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    Once the rich protected themselves by aligning with Republicans who would protect their property from high taxes and their firms from regulation.

    Some still do—notably the Koch brothers—but this breed of right-winger is gradually losing out to more progressive tilted plutocrats. In 2016, according to Open Secrets, three of the four largest billionaire political donors—hedge fund manager James Simon and his wife Marilyn, Michael Bloomberg, and currency speculator George Soros—titled progressive. This reflects a broader social trend.

    Overall the GOP continues to slightly outpace Democrats among the ultra rich, but most of the big conservative donors such as Charles and David Koch, Sheldon Adelson, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, Rupert Murdoch, and Irvine Chairman Don Bren are well into their seventies or in their eighties. The trend belongs, clearly, to the progressives. Between 1980 to 2016, support for Democrats from the 0.1 percent has tripled, and donors in the nation’s wealthiest zip codes overall now give more to Democrats than Republicans.

    Take Michael Bloomberg, the former Republican of convenience who last week announced he would invest $80 million into Democratic campaigns this fall before teasing, yet again, a possible presidential run of his own. Bloomberg’s usual causes are not those of traditional social democracy—after all this is the guy who proclaimed what New York really needed was more billionaires, and who beta-tested in New York City the businessman-as-better-political-leader pitch he then watched with dismay Donald Trump take all the way to the White House—but issues less threatening to the plutocracy, such as climate change and gun control.

    The buyout of mainstream progressivism has changed its nature. Big donor-driven candidates—who still dominate the party’s leadership ranks, even as small-donor powered insurgents like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez test that arrangement, at least in low-turnout elections—are less concerned with the fate of auto or communication workers than they are with issues of environmental regulation, identity, and culture.

    Facebook President Sean Parker, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Chairman Marc Benioff, Mark Zuckerberg, and the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, are all relatively young men devoted to the progressive cause—at least those parts of it that don’t threaten their bottom lines.

    The Trump Effect

    With his horrendous comments and awful actions, Trump has accelerated wokeism among the wealthy and their minions. This oligarchic drift has been building for years, as wealth has shifted from traditional resource and manufacturing industries to software, media, finance, and entertainment. In sharp contrast to energy firms, home-builders, and farmers, the regulatory state does not threaten the bottom lines of these industries, as long as it refrains from breaking up their virtual monopolies.

    Indeed, as researcher Greg Ferenstein suggests, the new oligarchs favor an active state that will subsidize worker housing or even a guaranteed minimum income, and keep their businesses off the hook for providing decent benefits to their ever expanding cadre of gig-economy serfs. He points out that the former head of Uber, Travis Kalanick, was a strong supporter of Obamacare and that many top tech executives—including Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk—favor a government-provided guaranteed annual wage to help, in part, allay fears about what happens to most of the workforce as their industries and jobs are “disrupted.”

    Geography plays a role here as well. With the biggest concentrations of wealth now in the most “progressive” regions—the Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, and Seattle—moguls must operate in an environment dominated by fervent anti-Trump social-justice and green advocacy. Many big tech employees—nearly 40 percent in the Bay Area, by some estimates—are noncitizens, with little reason to be concerned about how the wealth in these corners is, or is not, spread across the nation.

    So it’s no surprise that woke employees at Microsoft, horrified by the brutalism of Trump’s immigration policies, have decided not to cooperate with ICE. Not to be outdone, Amazon workers compare their company’s cooperation with immigration authorities to IBM’s collaboration with Nazi Germany. Similarly Google workers are refusing to help with drones used to combat terrorists, while Apple is actively working to make it difficult for police to break into phones used in committing crimes, including in the aftermath of the San Bernardino terrorist massacre.

    So powerful, and self-referential, are these companies—and their highly compensated workers—that they are increasingly willing to deny even the idea of national interest when that does not suit their political notions. Unlike businesses that worry about competition or mass opinion, these oligarchic companies can demonize half of the country with impunity. At the end of the day, even Trumpians depend on these systems unless they want to look at Chinese alternatives.

    The New Controllers

    Since Trump’s election, many progressives have pushed the idea that we are on the cusp of a return to traditional authoritarianism, as portrayed in books like George Orwell’s 1984 or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Yet the real model for future tyranny may be more that of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which portrays a society run by a biologically conditioned scientific and technological elite.

    In Brave New World, the masters are not hoary Stalinoids or angry right-wing fundamentalists, but gentle, reasoned executives. The Controllers preside over a society where social classes are well-defined, and only those at the top—the Alphas—live in comfort. Families have been abolished except on reservations for misfits, and people widely enjoy access to pleasurable pharmaceuticals and unconstrained, commitment-free sex in the city.

    Huxley’s future eerily resembles the one favored by the oligarchs, who are now paying women workers to freeze their eggs as they aim to create an elite Alpha class without children or property, to be serviced by the low-wage Deltas, Gammas, and Epsilons of Huxley’s world—bused in from the suburban fringes.

    The Controller’s power, first and foremost, depends on implanting information. In Brave New World contrary ideas are dismissed not as breaking the party line but as simply absurd or even pornographic. Today’s woke oligarchs do much the same by controlling both information and culture. Bloomberg is a prime example but he’s a pauper compared to Bezos, the world’s richest man owning one of the nation’s most influential newspapers.

    Tech sofa change in recent years also helped Mark Zuckerberg’s college roommate buy The New Republic, and run it into the ground before selling it. More recently Laurene Powell, the left-leaning widow of the late Steve Jobs (net worth $20 billion), scooped up The Atlantic for a nonprofit that will compete with more traditional competitors who still, sadly, have to make money.

    Meanwhile, Google is promoting journalism by robots while also planning to invest $300 million in favored outlets. What could go wrong?

    The Agenda

    In the emerging regime, here’s what’s not important: personal autonomy and privacy. A controlled and woke society starts with access to people’s thoughts, something critical to the advertising-driven businesses of Google and Facebook and, increasingly, also to Apple and Microsoft. It’s important to remember what Google’s former Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt once told CNBC: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

    The digital revolution, which had so much promise for democratizing information, appears to be hyper-concentrating media both geographically, on the coasts, and through pipelines controlled overwhelmingly by firms like Facebook, so that a change in policy there can undermine even established media, and Google, which controls over a third of all on-line advertising and a remarkable 90 percent of global search. As The Guardian recently put it: “If ExxonMobil attempted to insert itself into every element of our lives like this, there might be a concerted grassroots movement to curb its influence.”

    These patterns are reinforced by students shaped by our ideologically homogeneous education system. The censorious instinct now intrinsic to universities, particularly the elite ones, shapes the thoughts of the highly educated workers critical to these companies. Controllers like those at Facebook increasingly seek to “curate” views, largely conservative, they don’t like, according to former employees. Often this censorship is being carried out under guidance developed by largely progressive groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has too often labeled anyone outside its ideological “safe space” as racist bigots. Over 70 percent of Americans, notes a recent Pew study, believe social media platforms “censor political views.”

    Ultimately the oligarchs, reacting to their woke workers and constituency, seek a control over basic behavior in ways even the snoop-crazy Chinese would admire. Facebook already admits to having patented technology that would allow them to snoop on their users, although they deny using it. Netflix, the oligarchical company that by some estimates is now worth more than any of the movie studios, recently imposed controls over what people do on sets of movies they finance. That includes rules that ban asking for phone numbers of co-workers or even looking at people for more than five seconds, an innovation even more intrusive than those of Huxley’s Controllers.

    Hypocritical Oaths

    Stanley Bing’s recently released Immortal Life gives a riveting version of a near-future society shaped by our tech oligarchs. In his not-so-distant future, government has largely been replaced by a cabal of superannuated tech moguls—effectively Global Controllers—who shape societal views, implant devices in human brains, and dominate every aspect of the economy. Democracy hasn’t just been constrained; it’s been excised.

    Right now the rising power of the Controllers has been obscured by the Trumpian counterrevolution, a peasant rebellion supported by a less than charming alliance of old economy moguls, angry white males, and more than few xenophobic racists. But over the long term, history is bending toward the woke oligarchy—particularly as the old generation conveniently dies off.

    If these well-heeled progressives have a vulnerability, it’s their extreme hypocrisy. In California, the epicenter of the resistance and elite wokefulness, Silicon Valley oligarchs and their shrieky Hollywood counterparts are fervent in their embrace of progressive values. But, as a new report from Chapman University shows, the prevailing oligarch-friendly California economic agenda—hostile to suburbs, fossil-fuel energy, and manufacturing—has proven unequal and particularly damaging to minorities.

    Not without reason has the maverick environmentalist Mike Shellenberger called California “the most racist” state in the union. Far from Malibu and swanky haunts of the cultural elites, the bulk of Los Angeles suffers among the highest poverty rates of any metropolitan areas. Cost-adjusted wages for middle-class workers, Latinos, and African Americans in Silicon Valley have actually dropped during the recent economic boom there.

    Perhaps there’s no better illustration of hypocrisy than the Disney company. The once conservative bastion-turned-promoter of woke values has been led by Robert Iger, a fantastically well-compensated self-defined “progressive,” who has made much of denouncing President Trump’s immigration policy as “cruel and misguided ” and taking standard progressive positions on guns and the Paris accords. Yet, as Bernie Sanders has pointed out recently, Disney workers are generally poorly paid, many on the verge of poverty. Even middle-class workers have been given the shiv: The company infamously replaced its IT workers with outside contractors shipped in from India.

    Against the Oligarchs

    This unprecedented agglomeration of wealth and power needs to be opposed both by conservatives and traditional progressives. It won’t be easy. In the presidential run, The Washington Posttook hard aim at Bernie Sanders before turning, albeit less successfully, against Trump. More recently Amazon and its minions forced Seattle’s progressives to back down from a plan to make the company pay more taxes. Majority Leader Charles Schumer opposes higher capital-gains rates, warming the cockles of venture capitalists and the new economic royalists, some of whom are his contributors.

    Even on green issues, the famously pious oligarchs demonstrate remarkable levels of hypocrisy. These firms have bought enough allowances and built solar or wind facilities to claim “carbon neutrality.” But such offsets, as the new Chapman report reveals, mostly shuffle greenhouse gases around and don’t actually reduce global emissions. Apple keeps its California carbon footprint down by making all its products abroad, mostly in China—which ends up spewing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than if they built them here.

    Ultimately the only way to stop the new Controllers and challenge their hypocrisy will be to meet them head on. Companies like Google need to be broken up, as many on both right and left agree. This position has even been adopted by the generally liberal Boston Globe which warned that, “Never ever in the history of the world has a single company had so much control over what people know and think.”

    But it’s not just Google—which spends more on lobbying than any other private company—or Amazon, which has quadrupled its government spending since 2014. This relatively new focus on inside Washington influence-peddling, combined with their oversized influence on critical technologies, our media, and overall economic system makes these firms a threat to the pluralism essential to democracy, unlike any we have seen in the last century. Their vision presages a society where few work and a handful control the nation’s riches. To avoid a rebellion, the “redundant” are supposed to be paid off with some sort of government allowance.

    Americans need to oppose this evolution and fight for the flourishing of a grassroots and more dispersed economy now, before the oligarchs brave new world is fully and finally here.

    This piece originally appeared on The Daily Beast.

    Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book is The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

    Photo by Maurizio Pesce, via Flickr, using CC License.

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    Some recent piecesI wroteabout segregation in the past few weeks got me thinking of how to express how a particular feature of segregation I've witnessed in the Rust Belt, what one might call "diversity without integration", plays out in some cities. As quite a few people know, at the overall city level Chicago is about as diverse as any city in the nation -- the demographic makeup of the city is about 30 percent white, 30 percent black and 30 percent Latino, with various other groups making up the balance. But at any level lower than the citywide level, whether regional (North Side, West Side, South Side), or community (one of the city's 77 designated community areas), or neighborhood (numbering in the hundreds), you'd be extremely hard pressed to find a place of any size that has the same level of the city overall. Hence the term diversity without integration.

    Thinking about this brought me back to a story produced last year by Chicago Public Radio station WBEZ for their Curious City series. The premise of the series is great; listeners are given the chance to ask a vexing question about Chicago and WBEZ's team of reporters put in the research to find an answer. Sometimes questions address myths or urban legends regarding Chicago, or address conditions unique to the city. The story linked to above asked a simple but searing question, as it relates to this city: is notoriously segregated Chicago finally becoming more integrated?

    WBEZ did the analysis to find an answer. Their verdict?

    "Yes, Chicago is less segregated than it used to be. Curious City, in collaboration with City Bureau, crunched the numbers and found a slight decrease in segregation since 1990 — both on the citywide level as well as for individual neighborhoods.

    (T)he black-white index of dissimilarity in 2010 in Chicago was 82.5, meaning nearly 83 percent of the city’s black and white residents would have to move to a different part of the city in order to achieve integration across the city. But in 1990, it was 88.5, so there’s been a slight improvement."

    But if you examine Chicago at the neighborhood level, things change:

    "Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum, says since the 1990s, the white population has declined on the Southwest and Northwest sides and it’s been replaced by Latinos. This has put Latino communities in closer proximity to black communities on the South Side compared to 20 or 30 years ago.

