Small Cities

America's (Sub)Urban Future

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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 »

New Towns and New Lives in the Country

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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

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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 »

The Worst Cities for Job Growth

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One of the saddest tasks in the annual survey of the best places to do business I conduct with Pepperdine University's Michael Shires is examining the cities at the bottom of the list. Yet even in these nether regions there exists considerable diversity: Some places are likely to come back soon, while others have little immediate hope of moving up. (Please also see "Best Cities For Job Growth" for further analysis.)

The study is based on job growth in 336 regions – called Metropolitan Statistical Areas by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which provided the data – across the U.S. Our analysis looked not only at job growth in the last year but also at how employment figures have changed since 1996. This is because we are wary of overemphasizing recent data and strive to give a more complete picture of the potential a region has for job-seekers. (For the complete methodology, click here.)

Big Movers – Up and Down the 2009 Best Cities Rankings

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In a year when modest – if not negligible – growth could nudge a city toward the top of the Best Cities for Jobs rankings you would suspect there to be little opportunity for big leaps up the scale. On the other hand, one could easily expect that there would be some places whose economic fortunes would resemble a vertigo-inducing fall.

A look at the 2009 rankings confirms that there are many cities whose job-creating engines have sputtered.  read more »

Planning: A Shout-Out For Local Players

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More than a century ago, Rudyard Kipling, in his American Notes, shared his views on the character of the US. Along with remarks about the American penchant for tobacco spitting, Kipling recounted the near heroic ability of Americans to govern themselves, especially in small cities and towns. Traveling through the town he called “Musquash” (a pseudonym for Beaver, Pennsylvania) in 1889, Kipling described “good citizens” who participated in “settling its own road-making, local cesses [taxes], town-lot arbitrations, and internal government.”  read more »

Where are the Best Cities for Job Growth?

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Over the past five years, Michael Shires, associate professor in public policy at Pepperdine University, and I have been compiling a list of the best places to do business. The list, based on job growth in regions across the U.S. over the long, middle and short term, has changed over the years--but the employment landscape has never looked like this.

In past iterations, we saw many fast-growing economies--some adding jobs at annual rates of 3% to 5%. Meanwhile, some grew more slowly, and others actually lost jobs. This year, however, you can barely find a fast-growing economy anywhere in this vast, diverse country. In 2008, 2% growth made a city a veritable boom town, and anything approaching 1% growth is, oddly, better than merely respectable.  read more »

Whatever Happened to “The Vision Thing?”

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When I was in elementary school, I remember reading about the remarkable transformations that the future would bring: Flying cars, manned colonies on the moon, humanoid robotic servants. Almost half a century later, none of these promises of the future – and many, many more – have come to pass. Yet, in many respects, these visions from the future served their purpose in allowing us to imagine a world far more wondrous than the one we were in at the time, to aspire to something greater.  read more »

SPECIAL REPORT - Domestic Migration Bubble and Widening Dispersion: New Metropolitan Area Estimates

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Returning to Normalcy

The Bureau of the Census has just released metropolitan and county population estimates for 2008, with estimates of the components of population change, including domestic migration. Consistent with the “mantra” of a perceived return to cities from the suburbs, some analysts have virtually declared the new data as indicating the trend that has been forecast for more than one-half a century. In fact, the new population and domestic migration data merely indicates the end of a domestic migration bubble, coinciding with the end of the housing bubble.  read more »

Are Farms the Suburban Future?

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More than fifty years ago, Frances Montgomery and Philip O’Bryan Williams bought a 500-acre stretch of prairie north of Dallas as a horse farm. It was designed to be a place for their children to run wild on weekends, ride horses, a family escape light years from the Frette-linen, Viking-kitchen and fully staffed second and third home palaces enjoyed by today’s junior high net worth set. The main residence was a recycled World War II barracks; the one bathroom was the only luxury.  read more »