 8 6 NM 5 3 2 NY 29 18 11 NC 15 7 8 ND 3 1 2 OH 18 9 9 OK 7 2 5 OR 7 4 3 PA 20 10 10 RI 4 3 1 SC 9 4 5 SD 3 1 2 TN 11 4 7 TX 38 16 22 UT 6 1 5 VT 3 2 1 VA 13 7 6 WA 12 7 5 WV 5 2 3 WI 10 5 5 WY 3 1 2 Total 332 205 275 263



The situation is quite different for Congress (the House), where Republicans won 235 seats to the Democrats 200, while according to the total popular vote, the Democrats would gain a small majority based on their 50.8% share of the total vote,  of 221 to 214 seats (Table B) .  A lot has already been written about this, including charges of theft by gerrymandering. But if we analyze the peculiar geography again carefully, we will find that the net additional seats for the Democrats, if the seats in each state reflected the actual vote, would only be 15, not enough for a majority, simply because so many D votes are “wasted” in safe districts. In 17 states, Democrats won more seats than their share of the vote, 23, but Republicans won 38 “extra” seats in the other 33 states. 

Table B Actual and ideal seats in the House of Representatives State Seats in state Ideal D (according to vote share) Actual D Difference Dem % CA 53 33 38 5 62% NY 27 18 21 3 65% MA 9 7 9 2 75% IL 18 10 12 2 55% MD 8 5 7 2 65% CT 5 3 5 2 66% NH 2 1 2 1 52% AZ 9 4 5 1 46% RI 2 1 2 1 59% ME 2 1 2 1 62% HI 2 1 2 1 67% WA 10 5 6 1 54% OR 5 3 4 1 58% MN 8 5 5 0 56% NM 3 2 2 0 55% DE 1 1 1 0 66% VT 1 1 1 0 76% 165 100 124 23 NV 4 2 2 0 50% MT 1 0 0 0 45% IA 4 2 2 0 52% WV 3 1 1 0 40% WY 1 0 0 0 26% AK 1 0 0 0 31% UT 4 1 1 0 33% CO 7 3 3 0 49% SDS 1 0 0 0 43% ND 1 0 0 0 43% LA 6 1 1 0 24% MS 4 1 1 0 37% ID 2 1 0 1 34% NJ 12 7 6 1 56% GA 14 6 5 1 41% KS 4 1 0 1 21% WI 8 4 3 1 51% NE 3 1 0 1 36% AR 4 1 0 1 32% TN 9 3 2 1 37% KY 6 2 1 1 40% MO 8 3 2 1 43% AL 7 3 1 2 36% OK 5 2 0 2 32% SC 7 3 1 2 42% IN 9 4 2 2 46% MI 14 7 5 2 53% TX 36 14 12 2 40% VA 11 5 3 2 49% NC 13 7 4 3 51% FL 27 13 10 3 47% OH 16 8 4 4 48% PA 18 9 5 4 51% US 270 119 77 38 49%


Note that 54 Democrats won by over 75%, compared to 34 for Republicans. Still, this does leave  probably 8 or 9 districts won by Republicans because of clever gerrymanders, sometimes proudly proclaimed, as in OH and PA, 2 each, and one each in FL, MI, NC,VA and WI, more than offsetting the likely D gerrymander against Republicans in IL. But Democrats would still have lost if there had been no gerrymandering, and the net implication is that the peculiar geography of the Democrat vote means   that it takes at least a 53% total Democratic plurality to win enough of the relatively few close seats to win a majority of the House.


At 2 seats per state regardless of population, Republicans have an inherent advantage to obtain a majority of senators (or governors), since they dominate a majority of states, and Democrats are over-concentrated in a few larger states. The fact that Democrats currently hold 52 of seats plus the support of independents in VT and ME, is a consequence of the timing of Senate elections and perhaps reflects the extremism of some Republican candidates, who alienated enough middle road, independent voters to swing races to the Democrats. It is also significant that in 15 states voters clearly chose to have senators from both  major parties, indicating either that polarization is not so extreme as proclaimed, or that there are a number of closely divided states, that can vote R or D depending on  issues, personalities, and timing. Please see the summary table C for a listing by strength of the D or R votes for senators across the states. The highest D shares (both seats) were in VT, RI, and NY, for Republicans in WY, TN, SD, and ID.


Republicans hold 29 of the 50 governors, perhaps an underlying indicator of a Republican majority. Yet, from the table you will see that Democrats elected governors in several states that lean Republican overall e.g., MO, AR, MT, and WV, and that there are Republican governors in several states won by Obama, e.g., MI, NV, NM, ME, and NJ. This ambivalence undermines any simple and strict Red versus Blue dichotomy. Many voters are not as utterly polarized as proclaimed. The most extreme Republican votes were in WY, NE, UT LA, and TN, and the highest Democratic shares in DE, NY and yes, AR, which voted only 38% for Obama.


Legislatures are controlled by Republicans in a majority, 26, of states, with Democrats in control in 20 states, with four state divided: Iowa, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Virginia (almost), and even Washington (de facto). The legislatures are overall the most Republican-leaning of the elections analyzed. But even here, the average share of Democrats in legislatures is a respectable 46 percent. The most extremely Republican legislatures are in WY, UT, ID, KS, TN, and SD and the most extremely Democratic are, predictably, in HI, RI, MA, VT and MD. Again in recognition that a simple red and blue dichotomy is not that certain is the fact that in four states, KY, IA, VA, and NH, the legislative houses are split between the parties.

So what is the best estimate of the real division between Red and Blue America?

Table C ranks the states by my composite average index based on the races for president, the House of Representatives, state legislatures, US senators and governors. The numbers (percents) are the Democratic share of the vote for president, for the US house, for US senators and for governors, but for state legislatures, the percent shares of legislators who are Democrats. The final column Is a simple average of these five values. In this way I can distinguish those states which are consistently Democrat or Republican, from those which really are less polarized and more balanced.

TABLE C: Summary of Democratic-Republican Voting Record Electoral Votes President %D Congress %D State Legislatures Senators %D Governors %D Number of D Wins Composite Index Sen %D House %D Legis Ave. Type WY 3 28.8 25.7 13.3 13.3 13.3 25 27 0 24.0 R++ UT 6 25.4 33.4 17.2 18.7 18.0 34.75 34 0 29.1 R++ KS 6 38.9 20.9 22.5 26.4 24.5 33.25 36 0 30.7 R++ ID 4 33.6 33.9 17.1 18.6 17.9 33.5 39 0 31.6 R++ OK 7 33.2 32.4 25.0 28.7 26.9 35 40 0 33.5 R++ TN 11 39.6 36.8 21.2 27.6 24.4 34 35 0 34.0 R++ SD 3 40.8 42.6 20.0 24.3 22.1 31.25 38.5 0 35.0 R++ NE 5 38.9 35.8 42 27 0 35.9 R+  ND 3 39.9 43.2 28.3 24.5 26.4 36.75 35.5 0 36.3 R+  AL 9 38.8 36.0 25.5 37.1 31.3 35.6 42 0 36.7 R+  LA 8 41.3 23.9 41.0 42.9 41.9 47.5 34 0 37.7 R+  AK 3 42.7 30.9 35.0 37.5 36.3 38.25 41 0 37.8 R+  MS 6 44.2 36.9 36.5 47.9 42.2 40.3 38 0 40.3 R GA 16 46.0 40.8 32.1 33.3 32.7 41.75 46 0 41.5 R TX 38 42.0 40.0 38.7 36.7 37.7 43.25 45 0 41.6 R SC 9 44.7 42.0 39.1 37.7 38.4 38.25 48 0 42.3 R IN 11 44.8 45.8 26.0 31.0 28.5 47.25 48.2 0 42.9 R AZ 11 45.4 45.6 43.3 40.0 41.7 43.25 45 0 44.2 R FL 29 50.4 47.0 35.0 38.3 36.7 40.5 49.3 1 44.8 R MO 10 45.2 43.3 29.4 32.5 31.0 49.5 55.5 1 44.9 R KY 8 38.5 40.0 40.0 55.0 47.5 45.7 56 1 45.5 R NC 15 49.0 50.9 36.0 35.8 35.9 48.5 44.5 1 45.8 R OH 18 51.5 47.9 30.3 39.4 34.8 47 49.5 1 46.2 R 239 AR 6 37.8 32.3 40.0 49.0 44.5 59.75 64.5 2 47.8 BalR MT 3 43.0 44.5 46.0 37.0 41.5 62 50.5 2 48.3 BalR WI 10 53.5 50.8 45.5 39.4 42.4 50.5 47 3 48.8 BalR PA 20 52.7 50.8 46.0 45.8 45.9 51.5 45.5 3 49.3 BalR IA 6 53.0 51.5 52.0 47.0 49.5 48.6 45 2 49.5 BalR WV 5 36.3 40.1 70.6 54.0 62.3 57.5 52 3 49.6 BalR 50 MI 16 54.8 52.7 31.6 46.4 39.0 61.5 42 3 50.0 BalD VA 13 52.0 49.0 50.0 32.0 41.0 59 50.8 3 50.4 BalD NH 4 52.8 52.2 45.8 55.3 50.5 45.25 54 4 51.0 BalD NV 6 53.4 49.8 52.4 64.3 58.3 50.5 46 3 51.6 BalD 39 CO 9 52.7 48.6 54.3 56.9 55.6 52.25 56 4 53.0 D NM 5 55.3 55.2 59.5 55.7 57.6 56.5 46.4 4 54.2 D ME 4 57.9 61.7 60.0 56.7 58.3 46.5 49 3 54.7 D WA 12 57.6 54.4 51.0 56.1 53.6 56.5 51.5 5 54.7 D OR 8 56.3 58.0 53.3 57.6 55.5 54.75 50.4 5 55.0 D MN 10 53.9 56.3 58.2 54.5 56.3 58.25 50.5 5 55.1 D NJ 14 59.0 55.6 60.0 60.0 60.0 58 46 4 55.7 D IL 20 58.6 55.4 67.8 60.2 64.0 59.5 50.5 5 57.6 D CT 7 58.8 65.5 61.1 64.9 63.0 55.25 50.3 5 58.6 D CA 55 61.9 62.0 68.4 70.0 69.2 58.25 53 5 60.9 D+ MD 10 63.3 65.5 74.5 69.5 72.0 61.25 56 5 63.6 D+ NY 29 64.3 64.8 52.4 70.5 61.4 67.25 62 5 64.0 D+ DE 3 59.4 65.8 61.9 65.9 63.9 62.75 70 5 64.4 D+ RI 4 64.0 59.0 84.2 92.0 88.1 69 53 5 66.6 D++ MA 11 61.8 74.9 90.0 81.9 85.9 60 52 5 66.9 D++ VT 3 68.2 75.6 76.7 67.6 72.1 69 51 5 67.2 D++ HI 4 71.7 67.5 96.0 86.3 91.1 69.3 58 5 71.5 D++ DC 3 95.0                   211


Overall 23 states with 239 electoral votes lean fairly strongly Republican across the 5 measures, despite Obama carrying FL and OH, and six more states were somewhat balanced, but leaning moderately Republican, with 50 electoral votes. Of these Obama won 3, WI, PA, and VA, but none of the 5 Obama-carried states in these sets can be considered safely Democratic. Seven states had composite indices less than 35% D, a fairly extreme set. Five states were quite Republican with indices 35 to 40 Democratic, and a larger number, 11, were less strongly or consistently Republican (indices 40 to 46}. The six marginally Republican states, with indices 47.8 to 49.6, all have a mixed pattern of Democratic and of Republican majority percents. AR, MT and WV are an interesting subset, with a less “urban liberal” kind of Democratic tradition.

Seventeen states (plus the District of Columbia) have Democratic indices over 53. With four (RI, VT, HI, MA) and DC in the over 65 set, 4 in the moderately strong D set, 60 to 65, CA, MD, NY, and DE, and then  9 is the group with D indices from 53 to 60.  But note that 4 of these had a Republican majority in some category. The remaining 4 states with indices from 50 to 52, are only marginally D, and indeed are quite mixed across the categories, almost a classic definition of balance. What all the 21 D leaning states have in common is that Obama won them in 2012.

In summary Republicans are stronger overall in 29 states with 289 electoral votes, to Democrats in 21 states (+DC) with 249 electoral votes. Democrats can overcome this territorial Republicanism only by the peculiar geography of their huge urban vote, which can enable them to carry marginally Republican states.

Thus, as to the presidential election in 2016, is there hope for the Republicans? I am convinced that there is now a national consensus that the time has come for a woman president, and that Hilary Clinton can match or even beat Obama’s lopsided 2008 victory, because potentially millions of women will defy their husbands and desert their otherwise moderate conservatism and vote for Clinton. Otherwise the Democrats would be in a desperate situation.

But 2014 is an entirely different proposition. If we ignore the first column (presidential), Republicans are in a very strong position for the Senate, the House, governors, and legislatures.  This outcome is likely, despite the demographic transition from domination by older white males to younger, more liberal, more urban generations. But moderately conservative folk remain the majority, as attested to by the latest national polls. For example, Gallup polls show conservatives at 38%, liberals at 23 (the highest ever but still unimpressive) and moderates at 34%. The Republican failure to take advantage of this inherent moderate majority reflects the problem with reactionary conservatism that enables Democrats, and liberals (not coincident) to thrive beyond their numbers.

Richard Morrill is Professor Emeritus of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Washington. His research interests include: political geography (voting behavior, redistricting, local governance), population/demography/settlement/migration, urban geography and planning, urban transportation (i.e., old fashioned generalist).

Ukrainian and Russian: The Geo-Politics of Language

Tue, 04/08/2014 - 22:38

The Russian-speaking population of Ukraine has been at a disadvantage since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the Ukrainian parliament, this occasionally erupts in violent brawls caught on YouTube; for average citizens, it is a humanitarian problem. Early on in this conflict the Peace Corps instructed its volunteers in Ukraine to avoid speaking Russian whenever possible. This almost certainly stoked the tensions that have now, years later, destabilized the country.

In the fall of 1997, just after graduating from college with a degree in English and Russian Studies, I completed Peace Corps training in the city of Cherkassy, then was sent north to Chernigov, my placement city. I then spent several weeks in Kiev before “early terminating” – that’s Peace Corps jargon for leaving your assignment before completing the customary two years of volunteer service.

