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The New Downtown Los Angeles

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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.    read more »

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Why Some Nations Succeed

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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.  read more »

Subjects:

The Rise of the Executive Headquarters

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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?   read more »

Don't make big-city mayors regional rulers

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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.  read more »

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

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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.  read more »

Guess What? The Parties are About Even!

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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.  read more »

Ukrainian and Russian: The Geo-Politics of Language

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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.  read more »

Subjects:

Focusing on People, Not Sprawl

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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).  read more »

Concentrated Wealth or Democracy, but Not Both

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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.  read more »

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