    In a way, Latinos are now a buffer group between whites and blacks.
    “Latino communities are in between black and white communities in most areas of the city,” Puente says. “If you look at a map of Chicago from downtown, and you draw a ‘V,’ Latinos are the ‘V’ with whites and black communities being on either side.”

    And that brings us to Ashburn, a community I know well (I used to live just to the east of it in the Auburn-Gresham community), and has undergone pretty significant racial and ethnic change since the 1980's.

    Ashburn is a community of about 40,000 people on Chicago's Southwest Side. It's part of the city but it has a distinct inner-ring suburb feel to it: comfortable single-family homes mostly built in the '50s and '60s. Ashburn sits just south and east of a major industrial area with dozens of manufacturing employers which made housing for those workers attractive. The main commercial corridor is 79th Street.

    Here are a few pictures of the residential streets:

    7900 Block of S. Richmond Avenue in Chicago's Ashburn neighborhood

    3500 Block of W. 76th Place in Chicago's Ashburn neighborhood

    The neighborhood has become home to lots of city workers and retirees, much like in the Mount Greenwood area I described before, about five miles directly south of Ashburn. But there are far more black and Latino residents here.

    In fact, WBEZ chose this neighborhood in part because Ashburn's current demographic makeup might make it the community closest to Chicago's overall makeup -- about 48 percent black, 36 percent Latino and 13 percent white.

    But this is clearly a community in transition, and WBEZ's report makes that clear.

    "If you visited Ashburn in 1990, more than four in five Ashburn residents would have been white.

    Now, it’s about half black, 38 percent Latino and 13 percent white.
    Ashburn’s white population declined rapidly after black people began moving into the area in large numbers in the 1980s. Today, whites continue to leave, and blacks are still moving in, along with Latinos."

    Ashburn appears to be a community that will be largely black and Latino soon, but that doesn't mean the two groups are necessarily integrating, either. Ashburn is a roughly rectangular area stretching from Western Avenue on the east to Cicero Avenue on the west, a length of about three miles. Two miles in, going from east to west to Pulaski Road, Ashburn is mostly black. Beyond Pulaski Road Ashburn is largely Latino with the remaining remnants of its white population. And the two groups keep their distance.

    And that is how diversity without integration happens.

    Others in the "Welcome To" Series:

    Welcome To South Chicago
    Welcome To Mount Greenwood
    Welcome To Rosemont
    Welcome To The South Side, JRW Style

    This piece originally appeared on The Corner Side Yard.

    Pete Saunders is a Detroit native who has worked as a public and private sector urban planner in the Chicago area for more than twenty years. He is also the author of "The Corner Side Yard," an urban planning blog that focuses on the redevelopment and revitalization of Rust Belt cities.


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    My home state of Iowa famously gave Barack Obama a convincing victory in the Democratic caucuses in 2008, the first triumph that launched a young U.S. senator from Illinois to become the first African-American president. Obama ultimately won two terms, and each time Iowans favored him by considerable margins. Iowa was also one of several Midwestern states that famously flipped to support Donald Trump in 2016.

    Hillary Clinton won just six of Iowa’s 99 counties in 2016. Trump won the remaining 93, including 31 counties that had backed Obama in the two previous elections. Nationwide, 206 counties in 34 states voted for Obama in both 2008 and 2012 and then flipped for Trump in 2016.

    Iowa had more than any other state, with 31 pivot counties out of 99. This makes Iowa a useful microcosm to analyze the nature of Trump’s victory. Did Trump win, as the New York Times’s Nate Cohn reported, because of “an enormous wave of support among white working-class voters”? Or were there other factors in play?

    Cohn’s claim doesn’t seem to apply for Iowa. Only 17 of Iowa’s 31 pivot counties had higher turnout compared to 2012. In 14, turnout declined. In addition, most of the increases were small — less than one percentage point. Overall – and this must bring him great angst – Trump won Iowa with fewer statewide votes than Obama had in either of his election victories. So, if there was “an enormous wave of support among white working-class voters,” then the wave was not caused by a mass of new people jumping in the pool. It was more like most of the same people wading from one side of the pool to the other.

    But Trump did win support in more working-class rural counties. As in the national election, Clinton did much better than Trump in large metropolitan areas, winning just six counties, all among the state’s most populous. All but one of the pivot counties were rural, with populations of 87,000 or less and not among the top 10 of Iowa’s largest counties. It’s clear that the urban-rural divide was a salient element in the Iowa campaign, a pattern similar to what political scientist Katherine Cramer discovered in the adjacent state of Wisconsin (see her 2016 book The Politics of Resentment).

    The urban-rural divide is also a class divide, reflected in income and education. Iowa’s estimated per capita income in 2016 was $28,872, but per capita income is less than that in 77 counties, and Trump won in 75 of them, 28 of which were pivot counties. Clinton won in four of the six urban Iowa counties with higher per capita income. The pattern is similar for education. 25.7 percent of Iowans have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and only 11 of Iowa’s 99 counties have higher rates of citizens with a bachelor’s degree. Hillary Clinton won five of those counties. Of the 31 pivot counties, 27 have lower rates of higher education. In other words, Clinton’s only successes in Iowa were in six major metro counties with higher levels of income and education. Trump won every other county in the state.

    Considering the urban-rural status, income, and college education rates of the counties that pivoted to Trump in 2016, Cramer’s idea of rural consciousness seems apt, with its “strong identity as a rural resident, resentment toward the cities, and a belief that rural communities are not given their fair share of resources or respect.” Resources and development in Iowa are increasingly unequal, with most affluence located in Iowa’s two large multi-county metropolitan areas. In the center of the state, Polk and Story Counties run along the I-35 corridor, creating a large metro area that stretches from Ames and Iowa State University in the north to Des Moines and its many suburbs in the south. Similarly, in the eastern part of the state, Linn and Johnson Counties along the I-380 corridor form a district that stretches from Cedar Rapids and its suburbs in the north to Iowa City and the University of Iowa in the south. These “corridors” (and they do market themselves that way) are the wealthiest, most populous, and fastest growing regions of the state, with plenty of government-funded institutions and research, headquarters of the largest corporations, excellent hospitals, and the state’s best sports, recreation, and shopping. These are the areas where Clinton won the most support.

    Life can be quite different in Iowa’s more rural counties, where population is falling, school districts get consolidated (so towns may no longer have local schools), access to doctors and quality hospitals lags, new investment is rare, and young adults often move to places like Des Moines or Iowa City to find better jobs. Away from the corridors, the lived experience of personal income, higher education, and the long-term hope for opportunity and prosperity for the majority of Iowa’s rural counties is on a much more feeble trajectory.

    These areas, where Trump won, were primed to embrace the rhetoric of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements, which called for drastic change to the economic status quo. If a very unlikely presidential candidate – one made famous by playing the role of super-successful billionaire in a network reality television show and countless movie cameos – shows up and said says to the “forgotten men and women of our country” that “I AM YOUR VOICE,” residents of these areas might well listen to him, despite (or in some cases because) of his lack of experience and subtle racism and misogyny. Trump went all in on the Tea Party discourse and wore the mantle of change.

    In comparison, Clinton’s words about the economy were vague, spare, and unremarkable. In her victory speech late on the night of the Iowa caucus, she said “I know what we are capable of doing, I know we can create more good-paying jobs and raise incomes for hard-working Americans again.” Although Clinton narrowly won the Democratic nomination in 2016, her message of incremental reforms did not give her resounding victories in Iowa and other important states. On caucus night, Bernie Sanders, the change candidate (like Obama before him) spoke directly to those who felt alienated by politics-as-usual: “What Iowa has begun tonight is a political revolution.” Sanders’s rhetoric might have attracted more of Iowa’s rural voters, but he wasn’t on the general election ballot November.

    Of course, rhetoric might win elections, but results matter afterward. So far, Trump’s appointment of Supreme Court justices may thrill conservative Iowans, but his trade war is already hurting Iowa’s agricultural exports, and he continues to undermine other things Iowa voters care about, including health care coverage, funding for education, infrastructure development, and well-paying jobs. Iowa may pivot again in 2018 and 2020. Recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Polls have found that Iowans favor Democrats for Congress in 2018, and that 68 percent of Iowans will “definitely vote for another candidate” or consider doing so in the 2020 presidential election. To win back the pivot county voters, Democratic candidates will need to connect with issues to rural voters. It is a message already received by the six Democratic candidates for Iowa governor, who made rural outreach a priority. Democratic Congressional and presidential candidates should take note.

    This piece originally appeared on Working-Class Perspectives.

    Christopher R. Martin is author of the forthcoming The Invisible Worker: How the News Media Lost Sight of the American Working Class (Cornell University Press). He is professor of Communication Studies and Digital Journalism at the University of Northern Iowa.

    Photo: Protestors in Cedar Falls, by Christopher Martin

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    In recent years, China has substantially increased the size of its railway system and has overtaken long-standing leader India in total passenger travel. As a result, it has become far more convenient to travel longer distances by train.

    One intriguing newer route runs from Lanzhou (capital of Gansu) to Urumqi (capital of Xinjiang) at top speeds of over 120 miles per hour (200 kilometers per hour). According to Railway Technology, this electrified route is 1,104 miles long (1.776 kilometers). I recently took that round trip, arriving in Lanzhou from Guangzhou (an 11 hours 29 minutes, 1,670 mile/2,687 kilometer train trip). This article describes the trip and includes photographs.

    My train to Urumqi, Number D-2701(Images 1-3) is one of four trips each way on the new route and had a 11 hour, 23 minute terminal to terminal scheduled travel time, though other high-speed trains can take up to between 12 and 13 hours (Note). A map of the route is here.

    There are a number of other high-speed trains that cover only part of the distance, such as from Lanzhou to Xining or to other points beyond. In addition, there are also conventional trains that generally operate over the route on the parallel older line (also electrified). These trains can take from 16 to 27 hours.

    The Gobi Desert

    The Gobi is the world’s second largest desert, with an area of 650,000 square miles (1.6 million square kilometers), about midway in size between Alaska and Mexico (the larger). The Gobi is in the rain shadow of the Tibetan Plateau and is a cold desert, with low temperatures in the winter. In contrast with the Sahara Desert, the world’s largest, the Gobi is largely a gray/black gravel rather than sand. (Images 22, 28, 30, 33-36, 38-39 and 42-47)

    The route across the Gobi Desert follows the Silk Road, with its oases. As a result, there are a number of small verdant sections of greenery and agriculture, generally near the urban areas that developed at the old oases.

    The Train Trip

    The Lanzhou to Urumqi route starts in the narrow Yellow River Valley and after climbing onto the Tibetan Plateau, reaches Xining, capital of Qinghai, and terminus of the relatively new passenger rail route to Tibet. After descending from the Qilian mountains, the route is largely in the Gobi Desert for the rest of the way.

    Lanzhou to Xining: 1 Hour 20 Minutes (Image 4)

    Lanzhou, the starting point of the new route, has an urban area population of 2.9 million (Image 4).

    The new railway is a notable feat of engineering. Even before Lanzhou, the mountainous country from western Shaanxi province (capital Xi’an) requires many tunnels to obtain the flat and straight alignment required for high speed trains. In fact, the tunnels begin in Baoji, even before reaching Lanzhou. Nearly all of the route from Baoji to Lanzhou, which takes just over two hours, is in tunnel.

    The tunnels begin again shortly after the Urumqi bound train leaves Lanzhou West. Again, there are only brief periods outside the tunnels to Xining. As a result, there is little to photograph in this segment of the trip.

    Xining to Zhangye: 1 Hour 50 Minutes (Images 5-13)

    Xining has an urban area population of 1.5 million (Image 5).

    From Xining, at an elevation of nearly 7,500 feet (2,300 meters) the route climbs through a lush green valley (Images 6-7), and soon begins another series of tunnels, with brief interludes. Where these sunlit portions occur, you can see spectacular canyons (Image 6), which unfortunately can be missed because the distances between the tunnels can be very short, leaving little time to take a picture.

    The train traverses the Qilian mountains in a tunnel at 12,700 feet elevation (3,900 meters), then drops to the flatlands that approach the Gobi Desert (Images 8-12). In the process, the train travels back into Gansu from Qinghai. There is considerable agricultural production in this area, around the city of Zhangye (Gansu). Zhangye is the second largest urban area between Xining and Urumqi, with an estimated population of approximately 500,000. (Image 13).

    Zhangye to Jiayuguan: 1 Hour 20 Minutes (Images 14-20)

    Between Zhangye and Jiayuguan, the scenery changes from generally green and agricultural to the brown and gray/black of the desert (Images 14-17). This is the heart of the Hexi Corridor, which was an important link in the old Silk Road, connecting China Proper, to the east of Lanzhou, to the Tarim Basin and Xinjiang (Image 18).

    There is also considerable greenery in the Jiayuguan area (Image 19). This is the western terminus of the Great Wall of China, though it was not visible from the train.

    Jiayuguan to Hami: 3 Hours 30 Minutes (Images 21-30)

    The gravel begins after Jiayuguan and continues to dominate the scenery nearly all the way to Urumqi. (Image 22).

