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    Where do we go after Trump? This question becomes more pertinent as the soap opera administration seeks its own dramatic demise. Yet before they can seize power from the president and his now subservient party, the Democrats need to agree on what will replace Trumpism.

    Conventional wisdom implies an endless battle between pragmatic, corporate Clintonites on one side, and Democratic socialists of the Bernie brand. Yet this conflict could resolve itself in a new, innovative approach that could be best described as oligarchal socialism.

    Oligarchal socialism allows for the current, ever-growing concentration of wealth and power in a few hands — notably tech and financial moguls — while seeking ways to ameliorate the reality of growing poverty, slowing social mobility and indebtedness. This will be achieved not by breaking up or targeting the oligarchs, which they would fight to the bitter end, but through the massive increase in state taxpayer support.

    Conflicting visions

    Historically, liberals advocated helping the middle class achieve greater independence, notably by owning houses and starting companies. But the tech oligarchy — the people who run the five most capitalized firms on Wall Street — have a far less egalitarian vision. Greg Fehrenstein, who interviewed 147 digital company founders, says most believe that “an increasingly greater share of economic wealth will be generated by a smaller slice of very talented or original people. Everyone else will increasingly subsist on some combination of part-time entrepreneurial ’gig work‘ and government aid.”

    Numerous oligarchs — Mark Zuckerberg, Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, Elon Musk and Sam Altman, founder of the Y Combinator — have embraced this vision including a “guaranteed wage,” usually $500 or a $1,000 monthly. Our new economic overlords are not typical anti-tax billionaires in the traditional mode; they see government spending as a means of keeping the populist pitchforks away. This may be the only politically sustainable way to expand “the gig economy,” which grew to 7 million workers this year, 26 percent above the year before.

    Handouts, including housing subsidies, could guarantee for the next generation a future not of owned houses, but rented small, modest apartments. Unable to grow into property-owning adults, they will subsist while playing with their phones, video games and virtual reality in what Google calls “immersive computing.”

    The socialist challenge

    Particularly since Donald Trump’s election, the leaders of corporate America — especially in tech and finance — have merged with the Democrats. They appeal to progressives by advocating politically correct views on immigration, gender rights and climate change, while muzzling conservatives both inside and outside their companies.

    But now the socialists have raised the ante for progressive credibility. Going beyond green and identity issues, they are raising issues that impact most families. Arguably their strongest case can be seen in health care, now the top issue with voters, according to Gallup. In some states, notably California, socialists are also backing a drive for rent control to help families cope with high rents and low wages.

    A focus on such basic issues could reorder not just the Democratic Party but the country itself. Faced with limited future prospects, more millennials already prefer socialism to capitalism and generally renounce constitutionally sanctioned free speech — not something you like to see in what will soon be the largest voting bloc in the country.

    A New Deal for oligarchs

    Theoretically, the Democrats moving to the left should terrify the oligarchs. Yet increased income guarantees, nationalized health care, housing subsidies, rent control and free education could also help firms maintain a gig-oriented economy since these employers do not provide the basic benefits often offered by more traditional “evil” corporations in energy, manufacturing and basic business services.

    Such subsidies would help millions of gig workers, as well as the vastly underpaid production workers at Amazon’s warehouses, erratically paid workers at the Tesla car factory or the contract labor who clean the tech firms’ buildings and provide security. As historian Jeff Winters has pointed out, the oligarchy, representing basically the top .01 percent of the population, are primarily interested not in lower taxes but in protecting their market shares and capital; they have been at least as brilliant in avoiding taxes as developing innovative products. He points out the very rich have maintained their share of assets even in welfare states such as Sweden and Finland.

    The losers here will be our once-protean middle class. Unlike the owners of corporations in the past, oligarchs have no interest in their workers become homeowners or moving up the class ladder. Their agenda instead is forever-denser, super-expensive rental housing for their primarily young, and often short-term, employees.

    There’s surely a compelling logic for oligarchic socialism. The tech moguls get to remain wealthy beyond the most extreme dreams of avarice, while their allies in progressive circles and the media, which they increasingly own, continue to hector everyone else about giving up their own aspirations. All the middle and upwardly mobile working class gets is the right to pay ever more taxes, while they watch many of their children devolve into serfs, dependent on alms and subsidies for their survival.

    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: Anthony Quintano from Honolulu, HI, United States (Mark Zuckerberg F8 2018 Keynote) [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

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  • 09/03/18--22:33: Labor’s Day, More or Less?
  • It’s hard for most of us to recall any period in the last fifty years that we could call the “good times” for labor in the U.S. Membership density in American unions has been on a steady decline. The National Labor Relations Board has certified few new unions, and mergers have become common. Almost none of the major corporate enterprises founded over the last thirty years are unionized.

    Legal reversals have followed these declines, and the beatings have been painful. Few were surprised that the Supreme Court ruled that unions could not require members of public sector unions to pay agency fees for bargaining and servicing, though the Janus ruling stung some unions badly. New York State and Pennsylvania already report 80,000 workers whose payments have ceased, depleting union coffers by tens of millions annually. The elimination of union security in Wisconsin has been cataclysmic. Texas will soon eliminate any payroll deductions for any public workers in any jurisdiction.

    The cover of Harper’s Magazine’s Labor Day issue for September 2018 asks “Is This the End of American Unions?” The magazine doesn’t answer the question, but I will: “of course not!”

    First, we shouldn’t assume that Janus dooms unions. Few other countries have representation fees for either the public sector workforce or the private sector workforce, yet they have labor unions. French unions don’t have such provisions. Nor do Australians. Unions in the United Kingdom lost union shop provisions for all workers under Margaret Thatcher. Very few unions around the world — from India to Argentina to Brazil to South Africa to the European Union — even have “exclusive” representation. Yet, all have unions and even labor movements of various shapes and sizes, strengths and weaknesses.

    I asked organizers with the largest British unions (Unite, Unison, and the GMB) about how they responded when Thatcher ended their union dues regime. As they all explained, they decided that instead of fighting to reinstate the old rules, which the public saw as internal and esoteric, it would be smarter to have their members fight for more rights and benefits on the job. In fact, the GMB organizing director detailed a plan to move the whole union away from even payroll deductions to standing orders, or what we would call bank drafts, so that no one could stop the union.

    Some American unions have also thrived by shifting the focus to building worker activism. Rand Wilson, now chief of staff of SEIU 888 and formerly a Teamsters strategist during the great United Parcel Service strike twenty years ago, suggested in Harpers article that the Janus decision may generate “a more activist base” in unions. That’s how SEIU Healthcare Illinois-Indiana-Missouri-Kansas (formerly United Labor Unions 880 and more recently SEIU 880) survived after losing the ability to collect agency fees in Illinois after the adverse Supreme Court decision in Harris v. Quinn. The impact was serious financially, but not substantive organizationally. Keith Kelleher, the founder, chief architect, head organizer, and recent president of the local union, always made sure that more than 50% of its rolls were full members, and the union beefed up the program even more in anticipation of the decision. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Kelleher detailed the strategy and almost thumbed his nose at the efforts to derail the union. That success rested on decades of organizing through active engagement of members and leaders in every aspect of the union’s program. Is there any mystery why this is the largest single local union in the Midwest, despite only being founded less than 40 years ago?

    Many hold up the Culinary Workers (UNITE HERE Local 226) as the strongest single local union in the country. When I visited some years ago, I was amazed at their full service, all-in approach to building the union. Yet Nevada is and always has been a right-to-work red state. Does anyone think the 60,000 private sector membership of this union reflects anything other than full engagement with workers?

    Workers and their unions have risen phoenix-like over and over. In the last thirty years, more than a half-million informal workers in home health care and home child care have won coverage under union agreements in some of the largest organizing victories since the 30’s and 40’s. In the same period of decline, we have seen a historic victory at JP Stevens Mills, the grape boycott of the United Farm Workers, and the remarkable growth of all public sector unions. The living wage movement and the Fight for Fifteen have moved workers forward despite extreme opposition at the highest levels of government and amid rising inequality. Earlier this year, teachers in the deep red states of West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and North Carolina broke out of their classrooms and into the streets, inspiring millions over wages but also, importantly, over classroom conditions and school funding.

