Urban Issues

Congress and the Administration Take Aim at Local Democracy

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Local democracy has been a mainstay of the US political system. This is evident from the town hall governments in New England to the small towns that the majority of Americans choose to live in today.

In most states and metropolitan areas, substantial policy issues – such as zoning and land use decisions – are largely under the control of those who have a principal interest: local voters who actually live in the nation’s cities, towns, villages, townships and unincorporated county areas. This may be about to change.  read more »

Detroit: Urban Laboratory and the New American Frontier

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The troubles of Detroit are well-publicized. Its economy is in free fall, people are streaming for the exits, it has the worst racial polarization and city-suburb divide in America, its government is feckless and corrupt (though I should hasten to add that new Mayor Bing seems like a basically good guy and we ought to give him a chance), and its civic boosters, even ones that are extremely knowledgeable, refuse to acknowledge the depth of the problems, instead ginning up stats and anecdotes to prove all is not so bad.  read more »

Getting Real About “Green” Jobs

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Over the past year, Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc. (EMSI) has been fielding questions from local planners (workforce boards, community colleges, and economic developers) on how to look at green jobs, particularly at the regional level. Perhaps nothing has been more hyped, or misunderstood, than the potential impact of this sector on local economies.

In order to wade through the rhetoric and often overblown expectations, we’ve been doing our best to link labor market data to potential green sectors so people can gain an understanding of trends, earnings, education levels, and skills associated with “green occupation clusters”. So far, we have made three general observations:  read more »

Numbers Don't Support Migration Exodus to "Cool Cities"

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For the past decade a large coterie of pundits, prognosticators and their media camp followers have insisted that growth in America would be concentrated in places hip and cool, largely the bluish regions of the country.

Since the onset of the recession, which has hit many once-thriving Sun Belt hot spots, this chorus has grown bolder. The Wall Street Journal, for example, recently identified the "Next Youth-Magnet Cities" as drawn from the old "hip and cool" collection of yore: Seattle, Portland, Washington, New York and Austin, Texas.  read more »

Lost City

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We agreed, last time, to meet at the corner of Yonge & Bloor – Toronto's busiest subway stop.  read more »

Report from Orlando: The Spirit Rocks On

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By Richard Reep

“In hard times, people turn to God or alcohol” jokes Bud Johnson of Constructwire, a database that tracks planning and construction projects nationwide. Johnson, 50, is an industry veteran and has never seen a recession like this in his career. “This is an exceptionally broad-based downturn,” he says, “and Orlando has been hit harder than most in the South, what with your only real industries being housing and tourism.” Both industries have been trapped like mammoths in a glacier as the credit market stays stubbornly frozen in a modern banking Ice Age.  read more »

Property Owners Pay for City’s Dysfunction Under L.A.’s New Graffiti Ordinance

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Graffiti is a bane of urban life, a form of vandalism that demoralizes entire neighborhoods and invites worse crime.

Graffiti is an art form and an outlet for expression amid the jumble and obvious strains of urban life.

You’ll hear arguments from both of those viewpoints, depending on who you talk to about graffiti.  read more »

The Limits of Transit: Costly Dead-End

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The proposed Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) fare increase and service cuts for next year are indicative of transit’s recurring budgetary problems, and not only in Chicago but nationwide. But in the Windy City, these moves have elicited an understandably negative public reaction since the city of Chicago depends on transit about as much as any city besides New York.  read more »

Southern Piedmont: Where NASCAR Meets the NASDAQ

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When Andrew Jackson roamed the hills of the Carolinas, northern Georgia and eastern Tennessee, it was still frontier, and for generations the southern Piedmont remained economically and culturally isolated.  Today, however, Old Hickory might be surprised to learn what this area has become.  read more »

Stimulate Yourself!

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Beltway politicians and economists can argue themselves silly about the impact of the Obama administration's stimulus program, but outside the beltway the discussion is largely over. On the local level--particularly outside the heavily politicized big cities--the consensus seems to be that the stimulus has changed little--if anything.

Recently, I met with a couple of dozen mayors and city officials in Kentucky to discuss economic growth. The mayors spoke of their initiatives and ideas, yet hardly anyone mentioned the stimulus.  read more »