The cities where I clocked time in Ukraine are all situated along the northern section of the Dnieper River, which serves as a dividing line between the Ukrainian-dominant west and the Russian-speaking east. Most of the people I met in this central region preferred conversing with me in Russian, or lapsing into Surzhik, the cozy colloquial hodge-podge of both languages. Yet Peace Corps maintained a rather adamant policy that Ukrainian was the preferred language for all our interactions with the Ukrainian public in this part of the country. Ukrainian had become the country’s only official language after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This never sat well with me. Peace Corps Ukraine volunteers were instructed to side with a single language in a bilingual country. Now that Russia has annexed Crimea and is threatening a military invasion of eastern Ukraine, I can’t help but see the Peace Corps’ approach as evidence of America’s interference in a cultural conflict in which it should never have been a player.

Other volunteers told me that in its early years, Peace Corps taught everyone Ukrainian, even the volunteers who were placed in Crimea and the far eastern cities like Donetsk, Kharkov, and Lugansk, where almost all of the locals spoke little or no Ukrainian. Eventually, Peace Corps conceded that these volunteers were better off learning Russian, when it became clear that they were being sent into the field woefully unprepared to communicate.

In the central part of the country, where both languages were relevant, we were told that we needed to be role models for the citizens who knew Ukrainian but were more comfortable speaking Russian. These people were complacent, they told us; lazy, even. They only spoke Russian because the Soviet Union had forced it on them in school for several generations. If they heard Americans speaking Ukrainian better than they did, they would feel ashamed of themselves, and that was a good thing (or so we were told).

We were also warned to keep an eye out for that ugly plague of Surzhik, and not to let it infect our use of either language. And Surzhik was everywhere – on the trolleys, in the stores, on the local television news. Even the intelligent mother and daughter I lived with during training used it to speak with each other. They had been warned by the Peace Corps about modeling sloppy language for us, though, so they mostly spoke to me in clean Russian, except for a few days when we made a token effort to converse in Ukrainian after somebody from Peace Corps scolded them for letting me speak so much Russian.

As somebody with an academic interest in linguistics and language history, I knew that forcing a language on a population, even a language that may have been at one time forced out of them, was an age-old recipe for discontent and conflict. I even had a hard time thinking ill of Surzhik, though I could hear it corrupting both languages as people spoke. Much as we may try to pin down correct usage with grammatical rules, dictionaries, and textbooks, language is ultimately democratic, its evolution driven by the people who speak it. It may have been ugly to some people’s ears, but from a linguistic point of view Surzhik was a perfectly natural development for speakers torn between two rival languages.

Mine wasn’t necessarily a majority view of the country’s language politics. Plenty of Peace Corps volunteers believed they were benefitting the country by speaking textbook Ukrainian, even when people struggled to converse with them. These folks would respond with friendly scorn when I expressed a preference for speaking Russian because it was easier for me to communicate with people and forge relationships. There were other language problems, too: One woman assigned near the border in southwestern Ukraine told me most people in her town spoke Romanian. Other parts of the west had strongly Polish-influenced dialects.

The more urgent stories of language oppression, though, came from Ukrainians themselves: a university student during the Soviet Union collapse, for example. She considered herself Ukrainian, but her family and friends only ever spoke Russian. The Ukrainian language was a minor academic requirement for her in school; she never learned to speak it with any fluency. When Ukraine gained its independence and Ukrainian was declared the official language, she and other Russian-speaking students suddenly found themselves in classes conducted strictly in Ukrainian.

Of course, Ukrainians in the western part of the country had plenty of legitimate complaints about being forced to learn Russian when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, and about the disadvantages they faced in the many communities where Ukrainian was and still is the primary or even sole language. Neither side of the country has had an easy linguistic ride over the last century.

What I was witnessing, though, looked like a regulatory pendulum swing from one extreme position to another, not a benevolent policy change aimed at benefitting the population as a whole. I found myself in an awkward position — the language I’d studied for years turned out to be as frowned upon as it was useful. I remember looking up chess terminology, memorizing the phrase “politicheskaya peshka”, so I could explain in Russian, if the need arose, that I — because of the language I spoke — felt like a political pawn.

Flickr photo by Dieter Zirnig: Ukraine, 2010

Since her brief stint in the Peace Corps, Andrea Gregovich earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from University of Nevada Las Vegas and has been honing her skills as a translator of Russian literature.

Focusing on People, Not Sprawl

Mon, 04/07/2014 - 22:38

For seven decades urban planners have been seeking to force higher urban population densities through urban containment policies. The object is to combat "urban sprawl," which is the theological (or ideological) term applied to the organic phenomenon of urban expansion. This has come at considerable cost, as house prices have materially increased relative to incomes, which is to be expected from urban containment strategies that ration land (and thus raise its price, all things being equal).

Smart Growth America is out with its second report that rates urban sprawl, with the highest scores indicating the least sprawl and the lowest scores indicating the most (Measuring Sprawl 2014).

Metropolitan Areas and Metropolitan Divisions

For the second time in a decade Smart Growth America has assigned a "sprawl" rating to what it calls metropolitan areas. I say "what it calls," because, as a decade ago, the new report classifies "metropolitan divisions" as metropolitan areas (Note 1). Metropolitan divisions are parts of metropolitan areas. This is not to suggest that a metropolitan division cannot have a sprawl index, but metropolitan divisions have no place in a ranking of metropolitan areas. Worse, metropolitan areas with metropolitan divisions were not rated (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Washington, Miami, San Francisco, Detroit, and Seattle).

This year's highest rating among 50 major metropolitan areas (over 1,000,000 population) goes to part of the New York metropolitan area (the New York-White Plains-Wayne metropolitan division) at 203.36. The lowest rating (most sprawling) is in Atlanta, at 40.99. This contrasts with 2000, when the highest rating was in part of the New York metropolitan area (the New York PMSA), at 177.8, compared to the lowest, in the Riverside-San Bernardino PMSA portion of the since redefined Los Angeles metropolitan area, at 14.2. Boston is excluded due to insufficient data (Note 2)

Rating Sprawl

The sprawl ratings are interesting, though obviously I would have done them differently.

Overall urban population density would seem to be a more reliable indicator (called urbanized areas in the United States, built-up urban areas in the United Kingdom, population centres in Canada, and urban areas just about everywhere else). For example, the Los Angeles metropolitan area (combining its two component metropolitan divisions), has an index indicating greater sprawl than Springfield, Illinois. Yet, the Los Angeles urban area population density is about four times that of Springfield (6,999 residents per square mile, compared to 1747 per square mile, approximately the same as bottom ranking Atlanta). The implication is that if Los Angeles were to replicate the individual ratings that make up its index, and covered (sprawled) over four times as much territory, it would be less sprawling than today.

This case simply illustrates the fact that sprawl has never been well defined. Indeed, the world's most dense major urban area, Dhaka (Bangladesh), with more than 15 times the urban density of Los Angeles and 65 times the urban density of Springfield, has been referred to in the planning literature as sprawling.

Housing Affordability

The principal problem with the report lies with its assertions regarding housing affordability. Measuring Sprawl 2014 notes that less sprawling areas have higher housing costs than more sprawling areas (Note 3). However, it concludes that the lower costs of transportation offset much more all of the difference. This conclusion arises from reliance the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and US Department of Transportation (DOT) Location Affordability Index, which bases housing affordability for home owners on median current expenditures, not the current cost of buying the median priced home. Nearly two thirds of the nation's households are home owners, and most aspire to be.

HUD-DOT describes its purpose as follows:

"The goal of the Location Affordability Portal is to provide the public with reliable, user-friendly data and resources on combined housing and transportation costs to help consumers, policymakers, and developers make more informed decisions about where to live, work, and invest." 

Yet, a consumer relying on the Location Affordability Index could be seriously misled. The HUD-DOT index (Note 4) does not begin to tell the story to people seeking to purchase homes. The costs are simply out of pocket housing costs, regardless of whether the mortgage has been paid off and regardless of when the house was bought (urban containment markets have seen especially strong house price increases).An index including people who have no mortgage and people who have lower mortgage payments as a result of having purchased years ago cannot give reliable information to consumers in the market today.

A household relying on this source of information would be greatly misled. For example, comparing Houston with San Jose, according to HUD-DOT, owned housing and transportation consume virtually the same share of the median household income in each of the two metropolitan areas. In Houston, 52.5 percent of income is required for housing and transportation, while the number is marginally higher than San Jose (52.9 percent).

But the HUD-DOT numbers reflect nothing like the actual costs of housing in San Jose relative to Houston. The median price house in Houston was approximately $155,000, 2.8 times the median household income of $55,200 (this measure is called the median multiple) during the 2006-10 period used in calculating the HUD-DOT index. In San Jose, the median house price was approximately $675,000, 7.8 times the median household income of $86,300 (Figure 1).

If the Location Affordability Index reflected the real cost for a prospective home owner (HUD-DOT costs including a market rate mortgage for the house), a considerable difference would emerge between San Jose and Houston. The combined San Jose Location Affordability Index for home owners would rise to 85 percent of median household income, a full 60 percent above the Houston figure, rather than the minimal difference of less than one percent indicated by HUD-DOE (Figure 2).

Under-Estimating the Cost of Urban Containment

There is a substantial difference between the HUD–DOT housing and transportation cost and the actual that would be paid by prospective buyers. Five selected urban containment markets indicate a substantially higher actual housing cost than reflected in the HUD–DOT figures. On the other hand, in the selected liberally regulated markets (or traditionally regulated markets), the HUD–DOE figure is much closer to the current cost of home ownership (Figure 3). This is a reflection of the greater stability (less volatility) of house prices in liberally regulated markets. Overall, based on data in the 50 major metropolitan areas, owned housing costs relative to incomes rise approximately 6 percent for each 10 percent increase in the sprawl index – that is, less sprawl is associated with higher house prices relative to incomes (Note 6).

The increasing impacts of urban containment’s housing cost increases have been limited principally to households who have made recent purchases. The effect will become even more substantial in the years to come as the turnover of the more expensive housing stock continues.

Granted, the 2006 to 2010 housing data includes part of the housing bubble and its higher house prices. However, house prices relative to incomes have returned to levels at or above that recorded during the period covered by Measuring Sprawl 2014 in "urban containment" markets, such as San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Portland, and Washington.

Economic Mobility and Human Behavior

Another assertion requires attention: economic mobility is greater in less sprawling metropolitan areas. The basis is research by Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren of Harvard University and Patrick Kline and Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley. However, the realities of domestic migration suggest caution with respect to the upward mobility conclusions, as is indicated in Distortions and Reality About Income Mobilityand in commentary by Columbia University urban planner David King.

Virtually all urban history shows city growth to have occurred as people have moved to areas offering greater opportunity. Jobs, not fountains, theatres and art districts, drive nearly all the growth of cities. This means that there should be a strong relationship between the cities net domestic migration and the economic mobility conclusions of the research. The strongest examples show the opposite relationship.

Domestic migration is strongly away from some metropolitan areas identified in the research as having the greatest upward income mobility also had substantial net domestic migration losses. For example, despite claims of high economic mobility New York, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area, each lost approximately 10 percent of their population to net domestic migration in the 2000s. On the other hand, some metropolitan areas scoring the lowest in upward economic mobility drew substantial net domestic migration gains. For example, low economic mobility Charlotte and Atlanta gained 17 percent and 10 percent due to net domestic migration in the 2000s. Thus, the results of the economic research appear to be inconsistent with expected human behavior (Note 7).

Sprawl: An Inappropriate Priority

The new sprawl report is just another indication that urban planning policy has been elevated to a more prominent place than appropriate among domestic policy priorities. The usual justification for urban containment is a claimed sustainability imperative for its densification and anti-mobility policies. Yet, these policies are hugely expensive and thus ineffective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and thus have the potential to unduly retard economic growth (read "the standard of living and job creation"). Far more cost-effective alternatives are available, which principally rely on technology.

There is a need to reverse this distortion of priorities. Little, if anything is more fundamental than improving the standard of living and reducing poverty (see Toward More Prosperous Cities). Housing is the largest element of household budgets and policies of that raise its relative costs necessarily reduce discretionary incomes (income left over after paying taxes and paying for basic necessities). There is no legitimate place in the public policy panoply for strategies that reduce discretionary incomes.

London School of Economics Professor Paul Cheshire may have said it best, when he noted that urban containment policy is irreconcilable with housing affordability.


Note 1: The previous Smart Growth America report used primarily metropolitan statistical areas (PMSAs), which have been replaced by metropolitan divisions. The primary metropolitan statistical areas were also subsets of metropolitan areas (labor market areas). This is problem is best illustrated by the fact that the Jersey City PMSA, composed only of Hudson County, NJ, is approximately one mile across the Hudson River from Manhattan in New York. Manhattan is the world's second largest central business district and frequent transit service connects the two. Obviously, Jersey City is a part of the New York metropolitan area (labor market area), not a separate labor market.

Note 2: Because of incomplete data, Boston is not given a sprawl rating in Measuring Sprawl 2014. A different rating system in the previous edition resulted in a Boston rating among the least sprawling. Yet, the Boston metropolitan area is characterized by low density development. Outside a 10 mile radius from downtown, the population density within the urban area is slightly lower than that of Atlanta (same square miles of land area used).

Note 3: Higher house prices relative to household incomes are more associated with policies to control urban sprawl (such as urban growth boundaries and other land rationing devices), than with the extent of sprawl. More compact (less sprawling) urban areas do not necessarily have materially higher house prices. For example, in 1970, the Los Angeles urban area was one of the most dense in the United States, yet it was within the historical affordability range (a median multiple of less than 3.0). The emergence of Los Angeles as the nation's most dense urban area in the succeeding decades (and 30 percent increase in density) is largely the result of a change in urban area criteria. Through 1990, the building blocks of urban areas were municipalities, which meant that many square miles of San Gabriel Mountains wilderness were included, because it was in the city of Los Angeles. Starting in 2000, the building blocks or urban areas became census blocks, which are far smaller and thus exclude the large swaths of rural territory that were included before in some urban areas.

Note 4: The transport costs from the Location Affordability Index are accepted for the purposes of this article.

Note 5: The current purchase housing cost is based on the average price to income multiple over the period of 2006 to 2010, relative to the median household income (calculated from quarterly data from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, State of the Nation's Housing 2011). It is assumed that the buyer would finance 90 percent of the house cost at the average 30 year fixed mortgage rate with points over the period. The 10 percent down payment is allocated annually in equal amounts over the 360 months (30 years). The final annual cost estimate is calculated by adding the monthly mortgage payment and down payment allocation to the median monthly housing cost in each metropolitan area for households without a mortgage.