    As these cases demonstrate, it isn’t the law that empowers workers and their unions. It’s workers themselves. When labor grows, the law tends to support it. When unions are in retreat, the law also weakens, because it can — sometimes faster than we might wish. Action follows reaction, back and forth, but the combustion and boiling heat of struggle by workers is indomitable. If unions are going to survive Janus intact, they must have a base of engaged members. What was passive, must become active. Unions that are unable – or unwilling – to activate their membership will either wither or merge. But the ones that persist will be stronger and more able to face the future.

    We should also pay attention a lesson from the more than one-hundred “living wage” campaigns that ACORN and Local 100 United Labor Unions ran in coalition with other unions and community groups: we can win if we take the issue to the public rather than defining it solely in terms of worker versus boss, union versus company. That’s because winning isn’t just about a specific vote. In our first forays in Houston and Denver, back in 1995, we lost by 2 to 1 in both cities. But we won overwhelmingly in working-class black, brown, and white precincts, and we consolidated a strong base, building power even while losing. Our opposition sometimes helped. In Houston, the anti-campaign developed a patronizing “good idea, bad tactic” measure, conceding us the high ground. In Denver, a class-based effort financed by hotels and restaurants took the low ground, crystalizing the issue for the future. And we learned from these battles. When we set the living wage number lower to offset the job loss arguments, we won in New Orleans – and then in cities across the country.

    We see similar elements in the recent struggles – and victories –by teachers, who were often ahead of their unions in engaging the public, just as the Chicago teachers did so effectively several years ago. In Missouri, unions won with an initiative to overturn legislation passed by the conservative Republican majority and signed by the Republican governor because they went directly to the people to argue for the merits and fairness of their proposition. Such battles can be risky, but the teachers dared to struggle, and their victory offers a lesson to us all about taking our issues to the people.

    If our unions are to survive the legal and political attacks ahead of us, we have to build labor-community coalitions like this everywhere. This can’t be tactical and transactional. It has to be permanently strategic and transformative. The times will never be good for us, but our own work can bend the times in a better direction for our success. We cannot win on the battlefield laid out for us by corporations and employers. We have to create our own field where we can even the odds. That requires the full engagement of workers and the public in our fights.

    This Labor Day all of us need to think about how to support workers moving forward and unions embracing the future. No sense in whining, when we could be winning. Our first order of business has to be to get to work and make the work matter to workers, their communities, and the larger world where the public is willing to support us — if we are just willing to take the risks and do the work to take our fights to them and ask for their support.

    Wade Rathke is best known as Founder and Chief Organizer of ACORN from 1970-2008, and continues to serve as Chief Organizer of ACORN International working in 13 countries.

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    Noah Smith at Bloomberg has a new column where he provides another look at the geographic distribution of venture capital investing. Below is his chart of VC deals by market in 2017.

    His take:

    In 2017, three metro areas — San Francisco, New York and San Jose, California — took about two-thirds of the investment for the top 20 cities. Their share of the top 10 cities has actually increased since 2015, driven in part by super-sized late-stage financing rounds for companies like WeWork Inc., Uber Technologies Inc., and Lyft Inc.

    There are a few signs that VC is starting to look beyond the traditional hubs in its quest for returns. In 2015, Bloomberg recorded VC deals in 119 metro areas; by 2017, that number was up to 141. New startup hubs like Columbus and Indianapolis are getting more attention. But more needs to be done to accelerate the spread of venture investment.

    What can secondary cities do to overcome VC’s caution? Carlson and Chakrabarti’s interviews suggest five main policies. First, cities and their corresponding state governments should invest in upgrading their local universities, in order to produce a pool of talented engineers and managers. In addition, they should encourage local investors to become angels, creating the nucleus of a local investor community. They should improve access for VCs, with good airports and quality hotels. They should boost quality of life with appealing downtowns, while investing in the arts. And perhaps most importantly, they should focus on narrow clusters — such as biotechnology, robotics or agricultural software — instead of trying to become the next Silicon Valley. This latter approach, which has been used by cities like Pittsburgh, not only harnesses clustering effects, but probably helps with marketing as well.

    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 by Vincent Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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    The Phoenix city council is considering delaying or even killing some planned light-rail lines because it is concerned that city streets are falling apart and too much money is being spent instead on an insignificant form of travel. The council considered but rejected a similar proposal a couple of months ago, but since then two councilors who opposed the proposal have been replaced and at least one of them is inclined to favor streets over rails.

    As of 2016, light rail carries less than 0.2 percent of all travel in the Phoenix urban area. The 2016 American Community Survey says that the same tiny percentage of commuters take light rail to work, which is unusual as transit’s commuter share is usually much higher than its total share. Phoenix light-rail ridership in the twelve months ending in June, 2018 was down 4.4 percent from the previous twelve months. Transit ridership for Phoenix as a whole is down 5.6 percent for the same time period.

    Phoenix is one of many Sunbelt urban areas in which rail transit makes no sense at all. Aside from the Antiplanner’s argument that buses can move more people than light rail, rail systems only make sense where there is a high concentration of downtown jobs that a hub-and-spoke transit system can serve. According to Wendell Cox’s calculations, downtown Phoenix has only about 26,000 jobs, which is just 1.4 percent of jobs in the metropolitan area.

    Phoenix is particularly unusual (though not unique) in that its suburbs are actually denser than the city itself. According to the 2010 census, the city of Phoenix has about 2,800 people per square mile, while its suburbs have nearly 3,500 people per square mile. With both jobs and population spread out, the region needs nimble, low-capacity transit if it needs any transit at all.

    Arizona State University students make up a “substantial component” of light-rail riders. Until this year, students were able to buy transit passes for $200 for the nine-month school year, plus $75 for the other three months. The same passes would cost other members of the public $768 per year. Despite the steep discounts, student weekday ridership dropped by around 40 percent between 2011 and 2015.

    In July, the university and transit agency announced that the price of the nine-month pass would be reduced by 25 percent to $150. They claimed the reduction was made to promote “sustainable transportation,” but it is more likely that it was an effort to recover some of those lost riders. I suspect that this effort will fail, and even if it works a little, what good are riders who don’t have to pay much for their rides?

    Light rail is a losing proposition for Phoenix, and the city council would be wise to stop all new construction.

    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.

    Photo by DGustafson [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

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  • 09/06/18--22:33: Ethnic Flight
  • For the first decades of mass suburbanization, the movement from urban cores often has been referred to as “white flight” (Note 1). But now major metropolitan area living patterns indicate something much different, what might be called “ethnic flight.” The four largest racial and ethnic groups (called “ethnicities” in this article) are overwhelmingly concentrated outside the urban core, in the suburbs and Exurbs. These four largest ethnicities are White Only Not Hispanic, African American Only, Asian Only and Hispanics (Note 2).

    This article documents the population and growth of the four largest ethnicities within the 53 major metropolitan areas (over 1,000,000 population) according to the 2012-2016 American Community Survey (middle year 2014) and the change since the 2000 census. These four ethnicities account for more than 95 percent of the nation’s population. The balance of three percent includes smaller one-race ethnicities and people reported to be of multiple races.

    This analysis uses the City Sector Model (Figure 15), which classifies small areas within metropolitan areas based on the nature of their functional urbanization. The classification uses factors such as population density, employment density, automobile orientation and age of development, rather than political jurisdictions (Note 3).

    The concentration of the four largest ethnicities in the suburbs and exurbs is now so great that none of these groups have more than 25 percent of their population living in the urban cores. The highest percentage living in the urban core is among the African-American, at 24.4 percent. Asians are second most likely to live in the urban core, at 20.3 percent. Hispanics are even less inclined to live in the urban core, at 17.4 percent. White Non-Hispanics, began moving to the suburbs and exurbs earlier, have the lowest urban core percentage, at 10.0 percent (Figure 1).

