Small Cities

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 »

Is Obama's Urban Focus Bad News for the Rest of the Countryside?

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To much of the media, Barack Obama is the ultimate dream president, a sophisticated urbanite whose roots lie in top-tier academia and big-city politics. This asset could also become a glaring weakness, blinding him to the fundamental aspirations for smaller places and self-government that have long animated the American experience.  read more »

NEW GEOGRAPHY SPECIAL REPORT: America’s Ever Changing Demography

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America’s demography tells not one story, but many. People concerned with looking at long-term trends need to familiarize themselves with these realities – and also consider whether these will continue in the coming decades.

Losers and Winners  read more »

Housing Downturn Moves Into Phase II

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The great housing turndown, which started as early as 2007, has entered a second and more difficult phase. We can trace this to Monday, September 15, 2008 just as October 29, 1929 – “Black Tuesday” – marked the start of the Great Depression. September 15 does not yet have a name and the name “Black Monday” has already been taken by the 1987 stock market crash. The 1987 crash looks in historical perspective like a slight downturn compared to what the world faces today.

On September 15 – let’s call it “Meltdown Monday” – the housing downturn ended its Phase I and burst into financial markets leading to the most serious global recession since the Great Depression. Indeed, International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn now classifies it a depression.  read more »

Oregon Fail: With Hard Times Ahead for Business and Real Estate, It's Time to Look Small

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There is something about Oregon that ignites something close to poetic inspiration, even among the most level-headed types. When I asked Hank Hoell recently about the state, he waxed on about hiking the spectacular Cascades, the dreamy coastal towns and the rich farmlands of the green Willamette Valley.

"Oregon," enthused Hoell, president of LibertyBank, the state's largest privately owned bank, from his office in Eugene, "is America's best-kept secret. If quality of life matters at all, Oregon has it in spades. It is as good as it gets. It's just superb."  read more »