HUD-DOT uses the "selected monthly owner cost" from the American Community Survey (ACS) for its cost of home ownership. According to ACS, “Selected monthly owner costs are calculated from the sum of payment for mortgages, real estate taxes, various insurances, utilities, fuels, mobile home costs, and condominium fees."

Note 6: This is based on a two-variable regression estimation (log-log) with the sprawl index as the independent variable and the substituted housing share of income as the dependent variable for the 50 largest metropolitan areas (excluding Boston), It is posited that most of the variation in housing costs is accounted for by variation in land costs. Other significant factors, such as construction costs and financing costs in this sample vary considerably less. A sprawl index for each metropolitan areas represented by metropolitan divisions (not provided in the sprawl report) is estimated by population weighting.

Note 7: Another difficulty with that research is that it measured geographic economic mobility at age 30, well before people reach their peak earning level. This is likely to produce less than reliable results, since those who achieve the highest incomes as well as the most educated such as medical doctors and people with advanced degrees) are likely to have larger income increases after age 30 than other workers.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He was appointed to the Amtrak Reform Council to fill the unexpired term of Governor Christine Todd Whitman and has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Suburban neighborhood photo by Bigstock.

Concentrated Wealth or Democracy, but Not Both

Sun, 04/06/2014 - 22:38

In many uncomfortable ways, American politics now resemble those that arose late in the Roman Republic. As wealth and land ownership concentrated in few hands, a state built on the discipline of soldiers who tended their own farms became ever more dominated by fractious oligarchs. As property consolidated into huge slave-owning estates, more citizens became landless and ever more dependent on the patronage of the rich generals and landowners who increasingly seized control of politics.

In much the same way, as the wealth has concentrated in America, so, too, has the power exercised by those with money. The wealthy have always played an outsized role in our politics, but today, emboldened by Supreme Court rulings easing controls on contributions, oligarchs are dominating the electoral map in ways that have not been seen at least since the abuses of the Nixon years.

Perhaps the most notable, or infamous, example is the Koch brothers, David and Charles, billionaire industrialists whose role in conservative politics has made them the ultimate “bogeymen” for crusading liberal journalists concerned with the growing power of the ultrarich on our political system. Campaigning against the Kochs has become standard issue for Democrats such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

What makes the Koch brothers such great targets is that they come from an industry – energy – that itself is held in the lowest esteem by the progressive activist community and its media allies. Although they tend to be libertarian in their social views, the Kochs are notably, and not surprisingly, skeptical about climate change policies that might impact their vast oil and gas holdings as well as their industrial companies, which, in the words of former New York Times columnist Frank Rich, “spew” such unhappy products as Lycra and Dixie cups. The Kochs’ ties to the Tea Party have led reliably liberal commentators to suggest that the moguls have played the supposedly grass-roots Tea Party for “suckers.”

As they rail against the Kochs, few progressives note that the balance of oligarchic politics are increasingly shifting toward the Democratic Party. This, of course, includes the predictable Hollywood figures, such as Dreamworks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg and a large section of Wall Street, notably financier George Soros, long a major source of funding for President Obama.

These well-heeled progressives have had little to fear from an administration that, despite its occasional populist outbursts, has adopted an economic policy that has exacerbated an already yawning gap in income growth between the wealthy and everyone else. Indeed, Obama, for all his populist rhetoric, retained close ties to firms like Goldman Sachs, staffing his administration with people from, and associated with, that most-detested of Wall Street firms. Indeed the ultrarich so backed the ostensibly left-wing president that, at his first inaugural, notes sympathetic chronicler David Callahan, the biggest problem for donors was finding sufficient parking space for their private jets.

An examination of campaign contributions shows that the vast majority of America’s wealthiest households may already tilt in this direction. Among the .01 percent who increasingly dominate political giving, three of the largest contributions, besides the conservative Club for Growth, backed by Republican oligarchs, went to groups such as Emily’s List, Act Blue and Liberal groups accounted for eight of the top 10 ideological causes of the ultra-rich; seven of the 10 congressional candidates most dependent on their money were Democrats.

This ideological shift among the rich, particularly the new rich, in what author Chrystia Freeland has dubbed an “age of elites,” is critical to understanding contemporary political conflict. There have always been, of course, affluent individuals who backed liberal or Democratic causes, out of a mixture of philosophy and self-interest but, for the most part, the wealthy backed Republicans. This has begun to change.

Perhaps most ominous for the Right, the biggest growth in oligarchic politics has been from the very group – the so-called “high tech community” – that has flourished under the current easy-money regime. Once primarily middle-of-the-road Republican, the tech oligarchs have moved “left” in their politics, particularly on social and environmental issues. Many also have profited, or attempt to, through “green” energy investments. The leading tech companies, mostly based in the Silicon Valley, routinely send over four-fifths of their contributions to Democratic candidates.

For the political parties, which are losing influence with every election, the rise of the oligarchs in politics represents a mixed blessing. To be sure, the tens of millions poured into the coffers of party candidates is welcomed, but at the same time, the oligarchs have become so powerful that they have altered, likely for a long time, the nominating and electing process.

Republicans, for example, must deal with the likes of casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, whose millions kept the quixotic, and seemingly pointless, Newt Gingrich campaign alive in the most-recent presidential primary campaign. The Koch brothers and others have also supported the supposedly grass-roots Tea Party, whose opposition to the Republican establishment has roiled GOP politics since 2010 and ended up with the nomination of some weak candidates.

This year, it may be the Democrats’ chance to lament the rise of the oligarchs. At a time when economic growth and inequality are primary issues to most Americans, the presence of oligarchs all but guarantees that other issues – notably, environmental issues or social concerns like gay marriage – dominate the party’s fundraising. After all, it’s hard to imagine a party increasingly dependent on the wealthy seriously advocating, for example, for the equalization of capital gains and regular income taxes.

Nobody better epitomizes the rise of economic royalist politics in the Democratic Party than San Francisco-based hedge-fund billionaire and green-energy investor Tom Steyer. Steyer has pledged to work against any Democrat who dares express the slightest skepticism about the need to diminish use of fossil fuels, no matter the economic cost. This could prove particularly tough on Democrats from energy states, like Louisiana, Texas, the Dakotas, Colorado and Montana, who historically have supported the fossil fuel industry as a prime generator of high-wage employment, including thousands of unionized blue-collar jobs.

With Steyer pledging some $100 million to his anti-oil campaign, centered on opposition to the Keystone XL pipleline, the party is running against the popular grain. According to a recent Washington Post poll, the project is favored among the public by a margin of roughly three to one.

So, Democrats find themselves pressured to oppose something favored by a large majority, all for an issue – climate change – that barely rates as a priority among voters far more worried about their jobs and families than carbon emissions. Just as well-financed Tea Party extremists have led the Republicans to nominate some lamentable candidates, Steyer’s efforts could undermine Democratic prospects – at least outside the solid coastal precincts – by forcing party figures further toward the gentry version of the Left.

Ultimately, the biggest issue revolves not around the politics of the oligarchs but their overall potential to dominate our entire political culture. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis suggested in the last century, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

The founders, too, understood this basic truth. James Madison embraced the ideal of dispersed property – “the possession of different degrees and kinds of property” – as necessary in a functioning republic. Thomas Jefferson, admitting that the “equal division of property” was “impractical,” believed “the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind” that “legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property.”

It’s time we started listening to Brandeis and the founders. Until we address this issue of concentrated economic power – be it in the hands of oil barons or tech types – our politics will continue to devolve like those of Rome in the late Republic, undermining the last vestiges of citizen-based politics. Whether or not it results in the rise of an actual Caesar, this could be a sad day for what is left of our old Republic.

This story originally appeared at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Photo by Peoplesworld.

Replicating Bourbon Street

Sat, 04/05/2014 - 06:23

Editor’s note: following is an excerpt from Tulane University geographer Richard Campanella’s new book, “Bourbon Street: A History” (LSU Press, 2014), which traces New Orleans’ most famous and infamous space from its obscure colonial origins to its widespread reknown today. This chapter, titled “Replicating Bourbon Street: Spatial and Linguistic Diffusion” and drawn from a section called “Bourbon Street as a Social Artifact,” recounts how this brand has spread worldwide and become part of the language—to both the benefit and chagrin of New Orleans.

Perhaps the best evidence of Bourbon Street’s success is the fact that, like jazz, it has diffused worldwide. It’s a claim few other streets can make. As early as the 1950s, a nightclub named “Bourbon Street” operated in New York City, and apparently successfully, because in 1957 the Dupont family formed a corporation to purchase it with plans to bring “Mambo City” entertainment to clubs named Bourbon Street in Miami and Chicago.1 Today, at least 160 businesses throughout the United States and Canada have “Bourbon Street” in their names and themes; 77 percent are restaurants, bars, and clubs; 11 percent are retailers (mostly of party and novelty items); and the remainder are caterers, banquet halls, hotels, and casinos—more eating, drinking, and entertaining. They span coast to coast, from Key West to Edmonton and from San Diego to Montreal. Greater New York has eleven, while Calgary has six, as does San Antonio (mostly near the River Walk, “the Bourbon Street of San Antonio”). Greater Toronto has sixteen, most of them franchises of the Innovated Restaurant Group’s “Bourbon St. Grill” chain—including one on Yonge Street, which has been described as “the Bourbon Street of Toronto.” There are also Bourbon-named restaurants, bars, and clubs in London, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Naples, Moscow, Tokyo, Shanghai, Dubai, and many other world cities. These replicas enthusiastically embrace Bourbon Street imagery and material culture (lampposts, balconies, Mardi Gras jesters, beads) in their signage, décor, and Web sites. Menus attempt to deliver the spice and zest deemed intrinsic to this perceptual package, as does the atmospheric music. How convincingly do these meta-Bourbons replicate the original? A review of one such venue in Amsterdam (“the New Orleans of Europe”) could easily apply to the actual street:

[T]he jovial Bourbon Street Jazz and Blues Club…attracts a casual, jean-clad crowd of all ages [dancing to] cover bands with a pop flavor [or] blues rhythms. Three glass chandeliers hanging over the bar provide an incongruous dash of glamour to an otherwise low-key and comfortable scruffy décor.2

In this spatial dissemination we see a trend: while local replication of the Bourbon Street phenomenon usually takes the form of competition tinged with contempt (witness the “anti-Bourbons”), external replicas of Bourbon Street view themselves as payers of homage to the “authentic” original, and modestly present themselves as the next best thing without the airfare. No licenses are needed in replicating Bourbon Street; there are no copyrights, trademarks, or royalties due. The name, phenomenon, and imagery are all in the public domain, a valuable vernacular brand free for anyone to appropriate. Try doing that to The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival Presented by Shell and you’d have a lawsuit on your hands.

Bourbon is also among the few streets to be replicated structurally—by the State of Louisiana, which sponsored a three-acre exhibit at the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, New York. It featured all the standard architectural tropes of the French Quarter topped off with a huge arch emblazoned LOUISIANA’S BOURBON STREET accompanied by towering Carnival royalty. In typical Louisiana fair tradition, however, the exhibit experienced construction delays and filed for bankruptcy, which caused the state to wash its hands of the fiasco and officially change the name of the exhibit to “Bourbon Street.” “The so-called Louisiana area in its present condition,” state officials solemnly proclaimed, “reflects discredit upon the State of Louisiana, its culture, heritage and people.” Wags pointed out that this was pretty much what locals thought of the original Bourbon Street. But unlike the original, a corporate entity named Pavilion Properties, Inc. took over the exhibit, and after removing all references to Louisiana and spiffing up the props, it managed the Creole food booths, Dixieland trios, sketch artists, organ grinders, street performers, and nightclubs (including the popular “Gay New Orleans”) for the remainder of the fair. Also unlike the original, Pavilion Properties’ exhibit, just like the state’s attempt, failed commercially and also filed for bankruptcy. Nevertheless, it introduced a generation of New Yorkers to the Bourbon Street brand.3

At the opposite end of the country two years later, another private-sector entity built a “New Orleans Square” at Disneyland. Based on field research conducted in the French Quarter by Walt Disney himself plus a staff of artists in 1965, the $13.5 million West Coast replica (nearly the cost of the Louisiana Purchase, Disney joked) eschewed the Bourbon moniker, presumably not to scare off parents, but nevertheless incorporated everything that worked on the real Bourbon Street minus the breasts and booze. Disney later replicated New Orleans Square at its Adventureland in Tokyo (1983), which may partly explain the popularity of the real New Orleans with Japanese visitors today. It did not, however, build a New Orleans Square at Disneyland Paris (Euro Disney) when it opened in 1992.4

Bourbon Street has also been thematically and structurally referenced in countless shopping malls, amusement parks, casinos, cruise ship parties, festivals, convention banquets, and wedding receptions, not to mention on film and theatrical sets and in computer animation for movies like The Princess and the Frog. “Bourbon Street” as an adjective has found its way onto menus, usually for spicy dishes, and into household décor, generally to describe old-world filigree inspired by the iron-lace balconies. It’s a case study of cultural diffusion which serves as free worldwide advertising for the original, across various media forms and demographic cohorts, all with zero encouragement and oversight from Bourbonites. Now that’s success.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it also produces competition. Once there was a time when the forbidden pleasures available on Bourbon Street were in high demand and low supply nationwide, particularly in the South. That made Bourbon Street valuable. Today the nation is a whole lot less judgmental about pleasure and much better supplied with comparable pleasure districts. A visit to Galveston’s The Strand, St. Louis’ Soulard, and Mobile’s Dauphine Street, all of which have adopted Bourbon-style Mardi Gras, may satisfy many people’s desire for the escapism that Bourbon Street once monopolized. Even just a few blocks away in downtown New Orleans, Harrah’s has quietly overseen the creation of a Bourbon alternative on the Fulton Street Mall, complete with outdoor dining, festival space, and a growing inventory of venues, all adjacent to the corporation’s hotel and casino. Might such meta-Bourbons erode the market share of the original, in the same way that regional casinos have chipped away at Las Vegas’ domination? Bourbonites would be ill-advised to rely on their fame; better to experiment with innovations, rediscover what worked in the past, and tame that which damages. That said, The Street does have certain inherent advantages: it’s bigger and longer than the competition; it’s embedded into the world-famous French Quarter and enjoys a symbiotic relationship with its tourism industry; and perhaps most importantly, it boasts that intimate historical streetscape and centuries-old civic reputation that infuses in visitors a certain credibility—shall we call it authenticity?—in a way unmatched by places like Las Vegas. On a dark note, Bourbon is also disturbingly vulnerable to accidental or intentional trauma, such as a balcony collapse, crowd stampede, or terrorist bombing, which, in addition to the human toll, could poison The Street’s allure for years. Bourbon, in short, has bright prospects and a record of widespread economic and cultural influence, but should not take its fame and success for granted.