    White Not Hispanic

    White Non-Hispanics have been overwhelmingly moving to the suburbs since (at least) World War II. The 90 percent living in the suburbs and exurbs includes 38 percent in the Earlier Suburbs, 30 percent in the Later Suburbs and 22 percent in the Exurbs. More than five times as many White Non-Hispanics live in the Later Suburbs and Exurbs as in the urban cores (Figure 2).

    At the same time, White Non-Hispanics continue to increase strongly to the Later Suburbs, adding 5.1 million since 2000, while the inner suburban population,those built generally from World War II through the 1970s, has declined 3.9 million (Figure 3).


    Perhaps most surprising, and least appreciated, is the movement of African-Americans to the suburbs. The more than three-quarters of African-Americans living in the suburbs and exurbs is concentrated in the Earlier Suburbs, where nearly 43 percent live. But a large number of African-Americans also live further out, with 33 percent living in the Later Suburbs and Exurbs, far more than live in the urban cores (Figure 4).

    Moreover, this trend is picking up momentum. Since 2000, the African-American population has declined by 640,000 in the urban core, while the suburbs and exurbs have gained 4.4 million. This growth, like that of White Non-Hispanics, now shifts increasingly to the farther reaches of the metropolitan area. The two outer sectors --- the Later Suburbs and the Exurbs --- accounted for nearly 99 percent of African American growth, with only one percent in the three more inner sectors (Figure 5).


    The nearly 80 percent of Asians living in the suburbs and exurbs are mostly found in the Earlier Suburbs (43 percent) and the Later Suburbs (30 percent). The 6.5 percent of Asians living in the Exurbs is the smallest among the four largest ethnicities. About twice as many Asians live in the outer sectors (Later Suburbs and Exurbs) as live in the urban core (Figure 6).

    Asian population growth was also concentrated in the suburbs and exurbs with 86 percent of the total. The largest increase was in the Later Suburbs and the second largest growth was in the Earlier Suburbs (Figure 7).


    The majority of the 88 percent of Hispanics living in the suburbs and exurbs are concentrated in Earlier Suburbs, although 35 percent now inhabit Later Suburbs and Exurbs, twice as many as now reside in the urban cores (Figure 8).

    Like the other ethnicities, Hispanics are showing an increasing preference for the suburbs and Exurbs. The Later Suburbs gained the most, at 5.0 million, while the Earlier Suburbs had a gain of 4.8 million. Since 2000, 93 percent of Hispanic population growth has been in these sectors (Figure 9)

    Ethnic Trends in the Metropolitan Sectors

    There is some double counting in the data, as a result of the two dimensional classification system used by the Census Bureau (race and Hispanic or non-Hispanic). The effect in this data is relatively small, with three percent of African Americans being counted in the African American and Hispanic categories, and one percent of Asians.

    The Urban Core CBDs had the most unusual ethnic trend over the period. The two most affluent larger ethnicities dominated growth. The highest income ethnicity, Asian had growth equal to 42 percent of the total CBD gain. White Non- Hispanics, second in incomes, were equal to 69 percent of the growth. Hispanics equaled 21 percent of the growth. African Americans, the lowest income ethnicity among the four, had losses balancing off the gains of the other three groups, equal to a minus 21 percent of the growth in the CBD (Figure 10).

    The changes in the other four sectors were substantially larger than in the CBD. In the Urban Core Inner Ring, there were substantial White Non-Hispanic and African American losses, while the Asian and Hispanic populations increased (Figure 11).

    In the Earlier Suburbs, there were substantial White Non- Hispanic losses, comparatively small African American gains, and larger Asian and Hispanic gains (Figure 12).

    All four ethnicities had large gains in the Later Suburbs, with the largest gain by Hispanics (Figure 13). In the Exurbs there were large gains by White Not Hispanics and Hispanics, while the gains by African Americans and Asians were smaller (Figure 14).


    The post-World War II, automobile oriented suburbanization in the United States started out largely as a White Non-Hispanic phenomenon. But as populations and incomes have risen and automobile ownership has become nearly universal, African Americans, Asians and Hispanics have joined them in ever increasing numbers in the suburbs. America’s future may well be more diverse, but it will play itself out primarily on the periphery, not the urban core.

    Note 1: The reality is somewhat different, since most suburban growth came from outside the major metropolitan areas, as many more people moved to the suburbs from smaller towns and rural areas than moved from the urban core.

    Note 2: For simplicity, these ethnicities will be referred to in this article as White Non-Hispanic, African American and Asian. The “only” designation (as in African American only) refers to persons reporting themselves to be a single race, rather than a combination of two or more. Racial combinations make up less than five percent of the population.

    Note 3: The City Sector Model classifies all zip codes in the United States based on population and employment density, commuting patterns and house construction dates. The two Urban Core classifications (CBD and Inner Ring) generally replicate the pre-World War II environment, when urban population densities were much higher and there was much less automobile use. In contrast, the other three classifications (Earlier Suburbs, Later Suburbs and Exurbs) reflect the substantially lower urban population densities and much greater automobile use.

    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: Chicago Suburbs (by author)

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    I was recently invited to give a talk at a housing conference down in Los Angeles. Once again my fellow speakers engaged in the usual arguments. Aging Baby Boomers asserted that we need to keep building more 1957 style suburban homes on the edge of the metroplex because that’s what people want and can afford, particularly once they marry and have children. Then a group of Millennials sang their sad song of high prices and a lack of options in the places they really want to live. Each side fortified their argument with statistics contradicting the other.

    As a GenXer (the thin layer of mayonnaise in a giant demographic sandwich) I came at things from a different perspective. Of course the old guys like things the way they are. Of course young people are impatient with the old order. History has a rhythm that plays out in long slow generational cycles. I explored the past incarnations of this pattern in my presentation to make a point. Everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The implication is obvious for anyone who’s paying attention. Things are going to change in unexpected ways and the current debate will become increasingly irrelevant. I raided my vault of photos to demonstrate what this rhythm looks like on the ground.

    There were decades in the mid 1800s when American society was incapable of agreeing about anything. We were divided by geography, culture, economics, race, class, and our underlying philosophical visions of how things should be. Our collective dysfunction made it impossible to address long festering structural problems. Once the Confederate States seceded from the Union in 1861 the resulting Civil War broke the gridlock – at great cost in blood and treasure. But the crisis unleashed tremendous new opportunities and powerful institutions. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided a legal mechanism for ordinary people to acquire and cultivate free land. The Morrill Act of 1862 established land grant universities across the country including Cornell, M.I.T., Tuskegee, and state universities that elevated the skill levels of millions of Americans. The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 facilitated transportation and communication infrastructure that massively increased efficiency and wealth and unified the expanding nation.

    But everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end. After decades of rapid rural population growth and relative prosperity circumstances conspired to dismantle small family farms. The mechanization of agriculture, the rise of industrial cities, boom and bust economic cycles, and the deployment of young people during the First and Second World Wars all gradually depopulated the countryside. The final nail in the coffin struck when U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz radically altered federal policy in the early 1970s toward heavily subsidize large scale vertically integrated corporate agribusiness. “Get big, or get out.” Commodity crops are now cheaper and more plentiful than ever as a result, but much of what was left of the rural landscape was eviscerated.

    As the cycle unfolded the beneficiaries of change were big industrial cities. From 1900 to 1950 Detroit, like so many other cities of its kind, grew and grew and grew – in population, wealth, technological advancement, and cultural importance. Detroit was one of the magnet cities that pulled in rural farmers and international immigrants alike for decades. Good paying manufacturing jobs were the engine that drove Detroit forward. Innovation from private industry, federal policy such as the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, and the massive federal expenditures in production during World War II all fed a specific type of city. Detroit was second to none.

