Altars to Marble Kitchen Counters: Churches Converting to Condos

In Boston, 65 parishes have been shuttered since 2004 and 30 have been sold - some to developers. And now, these former neighborhood institutions are becoming something truly unholy - high-priced condominiums. This article in the Boston Globe chronicles the trend. But hey, at least the priests are offering their blessings to these buildings' new uses at the developer's behest.

Geography of Wind

The American Wind Energy Association just announced that the US has overtaken Germany as the worlds top wind power generator, you're certainly familiar with T. Boone Pickens's wind obsession, and DOE is claiming we could be generating 20% of our power with wind by 2030.

Check out DOE's wind energy potential maps and AWEA's run down of installed and pending wind power projects in the U.S.

The question is can the country's transmission infrastructure withstand a redistribution of power generation? Who will build the needed infrastructure? In my home state of North Dakota, often called the "Saudi Arabia of Wind," the transmission capacity problem was cited so frequently for slow wind build out that the state government has gotten involved.


Demography of the Battleground States

William Frey of the Milken Institute and Brookings Institution breaks down the race demographics of the presidential battleground states in this month's Milken Institute Review. Frey groups the states into what he calls the Fast Growing Battlegrounds, Slow Growing Battlegrounds, and Fast-Growing South Longshots.

His conclusion? The rapid growth in racial minorities in the fast growing battleground states make them prime targets for Obama. A similar trend in the longshot states, along with recent migration from blue states, give him a chance there as well. On the other hand, white dominated slow growth battleground states where Obama fared poorly in the primaries leave plenty of room for McCain to move in.

Check out Frey's analysis.

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A look at the Information Sector

The Information sector of the economy is has followed an interesting trajectory over the past 15 years. The info sector built up to a huge peak in the early part of this decade, and has seen general decline since that time.

Growth in Information Subsectors:

The big boom and bust was caused by employment inflation of the telecommunications sector. Publishing followed a similar, but less extreme path. Both industries have reverted to employment levels in the early 1990s.

Motion picture and recording, data processing, broadcasting, and Internet publishing have all seen modest gains since the early 1990s.

Information growth by percent:

Here's the fastest growing metro areas in the information sector through the recent period of decline. We're seeing a decentralization effect here: smaller metros with historically manufacturing-centric otherwise specialized economies are building information industries.

Information growth by number of jobs:

Seattle is leading the charge and Madison is rapidly becoming and information center in the central states. I wouldn't have guessed Springfield, MO or Orlando would show up here.

Flushing in Florida?

It's all gloom and doom in the Miami Herald today after recent job numbers indicate the state is last in the nation in job creation.

The top job-loss state in the nation. Shrinking wages. Collapsing population growth. Record home foreclosures.

Florida's economy is not just firmly and bleakly in the red ---- it will likely stay that way until next June, according to the state government's top economists who issued their most pessimistic financial forecast in years.

With few exceptions, the economists' Wednesday forecast shows that most economic indicators will do worse in this budget year when compared to a forecast they issued in February.

A good sign that the recent growth in Florida was built on a house of cards, this is right in line with the findings of our Best Cities analysis.

Link via Steve Bartin.


Commuting Patterns in Chicago

You may have read our recent commuting case study of the Los Angeles region written by Ali Modarres. Ali put together some detailed commuting pattern maps of the area.

Here's another similar commuting map of the Chicago area. It's interesting to note the major difference in commute times of neighborhoods often in close proximity. Obviously, distance to jobs matters, but so does the occupational make-up of the neighborhood.


Manufacturing Growth Nodes

Manufacturing is often viewed as a massive anchor to regional job growth. Here's two lists of metro areas that not only withstood the national job hemorrhaging of 2001-2003, but they are actually growing.

Growth by percent:

Read more manufacturing analysis in as part of our Best Cities Rankings: Is Manufacturing Weighing Down the U.S. Economy?

Growth by number of jobs:

Source of Population Growth In Milwaukee

Where is the growth in Wisconsin? The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel checked in last week with a glowing review of the recent city census numbers. Our friend, Milwaukee native, and former Playboy Magazine editor Bob Carr sends his reaction:

Milwaukee is having to put quite a spin on the latest census figures. A recent Journal-Sentinel article trumpets the the city’s decade-long population plateauing as a sign of “steadiness.” Cities losing the most population in Wisconsin included Whitefish Bay, Wauwatosa, West Allis and Brown Deer. Guess what they are — Milwaukee suburbs. With the city losing people at the edges, the newspaper was lucky enough to find someone who had actually moved from Whitefish Bay to Milwaukee to help take the sting out.

Here's a rundown of the recent population trends in the State of Wisconsin.

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New Census Data on Cities

US Census released the latest population data on cities this week. Looking at the top 15 largest US cities, only Sunbelt cities of Phoenix, San Antonio, Houston, and Jacksonville are ahead of the national rate since 2000. Interestingly, the cities of San Francisco and San Jose are making a recent comeback after losses early this decade, although San Francisco is still trailing its year 2000 mark.

Tory Gattis explains the situation in Houston, where the population of the city has exploded since 2005.

The fastest growing larger city overall since 2000 is Raleigh, followed by a pile of places in warm climates, two in the Denver metro, along with plains cities of Omaha and Oklahoma City.

Many California cities fill out the smaller cities list, along with two from the Chicago metro and Olathe and Sioux Falls on the plains.


Do higher gas prices push people from small towns?

The Kansas City Star published an article and video package over the weekend suggesting that because of high gas prices, the "country could see a migration that would greatly reduce the population of Small Town America." This may be news to those at the Star, but this exodus from many small towns and farming communities has continued unabated for decades, and gas costs are a minor factor in the equation.

What really matters is proximity to employment. Living in a small town is a conscious lifestyle choice, and while the dollar cost of a long commute is a factor, it's not as important as the time cost trade off. Lower density areas already offer shorter commute times than metro areas.

Take our extreme commuter example from the KC Star article. Even if he is paying another $200 a month in gas costs, he's likely saving over $500 a month by choosing to live in a small town. Besides, he's already chosen years ago to make the daily time investment in his commute.

On top of that, gas prices in the rural heartland are some of the cheapest in the nation. If fuel costs are the primary motivator, where is he going to go?

Increased fuel costs certainly will cause us to refine our lifestyles in favor of conservation. But, if you've already chosen to live in a certain type of place, you move in favor of a new type of lifestyle or to find work. In our nation's small towns far from job clusters, hanging out a shingle reading "We have $2 a gallon gas!" will have no effect.