Speaking of cultural influence, Bourbon Street has entered the language of American English, which, curiously, does not have a perfect word for the Bourbon Street phenomenon. Shall we call it an adult entertainment area? A cluster? A strip? A pedestrian mall? A tenderloin, red-light, or vice district? All are awkward, some are imprecise, and none are perfect. The linguistic lacuna is particularly perplexing because nearly every city since Sybaris has developed such spaces.

To fill the gap, some speakers convert common nouns into proper toponyms; examples include Las Vegas’ The Strip, Baltimore’s The Block, and historic New Orleans’ The Swamp or The Line. Others craft “antonamasias,” which, in rhetoric, are attempts to describe the characteristics of a new phenomenon by invoking the name of a comparable known entity, e.g., “the Paris of…,” “the Barbary Coast of…,” “the Greenwich Village of….”5 The antonamasia “the Bourbon Street of….” is among the most popular ways for Americans to refer efficiently and effectively to pedestrian-scale drinking, eating, and entertainment districts. It’s exceedingly common to hear 6th Street, for example, described as the Bourbon Street of Austin. Ybor City is routinely characterized as the Bourbon Street of Tampa, as is Carson Street of Pittsburgh, and Duval Street of Key West (or of the entire Caribbean). Beale Street was completely redeveloped by a real estate corporation in the 1980s from a boarded-up eyesore to become, inevitably, the Bourbon Street of Memphis. A review of 67 published articles since 1986, plus over 300 Internet sources, showed that at least eighty social spaces worldwide have been described as “the Bourbon Street of” their respective communities. They span from Hamburg’s Reeperbahn to Bangkok’s Patpong; from Spain’s Pamplona during the Running of the Bulls to Las Ramblas in Barcelona, from Quay Street in Galway to Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong. They are not always urban; sometimes the phrase it used for frisky beaches at vacation destinations, for boating coves (most notoriously in Lake of the Ozarks, a popular rendezvous for nudity and inebriation), or the Mall of America in Minneapolis, the entire town of Hyannis (“the Bourbon Street of the Cape”) or the city of Ogden (“the Bourbon Street of Utah,” historically). Some use it as a warning (“Let’s not turn the Underground into the Bourbon Street of Atlanta”) or as an ambition (“the big goal is for the Mill Avenue District to become the Bourbon Street of the Southwest”). The phrase even found a home in its own backyard; a travel writer called “Jackson Square…the Bourbon Street of daytime New Orleans,” and the Times-Picayune dubbed the Fulton Street Mall as “the Bourbon Street of the [1984] world’s fair.” Some uses emphasize the spatial clustering over the piquant aspect (“Canyon Road [is] the Bourbon Street of Santa Fe’s art scene”); others do the exact opposite: “USA Network [is] the Bourbon Street of basic cable;” “Louisiana Fried Chicken [is] the Bourbon Street of chicken.”6

One would be hard-pressed to think of another street so richly representational. The very matriculation of a street to metaphor status is fairly rare. To be sure, we speak of Wall Street to mean corporate power, Madison Avenue to mean marketing, and Broadway for theater, but as we go further down the list, we find fewer linguistic uses and users. Bourbon Street is one of the American English language’s handiest and most evocative place metaphors, a testament to The Street’s widespread renown and iconic resonance.

Richard Campanella, a geographer with the Tulane School of Architecture, is the author of Bienville’s Dilemma, Geographies of New Orleans, Lincoln in New Orleans, and Bourbon Street: A History (LSU Press, 2014), from which this article was excerpted. Please see the book for sources. Campanella may be reached through or ; and followed on Twitter at @nolacampanella.

1 “Dupont Dough Backs Murphy,” Billboard, December 2, 1957, p. 19.

2 Corinne LaBalme, “Night Moves of All Kinds: The Club Scene in Seven Cities—Amsterdam,” The New York Times, September 17, 2000.

3 Francis Stilley, “Visitors to World’s Fair Will ‘Ride Magic Carpet,’ Times-Picayune, April 15, 1964; “Hot Flashes,” Times-Picayune, May 31, 1964, p. 37; Charles M. Hargroder, “Governor, Firm Announce Plant,” Times-Picayune, June 17, 1964, pp. 1-16; Richard Phalon, “Bourbon Street Operator at Fair Is 11th Bankrupt Exhibitor,” New York Times, February 5, 1965, p. 32.

4 “Disneyland N.O. Replica, Aim,” Times-Picayune, April 11, 1965, p. 17.

5 I thank sociolinguist Christina Schoux Casey for informing me of this obscure but useful term.

6 Research by author using hundreds of news and online sources, 1986-present, searched throughout 2012.

America's New Brainpower Cities

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 07:48

Brainpower rankings usually identify the usual suspects: college towns like Boston, Washington, D.C.,  and the San Francisco Bay area. And to be sure, these places generally have the highest per capita education levels. However, it’s worthwhile to look at the metro areas that are gaining college graduates most rapidly; this is an indicator of momentum that is likely to carry over into the future.

To determine where college graduates are settling, demographer Wendell Cox analyzed the change in the number of holders of bachelor’s degrees and above between 2007 and 2012 in the 51 metropolitan statistical areas with over a million people (all saw gains). For the most part, the fastest-growing brain hubs are in the South and Intermountain West (which excludes the states on the Pacific Coast). Some of these places are usually not associated with the highest levels of academic achievement, and for the most, they still lag the national average in college graduation rates.

But times are changing, and educated people are increasingly heading to these metro areas, notably in the South, were job growth has been robust and the cost of living is far lower than in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York or Los Angeles. This includes New Orleans, which ties for first place on our list with San Antonio. The New Orleans metro area’s population of college graduates grew by 44,000 from 2007 to 2012, a 20.3% increase, nearly double the national average of 10.9%. (The percentage of college grads in the U.S. stood at 19.4% in 2012, up from 18% in 2007.)

New Orleans’ story, of course, is unique; the jump certainly is partly due to the return of evacuees to the city after Katrina, and some scoff that the region is destined to return to its historical pattern of exporting its educated young. But right now the American Community Survey data seems to indicate otherwise, as does the decision in recent years by numerous technology, videogame and media businesses to establish operations in the metro area, including General Electric, Paris-based Gameloft and the satellite communications company Globalstar, which in 2010 moved its headquarters from Silicon Valley to Covington, a prosperous suburb of the Crescent City.

What is happening in New Orleans, where I have worked as a consultant, is unique, but it also follows a broader pattern that we see in other areas. Unable to afford to settle long-term in traditional “brain centers,” educated people are increasingly looking for places that have strong economies but also many of the cultural and natural amenities associated with the traditional meccas for the educated. With housing prices that are half to a third of Silicon Valley or San Francisco, New Orleans offered educated workers, particularly younger ones, many of the things they look for, but at an affordable cost.

“For $65,000 a year in San Francisco you get a shared apartment and no car,” says long-time New Orleans tech entrepreneur Chris Reed. ”Here, you get great restaurants and clubs, and you get to have a car and your own nice apartment. It’s a no-brainer.”

Other cities with some of the same characteristics are also winning in the race to bring in more educated workers. Nowhere is this more true than in Texas, which is home to four of the top 12 metro areas on our list. Tops is co-first place San Antonio, which had a net gain of 76,000 college-educated people since 2007, or 20.3%.

Like New Orleans, the San Antonio area has traditionally lagged behind in attracting educated people; nearly one resident in six does not have a high school diploma. But the old Texas town also has many amenities that appeal to educated workers, notably great food and a good nightlife scene. In addition, it boasts one of the fastest-growing regional economies in the country, with expanding tech and energy businesses, something that may have a particular appeal in this still weak recovery.

“When the buzz starts … and hipsters start to get wise to the neighborhood assets that are here, once the hipsters get wind of it – you’ll have to beat them away with a stick,” says economic geographer Jim Russell.

Austin places third, which should come as no surprise — the area is home to the main campus of the University of Texas, boasts a thriving music scene and a strong technology infrastructure. Nor should the rapid growth of educated residents in sixth-ranked Houston, up 16% since 2007, which also enjoys low costs, an increasingly attractive cultural scene and one of the fastest growing hubs of dense urban living in the country. Dallas, also a fast-growing area, lands in 12th place on our list, boosting its college graduate population by 13%, or 175,000.

One of the more surprising metro areas in our top 10 is fifth place Louisville, Ky.-Ind. The home of Humana, it has a thriving health care sector, and also is strong in the food industry and logistics. It has seen a 16.2% increase in the number of educated residents.

Strong growth has also occurred in the Intermountain West, led by Denver (seventh) and Salt Lake City (eighth). Both areas have been beneficiaries of the migration of people and companies from California. This may also explain the growth of 11th place Phoenix, an area that has made remarkable strides since the disastrous days of the housing bust and is once again attracting migrants in larger numbers than any large metro area outside Texas.

So if these areas are leading the race to capture “talent,” who is lagging behind? Not surprising at the bottom of the list are a series of Rust Belt cities with relatively weak economies, led by last place Detroit, where the number of college-educated residents rose 4.1%. Its followed by Providence,  Cleveland and Cincinnati.

Boston, long styled as the “Athens” of America, ranks 47th on our list. Over the past five years Boston has gained some 98,000 college educated people, an increase of 7.2%, well below the national average. Beantown, of course, can always claim it has the highest “quality” brains but even in terms of percentage gains of people with graduate degrees it ranks only 41st .

The data show the universe of educated people is not becoming more “spiky” as some suggest, but is spreading out. This is true not only in terms of percentage growth, but in absolute numbers. Since 2007, for example, the Houston and Dallas metro areas have added more BAs than San Francisco-Oakland, and nearly twice as many as Boston. As a result, these and other such cities are gaining a critical mass in brainpower not widely recognized in the Eastern-dominated media.

At very least, we can say that the conventional wisdom favoring the traditional “brain” cities seems flawed. There will always be areas with more educated people per capita than others, if for no other reason than historical inertia and lack of migration, particularly among the less educated. But the clear pattern now is for brainpower, like population and jobs, to continue dispersing, largely to the South, the Southeast and the Intermountain West, with ramifications that will be felt in the economy in the decades ahead.

EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT: 2007-2012: CHANGE OF BA & HIGHER   2007 2012 Change % Rank New Orleans. LA        172,965        216,970        44,005 20.3% 1 San Antonio, TX        300,114        376,445        76,331 20.3% 2 Austin, TX        382,119        477,058        94,939 19.9% 3 Nashville, TN        287,154        355,630        68,476 19.3% 4 Louisville, KY-IN        195,760        233,566        37,806 16.2% 5 Houston, TX        972,615     1,157,627      185,012 16.0% 6 Denver, CO        595,437        708,325      112,888 15.9% 7 Salt Lake City, UT        193,167        229,140        35,973 15.7% 8 Jacksonville, FL        221,907        258,893        36,986 14.3% 9 Raleigh, NC        278,754        324,318        45,564 14.0% 10 Phoenix, AZ        709,284        818,434      109,150 13.3% 11 Dallas-Fort Worth, TX     1,155,069     1,330,312      175,243 13.2% 12 Charlotte, NC-SC        348,923        401,116        52,193 13.0% 13 Baltimore, MD        589,874        677,837        87,963 13.0% 14 Rochester, NY        244,277        280,650        36,373 13.0% 15 Portland, OR-WA        479,207        549,825        70,618 12.8% 16 Birmingham, AL        187,094        214,201        27,107 12.7% 17 Philadelphia, PA-NJ-DE-MD     1,204,380     1,377,684      173,304 12.6% 18 San Diego, CA        631,996        722,819        90,823 12.6% 19 Columbus, OH        367,811        419,136        51,325 12.2% 20 Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI        774,669        881,581      106,912 12.1% 21 Washington, DC-VA-MD-WV     1,658,902     1,885,862      226,960 12.0% 22 Las Vegas, NV        257,886        293,001        35,115 12.0% 23 Indianapolis. IN        333,079        377,189        44,110 11.7% 24 San Francisco-Oakland, CA     1,251,139     1,414,393      163,254 11.5% 25 Memphis, TN-MS-AR        197,292        222,813        25,521 11.5% 26 Seattle, WA        814,902        918,119      103,217 11.2% 27 Oklahoma City, OK        210,720        237,329        26,609 11.2% 28 St. Louis,, MO-IL        521,047        586,547        65,500 11.2% 29 Pittsburgh, PA        456,717        513,838        57,121 11.1% 30 San Jose, CA        527,167        592,703        65,536 11.1% 31 Kansas City, MO-KS        410,109        460,391        50,282 10.9% 32 Miami, FL     1,058,815     1,186,398      127,583 10.8% 33 Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC        284,924        317,741        32,817 10.3% 34 Buffalo, NY        207,907        231,718        23,811 10.3% 35 Riverside-San Bernardino, CA        469,381        519,680        50,299 9.7% 36 Richmond, VA        205,014        226,912        21,898 9.7% 37 Los Angeles, CA     2,458,215     2,720,654      262,439 9.6% 38 Hartford, CT        276,002        305,100        29,098 9.5% 39 Chicago, IL-IN-WI     1,984,496     2,190,424      205,928 9.4% 40 Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL        496,826        544,121        47,295 8.7% 41 Milwaukee,WI        308,214        337,253        29,039 8.6% 42 New York, NY-NJ-PA     4,433,180     4,836,321      403,141 8.3% 43 Sacramento, CA        403,140        435,485        32,345 7.4% 44 Atlanta, GA     1,151,723     1,243,122        91,399 7.4% 45 Orlando, FL        379,636        409,263        29,627 7.2% 46 Boston, MA-NH     1,271,193     1,369,597        98,404 7.2% 47 Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN        393,076        419,714        26,638 6.3% 48 Cleveland, OH        380,479        405,731        25,252 6.2% 49 Providence, RI-MA        301,591        320,262        18,671 5.8% 50 Detroit,  MI        786,153        819,347        33,194 4.1% 51 Total   34,181,501   38,352,595   4,171,094 10.9% Outside MMSAs   20,152,010   22,389,927   2,237,917 10.0% United States   54,333,511   60,742,522   6,409,011 10.6%


Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

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Leadership and the Challenge of Making a City Visible

Wed, 04/02/2014 - 22:38

Cities of varying sizes struggle with two related, but seemingly opposing, global and local forces. At one level, every city would like to benefit from the global flow of capital and the emerging landscapes of prosperity seen in “other” places. At another level, to be a recipient of such attention, a city has to offer something more than cheaper real estate and tax benefits.