    But everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Detroit peaked at two million fairly prosperous inhabitants seventy years ago. It has since lost more than 60% of its population and much of its territory is now reverting to nature. The trajectory of industrial cities took a sharp downward turn beginning in the 1960s as new policies were enacted and society once again moved in a different direction. Long festering racial conflicts exploded and were never resolved. Corporate management and labor unions fought each other rather than cooperate so both lost ground in the face of foreign competition. A lack of economic diversification meant fewer alternatives to fall back on. The cumulative consequences of industrial pollution asserted themselves. Crime became a serious problem. Property values dropped while taxes rose and municipal services eroded. Detroit became the poster child for Rust Belt failure and abandonment, but it was by no means alone in its decline. Young people today seem unaware that New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Chicago were nearly as bad off as Detroit in the 1970s.

    As downtowns all across the country began to fail in the mid twentieth century newly built suburbs were thriving. Society decided it was easier to create new places than fix what was wrong with the old ones. A whole host of federal legislation such as the National Housing Act of 1934, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, and the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 provided the government subsidies and legal mechanisms that promoted suburban development. And for the last several decades these places have been the economic, cultural, and political center of American life. It’s the only landscape many people have ever known.

    But everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Suburbia is aging and the older the cul-de-sacs and strip malls become the harder it is for local governments to balance stagnant revenue with ever increasing maintenance of all the attenuated infrastructure. Taxes are rising, municipal services are declining, and the legacy costs of pension obligations and previous promises are simply not going to be honored over the long haul. Most older suburbs are now wholly dependent on outside financial assistance from state and federal agencies. They can’t afford to upgrade their ailing sewerage treatment plants or repave their roads. Have you seen the state budgets lately? Have you seen the federal budget? It’s not pretty. Sooner or later the locals are going to be thrown back on their own resources and it won’t end well. The cavalcade of defunct video rental stores, dead waffle houses, and abandoned muffler shops represent the failing economic and cultural prospects of places not worth caring about. Once wealthier people start migrating away and property values drop a vicious downward spiral begins. History suggests that Americans aren’t going to fix what’s wrong with these suburbs anymore than we addressed what was eating away at our rural farm towns or industrial cities.

    In my presentation I pointed out that sometimes the end of one thing is the beginning of something else. San Francisco, like virtually all American cities and older towns, had hit bottom in the early 1970s as the middle class decanted to suburbia. Property values were low, crime was a problem, and it was self evident to the majority of the nation that inner cities were terrible places to live with no future. That’s not to say there weren’t pockets of residual prosperity in the best neighborhoods, but the larger trend was overwhelmingly down. But that vacuum created a fertile landscape for reinvention for a small minority to establish a foothold and begin the process of creating an entirely new vision for the old city. New technology, whole new industries, and a completely different culture emerged over time. San Francisco is still regarded as an anomaly by the rest of the country, but now instead of being regarded as too weird and poor it’s considered too weird and rich. My expectation is that San Francisco is currently choking on its own success and will enter a new period of gradual decline. Everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

    I finished my talk with the assertion that our current institutions are in the process of failing and are unlikely to be reformed. Instead, our existing set of arrangements are simply going to crash. That’s been the historical pattern. Once the dust settles we’ll create new institutions and a fresh cultural consensus that respond to pressing needs on the ground. A new generation of young people will be asked to do the heavy lifting during the next crisis and they’ll be preferentially rewarded for their efforts by the new system. No one knows exactly what that will look like yet. A great deal depends on the nature of the crisis and the ways in which we all decide to respond. Time will tell.

    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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    California is the great role model for America, particularly if you read the Eastern press. Yet few boosters have yet to confront the fact that the state is continuing to hemorrhage people at a higher rate, with particular losses among the family-formation age demographic critical to California’s future.

    Since the recovery began in 2010, California’s net domestic out-migration, according to the American community survey, has almost tripled to 140,000 annually. Over that time, the state has lost half a million net migrants with the bulk of that coming from the Los Angeles-Orange County area.

    In contrast, during the first years of the decade the Bay Area, particularly San Francisco, enjoyed a renaissance of in-migration, something not seen since before 2000. But that is changing. A recent Redfin report suggests that the Bay Area, the focal point of California’s boom, now leads the country in outbound home searches, which could suggest a further worsening of the trend.

    Who’s leaving?

    One of the perennial debates about migration, particularly in California, is the nature of the outmigration. The state’s boosters, and the administration itself, like to talk as if California is simply giving itself an enema — expelling its waste — while making itself an irresistible beacon to the “best and brightest.”

    The reality, however, is more complicated than that. An analysis of IRS data from 2015-16, the latest available, shows that while roughly half those leaving the state made under $50,000 annually, half made above that. Roughly one in four made over $100,000 and another quarter earned a middle-class paycheck between $50,000 and $100,000. We also lose among the wealthiest segment, the people best able to withstand California’s costs, but by much smaller percentages.

    The key issue for California, however, lies with the exodus of people around child-bearing years. The largest group leaving the state — some 28 percent — is 35 to 44, the prime ages for families. Another third come from those 26 to 34 and 45 to 54, also often the age of parents.

    The key: Too expensive housing, not enough high-wage jobs

    Our analysis? California is in danger of pricing itself out for moderate wage earners, and particularly families. Taxes, poor educational performance, congestion and signs of slowing growth are no doubt contributing factors. But the big enchilada in California — by far the largest source of distortion in living costs — is housing. Over 90 percent of the difference in costs between California’s coastal metropolises and the country derives from housing. Coastal California is affordable for roughly 15 percent of residents, down from 30 percent in 2000 and 30 percent in the interior, from nearly 60 percent in 2000. In the country as a whole, affordability hovers at roughly 60 percent.

    High housing prices hurt most young, middle-class and aspiring, often minority, working-class families. California’s prices are particularly bloated, over 161 percent higher, in comparison with national averages, in the lower-end “starter home” category. In Los Angeles and the Bay Area, a monthly mortgage takes, on average, close to 40 percent of income, compared to 15 percent nationally

    Over time these factors — along with prospects of reduced immigration — will impact severely the state’s future. California is already seeing its population aged 6 to 17 decline. This reflects a continued drop in fertility in comparison to less regulated, and less costly, states such as Utah, Texas and Tennessee. These areas are generally those experiencing the biggest surge in millennial populations.

    Progressive or regressive?

    Today even some of the state’s determined progressives understand that taking the “California model” national seems implausible when significant numbers of Californians are headed in large numbers to red Texas or purple Las Vegas. Californians are not fooled; a recent USC Downside/Los Angeles Times poll found that 17 percent believe the state’s current generation is doing better than previous ones. More than 50 percent thought younger Californians were doing worse.

    The old folks are not the ones most alienated. A survey by the UCLA Luskin School suggests that 18-to-29-year-olds are the least satisfied with life in Los Angeles while seniors were most positive. In the Bay Area, according to ULI, 74 percent of millennials are considering an exodus. It appears paying high prices to live permanently as renters in dense, small apartments — the lifestyle most promoted by planners, the media and the state — may not be as attractive as advertised.

    California’s media and political elites like to bask in the mirror and praise their political correctness. They focus on passing laws about banning straws, the makeup of corporate boards, prohibiting advertising for unenlightened fundamentalist preaching or staging a non-stop, largely ineffective climate change passion play. Yet what our state really needs are leaders interested in addressing more basic issues such as middle-class jobs and affordable single-family housing.

    The question is not how to handle a surge of new Californians, but how to prevent a greater exodus and perhaps even de-population. If that means replacing our current densification mantra with something that meets our demographic needs, so be it.

    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 Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

    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.

    Photo: iStockPhoto

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    Mark Rantala recently wrote an op-ed for Crain’s Cleveland Business that talks about Cleveland’s need for talent:

    "As executive director of the Lake County Ohio Port and Economic Development Authority, I have experienced firsthand the challenges of a shrinking workforce. At the Port Authority, we have done a deep dive into the data at the county level. In 10 years, Lake County will experience a shortage of between 4,000 and 8,000 people to ll all the existing jobs in the county. From retail clerk and cook, to CNC operator or chemist, from nurse to physician, we will not have the people to ll all the existing jobs — let alone provide the workforce necessary to support the future growth of businesses currently operating in Lake County or new businesses we attract. No population growth means no workers — which means no ability to attract new businesses. We are fast approaching a crisis point as retiring baby boomers are not being replaced. The reality is this is not only a Lake County issue. At a macro level, this problem exists throughout Northeast Ohio and may be worse in many other counties than in Lake County.