    The Lanzhou to Urumqi Expressway (G-30) is adjacent along most of the rail route, and carries considerable truck traffic (Image 23). A truck stop and gasoline station is shown in Image 24. It is also parallel to the old railway line, on which the slower conventional passenger trains (Image 25) and freight trains operate (Image 26).

    Further, the Qilian mountains are often visible to the south which divide the Gobi Desert from the Tibetan Plateau, such as in Images 23 through 25.

    Between Liuyang and Hami, the route crosses the Gansu/Xinjiang border.

    Hami to Turpan: 2 Hours 20 Minutes (Images 31-36)

    Hami (Kumul) is the largest urban area between Xining and Urumqi, with about 550,000 residents (Image 31), and is surrounded by extensive agriculture (Image 32). Later, the train passes Shan Shan, an urban area with less than 200,000 population, but with an impressive skyline (Image 37).

    Turpan to Urumqi: 1 Hours 20 Minutes (Images 38-50)

    Just south of Turpan (Image 42) is one of the lowest land elevations in the world, at Ayding Lake. The basin is more than 500 feet below sea level. This is comparatively close to Bogda Peak in the Eastern Tien Shan Range (Image 42), which reaches an elevation of 17,900 feet (5,400 meters). This difference of 18,400 feet (5,600 meters) between these two points is substantial and exceeds the better known difference of approximately 14,800 feet (4,500 meters) between California’s Mount Whitney and Badwater in Death Valley (the highest and lowest points in the “Lower 48” states). Both distances are about 90 miles (145 kilometers). A photograph of Bogda Peak is here.


    The end of the trip was Urumqi South station, which is adjacent to the older part of the city. This former Urumqi Station has been replaced by a newer station in the northern part of the city.

    Urumqi (alternate spelling “Wulumuqi”) is the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and has an urban area population of 3.6 million (Image 50).

    A Really Interesting Two Days of Sightseeing

    For any interested in geography and topography, the round trip from Lanzhou to Urumqi is two days well spent, opening up a perspective of the enormity of China beyond the crowded, and far more visited, eastern urban areas.

    Note: Railway Technology indicates that “The line is designed to be operated with trains running at speeds up to 300km/h. The new line reduced the travel time between Lanzhou and Urumqi to approximately six hours.” The fastest speed I saw indicated on the carriage message board was 207 kilometers per hour. There are no trains that complete the distance under 11 hours, in either direction. Perhaps six hour operation is in the future.

    Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (US), Senior Fellow for Housing Affordability and Municipal Policy for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Canada), and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University (California). He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

    Photograph: The gray/black gravel of the Gobi Desert, Xinjiang, China (by author)

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    As the economy has improved, popular concern, both here and abroad, has shifted to issues of migration and identity. Just last year, immigration, according to Gallup, was seen as the most important issue by barely 5 percent of the population, while the economy was cited by more than four times as many. But now, immigration and undocumented aliens is now the biggest concern to 15 percent of the population, equal to that of the economy.

    You can blame Donald Trump, and his focus on that issue, for some of this. But Trump did not create the long mounting migration pressures — including 200,000 unaccompanied children during President Obama’s last term. Nor is he responsible for growing opposition — almost three-to-one — to mass migration among Europeans.

    Unrestricted EU migration helped drive Brexit in the U.K., upended Italian politics and sent many traditionally centrist voters elsewhere flocking to anti-immigrant parties, including some on the extreme, quasi-fascist right. The move towards what the Guardian ominously calls “fortress Europe” could even dethrone the current queen of the EU, the much praised “great humanist,” Angela Merkel.

    Read the entire piece at The Orange County Register.

    Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book is The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

    Photo: Elekes Andor [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

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  • 07/16/18--22:33: The Once and Future Lagos
  • City Journal just ran a very interesting piece on Lagos by Armin Rosen. Lagos is by some estimates Africa’s largest city and is well known as a creative capital. I don’t know anything personally about the city, but found Rosen’s description balanced and fascinating. Here are some excerpts:

    Poverty, confusion, and moral fluidity haven’t stopped Lagos from achieving global prominence. Maybe an all-pervading looseness has even been a source of the city’s growth, since it has expanded with a velocity that prudent planning would avoid. Lagos is now West Africa’s economic and cultural hub, as well as perhaps the continent’s largest city, depending on which population figures one accepts. By most accounts, Lagos has twice as many people as London, along with a GDP greater than all but six African states. In its successes and failures, the city offers a cautionary preview of where an urbanizing developing world is hurtling.

    The project seeks to expand the congested Victoria Island area, while creating a glittering showcase of world-class high-end real estate, thus helping to reverse Lagos’s reputation for disorder. But the initiative reflects a certain myopia: the landfill destroyed Bar Beach, once a popular public space in a city with no large parks and few major squares or monumental avenues. It’s not obvious whether the existing infrastructure can support such a large development so far off the mainland; as it is, Victoria and Lagos Islands are accessible only through a gauntlet of traffic choke points. The development is also aimed at a tiny upper sliver of an overwhelmingly poor city. “The plan is to create a Dubai and just ignore people who can’t afford to live in the proverbial Dubai, which describes most of the population,” says Olaolu Ogunmodede, a researcher at the Lagos-based Center for Public Policy Alternatives and an editor at The Republic, of the Lagos state government’s approach. (The city is organized as a state within the Nigerian federal system.)

    In nearby Ikoyi and Victoria Island, affluent Lagosians have little reason to venture too far, either—they live in gated estates, with their own security, garbage collection, electricity, and private bus services. One gets frequent reminders of how segmented Lagos is, how cordoned off its parts are from one another. Cut down a side street in Ikeja, and you’re suddenly in a squalid parallel world, where generators scream beside narrow mud streets, lined with freelancing numbers-runners and peddlers hawking broken clocks. The alley ends, and the modern downtown resumes again. From the Third Mainland Bridge, travelers can see the plush villas of Banana Island and Lekki glimmer in the distance at night, while the vast lagoon-side Makoko slum, less than 500 yards west of the six-mile-long causeway and home to an estimated 250,000 people, is invisible in the darkness. Makoko has become a transit point for timber from farther down the coast, creating yet another vibrant hyper-local poverty economy. You can smell the tang of burning garbage and wood from the bridge whenever traffic slows.

    Cheta Nwaze, a researcher at SBM intelligence, offers more insight into the city’s divisions. Nwaze and another SBM analyst, Ikemesit Effiong, meet me at Seven Eagles Spur, a diner-style restaurant inside Ikeja’s City Mall, decorated in images of southwestern American desert highways and chiefs in feather headdresses. Nwaze informs me that, a decade ago, the land that the mall now occupies was a slum. Residents were removed with a minimum of due process or public deliberation—still the standard procedure for any big-ticket Lagos development project. The mall has a KFC and a Nike store, and our lunch bill comes out to 9,100 naira, or $25. The people who had lived on the site of the future mall probably never imagined such a thing. “You give someone 9,100 naira and tell them to kill someone, and they will do it,” Nwaze says, only half-joking.

    Lagos is booming. Credible estimates put the population at 17 million or 18 million, but the city defies understanding of its true scope. “Most Nigerians can’t be accessed even by the government,” Effiong notes. This relative lack of data could turn out to have broader significance, since the world is sure to look more like Lagos in the coming decades. An estimated 54.5 percent of the global population now lives in cities, but urbanization is less complete in the developing world. Slightly more than half of Asia’s population, and nearly 60 percent of Africa’s, still lives in rural areas. The number of cities with 500,000 inhabitants or more is expected to grow by 80 percent in Africa alone between now and 2030, and the ten cities that the UN projects to cross the 10 million–inhabitant “megacity” threshold by 2030 are all in developing countries. By 2030, some 730 million people, or 8.9 percent of the people on earth, will live in these megacities, up from the current total of 500 million, or 6.8 percent. Success has made Lagos an unnerving glimpse into the near future.

    This constant flux can make for a verdant creative environment. Jumia and iRoko, West Africa’s leading e-commerce and entertainment streaming services, respectively, are regionally important companies founded in Lagos during the past decade. Music and movies produced in the city dominate West Africa and beyond—it was a Lagosian, Wizkid, who appeared alongside the Canadian pop star Drake in his 2016 megahit “One Dance.” As Edet Okun, an assistant curator at Lagos’s Nimbus gallery explains, the city has also fueled a burgeoning art market. “The money is here, and you have a high concentration of people,” Okun says, guiding me through a collection that includes traditional Ife bronzes, as well as striking monochromatic abstract works from Nigerian artist Olu Okekeanye.

    Attracting Nigerians of every description, Lagos offers hope for a country often defined by its religious, regional, and ethnic cleavages. It is the exception to Nigeria’s fault lines, “probably the one place in the country where, regardless of where you came from, you can feel like you belong,” one Nigerian told me. For some Lagosians, the rationalized marketplace of the city is also the only way of escaping a dead-end village economy, in which labor is a social or familial obligation, rather than a source of money and freedom. “A lot of these many odd jobs that people do for free in rural areas, people pay for in Lagos,” says Ray Ekpu, cofounder of the magazine Newswatch. Ekpu moved to Lagos from Nigeria’s southeast in 1980 and has seen the worst of the city: he was imprisoned six times during military rule, and a close colleague at Newswatch died in a mail-bomb attack in 1986 that many suspected was linked with the magazine’s work. “People come searching for the bright lights,” Ekpu observes. “They think they can find a good life here. Some of it is true. Some of it is a myth. They think if they can get here, they can find something to do.” That Lagosian myth—of opportunity and an escape from Nigeria’s various social and political ills—has an intense hold over the country.

    Infrastructural lapses aside, Lagos uneasily embodies one of civilization’s fundamental divides: the split between the city and the provinces, between a flagging periphery and the center toward which that periphery gravitates. The numbers reflect an astounding imbalance. Lagos contributes more to Nigeria’s GDP than any other state, and twice as much as the second highest-ranked state. Only 214 Nigerians pay 20 million naira ($56,000) or more in taxes each year; all live in Lagos, which collects some 39 percent of Nigeria’s internally generated revenue. Lagos state governor Akinwunmi Ambode has claimed that 60 percent of the country’s industrial and commercial business takes place in his city.

    Click through to read the whole thing.

    This piece originally appeared on Urbanophile.

    Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and an economic development columnist for Governing magazine. He focuses on ways to help America’s cities thrive in an ever more complex, competitive, globalized, and diverse twenty-first century. During Renn’s 15-year career in management and technology consulting, he was a partner at Accenture and held several technology strategy roles and directed multimillion-dollar global technology implementations. He has contributed to The Guardian,, and numerous other publications. Renn holds a B.S. from Indiana University, where he coauthored an early social-networking platform in 1991.

    Photo: Lagos, Nigeria. Image via City Journal

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    It may be en vogue among a certain group to express concern about the influence of Russian oligarchs within our political system, but perhaps we should all be a bit more concerned about the home-grown variety, the Silicon Valley and tech billionaires. Given their huge wealth, influence and control over information, we need to start having serious discussions about how best to deal with their impact on our democracy, which they increasingly seem to want to co-opt with their money and power.

    Their fortunes were indeed built with ingenuity, savvy and, in some cases, very sharp elbows. But they were also built on the backs of public infrastructure (notably Darpa, the defense agency that developed the internet) and within communities which allowed them to flourish. It is only right to expect these oligarchs and their corporations to pay their fair share in taxes.

    With the highest paid tax lawyers and accountants and consultants and lobbyists, these oligarchs and corporations are almost as good as exploiting loopholes as at their core businesses. Just look at Google, Apple and Facebook. They have found ways to reduce tax liabilities so that they end up paying hardly any taxes at all. This is in hideous contrast with the unfathomable amounts of money they are making and sitting on. As one CEO recently bragged, tech companies are making “insane margins.”

    Bottom line: It’s time for them to share the wealth.

    Money is not speech and corporations aren’t people, no matter what SCOTUS says. But if corporations really are people, at least in the legal sense, then we should be taxing them the way real, live Americans of the flesh-and-blood variety, are taxed.

    American citizens, namely, are taxed on worldwide income. Wherever they choose to live in the world, Uncle Sam is going to make sure you pay what Uncle Sam says is your fair share. We should inflict the same on these corporations.

    In fact, some of these tech corporations are sitting on insane amounts of cash, most of which is overseas. It’s time for those corporations to finally pony up without the benefit of loopholes. The answer might be a corporate wealth tax, payable on worldwide assets and income. (As the name “corporate wealth tax” suggests, such a levy would be restricted to the largest multi-billion-dollar corporations and, importantly, would not impact small businesses). This would provide funding for social services and other measures to reduce the impacts of tech corporation fueled income inequality, including dealing with California’s housing crisis.

    Of course, the oligarchs will use their money and power to lobby against any taxes and herein we have the crux of the problem. Seattle recently passed a very modest per-employee “head tax” which swiftly got rescinded as the tech companies, led by Amazon, (whose CEO was earning $230,000 a minute as of this past March), used their financial and political muscle to have the tax repealed.

