Middle Class

America's (Sub)Urban Future

iStock_000008154814XSmall.jpg

Cities today have more political clout than at any time in a half century. Not only does an urbanite blessed by the Chicago machine sit in the White House, but Congress is now dominated by Democratic politicians hailing from either cities or inner-ring suburbs.

Perhaps because of this representation, some are calling for the administration and Congress to "bail out" urban America. Yet there's grave danger in heeding this call. Hope that "the urban president" will solve inner-city problems could end up diverting cities from the kind of radical reforms necessary to thrive in the coming decades.

Demographics and economics make self-help a necessity.  read more »

How Austin’s Rise Became a Tale of Two Cities

iStock_000001853851XSmall.jpg

Austin has enjoyed healthy growth during its 150-year history. As a rule of thumb, its population doubles every 20 years, and has done so since it was founded. It continues to grow at a healthy clip: from a population of 345,000 in 1980 to 656,000 in 2000; the Census Bureau estimates it had nearly 750,000 residents in 2008.

But if the city of Austin has grown briskly, its suburbs have exploded. Williamson County to its north was the sixth fastest-growing county in the United States between July 1, 2007 and July 1, 2008. Hays County to the south was the tenth.  read more »

New Towns and New Lives in the Country

iStock_000006420500XSmall.jpg

Back in the 1950s when I was growing up, pundits worried a lot about automation and the problem of leisure in a post-industrial society. What were the American people going to do once machinery had relieved them of the daily burden of routine labor? Would they paint pictures and write poetry? Armchair intellectuals found it hard to imagine.

It was the age of Ozzie and Harriet, when ordinary working and middle-class families could aspire to a house in the suburbs and a full-time Mom who stays at home with the kids. Today, of course, that popular version of the American dream is a thing of the past, especially the part about a full-time Mom who stays at home with the kids.  read more »

Main Street Middle America: Don’t Get Mad, Get Ahead

iStock_000007531129XSmall.jpg

Like many on Main Street Paul Goodpaster is angry. Paul is my banker friend in Morehead, a retail, medical and education hub on the edge of eastern Kentucky. He observed that his bank was doing quite well – albeit hurt now by rising unemployment and an economy starting to have an impact even on those unglamorous places that had minded their business well.  read more »

Credit Cards Flash At The White House

credit card-iStock_000004399002XSmall.jpg

Back in the 1980s, Citibank CEO John S. Reed looked at the bank’s earnings and said, more or less: This is really a credit card company with six other lines of business. That is, the card portfolio was making lots of dough, and carrying the rest. Commercial lending, real estate lending, clearing, foreign exchange, branch banking — all of them were flat or losing money, while the card business was cooking.  read more »

Is That an Economic Light at the End of the Tunnel or an Oncoming Train?

iStock_000001657465XSmall.jpg

When it comes to the state of the economy, is the worst behind us or still to come? Informed opinion is all over the map. The optimists are citing such factors as accommodative Federal Reserve Bank policy (massively increased liquidity), bank profitability (and yes, banks are lending, but only quality loans), money velocity (trending up), a positive yield curve (long-term vs. short-term rates), housing starts (surging), favorable financial rule changes (abandonment of mark-to-market accounting, reinstatement of the short uptick rule to prevent naked short-selling), retail sales (recovering), commodity prices (rising due to increased industrial demand), used car prices (firming), and new vehicle sales (rising off their sickening lows).  read more »

Can Eddie Mac Solve the Housing Crisis?

iStock_000003155491XSmall.jpg

Every downturn comes to an end. Recovery has followed every recession including the Great Depression. In 1932, John D. Rockefeller said, "These are days when many are discouraged. In the 93 years of my life, depressions have come and gone. Prosperity has always returned and will again." The question is not ”IF”, rather it is “WHEN” recovery will begin. The age-old question remains: what can government do to get the nation out of recession?

Government can act wisely. In the past, it used tax legislation (the mortgage interest deduction) to create the highest home ownership rate in the industrialized world. It can also act stupidly by promoting “Sub-Prime” mortgages, “105%” financing and the “No-Doc” loan that got us into this financial mess. As many as 4.4 million more Americans could lose their homes – unless drastic action is taken to stop the process.  read more »

We Must Remember Manufacturing

iStock_000004302624XSmall.jpg

General Motors' reorganization and contemplated bankruptcy represents one possible – and dismal – future trajectory for American manufacturing.

Unlike highly favored Wall Street, which now employs fancy financial footwork to report a return to profitability, the nation's industrial core is increasingly marginalized by an administration that appears anxious to embrace a decidedly post-industrial future.  read more »

Sydney: From World City to “Sick Man” of Australia

sydneyhouse.png

Americans have their “American Dream” of home ownership. Australians go one step further. They have a “Great Australian Dream” of home ownership. This was all part of a culture that celebrated its egalitarian ethos. Yet, to an even greater degree than in the United States, the “Dream” is in the process of being extinguished. It all started and is the worst in Sydney.

Sydney is Australia’s largest urban area, having passed Melbourne in the last half of the 19th century. With an urban area population of approximately 3.6 million, Sydney leads Melbourne by nearly 300,000.  read more »

What Does Urban Success Look Like?

iStock_000003018618XSmall.jpg

What does urban success look like? Ask people around the country and they’ll probably say it looks something like Chicago.

Arguably no American city over the past decade has experienced a greater urban core renaissance than Chicago. It is a city totally transformed. The skyline has been radically enhanced as dozens of skyscrapers were added to the greater downtown area. Millennium Park opened as a $475 million community showplace full of cutting edge contemporary architecture and art. There has been an explosion in upscale dining and shopping options, as well as large numbers of new art galleries, hotels, clubs and restaurants.  read more »