What cities need is a sense of uniqueness; something that separates them from other cities. Without uniqueness, a city can easily be made invisible in a world of cities. In other words, without defining the “local,” there is no “global.” Here is where identifying a coherent message about a place, based on its identity, becomes crucial. One of the major challenges facing many cities, small and large, is how to make themselves visible, and how to identify, activate, and communicate their place identity – their brand – through actions.

The challenge of urban branding is that cities are not commodities. As such, urban branding is not the same as product or corporate-style branding. Cities are much more complex and contain multiple identity narratives; whatever the business and leadership says, there are other local voices that may challenge the accepted “script”. In fact, while city marketing may focus mainly on attracting capital through economic development and tourism, urban branding needs to move beyond the simply utilitarian, and consider   memories, urban experiences, and quality of life issues that affect those who live in a city. A brand does not exist outside the reality of a city. It is not an imported idea. It is an internally generated identity, rooted in the history and assets of a city.

Catchy phrases, logos, shiny booklets, invented cultural events, or the latest urban design schemes are not the answer. Copying tactics from other cities won't make a city recognizable; it will make it less visible and less unique. The challenge is, then, to ask what assets a city has that others do not possess; which of these assets can be seen as a city’s mark of achievement or recognizable characteristics; and how does one activate, elevate and sustain those characteristics?

This search necessarily starts with residents, who are best suited to answer the first question. And who can respond to the second question better than the collective leadership of a city, including its public and private sectors? Leadership needs to be inclusive of all stakeholder groups, as should the voice of the residents, which must include gender, race, class, and age differences.

At every step of the way, from collecting the diverse narratives to formulating and activating a brand, leadership and inclusive governance play central roles. But who are the leaders? As Robin Hambleton suggested at a recent Urban Studies Lecture at University of Washington Tacoma, leadership does not exclusively translate to political leaders, and governance is not the same as government. He identified four categories of leaders: political, managerial/professional, community, and business. He was careful to distinguish between predatory businesses that are typically place-less and care little about the future of a city, and producer businesses that are typically rooted and place-bound. His fourth category of leaders came from the latter and not the former group of businesses.

Based on his international observation of various cities, many of which suffered a post-industrial condition (e.g. Malmo, Sweden and Melbourne, Australia) the convergence and collaboration of the four leadership categories created an innovation zone that allowed them to turn their cities around and adopt a way forward. The example of Freiburg in Germany, a city of slightly larger than 200,000 residents, is instructive. With the persistence of the Green political party, the mayor, community activists and an imaginative public servant (the Director of Planning and Building), Freiburg was able to enact a particular vision that elevated its status regionally, nationally and internationally. The city is recognized today as a leading European ‘eco-city;’ its history, geography and natural settings at the edge of the Black Forest in Germany allow Freiburg to incorporate this brand with ease. The four categories of leadership converged on this issue and their innovation paid off.

The challenge before most post-industrial and mid-size cities is as follows: who are the leaders within each of these four sectors who can help convene, identify, and activate an urban brand, befitting of this urban region? Are these categories equally powerful? Do political and community leaders carry the same clout as the business and the managerial class? Most mid-size cities typically lack predatory businesses, but who are the producer businesses? More importantly, who are the leaders from that sector that could play an active role in the branding process? Is the leadership balance-sheet lopsided in favor of the managerial/professional class? With limited budget, can they carry forward a bold plan that could make this city visible?

To make a city visible takes more than a logo. The future of a city region depends on a diversity of political, managerial, community and business leaders who will participate and sustain a process that will lead to an inclusively created brand, followed by actions that embrace it. Cities without articulated identities will remain invisible, lamenting at every historical turn the loss of yet another opportunity to be like their more successful neighbors.

Ali Modarres is the Director of Urban Studies at University of Washington Tacoma.  He is a geographer and landscape architect, specializing in urban planning and policy. He has written extensively about social geography, transportation planning, and urban development issues in American cities.

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Special Report: 2013 Metropolitan Area Population Estimates

Tue, 04/01/2014 - 22:38

The 2013 annual metropolitan area population estimates by the US Census Bureau indicate a continuing and persistent dominance of population growth and domestic migration by the South. Between 2010 and 2013, 51 percent of the population increase in the 52 major metropolitan areas (over 1 million population) was in the South. The West accounted for 30 percent of the increase, followed by the Northeast at 11 percent and eight percent in the North Central (Midwest).

Components of Population Change: Major Metropolitan Areas

The dominance of the South was even greater when we turn to net domestic migration between Census Bureau regions. Nearly 785,000 more people moved to the major metropolitan areas of the South from other parts of the country than left. A much smaller 170,000 net domestic migrants moved to major metropolitan areas in the West. At the same time the Northeast lost 485,000 net domestic migrants and the Midwest lost 280,000.

Perhaps even more remarkable, the South, long a laggard as an immigrant destination, even led in net international migration (666,000 for a 1.2 percent over three years), though the Northeast added 546,000, for a 1.0 percent rate). Net international migration to the West was about the same, some 454,000 for a 1.0 percent rate. The Midwest had the lowest net international migration in the country and well below any other region (280,000, for a 0.6 percent rate), as is indicated in Table 1.

There was a substantial gap in the natural increase (births minus deaths) between the regions as well. The West (2.1 percent relative to the 2010 population over the three years) lead the South (2.0 percent) slightly in rate. Both were well ahead of the Midwest at 1.5 percent and especially the Northeast, at 1.2 percent (Table 1).

Table 1 Components of Population Change by Region Major Metropolitan Areas   Total Natural Growth (Births Minus Deaths) Net Domestic Migration Net International Migration Northeast              546,742              434,872             (434,029)              545,899 South           2,555,304           1,105,631              783,438              666,235 North Central              398,536              472,017             (280,022)              206,541 West           1,543,319              917,852              171,444              454,023 Change Compared to 2010 Population Northeast 1.5% 1.2% -1.2% 1.5% South 4.6% 2.0% 1.4% 1.2% North Central 1.2% 1.5% -0.9% 0.6% West 3.5% 2.1% 0.4% 1.0% From Census Bureau Data


Population Growth

The New York metropolitan area continues to hold the top position, having added nearly 400,000 residents since 2010 to rise to a population of 19,950,000 residents. At its current rate of growth, New York will exceed a population of 20 million in 2014. There was a time that many expected second-place Los Angeles to overtake New York. However, since 1990 the New York population advantage over Los Angeles has expanded from 6.1 million to 6.8 million, including a further 80,000 advantage built up since 2010 (present geographical definitions). Part of this because much of the growth has been pushed to the more distant Riverside-San Bernardino area.

Los Angeles and Chicago continued to retain the second and third positions, which they seem likely to maintain for decades. Population projections by the National Conference of Mayors indicates strong growth in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston over the next three decades could have them by pass Chicago by 2050. The challenge could be even more immediate, since Chicago's growth rate over the first three years of the decade is approximately one half the annual rate projected by the US Conference of Mayors between 2012 and 2042.

Late in the last decade, Dallas-Fort Worth passed Philadelphia to become the fourth largest metropolitan area. Then, Philadelphia was passed by Houston in 2011. The result is that, for the first time since the nation's founding, two of the five largest cities (which are functionally defined as metropolitan areas) are in a single state (Texas).

Philadelphia seems likely to fall further. The strong growth rate of seventh ranked Washington suggests that this nearby rival may also pass Philadelphia as early as 2015. Eighth ranked Miami is growing fast enough that it also could drop Philadelphia a position, to 8th place the 2020 census.

But Philadelphia is not the only metropolitan area in relative decline. Detroit started the decade as the nation's 12th largest metropolitan area, but has since fallen to 14th. Detroit has been passed by both Riverside-San Bernardino and Phoenix. Phoenix rose 14th to 12th, passing Riverside-San Bernardino (which remained in 13th position) in the process.

Among the 52 major metropolitan areas, Austin has grown at the greatest percentage rate since 2010 with Raleigh was the second fastest growing. Houston was the third fastest growing major metropolitan area over the three year period. Orlando ranked 4th in growth from 2010, while San Antonio was the fifth. The top ten was rounded out by Denver, Washington, Dallas-Fort Worth, Charlotte and Oklahoma City. Thus, among the 10 fastest-growing major metropolitan areas, nine were in the South and one (Denver) was in the West (Table 2).

Table 2 Major Metropolitan Area Population: 2010, 2012 & 2013 Metropolitan Areas 2010 2012 2013 2010-13 2012-13 Atlanta, GA       5,304,197       5,454,429       5,522,942 4.12% 1.26% Austin, TX       1,727,784       1,835,110       1,883,051 8.99% 2.61% Baltimore, MD       2,715,312       2,753,922       2,770,738 2.04% 0.61% Birmingham, AL       1,129,096       1,134,915       1,140,300 0.99% 0.47% Boston, MA-NH       4,564,054       4,642,095       4,684,299 2.63% 0.91% Buffalo, NY       1,135,314       1,133,767       1,134,115 -0.11% 0.03% Charlotte, NC-SC       2,223,635       2,294,990       2,335,358 5.02% 1.76% Chicago, IL-IN-WI       9,470,335       9,514,059       9,537,289 0.71% 0.24% Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN       2,117,344       2,129,309       2,137,406 0.95% 0.38% Cleveland, OH       2,075,690       2,064,739       2,064,725 -0.53% 0.00% Columbus, OH       1,906,243       1,944,937       1,967,066 3.19% 1.14% Dallas-Fort Worth, TX       6,452,758       6,702,801       6,810,913 5.55% 1.61% Denver, CO       2,553,829       2,646,694       2,697,476 5.62% 1.92% Detroit,  MI       4,291,400       4,292,832       4,294,983 0.08% 0.05% Grand Rapids, MI          989,196       1,005,493       1,016,603 2.77% 1.10% Hartford, CT       1,214,014       1,214,503       1,215,211 0.10% 0.06% Houston, TX       5,948,689       6,175,466       6,313,158 6.13% 2.23% Indianapolis. IN       1,892,323       1,929,207       1,953,961 3.26% 1.28% Jacksonville, FL       1,349,095       1,378,040       1,394,624 3.37% 1.20% Kansas City, MO-KS       2,013,691       2,038,690       2,054,473 2.03% 0.77% Las Vegas, NV       1,953,106       1,997,659       2,027,868 3.83% 1.51% Los Angeles, CA     12,844,070     13,037,045     13,131,431 2.24% 0.72% Louisville, KY-IN       1,237,851       1,251,538       1,262,261 1.97% 0.86% Memphis, TN-MS-AR       1,326,595       1,340,739       1,341,746 1.14% 0.08% Miami, FL       5,581,524       5,763,282       5,828,191 4.42% 1.13% Milwaukee,WI       1,556,549       1,566,182       1,569,659 0.84% 0.22% Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI       3,355,167       3,422,417       3,459,146 3.10% 1.07% Nashville, TN       1,675,945       1,726,759       1,757,912 4.89% 1.80% New Orleans. LA       1,195,757       1,227,656       1,240,977 3.78% 1.09% New York, NY-NJ-PA     19,596,183     19,837,753     19,949,502 1.80% 0.56% Oklahoma City, OK       1,257,883       1,297,397       1,319,677 4.91% 1.72% Orlando, FL       2,139,372       2,223,456       2,267,846 6.01% 2.00% Philadelphia, PA-NJ-DE-MD       5,971,397       6,019,533       6,034,678 1.06% 0.25% Phoenix, AZ       4,208,770       4,327,632       4,398,762 4.51% 1.64% Pittsburgh, PA       2,356,658       2,360,989       2,360,867 0.18% -0.01% Portland, OR-WA       2,232,177       2,289,038       2,314,554 3.69% 1.11% Providence, RI-MA       1,601,798       1,601,160       1,604,291 0.16% 0.20% Raleigh, NC       1,137,351       1,188,504       1,214,516 6.78% 2.19% Richmond, VA       1,210,015       1,232,954       1,245,764 2.95% 1.04% Riverside-San Bernardino, CA       4,244,089       4,342,332       4,380,878 3.22% 0.89% Rochester, NY       1,080,081       1,082,375       1,083,278 0.30% 0.08% Sacramento, CA       2,154,417       2,193,927       2,215,770 2.85% 1.00% St. Louis,, MO-IL       2,789,893       2,796,506       2,801,056 0.40% 0.16% Salt Lake City, UT       1,091,452       1,123,943       1,140,483 4.49% 1.47% San Antonio, TX       2,153,288       2,234,494       2,277,550 5.77% 1.93% San Diego, CA       3,104,182       3,176,138       3,211,252 3.45% 1.11% San Francisco-Oakland, CA       4,344,584       4,454,159       4,516,276 3.95% 1.39% San Jose, CA       1,842,076       1,892,894       1,919,641 4.21% 1.41% Seattle, WA       3,448,425       3,552,591       3,610,105 4.69% 1.62% Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL       2,788,961       2,845,178       2,870,569 2.93% 0.89% Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC       1,680,120       1,698,410       1,707,369 1.62% 0.53% Washington, DC-VA-MD-WV       5,664,789       5,862,594       5,949,859 5.03% 1.49% Major Metropolitan Areas   169,898,524   173,253,232   174,942,425 2.97% 0.97% From Census Bureau Data


Domestic Migration

Net domestic migration is, not surprisingly, dominated by the major metropolitan areas of the South, especially Texas and Florida. Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston led the nation with more than 100,000 net domestic migrants (Figure $$$). Austin placed third in San Antonio was sixth. Charlotte ranked seventh, while the Florida entries Orlando stood at eighth and Tampa-St. Petersburg at 10th. The West had three big domestic migration lures, Phoenix (4th), Denver (5th), and Seattle (9th).

Austin also led in the percentage of net domestic migration gain relative to its 2010 population. Again, nine of the top gainers were in the South, with one entry from the West, Denver (Figure 2).

The largest net domestic migration losses were more dispersed across the country, with metropolitan areas from every region represented. New York lost the most net domestic migrants (more than 300,000) and was joined by Philadelphia, Hartford, and Providence from the East. Chicago lost the second most domestic migrants (more than 150,000) and was joined by Detroit, St. Louis and Cleveland from the Midwest. Los Angeles ranked third in the bottom 10, losing more than 100,000 net domestic migrants, the only western metropolitan area to suffer a significant migration loss. The South's only representative in the bottom 10 was Virginia Beach-Norfolk (Figure 3).

