Urban Issues

Shenzhen II?: The New Shanghai Financial Free Trade Zone

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Less than 35 years ago, China established its first special economic zone in Shenzhen, a prefecture (Note) bordering Hong Kong. This model is about to be expanded with the establishment of a new financially oriented free-trade zone in Shanghai, which could prove a major breakthrough in that city’s quest to become East Asia’s financial capital.  read more »

Cashing in on So Cal Culture

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Southern California has always been an invented place. Without a major river, a natural port or even remotely adequate water, the region has always thrived on reinventing itself – from cow town to agricultural hub to oil city, Tinsel Town and the “Arsenal of Democracy.”  read more »

Exporting Metros

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If there’s one thing that people of pretty much every political persuasion agree on, it’s the need to boost exports. This is true not just at the national level, but also the local one. The balance of world population and economic growth is outside the United States. McKinsey estimates that there will be an additional one billion people added to the global “consuming class” by 2025.  An economy focused solely on a domestic American or North American market is missing a huge part of the addressable market, dooming it to slower growth.  read more »

Driving Alone Dominates 2007-2012 Commuting Trend

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New data from the American Community Survey makes it possible to review the trend in mode of access to employment in the United States over the past five years. This year, 2012, represents the fifth annual installment of complete American Community Survey data. This is also a significant period, because the 2007 was a year before the Lehman Brothers collapse that triggered the Great Financial crisis, while gasoline prices increased about a third between 2007 and 2012.  read more »

California’s New Feudalism Benefits a Few at the Expense of the Multitude

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California has been the source of much innovation, from agribusiness and oil to fashion and the digital world. Historically much richer than the rest of the country, it was also the birthplace, along with Levittown, of the mass-produced suburb, freeways, much of our modern entrepreneurial culture, and of course mass entertainment. For most of a century, for both better and worse, California has defined progress, not only for America but for the world.  read more »

The Unrise of the Creative Working Class

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Scarcity leads to creativity out of necessity. That’s the pop culture meme at least. Think “starving artist,” or the survivors in Survivor. The thinking has penetrated the business culture as well. For example, in the shadow of the 2008 recession, Google founder Sergey Brin, in a letter to his shareholders, writes: “I am optimistic about the future, because I believe scarcity breeds clarity: it focuses minds, forcing people to think creatively and rise to the challenge.”  read more »

The Growing Public Safety Inequality Gap in Chicago

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Take a look at the two maps below. Like the captions say, the one on the left shows homicide rates in Chicago by police district in the early 90s, when crime was at its peak, and the one on the right shows the same thing, but about two decades later.* The areas in dark green are the safest; the ones in dark pink are the most dangerous. The colors are calibrated so that green areas are safer than average for the early 90s, and pink ones are more dangerous than average for the early 90s.  read more »

Canada: Suburban, Automobile Oriented Nation

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Canada is even more a suburban nation than generally thought, according to new research that digs deeper than the usual core city versus suburbs distinctions. Researchers at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario have announced groundbreaking research that disaggregates 33 census metropolitan areas into four classifications: (1) urban core, (2) transit oriented suburban, (3) automobile oriented suburban and (4) exurban lifestyles, which are also automobile oriented.  read more »

The Promise and the Peril of Rust Belt Chic

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What do you do when you’re a post-industrial city fallen on hard times? There’s a sort of default answer in the marketplace that I’ll call for want of a better term the “Standard Model.” The Standard Model more or less tells cities to try to be more like Portland. That is, focus on things like local food, bicycles, public transit, the arts, New Urbanist type real estate development, upscale shopping, microbreweries, coffee shops, etc., etc. The idea seems to be that the Rust Belt city model is a failure and should be chucked in favor of something better. In this model the publicly subsidized real estate project is the preferred economic development strategy.  read more »

America's Fastest-Growing Counties: The 'Burbs Are Back

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For nearly a half century, the death of suburbs and exurbs has been prophesied by pundits, urban real-estate interests and their media allies, and they ratcheted up the volume after the housing crash of 2007. The urban periphery was destined to become “the next slums,” Christopher Leinberger wrote in The Atlantic in 2008, while a recent book by Fortune’s Leigh Gallagher, The End of Suburbsclaimed that suburbs and exurbs were on the verge of extinction as people flocked back to dense cities such as New York.  read more »