Urban Issues

Infrastructure and Aesthetics

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In his 2005 book Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape, Brian Hayes surveys the built environment with an undaunted appreciation of the vast networks of infrastructure systems in America. Hayes, a writer for American Scientist, argues that common understanding of infrastructure is just as important as an understanding of nature itself. Without the ubiquitous power lines, the oft disparaged garbage dumps, or the controversial mining industry, the United States would not have been able to achieve status as the paragon of 20th Century modernization – a pattern now emulated by the likes of China and India.

Yet it seems that ‘infrastructure’ has lost its fabled status in America.  read more »

What Way for the Stimulus? Post-Industrial America vs. Neo-Industrial America

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As a result of the economic crisis, there is a broad consensus in favor of large-scale public investment in infrastructure in the U.S., both as part of a temporary stimulus program and to promote long-term modernization of America’s transportation, energy, telecom and water utility grids. But this momentary consensus masks the continuing disagreement on whether the U.S. government can legitimately promote American industries, and, if so, which industries. This is a problem for infrastructure policy, because different national infrastructures correspond to different national economic strategies.  read more »

Obama’s Friends: Enemies of the American Dream?

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President Barack Obama has rightly spoken positively about the American Dream, how it is becoming more expensive and how it needs to be reclaimed. But to do this, he may have to disregard many of those who have been among his strongest supporters and the dense urban centers which have been his strongest bastion of support.  read more »

A Little Genius for the City’s So-Called ‘Art World’

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There’s a little girl – maybe 10 or 12 years old – whose family owns a store just a couple of miles from Downtown Los Angeles. She spends a lot of time at the place after her nearby school lets out for the day, sort of helping out but mostly just hanging around where her older relatives can see her.

I call her “Little Genius” because she’s always reading a book or busy at a computer or making paper dolls or working on some other challenge.  read more »

A Bailout For Yuppies

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The recent call by the porn industry – a big employer where I live, in the San Fernando Valley – for a $5 billion bailout elicited outrage in other places. Around here, it sparked something more akin to nervous laughter. Yet lending a helping hand to Pornopolis is far from the most absurd approach being discussed to stimulate the economy.

Some influentials close to the administration may even find the porn industry a bit too tangible for their tastes. After all, the pornsters make a product that sells internationally, appeals to the masses and employs a lot of people whose skills are, well, more practical than ideational.  read more »

Advancing Economies by the Power of Industry

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For the last quarter century there has been a growing tendency among policy makers and corporate executives to downplay, and even ignore, the primary importance of the ‘real,’ or tangible, economy. It is now widely believed that the primary engine of wealth creation is the manipulation of symbols and images — ‘the new economy’ of the ‘information/creative age’ — as opposed to the manufacture of tangible products and services.  read more »

Corporate Sponsorship of the Golden Gate, the Ultimate Sign of Failed Infrastructure

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The most anticipated tourist attraction in the city where I live, The Golden Gate Bridge, is a testament to the lasting utility of a well executed infrastructure project. The world’s most famous suspension bridge still serves as the critical artery connecting San Francisco to the bedroom communities of Marin County to the north, where much of the city’s workforce resides. Remarkably, this marvel of engineering was completed in the late 1930s – a time when the U.S. was coming out of the Great Depression.

The New Deal brought about an expansion of infrastructure that should inspire us. Yet nearly 70 years after its completion, the sobering reality remains: it’s difficult to imagine a project of that moxie being constructed today.  read more »

Tough Budget Math for City Politicians: Bad Economy + Human Nature = More Cops

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Our economy is going to get better some day, step by step. But it’s bad right now, with a full recovery likely a matter of years rather than months away. Public officials should plan accordingly, keeping in mind how the vicious cycle of a bad economy turns typical decision making on its head.  read more »

The Mobility Paradox: Investing in Human Capital Fuels Migration

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China has an interesting urban development strategy. The government bypasses those areas that it considers backward and plagued by poverty and entrenched political corruption. Instead, the investment goes into those areas it presumes to be new boomtowns.

Now imagine if that Darwinian approach was used here in the United States. A report (“City Beautiful”) authored by two economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia advocates pushing federal infrastructure dollars – which could soon be flowing in the hundreds of billions – not towards our tired, hard-pressed urban areas but those that have experienced the greatest extent of gentrification.  read more »

Daschle And State-by-State Healthcare Mistakes

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Tom Daschle appears before the Senate this week for confirmation as Secretary of Health and Human Services. While Daschle knows his stuff on health care (see his book, Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis), the discussion is likely to be sidetracked by those who champion a reliance on insurance companies, or on piecemeal reform starting with children. Or, as I’ll discuss here, on a wrong-headed impulse to depend on the states to create new health care models.  read more »