Heartland

Stimulate Yourself!

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Beltway politicians and economists can argue themselves silly about the impact of the Obama administration's stimulus program, but outside the beltway the discussion is largely over. On the local level--particularly outside the heavily politicized big cities--the consensus seems to be that the stimulus has changed little--if anything.

Recently, I met with a couple of dozen mayors and city officials in Kentucky to discuss economic growth. The mayors spoke of their initiatives and ideas, yet hardly anyone mentioned the stimulus.  read more »

American Agriculture’s Cornucopia of Opportunity and Responsibility

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A complex agriculture, along with urban culture, is one of the fundamental pillars of human civilization, and one of the fundamental bulkwarks of American prosperity. For families and communities involved in farming and ranching it’s also a way of life that is cherished, oftentimes passed on through generations, taking on reverential if not religious overtones.

At the same time in today’s overwhelmingly urban culture, cooking has become prime time entertainment, dining a social event, and what a person eats is increasingly associated with a healthy body and mind – sometimes a sort of spiritual well being. This elevates agriculture to an important issue even among those who have never spent a day on a farm.  read more »

Obama's Home Town

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Hyde Park, in Chicago, is where President Obama called home before moving to Pennsylvania Avenue.

I once called 5118 S. Dorchester home.

Hyde Park is a college town surrounded by – but not really part of – a big city. The University of Chicago, founded in 1890, is the heart of the community. The campus was built of Indiana limestone, fake Gothic, and made to look old from its very inception. Some people like it.  read more »

When Thanatos Beat Eros, Mapping Natural Population Decreases

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For an advanced capitalist society, the United States has a quite high birth rate, and substantial natural increase. Yet despite this, almost a third experienced natural decrease, an excess of deaths over births, over the recent 2000-2007 period. Some counties with natural decrease still grow in population because of sufficient in-migration, but more typically, natural decrease is associated with high levels of out-migration and with long term population decline.  read more »

Vertical Urban Farming? Pull Your Head from the Clouds

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Dickson D. Desposmmier, in a recent op-ed in the New York Times, argues that the world, faced with increasing billions of mouths to feed, will soon run out of land. According to Mr. Despommier, “the traditional soil-based farming model developed over the last 12,000 years will no longer be a sustainable option.”

Despommier’s answer to this ‘problem’: “move most farming into cities, and grow crops in tall, specially constructed buildings.” Such vertical farms, argues Despommier, would “revolutionize and improve urban life,” while also addressing issues such as agricultural runoff, air pollution, and carbon emissions.

To sophisticated urbanites with little or no exposure to agriculture, vertical farming may seem to present a sort of utopian panacea. But first one must look at the underlying problem Mr. Despommier claims to address: land shortages.  read more »

The New Industrial City

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Most American urban economic development and revitalization initiatives seek to position communities to attract high wage jobs in the knowledge economy. This usually involves programs to attract and retain the college educated, and efforts to lure corporate headquarters or target industries such as life sciences, high tech, or cutting edge green industries. Almost everything, whether it be recreational trails, public art programs, stadiums and convention centers, or corporate incentives, is justified by reference to this goal, often with phrases like “stopping brain drain” and “luring the creative class”.

The future vision underpinning this is a decidedly post-industrial one. This city of tomorrow is made up of people living upscale in town condos, riding a light rail line to work at a smartly designed modern office, and spending enormous sums – with the requisite sales tax benefits – entertaining themselves in cafes, restaurants, swanky shops, or artistic events.  read more »

Farmland Prices: The Cost of Growing A Suburb

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Summer in Minnesota – land of 10,000 lakes — is, for many families, about boating, with the Harley the preferred mode of ground transportation. In winter, snow mobiles are popular. Hunting and fishing replace the corner coffee shops as hangouts. Three car garages are considered a minimum – four even better!

So how did it come to pass that out-of-control land prices would destroy the economics of housing in this small-town region? And why was the pattern repeated in markets like Las Vegas and Phoenix?  read more »

Is Your City Safe From The Tech Bust?

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A decade ago, the path to a successful future seemed sure. Secure a foothold in the emerging information economy, and your city or region was destined to boom.

That belief, as it turned out, was misguided.

In the decade between 1997 and 2007, the information sector--which includes jobs in fields from media, publishing and broadcasting to computer programming, data processing, telecommunications and Internet publishing--has barely created a single new net job, while some 16,000,000 were created in other fields.  read more »

The Successful, the Stable, and the Struggling Midwest Cities

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The Midwest has a deserved reputation as a place that has largely failed to adapt to the globalized world. For example, no Midwestern city would qualify as a boomtown but still there remain a diversity of outcomes in how the region’s cities have dealt with their shared heritage and challenges. Some places are faring surprisingly well, outpacing even the national average in many measures, while others bring up the bottom of the league tables in multiple civics measures.  read more »

Let's Snooker The TARP Babies

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Snook, Texas, a town of less than 600 souls, is best known for being the home of Sodalak's Country Inn, the originator of country fried bacon. It may seem an odd place to launch a return to financial health, but that's exactly what Dean Bass has in mind.

Bass, a veteran banking entrepreneur from Houston, in November bought the tiny First Bank of Snook as part of his plan to build a new financial powerhouse amid the worst economic downturn in a generation. The old bank, which also had a branch 15 miles away in College Station, home to Texas A&M, provided Bass with his charter, as well as access to a strong market on the far periphery of his home town.  read more »