Table 3 Major Metropolitan Area Net Migration: 2010 to 2013 Metropolitan Areas Net Domestic Migration Change Relative to 2010 Population Net International Migration Change Relative to 2010 Population Atlanta, GA      44,433 0.84%         49,375 0.93% Austin, TX      87,189 5.05%         15,685 0.91% Baltimore, MD          (121) 0.00%         24,366 0.90% Birmingham, AL       (2,918) -0.26%           3,585 0.32% Boston, MA-NH           101 0.00%         70,356 1.54% Buffalo, NY       (7,774) -0.68%           7,341 0.65% Charlotte, NC-SC      56,478 2.54%         14,590 0.66% Chicago, IL-IN-WI   (161,558) -1.71%         69,041 0.73% Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN     (16,893) -0.80%           9,703 0.46% Cleveland, OH     (28,780) -1.39%         10,837 0.52% Columbus, OH      11,425 0.60%         13,752 0.72% Dallas-Fort Worth, TX    127,315 1.97%         57,403 0.89% Denver, CO      70,668 2.77%         14,160 0.55% Detroit,  MI     (58,343) -1.36%         30,281 0.71% Grand Rapids, MI        4,594 0.46%           3,290 0.33% Hartford, CT     (18,979) -1.56%         15,206 1.25% Houston, TX    116,956 1.97%         74,817 1.26% Indianapolis. IN      13,698 0.72%         12,031 0.64% Jacksonville, FL      16,932 1.26%           9,760 0.72% Kansas City, MO-KS       (3,738) -0.19%           9,162 0.45% Las Vegas, NV      17,419 0.89%         19,041 0.97% Los Angeles, CA   (125,037) -0.97%       145,101 1.13% Louisville, KY-IN        4,874 0.39%           6,530 0.53% Memphis, TN-MS-AR     (13,723) -1.03%           4,868 0.37% Miami, FL      31,750 0.57%       152,998 2.74% Milwaukee,WI     (14,282) -0.92%           6,547 0.42% Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI        2,664 0.08%         30,341 0.90% Nashville, TN      42,090 2.51%         10,201 0.61% New Orleans. LA      20,721 1.73%           8,727 0.73% New York, NY-NJ-PA   (336,566) -1.72%       372,651 1.90% Oklahoma City, OK      30,086 2.39%           6,759 0.54% Orlando, FL      49,244 2.30%         43,230 2.02% Philadelphia, PA-NJ-DE-MD     (49,564) -0.83%         51,244 0.86% Phoenix, AZ      72,985 1.73%         24,885 0.59% Pittsburgh, PA        7,564 0.32%           8,129 0.34% Portland, OR-WA      30,244 1.35%         15,350 0.69% Providence, RI-MA     (17,253) -1.08%         13,365 0.83% Raleigh, NC      38,088 3.35%         10,875 0.96% Richmond, VA      10,777 0.89%           9,542 0.79% Riverside-San Bernardino, CA      18,321 0.43%         14,997 0.35% Rochester, NY     (11,558) -1.07%           7,607 0.70% Sacramento, CA        6,922 0.32%         17,662 0.82% St. Louis,, MO-IL     (28,809) -1.03%         11,556 0.41% Salt Lake City, UT        3,367 0.31%           7,560 0.69% San Antonio, TX      63,391 2.94%         10,778 0.50% San Diego, CA           455 0.01%         35,199 1.13% San Francisco-Oakland, CA      37,157 0.86%         68,510 1.58% San Jose, CA       (6,245) -0.34%         41,207 2.24% Seattle, WA      45,188 1.31%         50,351 1.46% Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL      45,071 1.62%         28,621 1.03% Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC     (17,944) -1.07%         15,650 0.93% Washington, DC-VA-MD-WV      32,749 0.58%       107,875 1.90% Total    240,831 0.14%    1,872,698 1.10% From Census Bureau Data


Migration Gains in the Suburbs, Losses in the Core

This year was notable for the virtual absence of the customary "return to the city" stories. In recent years, historical core municipalities have done better in population growth than in the past. In previous decades, some lost large amounts of their population. However, an improving urban environment, not least because of better crime control, has led to something of a residential resurgence, especially in the immediate area of downtowns, though inner core populations (within five miles of City Hall) have continue to decline (see Flocking Elsewhere: The Downtown Growth Story).

Specious claims of a net suburban movement to the cores have been refuted by the domestic migration data. Net domestic migration is reported by the Census Bureau only at the county level. Thus, any analysis of domestic migration between the cores and the suburbs must be county-based. During the Great Recession, domestic migration declined substantially, as is to be expected when the economy is depressed.

Yet, in each of the three years of this decade, suburban counties have experienced net domestic migration gains and in each year have substantially led the core counties. In only one year, 2012, was there a net domestic migration gain in the core counties. The most recent 2013 data shows that core counties experienced a 70,000 net domestic migration loss, while the suburban counties gained 163,000 net domestic migrants. This difference of 233,000 was approximately four times the demographic gains made by the suburbs in both of the previous years Figure 4).

Returning to Normalcy?

With the economy still depressed, it would be premature to declare that the more typical results of the last year presage a return to normalcy. Any such reliable judgment must await restoration of broad-based, job and salary driven – as opposed to asset-based – economic growth. However, the trends of the last year indicate more than anything that the basic patterns of at least the past quarter century – with higher suburban growth and a shift towards the South – to be reasserting themelves.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He was appointed to the Amtrak Reform Council to fill the unexpired term of Governor Christine Todd Whitman and has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Photo: Downtown Houston (by author)

Good Jobs Often Not Matter of Degrees

Mon, 03/31/2014 - 22:07

If there's anything both political parties agree upon, it's that our education system is a mess. It is particularly poor at serving the vast majority of young people who are unlikely either to go to an elite school or get an advanced degree in some promising field, particularly in the sciences and engineering.

Historically, education has been a key driver of upward mobility and progress in our society. But, increasingly, its impact on boosting incomes has slowed, or even reversed, and, for many, the attempt to get a four-year degree ends in debt and widespread unemployment or underemployment. Worse still, many don't make it. Indeed, according to a 2010 report by the Public Policy Institute of California, young adults in California are less likely to graduate from college than were their parents.

These failures make things even worse for workers with only a high school education, as they must compete for even low-wage jobs with people who either have been in college or have graduated. So, we now see college graduates working in jobs as humdrum as barista or even janitor. This has even led to some pretty dubious lawsuits against schools by disgruntled graduates who feel they were misled by post-graduate employment claims.

The worst performance is at the grade-school and high school levels, particularly in California. Blame funding, teachers unions or demographics, but our state's basic education system has been deteriorating for decades. California was ranked 48th in 2009 for high school attainment. In 2000, it ranked 40th. In 1990, it was tied with Illinois for 36th place.

Clearly, if we are to advance as a state, and a country, we need to develop a new perspective on education. It's not just a matter of money, as progressive journalists,teachers unions, education lobbyists and advocates for various ethnic and political causes all insist. Money should be spent but more emphasis needs to be placed on how it is spent. After all, America boosted per-pupil spending on public elementary and secondary education by 327 percent from 1970-2010 (adjusted for inflation) with no rise in student test scores.

As for the effectiveness of college, a recent Rutgers University report found that barely half of college graduates since 2006 had full-time jobs. And it's not getting better: Those graduating since 2009 are three times more likely to not have found a full-time job than those from the classes of 2006-08. Since 1967, notes one 2010 study, the percentage of underemployed college graduates has soared from roughly 10 percent to more than 35 percent.

What we need to do is rethink the notion, supported by President Obama and others, that the solution to our education woes primarily is “more.” More what? What are the job prospects for the new crop of ethnic-studies majors, post-modern English graduates and art historians, for example, particularly those from second-tier institutions? These kind of liberal-arts degrees are, as the New York Times recently reported, that tend to earn graduates the least, while those degrees that pay the most are largely offered by schools aimed at technology, mining and other “hard skills.”

First, we need to understand that educational differences and capabilities exist and cannot be easily adjusted simply by forever lowering standards. Our most competitive institutions need to make sure that people leave with the highest degree of critical skills. Grade inflation at Harvard may not produce unemployables, but it does weaken the value of the degree and, even worse, suggests that one can not expect too much knowledge, or reasoning capacity, from graduates. Indeed, many employers complain about the lack of “soft skills,” such as communication and critical thinking, as much as they do about applicants' lack of harder skills such as math and science.

This suggests that even those of us who teach at more selective universities cannot just rest on laurels. Schools have to focus more on developing actual skills – notably in presentation and research – even among the brightest students. Instead, all too often, as the Manhattan Institute's Heather McDonald has pointed out, political education – usually, but not always, tending toward the progressive left – actually predominates over learning how to think critically and express ideas coherently.

More important is the need to put greater effort in lifting students who may not be ideal for a classical liberal four-year education. This may include a greater emphasis on skills with practical applications, such as nursing, rehabilitation, technical and scientific areas of specialization. It also includes expanding innovative programs, such as at LaGuardia College in New York, that helps high school dropouts to get their diplomas.

Although some of these students will still seek four-year degrees, for many, the best opportunities for employment do not require more than a two-year degree, or simply a certificate. This may be particularly critical for the roughly 40 percent of students who attend college but don't finish.

These include many fields where employment has been growing, notably, in energy, manufacturing and – with the resurgence of the housing market – construction. But the biggest shift may be as a result of the current energy revolution, which, notes the president of the engineering and electronics conglomerate Siemens, Joe Kaeser, “is a once-in-a-lifetime moment.” Cheap and abundant natural gas, in particular, is luring investment from European and Asian manufacturers and sparking demand not only for geologists and engineers but also machinists, rig operators and truck drivers.

The workforce in many of these fields is rapidly aging, and the demand for new, updated skills, particularly involving computers, has soared, leaving manufacturers desperate for necessary workers.

There is already, notes a recent Boston Consulting Group study, a shortfall of some 100,000 skilled manufacturing positions. In this respect, millennials – which I have called “the screwed generation” – may have finally caught a break. By 2020, according to the consultancy BCG and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation could face a shortfall of about 875,000 machinists, welders, industrial-machinery operators and other highly skilled manufacturing professionals.

This already is the case in parts of the country now enjoying the energy and manufacturing renaissance. In training facilities in the New Orleans area, where some of the new trade school students have migrated after receiving four-year degrees, and near Columbus, Ohio, you can see many young people preparing for positions not only in medical fields, but as technicians, machinists, plumbers and electricians.

Businesspeople almost everywhere decry such labor shortages, but rarely lament a lack of English post-modernist scholars. As I saw on a recent trip to Houston – in many ways the country's most economically dynamic city – developers enjoy high demand by are stymied by a lack of skilled labor. In some cases, companies are beginning to invest not only in community colleges but also looking to recruit high school students into these professions.

This practical approach may offend people to whom it seems reminiscent of the infamous “tracking” system, which was used to steer even the most academically gifted minority students into manual professions. Still, stuffing more students into a system that, in the end, fails to prepare young people for the future, and lands them in debt, makes little sense. Today a record 1-in-10 recent college borrowers has defaulted on student debt, the highest level in a decade. And, with wages for college graduates on a downward slope, one has to wonder how many more will join them.

Some “progressives” believe the solution lies in subsidizing even more the current system. In reality, such an approach will only continue the current failures, with fewer students graduating with needed skills and more years of wasted effort. Shifting the financial burdens from parents and students and onto business and the taxpayer does not seem the best way to boost public support for education.

Instead of bailing out the current system, we need to find ways to change our educational focus from the elite level to the certificate program, in ways that serve the needs of both the economy and the next generation. For the talented students I so often encounter at Chapman, this means greater rigor, more serious reading and opening themselves to conflicting ideas. But, for many others, the focus should be on practical skills that can lead to middle-class jobs. We have to learn to appreciate that there's nothing wrong with a son or daughter, rather than aspiring to become a doctor or lawyer, instead, earning a good living as a plumber.

This story originally appeared at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Graduation photo by Bigstock.

Crimea and Ukraine: What Putin Could Learn from Yugoslavia

Sat, 03/29/2014 - 08:02

While American government officials respond to the Russian Anschluss in Crimea by mobilizing their Twitter feeds and making the rounds of the Sunday morning meetings of the press, the Moscow government of Vladimir Putin reinforced its occupation forces around Simferopol and Sebastopol, perhaps at some point passing out small Russian flags to local sympathizers, who can wave them gratefully when the symbolic gates between Russia and Crimea are thrown open.

To paraphrase a quote that circulated in the 1930s: “The West likes to spend its weekends in the country, while the Russians prefer to take their countries in a weekend.”

The reason the Russians have chosen this moment to move against Ukraine and its Western patrons is not difficult to reconstruct. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the United States, NATO, and most recently the European Union have treated Russia as little more than a Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

The moment it could, when the Soviet Union was in liquidation and Russia was weak, NATO pushed its military frontiers into Poland, the Baltic States, Slovakia, and even Georgia. At international conferences such as the G7, it sat Russian presidents at the children’s tables. In the Middle East, the United States and its allies blew away Russia’s man in Baghdad — Saddam — and is now doing the same with Assad in Syria.

In Libya, despite giving Russia assurances that the no-fly zone was there to protect citizens trudging to markets with their donkeys, it was expanded to justify killing Qaddafi and reserving the sweetheart oil contracts for western corporations. No wonder Russia had its doubts when the US and the EU started hinting that Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yushchenko, had stolen more than was necessary.

More immediately, Putin felt humiliated when the Western press comically treated his Olympics as though he was Comrade Kane, staging a $51 billion snow opera for his girlfriend.

Putin did not become president-for-life of Russia by giving fundraisers in Napa Valley or interviews to Esquire. By nature intensely competitive, he still smarts from the dissolution of the Soviet Union, especially the loss of Ukraine.

Short of reviving the 1854 Crimean War coalition (Britain, France, and Turkey, with Austro-Hungary and Prussia neutral) and besieging Sebastopol, there isn’t much that the West can do, or will want to do, to evict Russian troops from Crimea. Will Russia now take up the fallen mantle of the Soviet empire? Will it work?