    And for all those who claim that a corporate wealth tax would stifle innovation, all we need to do is look to Sweden, a country of some ten million people of which I am a proud citizen. Sweden remains at the vanguard of technological innovation while income inequality is a fraction of what it is in the US. Income inequality in Sweden, which has a similar per capita income to the US, is among the lowest in the world, with a Gini coefficient of around .259 while in the US it is at .378, close to the level of developing African countries, according to a Federal Bank article.

    Sweden, though known for its high taxes, doesn’t have a corporate wealth tax, but extracts revenue from high earners in a way few Americans would prefer. Raising taxes radically in America, without giving such things as free health care or university education, would simply make life much tougher for the middle class, particularly in prohibitive cost places like California or New York.

    Some of the tech companies hoarding all this wealth face little or no competition and are well on their merry ways towards becoming quasi- or full-blown monopolies. Almost 170 years ago French wit Alphonse Karr noted, “The more things change, the more it’s the same thing.” This time, in a Karresque time warp, we find ourselves thrown back to the early 1900’s in which Teddy Roosevelt was confronted with anti-competitive corporate leviathans.

    Today these quasi-monopolies -- Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Google most prominent among them -- seem to prefer to use their money to influence both law and policy so they can avoid having to pay taxes, income inequality be damned. And, of course, it’s not just the tech companies, but also the other multi-billion dollar corporate behemoths who through acquisition, globalization or elimination of competition constantly grow bigger like the blob in the 1957 horror movie of the same name.

    There doesn’t seem to be a TR-style politician around these days on either side of the aisle (perhaps with the exception of Bernie Sanders) who is interested in the doctrine of “public interest,” and who is willing to battle corporate greed, the way TR took on Northern Securities. Today’s politicians don’t seem to be able to resist the lure of campaign donations or, for the most prominent of them, post-employment speaking fees and potential foundation baksheesh.

    And yet public interest demands that these mega-corporations pay their fair shares rather than dictate policy which will increase income inequality and further move the oligarchy towards a modern-day version of feudalism.

    In some cases, it is quite shocking how some self-styled “social justice warriors” allow themselves to play a supporting role for oligarchy. “Color of Law” author, Richard Rothstein, for example, when asked what Google can do to address discriminatory housing policy, didn’t respond that Google should share its wealth to create affordable housing (even after a Google employee threw him a softball by talking about Google’s “$50 billion in the bank”) or be taxed at a higher level to fund government services or do anything at all about income inequality; his response, shockingly, was that Google should use its wealth to lobby Sacramento to eliminate local zoning ordinances against the will of individual communities, thereby creating what Rothstein considers to be “solutions” to problems largely created by the tech companies themselves. That’s an odd position for a supposed social justice warrior.

    Similarly, our Sacramento politicians, mostly self-described progressives, are willingly complicit in attacks on local control, as they increasingly attempt to impose policies on local communities in pursuit of corporatist agendas. Clearly, corporate lobbyists are also looking to erode local control and the self-determination of our individual communities because it’s a lot simpler for them to control Sacramento and its politicians, far away from the scrutiny of our daily lives within our wide-ranging and diverse state.

    Corporations may be people, according to SCOTUS, but people are definitely not corporations. It’s time to put people over profits and profiteering. A meaningful corporate wealth tax would allow us collectively to do just that by providing much needed funding for our communities, by reducing income inequality and by building infrastructure which would benefit communities, not just a select few elite corporations.

    Vice Mayor John Mirisch has served on the Beverly Hills City Council
    since 2009, including as mayor in 2013-2014 and 2016-2017. He created the City's Sunshine Task Force in 2013 to increase transparency and public participation in local government.

    Photo: Seattle City Council from Seattle [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

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    The European Court of Auditors issued a report in late June critical of Europe’s development of high-speed rail. The European Court of Auditors is described on its website as: “the EU's independent external auditor, the European Court of Auditors looks after the interests of EU taxpayers. It does not have legal powers, but works to improve the European Commission's management of the EU budget and reports on EU finances.”

    This article summarizes some of the most important findings of the European Court of Auditors report for the taxpayers, who have provided virtually every Euro of financial support to plan and construct high-speed rail in Europe. Only the Paris to Lyon route has been profitable including its construction costs.

    The European Court of Auditors examined the experience with 10 high-speed rail lines reviewing European Union support. Three particularly relevant conclusions are highlighted in this article, especially for policy-makers in the United States where multiple high-speed rail projects have been proposed, with one already under construction (California).

    Costs are Much Higher than Projected

    The European Court of Auditors found that all of the seven high-speed rail projects for which there is data experienced cost overruns in planning and construction. The smallest cost overrun was on the Rhine-Rhone line (from Dijon to Mulhouse in France), at 26.1 percent. The second largest cost overrun was for the Berlin to Munich line, at 76.1 percent. The largest cost blowout was for the Stuttgart to Munich line, an astounding 622.1 percent. The line, however, is not yet open and could escalate more in cost before opening. The Court also notes that high-speed rail is becoming more expensive to build.

    Projects Take a Long Time to be Completed

    High-speed rail has taken very long to build. According to the European Court of Auditors, the construction time for the audited projects averaged 16 years. Including planning time, the average was 26 years from proposal to operation (See Note).

    Projects are Over-Built

    The European Court of Auditors found that high-speed rail has been built to considerably higher standards than required by their actual operation. They concluded that average speed are so far below the design speed that it “raises questions as to sound financial management” The Court further found that: “The costs involved could in fact have been far lower, with little or no impact on operations.”

    Given these criticisms, the European Court of Auditors “found that the EU’s current long-term plan is not supported by credible analysis, is unlikely to be achieved, and lacks a solid EU-wide strategic approach.” Moreover, the added value to EU taxpayers of funding high-speed rail is characterized as low.

    The Political Cost: Stuttgart 21

    Meanwhile, this kind of public incompetence can have a political price. Stuttgart has become the first German state capital to elect a Green Mayor, after decades of rule by the Christian Democrats. New Mayor Fritz Kuhn has been a leader in the battle against Stuttgart 21, a high-speed rail related renovation of Stuttgart’s main railway station. According to the European Court of Auditors, Stuttgart 21 has had a cost overrun of 83 percent. At one point it was expected that the project would be complete in 2008, but now the opening date is scheduled for 2025.

    Opposition by the Greens is based on concerns such as the extent of cost overruns, reduced access to park areas near the station, potential negative impact on suburban rail service and the small travel time benefit that is forecast. (See: here and here). This opposition by the Greens is somewhat surprising, since similar political interests have generally favored high speed rail projects around the world. In the meantime, the Greens have the Baden-Württemberg state elections, also pushing aside the Christian Democrats. Stuttgart 21 had some influence on the results in both the city and the state.

    The European Experience

    High-speed rail has far from revolutionized travel in Europe (EU-15), where car travel has risen at more than 1.5 times the rate of rail travel since 1980 (just before the first high-speed rail line was opened in France), according to European Commission. In the last 20 years, rail’s share of travel in European Union nations has risen just 2 percent, despite building many high-speed rail lines. Airlines, on the other hand, have seen their market share of travel rise by 50 percent. Finally, high-speed rail is no bargain for taxpayers. In France, the government has just assumed more than $40 billion in railroad debt.

    Lessons for the United States, Canada and Australia

    This is a cautionary tale for the United States, Canada and Australia, where the high-speed rail lobby is seeking taxpayer subsidies to build lines. The European experience says that high-speed rail routinely costs more than projected, takes longer than anticipated to build and tends to be over-designed. Further, the minimal European impact on train market shares suggests an even more modest impact in the United States, Canada and Australia, where the skeletal rail systems have far too few riders to be attracted to the newer trains.

    California’s Train Wreck: Generally Worse than Europe

    In the United States, there is the greater concern of its woefully poorer performance in the delivery of urban rail infrastructure. City Lab found that US rail transit projects tend to cost considerably more than in Europe. Taxpayer subsidized high-speed rail projects in the United States are procured and managed similarly to transit rail projects, suggesting that the inferior project delivery likely could apply in the inter-city market as well.

    The one major project, in California, is already well on the way to equaling or even exceeding the failures of Europe. By 2011, the Los Angeles to San Francisco segment had ballooned by at least 200 percent in inflation adjusted costs from its original 1999 estimate. This is nearly three times the cost overrun on the Berlin to Munich line, the second highest reported by the European Court of Auditors, though only one-third of the Stuttgart to Munich cost overrun.

    In response the California High-speed Rail Authority replaced its full-high-speed rail plan, with a blended system that would have high-speed rail trains operate in mixed traffic with conventional trains in the San Francisco/San Jose and Los Angeles/Orange County areas. Even so, earlier this year the Authority announced a further increase in costs of nearly 20 percent. There is also considerable concern, because much of the route in the south will require long tunnels that could easily drive costs up even more.

    California is also on schedule to be among the slowest to finish its project, with current operation over the entire route not expected until 2033. And, of course, what may open in 2033, is not a full high-speed rail system, as originally envisioned, but a significantly compromised system, with slower conventional trains and high-speed rail trains sharing the busiest sections of the route.

    The Need for Rational Prioritization

    The European Court of Auditors concluded that the use of European Union taxpayer funding was of “low added value.” The same seems even more true in the United States, where the California project has performed even worse. The experience is likely to be similar in the rest of the United States, as well as in Canada and Australia, and suggests the money could be used instead for more important funding priorities, of which there is no shortage.

    Note: There are substantial differences between Europe and China. Yet, the contrast in high-speed rail delivery is profound, both in mileage constructed and time of construction. In just 13 years, since China opted for high-speed rail and rejected Mag-Lev (See: “Rail track beats Maglev in Beijing-Shanghai High-speed Railway.”), the nation has opened 15,500 miles (25,000 kilometers) of high-speed railway. China now operates more than two-thirds of the world’s high-speed rail.

    Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (US), Senior Fellow for Housing Affordability and Municipal Policy for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Canada), and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University (California). He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

    Photograph: Anti-Stuttgart 21 poster by (Aufkleber der Stuttgart 21-Gegner) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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  • 07/19/18--22:33: Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
  • Urban planners predicted that Millennials would prefer renting apartments in dense cities over owning homes in low-density suburbs. So they told regional governments to restrict low-density development and promote high-density housing instead. Now, Millennials are 18 percent less likely to own homes than their parents did when their parents were young: in 1990, 45 percent of 25-34-year-olds owned their own homes; by 2015, it was just 37 percent.

    Were urban planners correct? No, says a report from the Urban Land Institute. Instead, Millennials just prefer to live in expensive cities, and that has depressed their homeownership rates.

    I don’t think the report is quite right. According to the American Community Survey’s table S0101, which breaks down population by age groups, Millennials a little more attracted to large urban areas than others, but the difference isn’t enough to account for an 18 percent decline in homeownership rates. The data show that 13.7 percent of Americans are Millennials (which the Urban Institute defined as ages 25 to 34 in 2015), while Millennials make up 15.1 percent of urban areas of 1 million people or more. That’s a significant difference, but certainly not enough to reduce homeownership by 18 percent by itself.

    The real problem is that urban planners convinced cities to apply their prescription to nearly half the housing in America. Combining American Community Survey tables B19113 (median family income), B25007 (median home prices), and B25003 (occupied homes) on a county level, the median value of about 45 percent of American housing is more than three times median family incomes. With few exceptions, prices rise above three times incomes only when government policies make it difficult for homebuilders to meet demand.

    For example, in 1969 the only places in America where housing cost more than three times incomes were Hawaii and Stamford, Connecticut. I don’t know why Stamford was on the list, but Hawaii had passed legislation strictly regulating where people could build homes in 1961. Other states and urban areas didn’t do so until the 1970s, and as they did so their housing prices rose faster than incomes as well.

    Thanks to the urban planning prescriptions, housing is prohibitively expensive in too many areas. While median home prices are more than three times median family incomes in 45 percent of housing, it is more than four times in 24 percent of housing and more than five times in 14 percent of housing.

    Millennial homeownership rates are greater than 45 percent in Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming. These are all affordable states that have made little attempt to regulate rural development. Millennial homeownership rates are below 30 percent in California, DC, Hawaii, and New York. California and Hawaii have the strongest growth management laws in the nation and DC and New York City are hemmed in by growth-managed states and counties in Maryland, Virginia, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Millennial homeownership rates are also depressed in Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington, each of which have their own forms of growth management.

    While Millennials are slightly more attracted to big urban areas with expensive housing, Millennial homeownership rates would be well below those of previous generations even if no such attraction existed. This is simply because so much housing has been made artificially expensive.

    This piece first appeared on The Antiplanner.

    Randal O’Toole is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute specializing in land use and transportation policy. He has written several books demonstrating the futility of government planning. Prior to working for Cato, he taught environmental economics at Yale, UC Berkeley, and Utah State University.

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    Part of my ongoing plan to create a more resilient and adaptable life includes finding alternative ways to satisfy daily needs with simple affordable work-arounds. I want electric lights at night and I want to charge my cell phone and small devices even if the power goes out in a storm. This little $80 portable foldable solar panel does the trick. I placed my wallet next to the folded panels for scale. The package is the size of a book.