    Nearly every market in the United States has some type of campaign to attract people. A few examples: Ten years ago Michigan started a campaign as part of the Pure Michigan campaign. They spend $2 million annually from their travel and tourism campaign on trying to repatriate Michiganders that left in the Great Recession. Their campaign is having some impact — the lights have not gone out in Detroit. Nashville, in an effort to attract people for the IT industry, runs a successful campaign called WorkIT Nashville. The Youngstown Business Incubator has a successful campaign to attract talent. Dallas, one of the fastest-growing markets in the United States, has a campaign called Say Yes to Dallas. On average, more than 300 people move to Dallas every day, over 100,000 people each year. And yet, here in Northeast Ohio, we are watching the U-Hauls and businesses line up to leave for markets where there are people to support the needs of businesses. We watch as our talent leaves the region for greater opportunities.

    I have a few thoughts on this.

    First, Cleveland is a market in transition, like most of the Rust Belt. It is still processing the collapse of much of its industrial base, while trying to build a new economy around a different basis.

    These processes play out in different ways to combine into a headline number around population. Cleveland’s demographic decline is probably baked into the cake as a result of the overhang from deindustrialization. The new economy being developed around functions like health care is not yet offsetting this decline, though is visible at the ground level in select neighborhoods like downtown and Ohio City. The truth is that thousands of new residents have moved into downtown Cleveland in recent years, but that’s being overwhelmed by legacy demographic decline.

    The same thing is happening at a more advanced stage in Pittsburgh. Its regional population continues to decline even as there has been a massive increase in educated youth population and significant growth in the high tech industry. If Cleveland follows the same trajectory, it should feel good.

    The case for this kind of analysis has already been made in detail by Richey Piiparinen and Jim Russell, so I don’t need to say anything more.

    But just because economic and demographic transition is happening, that doesn’t make the case for trying to ramp of talent attraction wrong. As I’ve documented, even the demographically best performing Midwest metros like Columbus, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis are weak talent attractors that essentially have no draw from outside their immediate state, and to a lesser extent surrounding states. This is in big contrast to places like Austin, Charlotte, and Nashville which are drawing people from all over.

    Boosting migration into these places, including Cleveland, is critical. Clearly for some places, migrants are following an established pathway. People started to migrating to them from New Jersey, or from some village in Mexico, years ago, and now word of mouth and the network is drawing more. But even so, places like Cleveland need to start at the beginning building more of those migration chains.

    I’m not totally opposed to marketing campaigns directed at talent, but I am not sure how effective they are. Migration is in part related to the city’s overall brand. If your brand is good, you will be a draw. If your brand isn’t so good, you’re not on the map.

    I would suggest overall working on the brand. When it comes to talent specifically, I would focus more on sales than marketing. You’ve already got tons of people who travel to Cleveland. Why not try to give them a sales pitch on the city? How do you convert a convention attendee to a potential resident or employee?

    I’ve long noticed that while cities obsess endlessly over talent, very few of them ever seem to actually pitch a real live person on living there. That suggests a disconnect somewhere in the engine.

    So while there are some complexities to the talent issue in Cleveland, Rantala’s not wrong that it’s critical to get more in the game and get way more aggressive and serious. That’s not just true for Cleveland, but for every city in the Midwest.

    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.

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    Chicago has a storied history in skyscraper development, so much so that it has been called the birthplace of the skyscraper. Nearly all of that history occurred in and around the “Loop,” which is the historic downtown, or central business district (CBD). Recently, I took the opportunity to walk around the Loop, to photograph buildings, old and new.

    The Loop is literally defined by the surrounding elevated urban rail rapid transit structure - the “El,” over Wabash, Van Buren, Wells and Lake (indicated by the dashed rectangle in Image 1). The context of the Loop is shown in the aerial shot (Image 2) taken from the northeast, over Lake Michigan (Note 1). Images 3 and 4 are views of the “El.” Modern parlance extends the definition of the Loop a few blocks farther, but not to most of the more recently developed area River North or much of Michigan Avenue north of the Chicago River, such as to the Water Tower or the John Hancock Tower

    A Legendary Skyscraper City

    A feature of the modern skyscraper is the use of steel frames for support, with external facing hung on the outside (Note 2). This replaced the former approach, which relied on masonry for support (such as brick), but had to be increasingly wide to support the heavy structure. This limited the height of buildings before steel frames became standard. There are claims that the world’s first skyscraper was in Chicago, the 9, (later 11) story Home Insurance Building, built in 1885 and then demolished in 1931 (Image 5, Note 3).

    One of Chicago’s buildings has roots in both eras. The northern half of the Monadnock Building (photograph above), located with its south entrance on Van Buren Street, was the world’s largest office building when it opened in 1893. It was built in the traditional way, with its outside walls supporting the structure. This 17 story northern structure is reputed to be the tallest such masonry supported commercial building in the world, shown at the corner of Jackson Boulevard and Dearborn in Image 6. The base of its outer brick walls is six feet thick.

    About the same time the northern half was opened, work began on the southern half. Most of this structure was built with masonry, but the southern-most quarter of the same height was built with a steel frame.

    The former Chicago Savings Bank Building, another heritage building, opened in 1905 (Image 7). The building is now the Alise Hotel. Diagonally, it is across the intersection of State and Washington from the former Marshall Field department store (now Macy’s), shown in Image 8.

    The Northeast Loop

    Some of the Loop’s most iconic buildings are in the Northwest Loop, many outside El loop. The Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building, the pair opposite one another on North Michigan Avenue may have been the most frequently photographed buildings in Chicago. The Wrigley Building is white and to the left, and the Tribune Tower is tan with its neo-Gothic features and both are north of the Chicago River, which is famously dyed green every St. Patrick’s Day (Image 9). Not even the much taller Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) or the John Hancock Tower, which both opened to considerable fanfare much later, are more frequent symbols of Chicago. Image 10 shows the Tribune Tower, with the Intercontinental Hotel behind and newer structures to the north of the Chicago River to the right.

    Just to the west of the Wrigley Building, also north of the river, is the Trump International Hotel and Tower, with its 98 floors, rising to 1,389 feet (423 meters). It is Chicago’s second tallest building, fourth tallest in the United States and 23rd tallest in the world (Image 11).

    The Mather Tower is just south of the river, obvious for its narrow floors. The more than 500 foot tall building opened in 1928 (Image 12). To the right is the 35 East Wacker Drive building (originally called the “Jeweler’s Building), with its ample base, supporting a narrower, but still bulky tower, and smaller towers on each of the four corners. When built opened in 1927, 35 Wacker Drive was the tallest building in the world outside New York. The building was designed for the automobile age, with parking on the first 24 floors, providing adjacent access to offices. The parking was removed in 1940 because cars had become too wide for the elevators (Image 13).

    The twin towered Marina City is one of the most unique high-rise residential developments in the nation, at 587 feet (189 meters) and 65 stories (Figure 14). The towers were opened in 1968 and sit on bases of 19 parking floors, with the cars unusually visible to the outside. Across the Chicago River, oriented west to east here, and Wacker Drive are a wall of modern buildings (Image 15) with a view further west toward Merchandise Mart. The Chicago River is oriented east to west (Image 16). Merchandise Mart, another building fronting on the north side of the river was the largest building in the world when opened in 1929 (Image 17).

    The Western Loop

    The turn of the El at Lake and Wabash is shown in Image 18. Wacker Drive begins a north-south orientation just west of Merchandise Mart (Images 19-21), with the Willis Tower in the distance. The Chicago River, also now oriented north-south, courses behind the Civic Opera Building (Images 22-25). Extremely high commercial building densities can be found on South Wacker Drive (Image 26).