By invading or partitioning the Ukraine, Russia sets itself up as the Yugoslavia of the 21st century—Russoslavia? Like Slobodan Milosevic before him, Putin is a former Communist war horse who champions the nationalist cause of disenfranchised Russians cut adrift after the dissolution of the Soviet Union — Yugoslavia on a grander scale, with the same hodgepodge ethnicity. Ukraine becomes the Bosnia of the 21st century.

Yugoslavia was a 19th century political ideal, to pull together a number of smaller, vulnerable Balkan states from the encroachments of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the north and the Ottomans to the south. It came into being at the end of World War I, although by that time neither the Austro-Hungarians nor the Turks were powers in southwest Europe.

Almost immediately, without the common threats, the countries of the Yugoslav federation fell out, although the country lasted, officially anyway, until the 1990s. To be a Serb living in Bosnia or Croatia was fine until those republics went for the exits of Yugoslavia, when to be Serb became to be a symbol of a failed central government or, worse, a second-class citizen living in a new country.

Russia’s role in the Soviet Union was not unlike the position of Serbia in Yugoslavia. It had the largest population, was the seat of the central government, and, later, had the most to lose when constituent states of the federation decided to secede and take with them large blocs of Russian citizens.

With the Soviet devolution, Russians became a lost tribe of the Cold War, stranded with few rights and much contempt in places like Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, and Latvia.

When I have traveled in Russia or the ex-Soviet Union, I have met many who say, for example, “My father was from Moldova and my mother was Russian, but during the war we were moved to Uzbekistan, although later I went to school in Riga.”

Putin is their archangel, much as the writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was their philosopher-king, writing in 1995, "Russia has truly fallen into a torn state: 25 million have found themselves 'abroad' without moving anywhere, by staying on the lands of their fathers and grandfathers. Twenty-five million — the largest diaspora in the world by far; how dare we turn our back to it?? Especially since local nationalisms (which we have grown accustomed to view as quite understandable, forgivable, and 'progressive') are everywhere suppressing and maltreating our severed compatriots."

While there is a rationale for Putin speaking up for the lost rights of the Russian diaspora, the last thing he needs, in exchange for the liberation of Donetsk, is a Muslim Risorgimento in Tatarstan, Chechen agitation, a separatist movement in Siberia, or rebellion from the two million Ukrainians living inside Russia.

Like Yugoslavia, Russia has a lot it can lose in playing the nationalist card, because it risks a series of border wars if it tries to impose Greater Russia not just on gleeful former citizens, but on less enthusiastic minorities, who want nothing to do with a Russian restoration.

In its attempts to hang on to its cordon sanitaire in the past, Russia became the patron of bizarre breakaway republics, such as Transnistria (a Russian enclave between Ukraine and Moldova), Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, and Nagorno-Karabakh in Armenia. An Autonomous Republic of Crimea, run by shady commissars flitting around in SUVs, would fit well with these no-man’s lands, dressed up for the Kremlin masquerade.

Most likely the Ukraine crisis will end with the same vagueness that has characterized so much of international diplomacy since the end of the Cold War. In most cases, Moscow has ended up as the guardian of a series of rump states, the latest of which might be Crimea.

Matthew Stevenson, a contributing editor of Harper's Magazine, is the author of Remembering the Twentieth Century Limited, a collection of historical travel essays. His new book, Whistle-Stopping America, was recently published. He first traveled to the former Soviet Union in 1975, and over the years has been to many of its then-constituent parts, usually by train.

This post is a different version of a longer analysis at NYTimes eXaminer.

Flickr photo by Alexxx Malev: Sevastopol 187

Sunday Night Dinner in Indianapolis

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 22:38

Urban culture varies radically from city to city. Yet to a great extent the culture of the usual suspects type of places tends to get portrayed as normative. In New York, for example, with its tiny apartments, the social life is often in public, in many cases literally on the streets of the city, which pulse with energy. As the ne plus ultra of cities, the street life of New York is often seen as what every place should aspire to. There’s a body of literature which attributes all sorts of positive effects to this New York style urbanism, such as the notion of “collisions” and “serendipitous encounters”. But while New York’s street life and social scene may indeed be engaging, how often does one actually strike up a conversation with someone random on the street or in a coffee shop there that turns into something meaningful? The only collisions I’ve ever had there were literal.

New York is the most well known and championed style of interaction, though hardly the only one. Think of San Francisco and something clearly distinct will come to mind, albeit with some similarities. LA has its own mythos. The TV show Portlandia does a great job of capturing our idea of the quirky urban life of that city.

Cities that lack the cachet of an NYC, SF, or Portland can often find their own urban culture lacking in comparison. To be taken seriously, the logic goes, they must measure up to the yardstick defined by others. But while I do not subscribe to the idea of value free cultural comparisons, I do believe cities need not judge themselves as wanting just because they don’t function like New York City. Rather, they should seek to be the best they can be on their own terms. Since few cities are anything like New York, aspiring to that kind of urbanism would only be a case study in frustration anyway.

Indianapolis cultural commentator David Hoppe once said something to the effect that “the social life of Indianapolis happens in back yards.” And this is true. Unlike a New York City, Indianapolis does not wow you just by walking down the street. While I believe in trying to contextualize the facts on the ground in the most positive way possible for moving forward, that doesn’t mean reclassifying genuine defects as virtues. In the case of Indianapolis, the generally poor impression left by its built environment and lack of street life can’t be denied. There are plenty of great places to go, but you generally need someone to point you in the right direction.

But there are countervailing virtues as well, ones generally under appreciated. Unlike New York, Indy has a far more robust social life in private spaces like houses and back yards. This produces a qualitatively different type of social capital, one with its own unique set of strengths.

One example of this is the emergence of community based Sunday dinners. This was an organic movement and as a result lacks a fancy name, but in keeping with the generally low key and unpretentious character of the city, let’s just call it Sunday Night Dinner.

Sunday night dinners are a type of intentional community in which 6-8 families in a neighborhood decide to get together for dinner every Sunday night on a rotating basis. This originated in 2006 on Pleasant St. in the Fountain Square neighborhood when a group of neighbors decided to start getting together regularly for dinner. Here’s how Tonya Beeler, one of the founding members, describes it:

When most of us talk about it, we just call it Sunday Night Dinner. It’s unassuming, I know – but that’s what Sunday Dinner is to us. We’ve had it consistently for almost 8 years – having only cancelled dinner a handful of times. The majority of the families on the original list are still regular participants and we’ve added and lost a few through the years.

What is Sunday Night Dinner to us? In this stage in our lives, its sometimes difficult to physically connect to your neighbors, but we know that each Sunday we’re going to see our friends. It’s also a good time to have newcomers to the neighborhood connect with some of us old timers. We’ve also had visits from Mayor Ballard (before he was elected) and Melina Kennedy (when she was running) and I still have a fond memory of John Day sitting down to sup with us. But what is it mostly? Just a day in the week where we meet to take a breath, sit down, and eat together. It’s my favorite day of the week.

I used to be part of a quarterly dinner club in Chicago. Given the frequency, our idea was to make each dinner “special” in the sense that we went all out with super high-quality food, etc. In Indy, while good food is certainly part of the equation, the regular weekly cadence means it’s as much about friends and neighbors as it is special ambiance. It’s about regular life lived in the city. In the picture at the top it’s paper plates and plastic cups all the way – and that’s just fine. Can’t stay for some reason? No worries, bring some tupperware, grab some food, and run. In a sense, it’s the Kinfolk Magazine ethic (motto: doing things simple sure is complicated – and expensive) in genuine form, shorn of Portland pretense.

Sunday night dinner in the Beeler’s backyard in Fountain Square, Indianapolis, Easter 2012. Photo: Cindy Ragsdale

Oh, and typically with children, which actually exist in abundance in Indianapolis.

The idea spread and now there are Sunday night dinner groups all over the city. I’m told there are three in Herron-Morton Place alone, which I can’t quite wrap my head around given how small the area is.

I can’t help but notice the similarity of these dinner groups to religious small group gathering. In the last couple decades, Evangelical churches have moved away from mid-week services in favor of small group gathering during the week (sometimes called home groups or other names). The idea is to promote more actual community than is possible in a larger assembly format. These dinner groups are in effect secular small groups, ones that help provide the sense of connectedness, regularity, and rootedness that’s so often missing from our contemporary world.

Outdoor fun on Sunday night isn’t just for summer in Herron-Morton Place, Indianapolis. Photo by Amanda Reynolds.

These groups aren’t just walled garden cliques, however. The host generally invites guests to attend. So there’s a type of brokered introduction which in my experience is the real source of “serendipitous” encounters of genuine value. An arranged guest invite is one way to get people connected in their neighborhood, or even to help people who are deciding whether or not to take the plunge into city living to get a feel for what life lived in a particular neighborhood is actually like.

In fact, if you are visiting Indianapolis on a Sunday night, or live there and want to check it out, email the City Gallery at the Harrison Center For the Arts and they will set you up. The email address is

I don’t want to suggest that Indianapolis invented the concept of the dinner club or is the only place such events occur. For all I know, lots of places do this. (Heck, as big as it is, odds are that includes New York City). And as with all traditions, this particular instantiation will likely die off at some point (though it’s still growing eight years after starting on Pleasant St). Yet the prevalence of this type of cultural phenomenon is part of the explanation for why Indianapolis has consistently managed to punch above its weight class in so many areas. Although the type of obvious assets and strength evidenced by super-cool buildings or crowds on the street may be lacking in Indianapolis vis-a-vis some other places, the city contains deep reservoirs of cultural capital that aren’t as visible and may never be fully understood or mapped, but nevertheless are of profound importance. This is the real secret sauce of the city.

Copying this idea, locally or anywhere, is definitely welcomed. Should you be interested, here are the “Indianapolis Rules” for Sunday night dinners, courtesy of Tonya Beeler:

1. Dinner is every Sunday night, with six to eight families, each hosting on a rotating basis.

2. The host is responsible for preparing all of the food for everyone. (Work? Yes, but it also means seven weeks of not having to do anything but show up).

3. The host is responsible for inviting all guests. Do not invite guests without checking with the host first.

4. If you’re not coming, tell the host as far in advance as possible.

5. At the very beginning of the dinner, the host makes sure all the guests know of any rules for the house (no one allowed upstairs, kids can’t eat in the living room, toilet handle needs to be held down for 3 seconds, whatever).

6. If your family will not be coming for dinner, but you still want food, there’s no need to let the host know, just stop by early in the meal (so you don’t miss anything, food goes fast!!!) with some tupperware and fill it to go.

Sunday night dinner in Fountain Square, Indianapolis. Painting by Kyle Ragsdale.

Aaron M. Renn is an independent writer on urban affairs and the founder of Telestrian, a data analysis and mapping tool. He writes at The Urbanophile, where this piece originally appeared.

Lead photo: Sunday night dinner in Herron-Morton Place, Indianapolis. This is one of three dinner groups in that neighborhood. Photo by Amanda Reynolds (check out the mirror!)

New Central Business District Employment and Transit Commuting Data

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 22:38

Photographs of downtown skylines are often the "signature" of major metropolitan areas, as my former Amtrak Reform Council colleague and then Mayor of Milwaukee (later President and CEO of the Congress of New Urbanism) John Norquist has rightly said. The cluster of high rise office towers in the central business district (CBD) is often so spectacular – certainly compared with an edge city development or suburban strip center – as to give the impression of virtual dominance. I have often asked audiences to guess how much of a metropolitan area's employment is in the CBD. Answers of 50 percent to 80 percent are not unusual. In fact, the average is 7 percent in the major metropolitan areas (over 1,000,000) and reaches its peak at only 22 percent in New York (Figure 1), which sports the second largest business district in the world (after Tokyo).

Only seven of the 52 major metropolitan areas have CBDs with 10 percent or more of employment. Some are much lower. For example, Los Angeles and Dallas have had some of the nation's tallest skyscrapers outside New York or Chicago for decades, yet these downtowns have only 2.4 percent and 2.3 percent of their metropolitan area employment respectively (Figure 2).

This and similar information has been summarized in the third edition of Demographia Central Business Districts, which is based on the 2006-2010 Census Transportation Planning Package, a joint venture of the Census Bureau and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). The two previous editions of the report summarized data from the 1990 and 2000 censuses.

The Declining Role of Downtown

Downtowns have become far less important than before World War II, when a large share of American households did not have access to automobiles and when employment was far more concentrated than today. Indeed, the highly concentrated American downtown area is "unique," as Robert Fogelson indicates in Downtown: Its Rise and Fall: 1880-1950, and could be easily located as the destination of the "street railways." Downtown was a product of transit and remains transit's principal destination today. The concentrated US style CBD form is really quite rare outside other new world nations, such as Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Some, but only a few Asian cities have also followed the example, most notably Shanghai, Hong Kong, Nanjing, Chongqing, Singapore, and Seoul.

The US, however, for all its role as originator of the downtown paradigm has also led the world in employment dispersion. This reflects the dominance in the US of automobiles. Dispersion is more amenable to mobility by the car, which dominates motorized mobility in virtually all major metropolitan areas of North America and Western Europe. This has led in the US to generally shorter work trip travel times and less traffic congestion, according to Tom Tom and Inrix. The continuing expansion of working at home could improve the situation even more.

New York has the largest CBD in the nation by far, with nearly 2,000,000 jobs. Chicago's CBD (the Loop and North Michigan Avenue) has about one-quarter as many jobs (500,000) and Washington approximately 375,000. San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia, also ranked among the nation’s transit "legacy cities," have between 200,000 and 300,000 jobs. Automobile oriented Houston and Atlanta are the largest otherwise, with Houston's downtown being much more compact than Atlanta's. Atlanta's downtown has expanded strongly (and less densely) to the north and includes "Midtown" (Figure 3)

Transit is About Downtown

Transit is about downtown. Approximately 55 percent of transit commuting in the United States is to jobs in just six municipalities (not to be confused with metropolitan areas), which I have called transit's "legacy cities." Most of that commuting is to the six downtown areas. Of course, the city of New York is dominant, which alone accounts for 55 percent of the country’s CBD transit commuting (Figure 4), with much of the balance in the other five legacy cities (Figure 4). Only 14 percent of the CBD commuting is to the other 46 smaller downtowns.

More than 1.5 million transit commuters converge on jobs in Manhattan every day. In the other five legacy cities, the figure ranges from 100,000 to 300,000 daily. All of the other central business districts draw fewer than 100,000 daily commuters. Seattle ranks 7th, at 60,000, and has double or more the CBD transit commuters of any of the other 44 CBDs (Figure 5). 