    I was able to charge three battery bricks in a single sunny afternoon. My cell phone charged up super fast. And my usual five watt LED light bulbs ran for days on a single battery brick as usual. Once the batteries were topped up all sorts of devices could be charged after dark or on short cloudy winter days. This system is cleaner, safer, more convenient, and more versatile than candles or oil lamps – and more reliable than flash lights that have been sitting in a drawer for ages with dead batteries.

    In the absence of running water a simple pitcher and bowl do many of the things associated with a modern bathroom. It’s possible to wash your hands and face, wet and comb your hair, brush your teeth, and shave with a tiny but adequate amount of water. A washcloth would also allow for light bathing of the body if need be. These are the kinds of low tech options that cost almost nothing and can be implemented almost anywhere. If done right it can also be perfectly elegant.

    A bicycle or two in the garage is there for pleasant rides in the park as well as pragmatic transportation if the car should ever be unavailable. It helps to live in a place where it’s physically possible to get from Point A to Point B without a car, but even most auto dependent suburbs are quasi navigable by bike if you’re really in need. Panniers for carrying bits and bobs are helpful as are night lights for safety.

    I want to compare and contrast these things to what often passes for “green” or “ecological” strategies. I once gathered the people in my building around the kitchen table and asked them to consider adding insulation to the whole building envelope in a coordinated fashion. I paid an expert to assess the things that could be done quickly and inexpensively, the things that would be slightly more involved and a bit more pricey, and the super deluxe version of ultra insulation. The simple “low hanging fruit” package would have been $3,000 divided by four apartments ($750 each) or eight inhabitants ($375 each.) No one was interested in lower gas and electric bills for the next few decades by way of insulation.

    But shortly afterward one of the guys upstairs installed $13,000 worth of solar panels on the roof, attached an electric charging plug to the garage wall, and bought a Tesla. If the grid should go down so do the panels on the roof, although I suppose people could use the Tesla to charge their cell phones…

    Spot the difference?

    This piece first appeared on Granola Shotgun.

    John Sanphillippo lives in San Francisco and blogs about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience at He's a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, films videos for, and is a regular contributor to He earns his living by buying, renovating, and renting undervalued properties in places that have good long term prospects. He is a graduate of Rutgers University.

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    Donald Trump and the Republican Party, increasingly his subsidiary, should be headed to a reckoning of historic proportions. But, despite his own often unforced errors, Trump may have found an unwitting ally far more impactful than Vladimir Putin: the Democratic Party.

    In their anti-Trump fervor, the Democrats have embraced leftist positions that weaken their prospects in 2018, and perhaps even more so, beyond. Their leftward shift was evident in scores of elections around the country as well as here in California where the party endorsed climate activism and open-borders advocate Kevin De Leon over longtime centrists, and still heavily favored, Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

    The lurch to the left could become particularly problematic if the economy, always a big if, holds up. Right now almost two-thirds of voters think the economy is in good shape, according to a recent YouGov poll. To be sure, Trump’s approval ratings are not great, but not much worse than those at the same stage of their presidencies as Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, all but one of which was re-elected to second term.

    Historically disadvantaged minorities

    Continued strong economic growth could even help Trump appeal to voters who have historically backed the Democrats. Under President Obama, as Kanye West and others have observed, African Americans gained in self-esteem but little in terms of economics. If you visit the South Side of Chicago, nearby the former Obama manse, poverty has become worse while The Loop to the north has never seemed so prosperous.

    In contrast, under Trump’s regime, unemployment among African Americans and Latinos has hit historic lows while wages for blue-collar workers have begun to creep up. Minorities’ sense of personal future prospects have improved markedly, notes the Zogby poll. Trump, despite his remarks about Mexico, is even gaining ground among Hispanics, according to the Harris poll. Latinos, notes Pew, consider health care, the economy and education more important than immigration.

    Most minority voters, particularly African Americans, favor less immigration rather than more. The embrace of open borders by Democrats, as evidenced by the calls to dismantle ICE, shows that, like the corporate right, they are unwilling to shut off a supply of undocumented workers whose added presence in the labor market threaten the past 18 month’s still-vulnerable economic gains.

    Asians and Jews

    Lock-step support for Democrats among Asians and Jews could also be threatened. Jews, despite their self-affiliation as progressives, are faced with a growing anti-Israel, and at least marginally anti-Semitic, wave among “progressive” Democrats. The party’s latest leftist star, New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has made her anti-Israel opinions well known, as have several other Democratic congressional candidates, including in South Carolina and in Pennsylvania, where the party’s choice funded the boycott of Israel.

    Progressive Jews make a big deal about the small, and noxious, white nationalist far right and its support for Trump, but the far more lethal threat comes from more powerful situated people like Democratic Party Vice-Chairman Keith Ellison, who has a long history of association with Louis Farrakhan, arguably the most influential anti-Semite of our time. Similar linkages exist among organizers of core resistance groups like the Women’s March.

    Democratic dominance among Asians could also be threatened. Trump’s assault on affirmative action appeals to the meritocratic mentality of many Asian families, some of whom fear their offspring face active discrimination in admission to colleges and universities. This concern is also being felt in places like New York, where examinations to high-performing high schools are now being scrapped by progressives seeking to replace merit with a “more just” racial distribution.

    Oligarchs and socialists

    Perhaps the most serious potential problem for the Democrats lies in the incompatibility of their base of oligarch support, and the simultaneous embrace of socialist ideology. Trump’s trade and immigration policies threaten the interests of the corporate elite, depriving them of potential markets, cheap suppliers and labor. But an assault on inequality — as proposed by Bernie Sanders and his supporters — would also mean higher taxes and more stringent regulations on the oligarchal overclass.

    Ultimately the Democrats may try to square this circle by increasing taxes on the upper-middle class, the only ones, outside the oligarchy, capable of paying for expansive socialist policies. Yet this too creates a problem since well-educated professionals constitute one of the key components of the party coalition. Although all the rage among the intelligentsia and the pre-taxpaying young, socialism’s overall appeal remains limited; according to one recent survey, nearly three-quarters of likely voters prefer a free market to a socialistic system.

    As the party drifts left, we may see more hesitation by some to participate in a “resistance” that works against their interests. Some Republicans even see the possibility of an anti-progressive wave that could rise as early as this fall. That too may be delusional, given Trump’s repeatedly demonstrated ability to step on his own talking points. But by threatening to alienate sizable parts of the party base, the resistance may yet fail to depose Trump, largely because of its own fundamental contradictions and endemic foolishness.

    This piece originally appeared in The Orange County Register.

    Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book is The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

    Photo by LA Mountains, via Flickr, using CC License.

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    It’s common knowledge that millennials long for "community." What’s less understood is the concrete expression of that longing in cities and suburbs across America, especially now that the older tier of millennials between ages 28 and 34 are buying homes, starting companies, running for office, and throwing around their consumer weight.

    The story is a hopeful but tentative one, threaded by a reviving localism at the very time this localism’s future rests on how, exactly, millennials choose to live out their commitments to a place – as much with one another as with the nation at large.

    We millennials are an interesting bunch. Analyzed and scrutinized ad infinitum, we defy categorizations at the same time there are patterns one can trace in the impulses and values that are now making themselves felt in the actions and organizations of those in a position to lead.

    Starting with the Iraq War, compounded then by a sequence of federal disappointments and the digital revolution, electrified, finally, by the most polarizing election of their lifetime, millennials have stopped believing in large-scale change driven from the top. The most popular movements of the last decade have no figurehead: #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and Occupy Wall Street. These movements are powered instead by a decentralized invitation to see one’s own life story as having all the criteria needed to belong.

    The desire to impact a community

    “Small is beautiful” again, and however infused with nostalgia the current localist mood is, the chance to impact one’s original or adopted community with tangible, visible results, is hugely appealing to a generation that feels denuded of both belonging and heroic opportunity.

    First, some facts. For millennials with choice, the traditional coastal hotspots of Washington, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco still lure the strategic (or those who want a tableau in which to find themselves), but they are no longer the launching panacea they once were. Instead, college-educated millennials are going to where they perceive affordability, growing opportunity, and an invitation to create and contribute, not just consume.

    Census data indicates that 10,430 young people moved to Washington, D.C. between 2010 and 2011. Just two years later, between 2013 and 2014, only 2,662 of that same age group moved to the capital.

    What’s supplanted the appeal of dense networks and structured career tracks? The tangible dynamism of reviving yet smaller inland cities – places like Raleigh, Madison, San Antonio, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Nashville, and Orlando.

    Particularly as millennials are marrying and having children, yet still desire the perks of urban living (e.g. social density, walkable and mixed-use neighborhoods, cultural variety), these second- and third-tier cities offer just the right blend of purpose and promise … at a price tag of $175,000 and $300,000, not the $500,000 to $1.5 million that only trust fund kids can consider.

    As millennials have gone from a few concentrated bubbles to a more textured diaspora, a “back to the roots” movement has gained steam, with many young people choosing to return to their hometowns – or at least the metropolitan areas where family (and support for their children) is nearby. It could be the natural progression of age and need, or it could be something more trendy, but the topline of millennial aspirations has changed, and in fairly rapid fashion.

    Where in 2008 we millennials were known for our “save the world” idealism, we now channel that desire for impact toward local causes we can see and touch. It’s a kind of primordial return to the fundamental meaning-makers of life: family, community, responsibility, even a kind of symbolic return to “the land,” however distant from agrarian lifestyle most of these millennials’ experiences are.

    “Everyone’s searching for meaning and purpose,” says Thierry Tchenko, a 23-year old from Houston, currently finishing up a master’s degree at Georgetown, planning to return to serve his city in August. The son of Cameroonian immigrants who divorced when he was a kid, Tchenko spent his teenage years shuttling between his dad’s middle class neighborhood and his mom’s poorer apartment complex, the latter located just west of Sharpstown in one of the most ethnically diverse pockets of Texas as well as the country.

    “Four years ago, I didn’t see much energy around going back home,” Tchenko says about his peers who also have had an opportunity to pursue education out of state. “Now, there’s an energy about social change, of us wanting to have an impact back toward the faces you grew up with. There’s dissatisfaction with the national political process, and with what west and east coasts are prescribing. Home may be the best place to have some sort of impact…being able to have those small wins on the local level with people you grew up with is deeply satisfying.”

    As more millennials fulfill this leave-and-return motif, it’s not all hunky dory. For those coming back in a spirit of service, many of them carry a fill-the-void impulse – returning to one’s home to redeem the places of pain in their own lives so others don’t have to go through the same thing alone: divorce, abuse, poverty, lack of supportive authority figures, living in fear as an undocumented immigrant.

    And, of course, one’s native status should and often does grant a leg up in establishing trust as the returner seeks to re-integrate and serve from an expanded worldview. But it can also open up chasms inside a particular community, contributing to feelings of personal alienation at the same time so many of these returning millennials are seeking to address this very problem on a macro level. 

    Reknitting the social fabric

    This ode to care across difference, and to reknit a social fabric that millennials acutely feel has been torn for them and their progeny, motivates all sorts of localist initiatives.

    The Commons Coffee Bar is a coin laundry and coffee shop in the midst of one of the roughest neighborhoods in Detroit. Its founder, Mack Avenue Community Church, wanted to create a space where the habits of two distinct demographic groups – the laptop latte routine of white millennials versus those who need to use public washing machines – would play off each other and intermingle.

    The idea is a creative one, even if the reality isn’t yet gelling. Buy coffee at Commons, and you see well-heeled hipsters typing in isolation, their African-American peers cracking jokes while folding clothes.

    There’s a space & design renaissance powered largely by millennials right now, but leadership still matters. How to people places, in a way that feels natural, yet sets a more definitive tone so people don’t just slip into their default habits and distrusts?

    Intentional is a big word with us,” says Tchenko. “I’m seeing lots of friends being super intentional about choosing the teaching profession, for instance. They want to get into the system and get in there early. Others are starting non-profits – helping kids. If we lacked a father, or if we experienced some sort of trauma, we want to begin our adult lives by connecting with those in similar circumstance.” A kind of immigrant echo of crafting better futures for your progeny, but in this case, the progeny is the next generation of wounded healers.

    Sarah Hemminger is leading one of the most impressive social capital repair efforts in the country, called Thread. It serves the city of Baltimore by creating a reliable social network around students who score in the lowest quartile, re-defining “family” in the process.

    Hemminger herself grew up in a thick religious community outside Indianapolis, and as a teenager experienced a dramatic church shunning when her family wouldn’t bend with the congregation’s acquiescence to an embezzling pastor. That excruciatingly isolating experience gave her a call that now propels Thread, and she wears a necklace whose pendant contours Baltimore’s city limits. Many other cities have asked her to bring Thread to them, but she’s thus far declined. She loves her adopted city, and wants to go all-in.

    Millennial-led examples of this kind of social fabric repair and whole person concern are endless – mostly in the non-profit sector, but starting to percolate in the for-profit world, too. Trevor Hightower in Houston has founded WorkFlourish,  an innovative residential and co-working experiment that seeks to foster a flourishing community of entrepreneurs committed to excellent work and neighboring.