    One of Chicago’s many skyscraper canyons, Madison Street (Image 27) with its sidewalks used by thousands of commuters to and from the Ogilvie Transportation Center (former Northwestern Railroad station). Union Station is located a few blocks south of the Ogilvie Center, both of which are on the west side of the Chicago River (Image 28).

    The former Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) was the tallest building in the world from 1974 until exceeded by the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) in 1998. It remains the tallest in both the United States and Chicago’s at 1,451 feet/442 meters and 108 floors (Images 29-32).

    The Inner Loop

    Inside the El loop, there is stronger representation for the skyscrapers build in the “golden years” of such US development between the two world wars (Images 34-41). The Art Deco styled Chicago Board of Trade (Image 34) was the tallest building in Chicago from 1930 to 1965 (505 feet/184 meters and 44 floors). The Board of Trade is located at the end of LaSalle Street, shown with the Lake Avenue El in the foreground (Image 35).

    One of the most unique skyscrapers in the world is the Chicago Temple, built by First Methodist Church as an 23 story office building of more than 500 feet, with the church sanctuary on the top floor. The church was established 187 years ago and is the oldest in Chicago (Image 36). It is across the street from the Richard J. Daley Center, with its Picasso (Image 38) and the City-County building (Image 39).

    The Eastern Loop

    Images 40-46 illustrate buildings along Michigan Avenue, south of the Chicago River, one block east of Wabash Avenue. One Prudential Plaza is of particular interest, as the first major addition to the Chicago skyline after World War II (Image 43). It fell a few feet short of the Board of Trade Building (above), which was still tallest

    To the left of One Prudential Tower is the much taller Aon Building (former Standard Oil of Indiana Building), which was briefly the tallest in the city when completed in 1973 (1,136 feet/346 meters and 83 floors). Behind One Prudential Plaza is Two Prudential Plaza, a 1990 structure that always mystified me. It is considerably shorter than the adjacent Aon Building (995 feet/303 meters), yet it is topped with spire design typically associated for a “tallest” building. Like Two Prudential Tower, other buildings have a broadly similar structural spires (see examples in the table below).

    But Two Prudential Plaza’s vertical dominance did not cross the street, not even when the architectural renderings were approved . Despite being newer, is virtually in the shadow of the Aon Building until mid-day every day.

    The former Conrad Hilton Hotel, headquarters for the 1968 Democratic National Convention (which selected Hubert H. Humphrey as its candidate for president) is at the next intersection (Image 44). Considerable redevelopment is occurring along South Michigan Avenue (Images 45-46).

    Uniqueness of Chicago (and New York) CBD Development

    Chicago and New York, in my view, have the world’s most incomparable skylines. The key is their pre-automobile development patterns, with buildings right up to the sidewalk. The distinction is clear just comparing the Loop, Midtown Manhattan or Downtown Manhattan with Chicago’s River North. River North has some of the tallest buildings in Chicago and the United States, yet it does not have the “canyons” of dense development as are indicated in Image 27. There are a few places in the world that have tried to emulate such CBD intensity, but wannabes like Toronto to Philadelphia and San Francisco, fall far short of Chicago and New York. There will not likely be another downtown like them in the years to come.

    Note 1: All of the photographs were taken on the walk, except Images 2, 4 and 34, which were taken earlier.

    Note 2: Many newer skyscrapers are supported with reinforced concrete (strengthened by rebar), while others are supported by combination of steel and reinforced concrete. The tallest reinforced concrete building in the world is 432 Park Avenue in New York according to the Skyscraper Center. At 85 floors, it is 1,397 feet/432 meters.

    Note 3: Creative Commons:

    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: Monadnock Building vintage postcard, elevation from the south (Van Buren Avenue) before construction of the El.

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  • 09/13/18--22:33: Streetcar Roundup
  • Milwaukee and Oklahoma City are both planning to open new streetcar lines later this year, so it is worth taking a look at how the dumbest form of transit is working in other cities. The table below shows all of the streetcar lines reported in the July, 2018 National Transit Database spreadsheet. Ridership numbers are shown for January and July and annual growth compares the last full year (August 2017-July 2018) with the year before that.

    The table below provides some indicators of productivity: trips per mile (based on July, 2018 ridership), occupancy (passenger miles per vehicle revenue mile), fares per passenger mile, and operations & maintenance costs per passenger mile. For comparison purposes, bus costs per passenger mile are shown for the dominant bus system in the same city. Occupancies, fares, and costs are based on 2016 data except for Memphis, whose streetcar was closed for maintenance from July 2014 through March 2018 and so uses 2014 data. No fare or cost data are available for Detroit or Kansas City but they should be included in the 2017 National Transit Database later this year.

    I consider the Philadelphia trolleys to be light rail, but the FTA calls them streetcars, so I’ve included them here for the sake of comparison. Like Philadelphia’s, New Orleans and San Francisco streetcars are legacy systems that have been continuously operating for more than a century. All of the other systems are effectively new even if they use vintage vehicles. Dallas has two streetcar lines, Oak Cliff and McKinney Avenue. Salt Lake City has a streetcar line but it doesn’t appear in the database.

    Note that some lines, such as Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Kenosha, are highly seasonal, with much higher ridership in July than in January. This suggests these are mainly used by tourists rather than local residents. Tucson’s riders seem to prefer winter over summer.

    In most cases, ridership of the newer lines is well below projections. For example, the Cincinnati line was expected to attract around 85,000 riders a month, but in the last year the average has been under 44,000. Streetcar advocates offer flimsy excuses for these shortfalls. “The original projections for ridership were made by a consultant in 2011, before construction was even really underway,” says a spokesperson for the Cincinnati streetcar. But that’s the projection the city relied on when it committed itself to spend more than $100 million on the project.

    The number of trips carried per rail mile is a good indication of a line’s productivity. Downtown streetcar lines with fewer than 10,000 trips per mile, including those in Dallas-Oak Cliff, Kenosha, Little Rock, Memphis, and Tampa, are extremely unproductive. Philadelphia’s trolleys also carry fewer than 10,000 trips per mile, but that’s because they are not downtown lines but move commuters from suburbs to the city and are relatively empty at the suburban ends of the lines.

    The standard for other cities should be San Francisco’s, which carry nearly 40,000 trips per mile. New Orleans is also pretty high. I don’t get the numbers for Kansas City; either something is wrong with the data or that system is somehow spectacularly outperforming every other streetcar line in the country. The 2017 data might clear this up.

    Occupancies are another indicator of productivity. Most modern streetcars have 30 seats and lots of standing room; vintage streetcars tend to have around 60 seats. Again, San Francisco is the standard, carrying an average of more than 20 riders. Lines that carry less than 10 are pretty unproductive.

    At least six cities are still uncertain enough about their riders that they aren’t charging fares. Detroit is charging fares but Kansas City is not. If Kansas City’s line is as productive as the trips per mile indicate, why aren’t they charging a fare? Of course, even in the cities that charge fares, the revenues don’t begin to cover the operations & maintenance costs.

    The biggest indictment against the streetcars is that they cost so much more to operate than buses. Dallas’ McKinney Avenue streetcar costs less than buses and San Francisco’s streetcar is about the same as buses, but that mainly because buses in those two cities are pretty inefficient as they cost close to $2 per passenger mile compared to around $1 in most other cities.

    If it were up to me, I would immediately replace all of these systems with buses except for those in Philadelphia, San Francisco, the McKinney Avenue streetcar in Dallas, and possibly New Orleans. Kansas City is an open question whose answer will depend on 2017 data. If local businesses protested, I would create a tax district consisting of all areas within one block of a streetcar stop and make them pay, either through property or sales taxes, for 100 percent of the operating losses. This tax would be on top of other taxes paid by the property owners, and not be offset by a reduction in other taxes the way tax-increment financing works. I certainly wouldn’t spend any more federal dollars on these lines.