New York has by far the highest transit commuting share of any downtown in the nation. Approximately 77 percent of people who work in the New York central business district commute by transit. The other legacy cities post impressive market shares as well, though well below those of New York. The CBDs in Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco draw between 50 percent and 60 percent of their commuters by transit. Downtown Philadelphia and Washington attract more than 40 percent of their commuters by transit (Figure 6).

Transit is About Downtown II

The importance of downtown to transit is also indicated by its predominance in transit commuting destinations. In the New York metropolitan area, with a transit market share of approximately 30 percent, 57 percent of all transit commuting is to downtown jobs. Chicago's transit commuting is concentrated in downtown to a slightly greater degree than in New York. One half of all the transit commuting in the San Francisco metropolitan area is to downtown. The CBDs of Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington account for between 40 percent and 50 percent of all transit commuting in their downtown areas. Seattle and Pittsburgh also are in this range (Figure 7). Seven of the eight metropolitan areas with the largest transit market shares have a CBD commuting dominance of 40 percent or more (Pittsburgh is the exception).

The 52 major metropolitan area CBDs combined have less than five percent of the nation's jobs. Elsewhere, downtowns and otherwise, the other 95 percent of American commuters use transit at only a three percent rate.

Other Employment Centers

In a new feature, Demographia Central Business Districts also provides data for selected employment centers other than the principal central business districts. These also include some surprises. For example, downtown Brooklyn, long since engulfed by the expansion of New York, has the second highest transit market share of any employment center identified other than New York, at 60 percent. Across the river, the Jersey City Waterfront area achieves a transit market share of more than 50 percent, greater than the downtowns of legacy cities Philadelphia and Washington.

Data on supplemental employment center and corridor data is selected and therefore not representative. It is notable that some employment corridors and centers have employment totals that dwarf those of the principal downtown areas in their respective metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles, Portland, Dallas, and Kansas City.

With a few exceptions, the transit commuting shares for most of these selected centers and corridors is modest. Many are served by new rail systems, which are simply not up to the task of providing mobility to these dispersed centers. Nor can they provide the radial, high quality service that makes transit such a success in the six legacy city downtowns. For example, the Dallas light rail system provides service along virtually the entire US-75 corridor from north of downtown to Plano. Transit's share of commutes in this corridor is only 2 percent, far below the downtown Dallas share of 14 percent and the legacy city downtown average of 65 percent.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He was appointed to the Amtrak Reform Council to fill the unexpired term of Governor Christine Todd Whitman and has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

The Part-Time, Freelance, Collaborative Economy

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 07:23

Are we becoming a part-time economy? Maybe. A collaborative economy? Possibly. A freelance economy? Definitely. Here's the evidence:

The Part-Time Economy- Involuntary part-time work is at a historic high, and the workforce participation rate is at a near-historic low. The number of unemployed people is higher, and the number of jobs in the economy is lower, than five years ago. During this weak recovery, more people have left the workforce than have started a new job, and a high percentage of the jobs that are being created are low-wage and part-time.

This is a catastrophic situation, both in personal and in national terms. On the personal level, people need work to pay the bills, save some money for their non-working years (if they ever arrive) and, I would argue, to stay connected to society by being and feeling useful. It has long been noted that Americans are prone to defining themselves in terms of their work, through which they find a sense of identity, purpose and self-worth.

On the national level, the country needs more citizens working more hours to pay taxes and to start to alleviate our unsustainable debt and unfunded liabilities.

For this miserable state of affairs, some blame the Affordable Care Act. Others say it is a temporary phenomenon, due to the lousy economy and low economic growth. Still others blame technology and/or globalization for displacing jobs, or the rising share of profits that go to capital instead of to labor. And finally, some say the shift to part-time is a myth.

According to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, recessions always drive up part-time work, but what is different this time is that the part-time employment rate has remained higher for many more months than in past recessions. Also, states the report, the US labor market has recovered only about three-fourths of the jobs lost during the recession and its aftermath. In other words, general labor market slack is the key factor keeping part-time employment high.

My conclusion? Many more people would be working, and working more hours, if not for the four horsemen of recession/depression: high taxes, overregulation, a weak currency and political (policy) uncertainty. When things crashed some five years ago, I wrote that the effects would be with us for years: slow growth at best, high unemployment and underemployment, underinvestment by businesses, and an overhang of debt. Sorry to say I was right, and that what I most feared has come to pass: a “recovery” that leaves tens of millions behind.

How are millions coping?

The Collaborative Economy- A modern version of the “pooled resources” strategy practiced through the ages by affinity groups -- families, tribes, etc. -- has been updated for the 21st century through the use of technology. Those outside of traditional economies once banded together to survive, and then thrived, becoming part of new mainstreams. This is happening again today. We are seeing peer-to-peer sharing not only of content, but of goods and services, transportation, space and money.

Platforms that are hallmarks of this new economy include well known sites like Etsy, eBay, Craigslist, Kiva, and Kickstarter, as well as Rent the Runway, Lyft, Uber, and Airbnb. Apps and the internet are the new middle men of collaboration, connecting individuals. This economy also empowers entrepreneurs and hobbyists.

Sharing is the New Buying, a report by and, breaks individuals down into three categories, based on their level of participation in the collaborative economy. A shrinking majority of us (61% of Americans) are still in a category the report calls “non-sharers,” not yet having dipped into this realm. A smaller portion (23%) are “re-sharers,” using some of the more popular and more established services like eBay and Craigslist. But then there is a smaller, rapidly emerging group (16%) known as “neo-sharers.” These are the people who are early adopters of sites like Etsy, Lyft, and Kickstarter, engaging in more niche forms of collaboration.

The poor employment environment is one of the engines driving this trend, but once people become engaged in it, they may never go back to the traditional ways of doing things.

The Freelance Economy- One in three Americans, roughly 42 million, are estimated to be freelancers. By 2020, freelancers are expected to make up 50% of the full time workforce. Independent work is becoming more common across all generations.

As Jeff Wald writes in Forbes, the freelance economy is exploding at exactly the same moment that businesses are undergoing a major shift. Talent is moving from a fixed cost (and one that’s historically been one of the largest of a business) to a variable cost, with companies staffing up and down as needed.

The booming online staffing industry is also accelerating the growth of the freelance economy. This $1 billion industry grew 60% last year.

The online work marketplace oDesk recently announced that it hit $1 billion in work brokered between businesses -- many of them small -- and solopreneurs, freelancers who moonlight, and in many cases earn their entire living, online.

While it’s unlikely the majority of businesses will ever become completely freelance or remote — core staff need to work in proximity at any company of a certain size; local service-based businesses need people on site, though those can be freelancers — it's entirely plausible that more than half of the American workforce will one day log in or show up every day as independent contractors.

A surprisingly large percentage of working freelancers have day jobs to supplement their incomes. And for many, it's soon going to be the only option. By 2020, more than 40% of the US workforce will be so-called contingent workers, according to a study conducted by software company Intuit.


Following the recent economic downturn, the employment rate has recovered at a frustratingly slow pace, except in one area: temporary, contingent, and independent workers. Between 2009 and 2012, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of temporary employees rose by 29%. A survey of the 200 largest companies found that temporary workers represented, on average, 22% of their workforce. Workers from all different industries, not just tech, are discovering that they’re able to be productive outside of the corporate office and without a long-term employer.

Even with the economy and hiring improving, freelancing is likely to become a much bigger part of the employment landscape, regardless of what workers prefer. Employers like having the flexibility to expand and contract their workforce, and the supply of available workers currently exceeds demand in many fields. Elance, one of many online freelance hubs that matches freelancers with clients, recently announced that hiring by businesses through its site increased by 60% last year.

Keep all this in mind every month when employment numbers are released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics; they’re missing the big story -- the part-time, collaborative and freelance economy. This is what explains how the workforce can shrink while the unemployment rate also declines. Sure, a lot of people are retiring or collecting some sort of disability, but the big trend is that there is tremendous growth in freelance and independent contracting work, part-time work, and collaborative types of work that fly under the radar.

Of the many repeating patterns I have discerned from decades of social and economic trend analysis, these are two of the most powerful: 1) what is outside the mainstream, if necessary or desirable, becomes mainstream, and 2) what is past is prologue.

Dr. Roger Selbert is a trend analyst, researcher, writer and speaker. Growth Strategies is his newsletter on economic, social and demographic trends. Roger is economic analyst, North American representative and Principal for the US Consumer Demand Index, a monthly survey of American households’ buying intentions.

Flickr photo by Antony Mayfield, Working in Intelligensia: Settled down to work in a coffee shop in Venice, California.

Freedom and its Fruits: Fertility Over Time in Estonia

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 22:38

Estonians and Latvians are the only independent nations in Europe with fewer people now than at the beginning of the 20th century. It is written in The White Book, 2004, about losses inflicted on the Estonian nation by occupation regimes. During the whole period (1940-1991) nearly 90,000 citizens of the Republic of Estonia perished, and about the same number of people left their homeland forever. It happened in a nation with a population number of about one million. Another nation, through centuries, gradually perished and disappeared from this territory: the Livonians. Their leader, Caupo, in 1203 was received with honor by Roman Pope Innocent III. Interestingly, at least three regions in America are named after Livonians. They are Livonia in New York State, Livonia in Pennsylvania, and Livonia in the Michigan. Do the inhabitants of these Livonias have any connection to the Livonians at the Baltic Sea?!

The growth of the number of Estonians in 45 postwar years till 1990 was about 100 thousand. This was caused by natural increase, decrease of mortality, return of ethnic Estonians from Russia. The fertility rate of Estonians was below the replacement level for 40 years, but from 1970 to 1990 was at or above the replacement level. At the same time, the foreign-born population experienced a rate of fertility beneath the replacement level: 1.64 - 1.72.

The time between 1983 and 1988 was a positive period, with a crude birth rate (the number of births per 1000 people per year) of about 16.0. It is interesting that this situation arose during the so-called “stagnation era”. The stagnation period – life without radical changes – was probably fruitful for fertility growth. The same trend was noted for Russia. Perhaps this increase was caused by the decision of the Soviet government in 1981 to increase the birth rate “About Measures of Public Support to Families Having Children”. In 1989, the peak of fertility was over.

The French demographer Adolphe Landry (1874-1956) defined genuine demographic revolution as the situation in which use of contraceptives and abortions by women becomes universal. This revolution detaches fertility from social control and transfers it to the interests of individuals. For Estonia, this period arrived at the beginning of nineties, when plenty of contraceptives became available, in addition to abortions continuing to be permitted.

In 1991, the crude birth rate fell to 12.4, and the total fertility rate (number of children per woman during her lifetime, which characterize the necessary replacement level of 2.1) to 1.80. The year of 1991 was the first year of two decades of continuing decrease. Remarkably, fall of the birth rate at the beginning of nineties was much worse than it was during WW II. The population of about one million had 19.5 and 19.2 thousand births respectively in 1941 and 1942 during the war, but in 1993, when conditions were clearly better, only 15.3 thousand children were born to a population of one and a half million. The genuine demographic revolution had truly arrived!

The reasons, in addition to the availability of contraceptives and abortions, were the decline of religion, economic uncertainty regarding the future, the opening of the world with a variety of lifestyle choices and career paths. Almost thirty decrees regarding the family benefits of the Soviet period that had been made by that government were cancelled in 1992. In the liberal market economy of the nineties, population policy was left largely to chance. Public attention to the issue was narrowly limited to family benefits and integration programs.

The Parental Benefit Act passed in 2003 tried to attain the birth rate. According to the Act, persons have the right to receive parental benefits for 435 days from the day following the final day of maternity leave. The amount of the parental benefit received is calculated on the basis of the Social Tax paid during the previous year. If the parent didn’t work, the parental benefit is paid at the designated benefit base rate, which is 290 euros in 2013. The upper limit of the amount of the parental benefit is three times the average salary earned during the year before last, which – in 2013 – is 2,234 euros.

If we take the birth rate of the years 2002 and 2003 – 13,000 births – as the plateau (base rate) and eliminate all other factors pertaining to reproductive behavior, then natality during the 2004-2012 period resulted in about 18 thousand additional births. This speaks to the effectiveness of the parental benefit. However, even this was insufficient for attaining positive natural increase. The total maximum fertility rate obtained was 1.65, but later, in 2011, it decreased to 1.52. In 28 countries of European Union the mean value of the total fertility rate was 1.58 in 2012, for euro area it was 1.56. However in France, which has perhaps the oldest experience in field of demography and demographic research, this indicator was 2.01. In contrast, Singapore's total fertility rate steadily dropped from 1.6 in 2000 to a record low of 1.16 in 2010. It bounced back to 1.2 in 2011, and further to 1.29 in 2012, but last year slipped again to 1.19. 

The government aims, by 2015, to achieve a birth rate that is higher than the death rate, meaning an increase of the total birth rate to 1.70. (Action Program of the Government of the Republic 2011-2015). This seems unattainable. Poverty and migration worsen the situation. The at-risk-of-poverty rate in Estonia in 2011 was 17.6% on the average. The parent benefit and family benefits together constituted 1,7% of GDP in 2011 ( the same figure in Sweden and Finland was 3%).  

One key cause, ironically, is freedom to move that came with the fall of the Soviet Union. Handling the population decrease we described first of all the birth rate, but last years has been intensified external migration. Migration that took place in 2011 decreased the population of Estonia in 2012 by 6,600 inhabitants. The trend continued. In external migration, there was an increase in both immigration and emigration in 2012. Over 4,000 persons immigrated to and almost 11,000 persons emigrated from Estonia. The main destination countries for emigrants are Finland and the United Kingdom. Most of the immigrants are in fact returnees, mostly from Finland. The second place is held by Russia, but the immigrants from Russia are mainly new immigrants.

Despite numerous attempts to boost birth rate, the years from 1991 to 2013 are characterized by a birth rate under the replacement level. The lowest point arrived in 1998, with a total fertility rate of 1.28. After that it began to rise, reaching 1.65 in the year of 2008, only to decrease again later. At the same time, the population figure decreased by 14%. Problems caused by decreasing population entail a threat to the survival of the Estonian national culture, issues with sustainable economic development and difficulties with the sustainability of the social infrastructure. 

How to avoid the fate of Livonians? Is there a force majeure against the small nation? Or it is a problem of insufficient national steering without any specialized institution responsible on population?

Jaak Uibu, a Phd. in human micro ecology, was former Deputy Minister of Health of Estonia and advisor to Minister of Population. 

Oleviste photo by E. Kanash.

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