    Hightower has intentionally created an environment that not only encourages creativity and cross-pollination, but also provides cues for members to nourish their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Video monitors display inspiring quotes. TED Talks are featured on subjects like creating, thriving, leading, failing. There are daily practices available, one of which is a morning visioning session were members clarify the top three things that need to be done that day while focusing on their three reasons for gratitude.

    Choosing the local

    These are just a few examples among thousands, highlighting a generational spirit almost more than the infrastructure we can predict unfurling on a large scale. Insofar as millennials are a generation defined more by the institutions they’ve left than those they’ve shaped, there remains a subtle yet defiant institutional impulse showing up in their desire to serve and reconnect with the faces they grew up with, to address needs that will help future generations. And so much of this impulse is at once admirable and promising: There’s a wisdom in localism, not only for a recovery of health in our democracy, but for the health of citizens.

    At a fundamental human level, millennials are showing that they’ve had enough with abstract goods. They want a sense of wholeness in their lives, wholeness built from healthy relationships, responsibility, belonging, an identifiable role. There’s an inherent personalism involved in choosing the local – it demands real conversations in real-time, real meals around real tables, and real problem-solving and sacrifice, less hash-tagging and virtue signaling.

    But it remains to be seen how this localist enthusiasm will develop and mature. No one can ignore the internet, its alternate reality as tempting to our ideals as anything in our immediate environment. We millennials may get dangerously good at functioning with split personalities: embodying online everything we claim to hate, and finding relief only in one’s local realities. This won’t be sustainable, neither psychologically nor democratically.

    “To be honest, going local may not be attractive to some people,” says Thierry Tchenko. Sometimes “localism” seems to obscure the fact that many young people simply feel stuck, unable to get out and unable to make their own place better. “White folks love giving money to improve a place,” one young African-American man in Detroit told me, “but most of them still have trouble sharing power.”

    Millennials are more aware of this problem than their elders, but there’s still a moral battle ahead. No one can be spared the choices involved.    

    “The key question is,” says Tchenko, “how are we now training those younger than us to serve their peers? How do we train their desires to go beyond simply attaining success and a pleasant life, which are part of the American Dream but not its lifeblood. We must train those after us to serve and lead.”

    Only time will tell, but it is worth noting that since the 2016 election, there’s an intriguing spirit rising up from millennials in cities and towns across the country. Some of it is angry – people are fed up with politics and government’s inability to address injustice effectively. Some of it is pained – both personally and historically – but in this pain there is a purifying clarity and empowered hope being born about the possibility – no, the necessity – of civic action. Each citizen is being called to his and her own renewing path. Some of it, subtly yet pervasively, is faith-driven.

    There’s a new yet ancient vocabulary rooted in a theological imagination bubbling up as millennials talk about our yearnings for our lives and our society. This vocabulary invokes mercy and justice, forgiveness and reconciliation, memory and truth, poetry and breaking bread together, all of which is more inclusive and pluralist than the churchy language of yesteryear, but is nonetheless rooted in a transcendent set of reference points. Much of it oriented toward how we might live together in common…of how we might bring both Old and New America together. And in this, there is something perennially American being activated and repurposed.

    This piece originally appeared in The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute.

    Anne Snyder is Director of the Philanthropy Roundtable’s Character Initiative and a Fellow at the Center for Opportunity Urbanism.

    Photo: WorkFlourish in June 2017 (via @WorkFlourish / Instagram)

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    You may recall my City Journal feature on Buffalo from 2015. This was written about the time New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion program – a pledge to spend $1 billion in state funds to bring back the city economically – was in the earlier stages of development.

    Fast forward, and Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion chief Alain Kaloyeros and Buffalo construction magnate Louis Ciminelli were recently convicted on corruption charges. A lot of the heavy lifting journalistically that raised questions about the Buffalo Billion was done by Jim Heaney and his team at the Investigative Post.

    As this was ongoing, the New York Times did an analysis of whether the Buffalo Billion was living up to the hype. They found mixed results and an overall underwhelming program to date:

    But an examination of the plans and progress of projects included in the Buffalo Billion reveals a far more uneven return on investment to date: a mix of street-level successes, expensive brick-and-mortar gambles and ill-conceived misfires.

    While some projects have bloomed, others have been delayed by years or show no sign of progress, beyond their initial news release. And Mr. Cuomo’s promises of well-paying, permanent jobs at the most costly projects have repeatedly fallen well short….“I think the Buffalo Billion sounds better than it probably turned out to be,” said Isaac Ehrlich, a SUNY distinguished professor of economics at the University at Buffalo.

    “The last seven years have undoubtedly been the best in Buffalo for a very long time,” said Howard Zemsky, the president of Empire State Development, the state’s primary economic development agency. “And I don’t think it’s coincidental that the way the governor transformed economic development has had a very positive impact.”

    Mr. Zemsky noted some 25,000 new private sector jobs have come to the city during the Cuomo administration, and added that many of the Buffalo Billion projects — both past and future — were not exclusively about jobs, per se, but support for long-term solutions like downtown revitalization, smart growth, opening up the waterfront and keeping younger generations from fleeing.

    Still, the governor’s rhetoric has often proved overblown: At Riverbend, a state-funded $750 million solar plant, Mr. Cuomo promised at least 3,000 jobs. Tesla, which runs the plant, now employs about a fifth of that number — between 600 and 700 employees — working with Panasonic, which is a subtenant. And last month, amid concerns about its solar operations, Tesla said that it would trim its work force by nearly 10 percent, though it is not clear if Riverbend’s work force will suffer.

    At an I.B.M. “innovation hub” where the governor said 500 people would be employed in information technology jobs, the actual number is about half that, according to company officials, with many working for subcontracted agencies and earning between $30,000 to $40,000 a year.

    In Niagara Falls, the Wonder Falls resort, a planned $150 million project that includes an indoor water park and 300-room hotel, was to create “1,500 direct and indirect jobs” during construction, and 300 more permanent positions, the governor said in 2013.

    The project, however, hasn’t even broken ground; an empty former mall and a parking garage remain on the site, though state and company officials said it is still in the works.

    When I looked at Buffalo for my article, the impression I got – which I should point out no one said explicitly – was that Cuomo, looking for a signature upstate economic development initiative, found the recently completed Western New York Regional Economic Development Strategic Plan from 2011 and seized on it, redirecting it for his own purposes. I though the original plan created by regional leaders was good, but you’ll note it doesn’t directly map to some of the Buffalo Billion key initiatives. The original plan doesn’t include anything about subsidizing major manufacturing plants, for example. To the extent that things went sideways with some of this, I would look to the Cuomo people, not local Buffalo leaders who put together a pretty strong plan of their own.

    I noted in my piece that the size of the Solar City plant created reputational risk to the city if anything went wrong. The headlines about corruption and underwhelming performance at Solar City are an example of this coming to light.

    That’s a shame because a lot of good things have been happening in Buffalo. Howard Zemsky is always in the press because he heads the state’s economic development agency. Properly so, he’s repping their work. But you don’t hear much about the Larkinville development that he spearheaded, which includes a really fantastic renovation of a large former industrial complex. That’s much more significant than sound bites about Empire State Development.

    Similarly there are great activities in the neighborhoods, and some of the demographic and economic stats I’ve seen have been somewhat positive, particularly relative to upstate.

    It’s unfortunate that this corruption scheme and some ill-advised crony capitalism are detracting from on the ground reinvention happening in a city that does have strategic reason for long term optimism about its prospects.

    This piece originally appeared on Urbanophile.

    Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and an economic development columnist for Governing magazine. He focuses on ways to help America’s cities thrive in an ever more complex, competitive, globalized, and diverse twenty-first century. During Renn’s 15-year career in management and technology consulting, he was a partner at Accenture and held several technology strategy roles and directed multimillion-dollar global technology implementations. He has contributed to The Guardian,, and numerous other publications. Renn holds a B.S. from Indiana University, where he coauthored an early social-networking platform in 1991.

    Photo: Buffalo Light Rail at Fountain Plaza by David Wilson from Oak Park, Illinois, CC BY 2.0

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    The “us vs. them” tone of American politics, most visibly emanating from the White House, but infecting all the country’s political rhetoric, has now spread to daily life. The polarization leads some to question the country’s ability to keep its democratic traditions and hold together as one nation. A recent poll conducted with bipartisan sponsorship by the Biden and Bush Institutes found that 50% of Americans believe that the United States is in “Real danger of becoming a nondemocratic authoritarian country and 80% of Americans are either very or somewhat concerned about the condition of our democracy.”

    This is not the first time such concerns have been driven by generational, economic, and cultural disruption. The 1975 musical, Chicago, captured the lament of many Americans in the Jazz Age of the 1920’s as the Lost Generation, memorialized by F. Scott Fitzgerald, blew up the prevailing Victorian values of the time. The opening lines of the song sound as current today as they were when they were first sung on Broadway in the year after President Richard Nixon’s resignation from office.

    “Whatever happened to fair dealing
    And pure ethics
    And nice manners?
    Why is it now everyone’s a pain in the ass?
    Whatever happened to class?”

    You have Democratic Socialists harassing the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security as she tried to eat dinner in a Washington restaurant and a leading member of Congress inviting citizens to harass people working in the White House. At the same time Congressman Adam Schiff has been accosted on the street in his suburban district by people shouting, “There’s that ass hole. He’s the son of a bitch trying to get Trump.” To put it mildly, nice manners seem to be disappearing across the country.

    The most recent annual study of civility in America by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate, in partnership with KRC Research, found that four of five Americans experienced incidents of incivility in a wide variety of places and settings. These included “most typically while shopping (39%), while driving (39%) or on social media (38%).” The frequency of such incidents has increased markedly since Donald Trump became President. From 2016 to 2018, incidents of incivility experienced by individual Americans each week, both on and off line, rose by over two-thirds—from 6.2 to 10.6 incidents.

    It’s not that Americans no longer value civility. Of those surveyed, 84% said civility builds national pride and 71% said it helps ease tension and conflict. Almost everyone (93%) thought the lack of civility was a problem and most (71%) hoped for a more civil future.

    But hope does not constitute a strategy. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the lack of civility risks becoming like the weather: something everyone talks about, but no one does anything about it.

    That’s not true, however, of Millennials, now in their twenties and thirties, and the generation following them, Plurals, the oldest of whom are just becoming adults. These younger generations are twice as likely as older Generation X and Baby Boomers to believe that civility will improve in the next few years. That’s because Millennials and Plurals are the generations mostly willing to do something about it by avoiding controversial topics like abortion or terrorism in their interactions with others to reduce the chances of the conversation turning uncivil.

    Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t mean that younger generations want to reduce the right of other Americans to exercise their right to freedom of speech. Research by Morris Levy, a Millennial professor of political science at USC, found that his generation, as part of their overall tendency to be tolerant and inclusive, are just as willing, if not more so, to hear people with opposing views speak their mind. But they want people to do so in a non-confrontational, polite manner, carving out an exception to First Amendment rights if someone is uncivil.

    Ironically, the attitudes of younger Americans toward free speech was summed up quite well in retiring Supreme Court Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion on the question of whether or not a Colorado baker could refuse to bake a cake for a same sex marriage couple. In sending the case back to the lower courts for review, Justice Kennedy specifically cited the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of the plaintiff, “which showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection.” In other words, it’s OK for governmental entities to exercise freedom of speech, but they need to be nice about it when they do.

    And, in fact, evidence is emerging that by being “nice” Millennials and Plurals are already enhancing civility in American schools and workplaces. About four in ten Plurals think training to reduce incivility, such as anti-bullying messages, should be mandatory in the nation’s schools. Such training in America’s workplaces has led to incidents of workplace incivility dropping by about 15% in the last two years.

    We can only hope that this increase in civility instigated by younger generations will spread to the nation’s politics. What’s missing is a President who will contribute to establishing and encouraging a culture of civility, and an opposition willing to do the same. Hopefully this ugly period will end in the not too distant future, once Millennials and their Pluralist siblings have their say.

    Note: Community Advocates helped with this research.

    Dr. Michael Hais has served as Vice President for Entertainment Research at Frank N. Magid Associates. He earned his PhD in Political Science from the University of Maryland.

    Morley Winograd is a Senior Fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School Center on Communication and Leadership Policy. Morley Winograd and Mike Hais are co-authors of three books on the millennial generation. Mr. Winograd is also the President of the non-profit Campaign for Free College Tuition.

    Photo: Pete Souza [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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    Progressives praise California as the harbinger of the political future, the home of a new, enlightened, multicultural America. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill has identified California Senator Kamala Harris as the party leader on issues of immigration and race. Harris wants a moratorium on construction of new immigration-detention facilities in favor of the old “catch and release” policy for illegal aliens, and has urged a shutdown of the government rather than compromise on mass amnesty.

    Its political leaders and a credulous national media present California as the “woke” state, creating an economically just, post-racial reality. Yet in terms of opportunity, California is evolving into something more like apartheid South Africa or the pre-civil rights South. California simply does not measure up in delivering educational attainment, income growth, homeownership, and social mobility for traditionally disadvantaged minorities. All this bodes ill for a state already three-fifths non-white and trending further in that direction in the years ahead. In the past decade, the state has added 1.8 million Latinos, who will account by 2060 for almost half the state’s population. The black population has plateaued, while the number of white Californians is down some 700,000 over the past decade.