    Unfortunately, it isn’t up to me. The FTA recently made $99 million available to a planned streetcar line in Santa Ana and Garden Grove (Orange County), California. Washington insiders say it is better to spend money on projects like these than on the New York Gateway Project, which if built could ultimately cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars. But it would be nice not to waste any money at all.

    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.

    Photo via Oklahoma City Streetcar.

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    In the late 1990s and the early Aughts, when the last Gen Xers and the first Millennials were launching into their adult lives, “Urban America” was a very different place. On many fronts, the choices young ambitious graduates had were fast becoming limitless, save on one key front: the cities where they could reasonably want to live.

    Those financially inclined found work and a survivable apartment Chicago or New York. The class presidents and politically-wired were mission-bound to DC. Those seeking the sun or a life on either side of a camera made their way to LA. Coders to Silicon Valley. The weirdos went to Seattle. Beyond that, people still moved to start their careers, but talk of connection between your life and your city were mostly off the table.

    What a difference a generation makes.

    Young Americans believe in their cities again. They want to be a part of the story. A part of the success and originality in their hometowns, whether home by birth or adoption. And many cities, most notably a dozen or two forgotten, flyover cities in middle America are reinvigorating and reinventing themselves in the blink of an eye.

    In what is sure to be America’s “urban century” this is one of the most important trends to never hit the headlines.

    The Next American City

    Later this month, former OKC Mayor Mick Cornett and I are set to release our new book The Next America City from Putnam Books. The product of Mayor Cornett's 14 years of leadership in Oklahoma City and 10 years of my own research on urban change and innovation, the work chronicles a major US trend well-known to readers of New Geography-- the movement of population, companies and ideas to cities once-forgotten in the national debate as much as left behind in the global economy.

    The Next American City articulates its fair share of the novel policies, financial models and market-disrupting startups that are driving change in our rising middle on a day to day basis.

    For example, the unique way Oklahoma City government used Tax Increment Financing with Devon Energy to put the enhanced value created by their corporate investments to work immediately rather than years down the line. Or former Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry’s remarkable Better Way program that leverages scare public dollars with ample public leadership that offered the city’s homeless population a practical path and the needed social service and non-profit supports to find housing and begin rebuilding their lives.

    A favorite subject of this blog and website is also on center stage--the remarkable move of populations away from the coastal and cultural capitals that have suffered under the weight of their own success. Elsewhere on New Geography, and increasingly in broader research and media coverage, the outsize growth of sidelined cities is being noticed. No doubt, Wendell and Joel and New Geography will keep us up to date on how these trends are taking shape.

    Midmarket Reinvention - for a Nation in Search of a Narrative

    But the upshot of The Next American City is perhaps less a description of what’s happening--or a prediction of what’s to come--than it is a reason to believe that the flourishing of a wide array of American metros is a goal our country should pursue.

    If our concern is for a fading middle class or the concentration of too much wealth in the hands of too few people, should we not look to those cities where the middle class is still strongest, where housing costs still allow a realistic shot at homeownership and where the cost of education has not skyrocketed out of control?

    If we fear the negative impacts of an overwrought nationalism or a slide toward irreconcilable divides in our national politics, should we not look to the cities where the most progress has been made for the example we all should follow?

    What have cities like Louisville & Des Moines, Chattanooga & Charleston, Indianapolis & Oklahoma City done that has allowed them to follow in the wake of cities like Boston, Austin, Portland and Seattle in a move to a strong 21st Century?

    One common refrain is an escape from a common mid-2000s trope many cities once used: a goal to become “The Next Silicon Valley.” But it takes little more than a look at a recent Economist article sharing results from a recent poll to demonstrate that following in Palo Alto’s footsteps is not such a terrific idea. According to the poll, 46% of respondents plan to leave the valley in the region in the next 5 years.

    For a time, the Valley’s grip on America’s innovation narrative was strong. But at least its monolithic leadership has seemingly passed, and a new, distributed story is emerging in its place.

    Building on Natural Strengths. Letting Leaders Lead.

    That Silicon Valley model has in fact produced a ton of useful handheld technology. And a hell of a lot of wealth. But millions of American entrepreneurs have noted that these companies have not created very many jobs or built much opportunity for actual, regular people.

    In response, cities like Des Moines are going their own way. Building on their agricultural strengths and humanitarian history, Iowa’s capital city and the surrounding region has taken what was once viewed as a sort of cultural and economic liability and have realized its potential as the asset leadership in food production has always been.

    In The Next American City, we profile successes in a dozen places that, for all their differences, have more in common than what sets them apart.

    Cities like those mentioned above have often suffered major setbacks, whether from moments of economic calamity or major disasters. There is an art to a city’s recovery and reinvention--and the stories from New Orleans and Oklahoma City in The Next American City’s pages aim to tell these stories in an accessible and human way.

    However, the driving insights and unique leaders we profile in The Next American City are really just the beginning of a sustained effort to work with cities across the fast-growing middles in urban America.

    If I could focus in on one key insight from the cities that have risen to national attention, attracted major companies or grown great startups of their own it is this: letting natural leaders work on the projects that capture their attention and passion. Those Millennial and Gen X leaders that have made their way to your city--or made a bold decision to stay--have a sense of what the market needs before demand has surfaced. It is critical to let those leaders lead.

    Next Steps: Studying, and Building, Midmarket Entrepreneurship Ecosystems

    Over the next year, my colleagues and I at the CITEE Initiative at UVA’s Darden School of Business will be exploring in more depth one particular part of this overall equation: how smaller and mid-size metros can build strong entrepreneurship ecosystems that grow in place, create quality jobs, and build broad-based wealth and opportunity in a community.

    The forthcoming case studies, research and practical guidance CITEE aims to offer is also aimed at building on the progress that many cities have made in a broader range of cities that have what it takes to grow.

    Jayson White serves as a Special Assistant to Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, building on nearly 10 years experience in urban innovation research and mayoral leadership in cities across the United States. In 2007, Jayson built and launched Harvard Kennedy School's Urban Policy Advisory Group — an executive session for Chiefs of Staff to mayors in the 50 largest and most creative cities in the country.

    Following his research at HKS, White has worked in several commercial real estate startups including Knotel, WeWork, and other key coworking and business incubation enterprises. His forthcoming book with Mayor Cornett (Penguin/RandomHouse, Fall '18) sheds light on the unique promise of urban creativity and growth in America's fast-growth, entrepreneur-driven small and medium cities.

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    The collapse of Lehman Brothers 10 years ago today began the financial crisis that crippled and even killed for some the American dream as we had known it. Donald Trump might be starting to change that, at least for Americans who aren’t determined to remain in our bluest and priciest cities.

    Overall an estimated nine million jobs and nearly $20 trillion in household wealth were lost. Job levels finally recovered but most of those who suffered from the Great Recession—and particularly current and former middle-income homeowners—did not see their wealth restored when the economy turned around.

    Perhaps worst of all, the recession undermined our traditional belief in a better day ahead. Just one in five Americans is confident that life for today’s children will turn out better than it did for their parents, according to a 2014 survey conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal. Nearly three in five Americans expect today’s children to be worse off, according to a 2017 Pew survey.

    Some of this pain was self-inflicted, to be sure, as buyers seeking to catch up and get ahead of the market—they thought prices would just keep rising—drove up the home-ownership rate with dodgy loans many could not afford to repay. After approaching 70 percent, the rate is now back in the 63-to-65-percent range of the quarter-century preceding the housing bubble.

    But there are two key reasons that most Americans still haven’t recovered their wealth or position from a decade earlier, and that most young adults find themselves starting the race far behind: slow wage growth across the nation and increasingly unaffordable housing prices in the most expensive and often most desired markets.

    Wages for working and middle class people, at least until this year, have stagnated. Overall, only upper-income households have recovered financially from the Great Recession, while the vast majority of middle-income and lower-income households have yet to recover their pre-recession wealth, according to Pew.

