Creating the Next American System

Michael Lind of the New America Foundation has just published an excellent and inspiring article in Democracy Journal about the need for a new financial and physical infrastructure.

"One of the goals of reforming and regulating finance is to ensure that American industry and American infrastructure have access to the private and public investment they need," Lind writes. "Industry, infrastructure, and finance form a system—an American System. And a new American system, well-designed and well-implemented, will be crucial in revitalizing American economic prosperity in the twenty-first century."

Lind talks about previous "American systems" of finance and organization that were adopted over time to adjust to the economic realities of the age and how today, we are in dire need of creating a new system that reacts to the new realities we face.

Some of these ideas include the creation of a National Investment Corporation and a National Research & Development Bank and the creation of a Department of Infrastructure that merges some of the transportation agencies together. These are bold ideas explained in clear prose with illuminating historical examples.

Many of his ideas lend themselves towards centralization and thus remind me of the New Deal a bit. The existence of the Works Progress Administration and the Public Works Administration was one of the rare times in American history when infrastructure finance was centralized. It was also one of the most prolific times in our history for the construction of vital and long lasting public infrastructure that still stands today.

Is the heartland the economic armpit of America?

Writing in the Wall Street Journal last week, native Kansan Thomas Frank isn't too complimentary on the state of affairs: will find that small-town America, this legendary place of honesty and sincerity and dignity, is not doing very well. If you drive west from Kansas City, Mo., you will find towns where Main Street is largely boarded up. You will see closed schools and hospitals. You will hear about depleted groundwater and massive depopulation.

While the windshield tour may yield an array of sorry small towns, much of the mostly rural Heartland has beaten the national job growth rate since the early 1970s. Like the rest of the nation, the heartland of America is urbanizing -- producing many small growth nodes of prosperity.

While many of the small prairie towns are dying on the vine, the biggest reason is not "electing people like Sarah Palin who claimed to love and respect the folksy conservatism of small towns, and yet who have unfailingly enacted laws to aid the small town's mortal enemies," as Frank suggests, but rather a combination of larger factors including the re-balancing of 100-year old settlement patterns and the macro effects of automating the ag industry.

So what's the prevailing politics in small towns? Here's the Iowa Independent's Douglas Burns writing about Obama's "bitter" rural American's gaffe:

...does any thinking person believe Obama’s brief and failed turn as a rural anthropologist will hurt him more than what Republican presidential candidate John McCain said today in Alabama?

“We must reduce barriers to imports, to things like ethanol from Brazil, and we’ve got to stop subsidizing ethanol in my view,” Senator McCain said.

If the ivory-towered urban elites hawking their tiresome flyover views on cable television each night want to see what a bitter small-town American looks like, they can come to western Iowa during the second year of what we have every reason to expect would be a decidedly anti-rural John McCain presidency.

Barack Obama misspoke. John McCain didn’t.

Rural Americans know the difference.

Burns also correctly predicted Palin's Vice Presidential nomination. What all three of us can agree on is that many rural voters seem to elect candidates who enact policies contrary to their interests. Can Obama make any real inroads with Great Plains rural voters?

Rethinking the American Alley - Examples from Baltimore and L.A.

Dark, narrow and usually neglected, the alleyway is not one of the more beloved landscapes of the American city. Out of sight and mind, the "dark alley" is the unseemly home to noir nightmares and urban misdeeds in the popular imagination - the sort of place where Batman surprises his criminal victims.

And yet, planners across the nation are beginning to rethink the alley, re-imagining it as urban parkland. The LA Times ran a piece today about the attempts of academics and planners to recreate trash-and-graffiti strewn alleys as green space. The slide show from the article shows this better than the prose.

In Baltimore, where alleys and murder are more plentiful, gating alleys to decrease crime and increase public space has won public money. Groups like Community Greens are helping to lead the charge.

An interesting union of groups here: gardeners, academics and neighborhood activists.