    Read the entire piece at City Journal.

    Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book is The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

    Photo: Office of the Attorney General of California [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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    Urumqi (alternate spelling “Wulumuqi”) is the most remote large city in the world from a seacoast. Urumqi is approximately 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) from the Bay of Bengal, in the Indian Ocean, just south of Dhaka, Bangladesh (Image 1). It is farther from Beijing, China’s national capital than to India’s national capital, Delhi.

    Urumqi is the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the extreme northwest of China. Xinjiang is a historically minority (as opposed to Han Chinese) area, with large numbers of Uyghur citizens, who are largely Muslim. Most of Urumqi’s road signs are in both Chinese and the Arabic script of the local Uyghur language, and sometimes in English as well. Xinjiang has unfortunately experienced terrorist activities in recent years and, as a result, there is considerable security around the municipality. At the same time, the security measures are comparatively benign and tourists are not likely to experience any serious inconvenience (at least that was my experience).

    Urumqi’s Location

    Urumqi is in mountainous country. The municipality is located to the west and north of the eastern Tian Shan (“shan” means mountain). The highest peak in the range is Bogda Peak, at approximately 17,900 feet --- taller than any mountain in North America except for Denali (Alaska), Mount Logan (Canada), Orizaba (Mexico) and Mount Saint Elias (Alaska). The peak is about 36 miles from the urban core of Urumqi (58 kilometers). By comparison, the peak of Mount Rainier is about 60 miles from the urban core of Seattle (100 kilometers).

    Growth in Urumqi

    Urumqi is one of the fastest growing cities in China. In 2010, the urban districts of Urumqi grew 73 percent, from 1,750,000 to 3,030,000. Chinese cities are divided into urban districts (“qu”), so designated when they are approved to transition from rural (agricultural) to urban development. Thus, the more peripheral urban districts are both outer suburban and exurban (beyond the periphery of urban development).

    Following the pattern of many western cities, Urumqi’s growth between the 2000 and 2010 census was largely in more suburban areas. The greatest growth was in the inner suburbs, with 58 percent of the growth. When combined with the 24 percent growth in the outer suburbs and exurbs, the suburban total is 82 percent. This left just 18 percent of the growth for the older core, Tianshan Qu (Image 2).

    Yet Tianshan Qu also grew quickly, adding 48 percent to its population. The greatest percentage growth was in the outer suburbs and exurbs, at 128 percent, while the inner suburbs grew 71 percent (Image 3).

    Overall, the largest numeric growth was in the inner suburbs, which added 734,000 residents. The outer suburbs and exurbs added more than 300, while the core, Tianshan Qu grew 226,000 (Image 4).

    A Tour of Urumqi

    In June I visited Urumqi, having arrived by train from Lanzhou (See: Across the Gobi Desert by Train). The balance of the article describes the municipality and includes photographs.

    The Core (Tianshan Qu)

    The core, Tianshan Qu, is the oldest part of the municipality. Many of the commercial and residential buildings are older. Yet there is considerable new construction as well. The municipality’s tallest building, Zhong Tian Plaza on Xinhua Street, is 59 floors, 750 feet and 229 meters. (Image 5) and there are a number of recent apartment and condominium buildings (Image 6). Other newer central business district buildings are shown in Images 4-6. The municipality also has an extensive Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system (Image 11). A BRT system map is here.

    A new metro line is just beginning operations. The second metro line is planned to connect the new Urumqi Railway Station (see below) with the urban core. Urumqi is also home to the world famous Grand Bazaar (Image 12), which is reputed to be the largest in the world. Urumqi also has tree lined streets that are typical of Chinese cities (Image 13)

    Views from Red Hill

    Red Hill (Hong Shan Park) provides a panorama of the older core and the newer inner suburbs (Images 14-24). The main Xinhua North Road corridor through the central business district is visible in Image 17 and 18. They are shown adjacent to the central freeway (Tuwuda Expressway) in Image 18. There are two views to the west (Images 20 and 21), one to the northwest one to the north (Image 22), toward the new Urumqi Railway Station (Image 23) and one to the southwest, toward the Tian Shan (Image 24).

    Freeways with Texas Characteristics

    The central freeway has been in operation for a long time and is in a 1989 photograph that a colleague sent me (Images 19, 25 and 26). This freeway is similar to urban freeways in Texas, with mainline lanes and frontage roads.

    The old municipality is ringed by a freeway, called the Outer Ring Road, which on the skirts along the base of the western hills. Nearby residential towers are shown in Image 27. This freeway passes by the old Urumqi Railway Station, renamed Urumqi South (Image 28) when the new station opened six miles (9 kilometers) to the north.

    The New Urumqi Railway Station “Edge City”

    The new station is located well into the inner suburbs. A mass of development is underway that is similar to the “Edge Cities,” which author Joel Garreau identified in his book more than 25 years ago, principally in the United States (see: Edge City: Life on the New Frontier).

    The first tower of a twin towered commercial development is shown in Image 29, which will be a distinctive addition to the skyline. Just a few blocks away, construction crews are putting the final touches on another twin towered commercial development (Image 30). One of China’s leading commercial and hotel developers, Wanda, has built a Wanda Plaza Hotel nearby (Image 31) Additional commercial structures are shown in Images 32-35.

    There are a number of residential towers as well (Images 36-38). Street views are shown in Images 39 and 40). The Urumqi Station area sits at a slightly higher elevation that the outer suburbs, which is indicated in a view to the north (Image 40).

    Rising Prosperity

    Data reported by China’s National Bureau of Statistics indicates that Urumqi, like others in the west, is lower than coastal behemoths, like Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. In 2015, Urumqi’s gross domestic product per capita was the equivalent of approximately $25,000 (purchasing power parity). By comparison, the first tier municipalities of Shenzhen ($52,100), Guangzhou ($34,800), Beijing ($34,000) and Shanghai ($34,00) were considerably more prosperous. Yet, Urumqi, with its strong resource economy, had a slightly higher GDP per capita than Dongguan, which literally sandwiched between Shenzhen and Guangzhou, and a higher GDP per capita than other western municipalities, like Lanzhou and Xining, and even higher than Chongqing. As Deng Xiao Ping predicted, prosperity would come to the west after it had blossomed in the East.

    Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (US), Senior Fellow for Housing Affordability and Municipal Policy for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Canada), and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University (California). He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

    Photograph: Urumqi with Tian Shan in the background, Ccyber5 at English Wikipedia [CC BY 3.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

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    The passing this week of Jonathan Gold, Los Angeles’s Pulitzer Prize-winning restaurant critic, reminded us of why we have lived in Southern California for more than four decades. When we arrived in L.A. in the 1970s—from New York and Montreal, respectively—the city was known largely for glitter and celebrities but little else. The food scene wasn’t much to write home about, though it was better than the awful cuisine in most of the country. A newcomer was likely to be introduced to Tommy’s Burgers, or perhaps a local taco joint with a menu that hadn’t changed in decades. Fine dining was largely of the stargazing variety—Perino’s, Chasen’s, Musso and Frank—which meant generally so-so food but a bettor’s chance to spot a celebrity.

    Jonathan Gold helped to change all that. He was from L.A., and he embraced his inner Angeleno while driving through this vast region in his old truck. He was no aesthete in the model of the New York Times’s Craig Claiborne, who favored fancy restaurants serving small portions. Gold embraced L.A. in its vastness, and if there was too much food on the plate—as long as it was good, hell, why not?

    Read the entire piece at City Journal.

    Mandy Shamis, an amateur chef, worked as a journalist in London and is business manager of JK Associates in Orange, California. Joel Kotkin, a City Journal contributing editor, serves as Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (COU).

    Photo ny PunkToad from oakland, us (Jonathan Gold) [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

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    When he takes office this January, as seems inevitable, Gavin Newsom, a self-styled futurist, will inherit an economic legacy that could be turning sour. After a rapid expansion that seemed to make all things possible, Newsom may face challenges for which he may be poorly prepared.

    Some of the problem lies in a profound misunderstanding of the recent economic past. With the national media cheerleading for resistance central, California’s political leaders act as if they have essentially solved the basic issue of economic growth even while imposing draconian environmental legislation. Echoing Lincoln Steffens’ observations of Lenin’s Russia, the predominant view in the media, and inside Sacramento, has been “I have seen the future — and it works.”

    An unbalanced recovery

    Yet in reality, California’s post- 2010 recovery has not worked for most Californians. Instead, as a new Chapman University study reveals, it has been — in contrast to previous expansions — remarkably concentrated not only in terms of geography, but industrial sector, race and class.

    This contrasts with the state’s last expansion, which took place between 1997 and 2007, and greatly benefited places like the Central Valley and Inland Empire. Job opportunities opened to a broad spectrum of Californians. Between 1997 and 2007, California added 2.2 million jobs, spread across the state; in the past decade, the growth was 1.3 million, with almost all the high-wage growth, some 91 percent, concentrated in the Bay Area.

    This current “boom” also has been far less, if you will, democratic. Many key blue-collar industries, notably manufacturing in Los Angeles, have shrunk even as industrial employment has soared elsewhere in the country. Essentially as the rest of the state has stagnated, the Bay Area luxuriated in the unprecedented emergence of handful of extraordinarily profitable digitally based companies unmatched anywhere else.

    The abandoned middle and working classes

    The poor have fared poorly in this “boom,” with California now having the highest poverty rate in the country. Soaring real estate prices, a boon to the already affluent, have driven the working and middle class out of the housing market. For others soaring rents have deepened poverty as the real wages for all but the highest-paid have declined in real terms. California is also experiencing a surge in homelessness not widely seen in the rest of the country.

    So rather than an exemplar of egalitarianism, California now is among the most unequal states in the union. Our progressive paradise now has the highest Gini coefficient — essentially a measurement of the income of the lowest decile against highest — of any state except New York; since 2006 the level of inequality has accelerated far more rapidly than the rest of the nation and now exceeds that of Mexico. In terms of income adjusted for cost of living, Los Angeles, Fresno, Oxnard, San Bernardino-Riverside and Santa Rosa rank right near the bottom of the nation’s 107 largest metro areas.

    Meanwhile, the state’s percentage of middle-income earners — people making between $75,000 and $125,000 — has fallen well below the national average, notes the California Budget and Policy Center. The middle class in California, according to a new analysis by Chapman’s Marshall Toplansky and his team, is contending with a debt burden, due to high taxes and housing costs, well above the national average and more than twice as much as Texans.

    Welcome to the governor’s office

    Given the problems associated with a “booming” economy, one has to wonder what happens as it starts to slow. Texas and many other states are now experiencing far faster GDP growth than California. Net out-migration, already a million over the past decade, is accelerating and nearly half of residents of the state super-star economy, the Bay Area, are looking to the exits.

    Perhaps more telling, California — which created barely 800 jobs last month — has not, as some boosters suggest, reached some nirvana of full-employment and fiscal health. In the last quarter the state experienced far lower income growth than most states, and barely half that of Texas, Colorado, Michigan, Arizona, Missouri and Florida.

    A slowdown in Silicon Valley, abetted by problems among social media companies like Facebook, could impact tax revenues negatively, ending years of fat annual surpluses. Yet the state, which has boosted its budget almost 60 percent in seven years, still faces the nation’s largest unrestricted net deficit ($169 billion) and even vaster unfunded pension liabilities, earning a 43rd ranking among the states for fiscal health. The greater economic stress also will increase demands for rent control, as well as more spending on subsidies for housing, college and medical care.

    In good times, progressives like Newsom could please both oligarch backers and the masses of Democratic voters. But as the legacy of inequality grows, and the rich begin to see their gains slow, Newsom may find himself caught between his financial base and those of his electorate. Newsom, rather the modeling for the man of the future, could be forced to make hard choices for which the media claque, and his political enablers, are not preparing him.

    This piece originally appeared in The Orange County Register.

    Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book is The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

    Photo by JD Lasica from Pleasanton, CA, US (Gavin Newsom) [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

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    The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is hiring a research associate for their global cities program. If interested, check out the listing.

    In 2009 I posted an article that proclaimed Columbus, Ohio “the new Midwestern star,” a prediction which proved prescient. I won’t go too much into performance right now as I’m planning an article on the subject, but just as one quick stat, Columbus has been the fastest growing major Midwest metro in population since 2010 at 9.0%, with a bit of a gap to the #2 performer Minneapolis at 7.3%.

    Columbus is doing very well by Midwest standards but continues to lag the biggest Sunbelt boomtowns like Nashville and Austin. Many other Midwest cities have done pretty well – Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Minneapolis come to mind – but none of broken away to join the nation’s major growth champions in either Sunbelt style growth or coastal style high end growth.

    Can Columbus do it? I was there Friday and thought about the structural position of the city vs. some others, particularly Indianapolis which I know well. I believe I may have written about these before, but it’s worth a refresh. Here are some of the structural factors – not performance indicators – that give Columbus a potential leg up in attempting to break out.

    The first is the presence of Ohio State University, the state’s flagship school and traditionally the largest college campus by enrollment in the country (though Texas A&M and the University of Central Florida have now passed it). Indiana’s major schools are separated into liberal arts and engineering/ag and are located in college towns an hour or so from Indianapolis. Imagine if Indiana University and Purdue University merged and had their flagship campus near where the Children’s Museum is on the Indianapolis mid-north side. That’s a massive plus for Columbus.

    The second is that the affluent streetcar-era suburbs of Columbus are separately incorporated actual or de facto enclaves with their own school districts, notably Bexley, Upper Arlington, Grandview Heights, and Worthington (and maybe others). These are equivalent to say the North Shore suburbs of Chicago in feel. They look pristine, with excellent infrastructure, etc. Indy’s equivalent neighborhoods are all in the city proper and part of either the Indianapolis Public Schools or a township-wide system. Resultantly, they show disinvestment, much poorer infrastructure, and diminished property values relative to their architectural quality. The Columbus system can be critiqued on equity grounds, but there’s little doubt it has boosted the fortunes of these white collar havens relative to Indianapolis, giving it an edge on recruitment.

    The third is that Columbus was less industrial than Indianapolis and more white collar historically. Economic history matters, and this greater white collar orientation vs. the working class dominated Indianapolis is a big asset in the knowledge economy.

    The fourth is that while both Indianapolis and Columbus have been thriving by sucking in people from the rest of their states, having comparatively little national draw, Columbus has a much bigger state to drain. This gives it a high potential flow level and longer runway than Indianapolis, which has already seen its demographic performance start to erode, I believe in part because the small towns of Indiana it traditionally drew from are starting to dry up.

    The fifth is that Columbus has a better legacy built environment, notably the true urban commercial corridor along High St. I also get the impression that the city’s older frame housing is bigger. There are more multi-story farmhouse type buildings and fewer worker cottages. Quality of in-town housing stock that can potentially be renovated is in some respects a limiter on growth. (Having said that, Columbus has plenty of dilapidated in city areas).

    Columbus also has a couple of structural disadvantages.

    The first is competition from other big cities in the state. Cleveland and Cincinnati were traditionally bigger, and there are many sizable others too.

    The second is a related point that Columbus has a fairly small share of the state’s population, and thus less heft in state level affairs. Combined with the above it means that the Ohio legislature can take a portfolio view of the world, whereas in Indiana the legislature knows that if Indianapolis fails the state is sunk.

    The third is a weak brand stemming from the less distinctive name Columbus. Cities like Chicago, Detroit, Boston just have more distinctive names. Indianapolis is a mouthful, but you know what someone is talking about when they say it. This branding problem even extends to some suburbs like Dublin, an affluent analog to Carmel, Indiana. But whereas Carmel benefits from brand association with Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, Dublin’s brand association with Ireland is positive, but working class.

    Fortunately for Columbus, the structural disadvantages haven’t come to the fore in reality because Cincinnati is essentially an isolate region, and the rest of the state has been in decline. It’s not like Ohio has two boomtowns that a farm boy has to chose between.

    On the other hand, Minneapolis-St. Paul has most of the same structural advantages of Columbus and they’ve failed to convert it though obviously have done well. They have the state’s flagship school, actually dominate the state demographically, were even more white collar and probably have even better legacy urban building stock. Structural advantages aren’t everything but they at least give a city a platform on which to take its shot.

    This piece originally appeared on Urbanophile.

    Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and an economic development columnist for Governing magazine. He focuses on ways to help America’s cities thrive in an ever more complex, competitive, globalized, and diverse twenty-first century. During Renn’s 15-year career in management and technology consulting, he was a partner at Accenture and held several technology strategy roles and directed multimillion-dollar global technology implementations. He has contributed to The Guardian,, and numerous other publications. Renn holds a B.S. from Indiana University, where he coauthored an early social-networking platform in 1991.

    Photo: Construction in the Short North, Columbus, Ohio

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  • 08/01/18--22:33: A Personal Segregation Story
  • I've written quite a bit about segregation and its impact on cities lately, and more specifically on its impact on people of color. I won't link to everything I've done recently but encourage you to scroll through articles here, and on my Forbes site. You'll find a reasonable flavor of the things I've written about segregation's legacy in cities.

    But today I wanted to use my own family history to show how it's had a personal and generational impact.

    My mom's dad was born in 1899, and her mother born in 1905. Both were born and raised in Alabama and came north as young adults in the mid-1920's. My grandfather moved north after an altercation with a white foreman at the steel mill where he worked made him a target of other workers; he escaped to save his own life. The story goes that my grandmother was in an abusive marriage in Alabama and she also escaped to save her life. They met and married in Detroit.

    My dad's parents were somewhat younger. His dad was born in 1920, his mom in 1922. My grandfather was born in Arkansas but moved to St. Louis at an early age. My grandmother was born in Georgia but also moved out of the south as a youth. My grandmother had been in Detroit for years before she met my grandfather; I believe my grandfather moved to Detroit as a teen during the Depression. They met in Detroit and got married in 1941, just two weeks after Pearl Harbor.

    All of my grandparents took full advantage of living in the boomtown that Detroit was at that time, particularly in the post-World War II period. There were plentiful employment opportunities in Detroit's manufacturing economy. My mom's dad worked at a Uniroyal plant, through the Depression and beyond. He died in 1965, just months after I was born. My grandmother passed in 1980. The two of them raised seven children (my mother is the youngest), and they were able to buy a home in the early 1950's near Mack and St. Clair on Detroit's East Side. Like so many homes in Detroit, their house is gone. They lived on one of those Detroit blocks that have become famously abandoned. Here's an image of their block:

    See the tall evergreen tree on the right side of the street, and the other foliage behind it? That's about where my grandparents house was. It was a beautiful foursquare home on a small lot, probably built in the 1910's.

    My dad's dad held two jobs, with Ford Motor Company and with Wayne County, and was able to retire with pension benefits from both by 1985. He and my grandmother were able to buy a small Cape Cod home in Inkster, Michigan in the early '50s, where they stayed until both moved to live with my aunt in the early 2000's. They raised three children there; my dad is the oldest. Unlike my mom's parent's house, my dad's parent's house is still around. It's the one on the far right.

    The house looks exactly as I remember it from childhood. In fact, it's virtually unchanged from when my dad was a child.

    Both sets of my grandparents were able to establish excellent footholds into the American Dream, just like so many other families in America. But their ability to pass that dream onward and upward faced constraints that other families didn't have to face.

    My mom's family grew up just two blocks from the home of Ossian Sweet, a black doctor who in 1925 fought off a white mob trying to intimidate him out of the home he just bought. Sweet and several friends and family members were charged with murder. Sweet's brother Henry Sweet was tried first and acquitted by an all-white jury. Prosecutors dropped charges against all remaining defendants.

    My mother's family moved into their home nearly 30 years after that event, but the neighborhood's inexorable downward spiral began the moment white residents elected to cede the neighborhood to blacks. That started a cycle of drastically reduced demand (only the eyes of black folks were looking at the homes), reduced values, deferred maintenance, disinvestment and reduced public services that crippled a community within a generation.

    Twenty-five miles southwest of my mom's childhood home, Inkster is another interesting case of segregation. Inkster is immediately west of Dearborn, Michigan, home to Ford Motor Company's headquarters and its Ford Main plant. Dearborn was also famous for its long-time hostility toward blacks, notably under its racist mayor Orville Hubbard. Hubbard was mayor of Dearborn from 1942 to 1978. Since blacks who worked for Ford, like my grandfather, were explicitly excluded from living in Dearborn, Inkster became one of a handful of communities that, by default, black people had to live. The Downriver communities of River Rouge and Ecorse also became part of the constrained suburban options for blacks in the Detroit area.

    Inkster's position was reinforced by the hasty incorporation of Dearborn Heights surrounding Inkster on nearly all sides in 1961, areas that largely black Inkster had tried to annex. Inkster took Dearborn Heights to court, arguing that the community engaged in racial gerrymandering intended to physically and socially isolate the community. The case was dismissed by the Michigan Supreme Court in 1963. It's no exaggeration to say that Inkster calcified as a community after that court case. Although the houses above remain, Inkster followed a similar descent. Witness this view of Inkster Road, its main corridor:

    There was no transfer of generational wealth from my grandparents to my parents.

    But that's fine. Both of my parents were still able to parlay their working class/middle class upbringings into becoming first-generation college graduates. They met at Wayne State University in the early '60s and got married and had a child (me) in 1964. We lived not far from where the Detroit riots started in 1967, my earliest memory. With another child, my sister, on the way, they elected to get out of the tense environs near the riot's epicenter and buy a house in a more stable and comfortable area.

    They bought a house on Manor Street on Detroit's Northwest Side:

    That's my childhood house with the small tree in front and chairs on the front porch. We lived there for thirteen years.

    When we moved in in 1968 we were maybe the seventh or eighth black family on the block, out of maybe twenty homes. I don't recall any outright hostility toward us or any of the other black families on our block then, but hey, I was only 4 or 5 years old. What I do recall is that by the time I started first grade in 1970 our block was entirely black, except for the O'Grady's across the street. The O'Grady's lasted on the block until about 1978, when their adult kids moved them out. Outright hostility and intimidation wasn't something that was necessary by then. Most people knew the drill -- once blacks move in, cede the ground and look elsewhere. The transformation was swift.

    Unlike the neighborhoods of my grandparents, the neighborhood of my childhood home hasn't fallen quite as far. It's still the home of some of the neighbors I remember from nearly 40 years ago. But in part because of segregation, and an overall moribund regional economy for the last half century, it lost a certain level of demand over time. My last visit to the block happened this past May. The neighborhood has remained at a weird level of stasis for a very long time; it looks exactly the same in 2018 as I remember it in 1978. The sense of stasis is reflected in the minimal appreciation in home value. My parents bought it in 1968 for $17,500 and sold it in 1981 for $36,000. Zillow's zestimate for the home today is $72,100.

    There was no transfer of generational wealth from my parents to me and my siblings, either.

    I'm not writing this to suggest that my parents could or should have been wealthier than they are, nor am I suggesting the same for me and my siblings. In our respective careers we've all done quite well. My dad is a retired A.M.E. Church pastor who spent 41 wonderful years in the ministry. My mom had a varied career that took her from working in the drama department at the University of Detroit to community college work in Chicago's south suburbs. My sister has been a federal government contractor in northern Virginia since the '90s; my brother is a college psychology professor in Brooklyn. And readers here know of my planning and urbanism career here in Chicago. All of us are happily married with fantastic kids. We've done well and live well.

    But there are many people who have grown up with an expectation of housing value appreciation throughout their lifetimes, and taken full advantage of it. That just hasn't been something my family has experienced. This story in the Atlantic describes how Tatjana Meschede and Joanna Taylor, researchers at Brandeis University's Institute on Assets and Social Policy, identified the role of family inheritances as one aspect of maintaining the racial wealth gap in America:

    The two researchers focused specifically on inheritances among families where at least one parent has a college degree. They looked at families like this in order to test the notion that higher education is a great equalizer.

    The differences that they found between black and white families were stark. “Among college-educated black families, about 13 percent get an inheritance of more than $10,000, as opposed to about 41 percent of white, college-educated families,” Taylor said in a release announcing the new research. More specifically, white families that receive such an inheritance receive, on average, more than $150,000 from the previous generation, whereas that figure is less than $40,000 for black families.

    The head start on wealth via inheritance has intergenerational repercussions. It could mean a college student has the ability to accept an unpaid internship that provides valuable work experience, without worry. It could mean repaid student debt, or no student debt at all. It could mean a down payment on a home purchase you'd otherwise be unable to afford, at a relatively young age. It could mean the chance at pursuing your career passion, instead of intensely focusing on providing for yourself and your family.

    But what happens when communities are allowed to decay to the extent that Detroit's East Side and Inkster have? There's no chance at intergenerational transfer.

    Let's come back to my parents' pleasant old house in Detroit. Again, they bought it for $17,500 in 1968, sold it for $36,000 in 1981, and it is estimated to be worth $72,100 today. It is a wonderful home, and it's as affordable as they come. However, it's appreciated at a rate less than the rate of inflation for fifty years. That's right -- CPI measures suggest that a home purchased in 1968 for $17,500 would've cost $43,000 in 1981, by virtue of inflation alone. And that same home would be worth $107,000 today. A far cry from the $36,000 sale price in 1981 and $72,100 estimate today, and even further from the real estate windfalls witnessed in other places for decades. And I don't buy the argument that that's the price one pays for living in the economically challenged Detroit metro area -- a similar home in suburban Ferndale, less than five miles from my Detroit neighborhood, is estimated to be valued more than four times as much.

    Our society has long determined who accumulates wealth, and where it's accumulated.

    This piece originally appeared on The Corner Side Yard.

    Pete Saunders is a Detroit native who has worked as a public and private sector urban planner in the Chicago area for more than twenty years. He is also the author of "The Corner Side Yard," an urban planning blog that focuses on the redevelopment and revitalization of Rust Belt cities.

    Photo: Barbecuing in our backyard in Detroit, sometime in 1979. Of course, my dad is taking the picture. Source: Ben Saunders

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