Milken's List of Top-performing Cities Heavy with Small Metro Areas

The Milken Institute just released its report about the country's top-performing cities. The list is heavy with the names of small and mid-size cities and also has a good deal in common with Inc.'s Best Cities list which came out a few months prior. The list of the top ten with last year's ranking is below:

1. Provo-Orem, Utah (8)
2. Raleigh-Cary, North Carolina (10)
3. Salt Lake City, Utah (18)
4. Austin-Round Rock, Texas (20)
5. Huntsville, Alabama (16)
6. Wilmington, North Carolina (2)
7. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas (7)
8. Tacoma, Washington (50)
9. Olympia, Washington (37 in the 2007 ranking of small metros)
10. Charleston-North Charleston, South Carolina (12)

Newgeography has run several articles about the advantages of small cities. "Why Small Cities Rock" and "Sprawl Beyond Sprawl: America Moves to Smaller Metropolitan Areas" are two of them. For an entire list click on the "Small Cities" tab on the home page.

Young, Educated and Living in Indianapolis

Here's an article from the Indianapolis Business Journal that discusses how the city attracts young, educated married couples but not singles.

Never known for edgy culture, "Cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Denver trounce Indianapolis on attracting young singles." However, it's the shorter commutes and housing affordability that separate Indiana's metropolis from the crowd. “I’ve got a house and a yard and a 10-minute commute. Try that in Chicago. You can’t,” says one recent Indy transplant.

A good article to see how young people change when they get married and how their preferences on place change as well.

New York City Backyards

There's a very pretty slide show in this recent article in the New York Times showing different backyards throughout the city's boroughs. No matter how small the area, there resides an amazing level of appreciation for having one's own area of greenery.

Though many planners call for increased density, many neighborhoods are in favor of "down-zoning." You flip through this slide show and it's easy to see why.

Los Angeles & Chicago's Summer Homicide Numbers

With 84 homicides, Los Angeles just recorded its lowest number of summer homicides since 1967. Overall, numbers are down this year compared to last year - which saw the fewest homicides in the city in 40 years. Made infamous by Rodney King just over 15 years ago, the LAPD is rising to the task of stemming violent crime.

Contrast this with Chicago, a city with a million fewer people than LA, which saw 123 murders this summer. What gives?

Asian Pollution Hitting West Coast

Looks like there is a cost to all those cheap industrial goods made in China after all. This article from McClatchy discusses the problem of pollution from Asia hitting the West Coast:

"By some estimates more than 10 billion pounds of airborne pollutants from Asia — ranging from soot to mercury to carbon dioxide to ozone — reach the U.S. annually."

That's a hard number to visualize. It does, however, bring home the global problem of pollution.


The new political donor class

Do you know who is funding your local candidate? Most of them are probably not from your district, as Lee Drutman at Miller-McCune points out after looking at the results of new report by two University of Maryland professors. Lee writes:

Increasingly, they’re not bothering to ask the folks whom they are actually paid to represent for campaign cash. Instead, they are flocking to a handful of super-wealthy ZIP codes in places like Hollywood; the Upper East Side of Manhattan; Greenwich, Conn.; and suburban Washington, D.C. - the "political ATM's" of the campaign trial.

Moreover, as of 2004, only 1 in 5 congressional districts provided the majority of contributions for the candidates seeking to represent that district. And in 18 percent of congressional districts, more than 90 percent of money now comes from out of district.

The professors write in their analysis that the new donor class is “disproportionately wealthy, urban, highly educated, and employed in elite occupations.”

If you're interested in where the small donors are coming from in the presidential race, check out the interactive map at Huffington Post's Fundrace. It's a great tool to use as a proxy to visualize which way your state or metro area might lean, or maybe you just want to spy on your neighbors.

For instance, it's pretty easy to see instantly which parts of the Los Angeles may be pockets of Republican influence, or to see Obama's fund raising success in the Chicago region.

Perhaps the Republicans should move this week's convention out to the western Minneapolis suburbs for a warmer reception?

Miller-McCune link via NewsAlert.


Silicon Valley's Working Class Walks Tightrope

It may be home to Google, Cisco, Oracle and the other gleaming companies of the New Economy, but times are tough for the Silicon Valley's working class.

"Working people in Silicon Valley are walking an economic tightrope, and any unexpected medical bill or even a car breakdown can push them over the edge."

What happens to a community like this when the working class can no longer afford to live there?