    In the meantime, housings costs have kept climbing, driven by conscious but misguided policies, particularly in coastal states, that have restricting new building. National Association of Realtorssecond quarter data shows median house prices in many deep blue enclaves areas have shot past their 2008 bubble peaks. In Portland, Seattle and San Francisco, prices are up 30 percent over the decade. In Denver, prices are up more than 80 percent. They have risen 60 percent in San Jose, where the median price for houses is now a staggering $1.4 million.

    Rents are also rising substantially in some coastal markets, leaving many Americans in markets including Los Angeles, New York and Miami doubling up, retreating to family homes or struggling to just make each month’s payment. The biggest losers have been millennials and African Americans. A recent St. Louis Fed survey titled A Lost Generation? (PDF) found that the lingering effects of the Great Recession has been greatest on people in their thirties, who have the highest indebtedness of any age cohort and who may never recover the financial ground they lost.

    The double hit of high rents and college debt has put home ownership out of reach for too many Americans just entering their prime marriage and home-buying years. The problem is particularly pronounced in California, where barely 25 percent of people 25 to 34 own their own home, compared to 37 percent of their peers nationally.

    The percentage of African-American homeowners nationally fell by more than 10 points between 2000 and 2016, by far the largest drop of any racial group. Far fewer African-Americans now own homes in Los Angeles, San Francisco or San Diego than in Dallas, Houston or Atlanta.

    The Great Recession and Obama’s New America

    It may have been a tragedy for most Americans, but the recession was a blessing for many in the planning, media and academic clerisy who saw the vast numbers of suburban foreclosures—they tended to ignore the equally bad numbers in inner cities—as a sign that the century-old American shift to the suburbs was over. Rather than home to dreams of upward mobility, new urbanists like the Atlantic’s Paul Leinberger now proclaimed that suburbs were destined instead to become ”the next slums.”

    That, in turn, was supposed to usher in a new urban golden age. In his book The Great Inversion, Alan Ehrenhalt predicted that educated and skilled workers would finally wise up and leave supposed suburban dystopias and return to core cities. That hasn’t happened, at least to the extent predicted, but the narrative continues to enjoy strong support in the national media centered in New York City.

    In this first phase of the Recessionary period—2009 to 2011—big cities also had a big friend in the White House in Barack Obama. His recovery policies were tilted, not unexpectedly, towards the urban interests that elected him. Obama bailed out the big banks, also linchpins of the core city economy, as well as governments; four dollars in new subsidies flowed to big banks for each dollar that flowed to Main Street. The first urban president since the nation became majority suburban, Obama’s vision, and increasingly that of his party, embraced urban containment and densification, while seeking (unsuccessfully) to convert drivers to transit users.

    Although the president could reasonably claim he took the economy “out the ditch” the Republicans had sent it into, Obama’s recovery was arguably the most unequal in American history, with 95 percent of all gains through 2013 going to the top one percent. Silicon Valley, Hollywood and Wall Street prospered, and cheered on the president as ultra-low interest rates and a massive fiscal stimulus buoyed capital markets and inflated venture capital pools.

    The big banks that caused the recession have increased their share of deposits by 50 percent since 2007. Not a single big banker went to jail for nearly collapsing the world economy.

    Generally pleased with Obama, few progressives noted that while the elites loved these policies, much of the hoi polloi generally did not—even as voters deserted Democrats in droves in 2010 and 2014 and again in 2016, leaving Republican with decisive control on Washington as well as an unprecedented number of state offices.

    The Tea Party-led 2010 revolt may have been associated with opposition to Obamacare, but its cultural and economic roots were far deeper. For large parts of the country—including Texas, the Great Plains and the Intermountain West—Obama’s “green” economic policies threatened key local industries like energy, manufacturing and home-building. As Democrats left their labor and working-class roots to become the party of the coastal elites, blue-collar workers had genuine reasons to fear Democratic dominance.

    Equally important were new demographic trends that paralleled long-standing patterns progressives had insisted no longer applied. As millennials began to hit their 30s, the “back to the city” movement started to slow as early as 2011. Even with the improved performance of core cities, domestic migration continued to favor the suburbs as Americans left expensive coastal core cities for more affordable metro areas including Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Orlando, Nashville, Charlotte and Raleigh.

    By 2017, New York’s population growth rate had dropped from its 2010 level. In that same span, a million net residents moved out of metropolitan Los Angeles. In San Francisco, nearly half of respondents now tell pollsters they want to leave.

    Although some price increases might have been a natural occurrence given the boom, for example in San Francisco, local policies have made things worse. Strong opposition by the Brown administration to suburban development shifted construction, where allowed, towards small, usually expensive apartments that rarely appeal to older people, particularly those with children, and are generally not affordable for lower income households. The kind of natural outward movement that created the original Silicon Valley in the 1960s and 1970s and affordable suburbs around the world was stopped in its tracks.

    The restrictive approach to development in California and some other states—including Washington, Colorado, Oregon, New York and Massachusetts—has greatly raised prices. Since 1970, California’s major metropolitan area housing prices, relative to incomes, have increased at three times the national average. An entire generation of young adults has been encouraged to leave for somewhere else or accept lifetime rent-serf status.

    The Trump Era: Cause and Effect

    Just as they did in 2010 and 2014, the urban and coastal dominated media are failing to register changing opinions elsewhere. Convinced that we are on our way to a “green” urban future, progressives still have not recognized that many industrial workers, suburban homeowners, small business people and others didn’t want to emulate the urban elites but to get away from them in suburbia.

    Herein lies the true secret of Trumpism. Many Americans did not want to see the continued erosion of industries that offered decent wages to middle and working-class people. Trump promised to reverse this, and, to date, his policies have ignited broad-based domestic growth in an otherwise struggling global economy. Small business, for example, now enjoys the highest confidence level on record.

    For now, at least, the economy of Middle America is making a major comeback, a sharp contrast to the period right after the housing bust. Industrial employment reversed declines that were hitting at the end of the Obama years, growing by 327,000 jobs over the past year, the best performance since 1995. The sector has reported the strongest output in August in fourteen years. Retailers, home-builders, business service firms are all hiring, and, for the first time, in over a decade, wages for the lower half of the labor force are actually rising and even the long-term unemployed are returning to the workforce.

    Perhaps most important, Trump may have shifted the geography of economic growth. The share of growth now taking place in non-metropolitan area America has increased fourfold. The most recent data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that state GDP growth is highest in Washington state, but most of the other leaders are in the Intermountain West (Utah, Colorado and Wyoming), states in the middle of the country (Iowa and South Dakota) and Texas. New York and California aren’t leaders in either category.

    Much of this comes growth from a revived industrial and energy sector. Meanwhilethe states of the Resistance, New Yorkand California, are now experiencing increasing domestic out-migration. The rate of population growth in California is among the country’s lowest—less than half that of Texas.

    A Better Tomorrow?

    Despite the good news, we are a long way from correcting the displacement caused by the Great Recession. Housing production remains well below historic norms—a full one-third below the 1980 to 2000 rate, population adjusted, as state and local government policies continue o discourage suburban growth in favor of dense inner-city housing have helped limit supply and drive up prices.

    To fix that problem, state and local governments are returning to policies like rent control and “inclusionary zoning”mandates sure to raise prices for everyone else while slowing the rate of construction. California’s mandate for “zero emissions” houses is expected to raise prices, already high, by at least $20,000 — and without doing much for the environment, warns environmentalist Mike Shellenberger.

    While prices are rising nationally, it’s highly regulated markets like California are seeing home sales fall—down over 12 percent in the largest market, Los Angeles-Orange County.

    This urban-centric focus could prove costly. Retail space in big cities, once hot, is now seeing a erosion of rents. Office and industrial space rents are also falling, according to CBRE.

    Another potentially damaging trend for many cities, particularly on the coasts, may be the retreat of the foreign investors—most notably the Chinese who invested $40 billion in foreign real estate in 2017—that helped keep prices high, particularly in California, where they’ve sent a third of their money here, Washington State and New York. Chinese investors have placed millions in luxury apartments in New York and downtown L.A., some hardly marketed to locals but instead offered to buyers in China.

    Other Chinese investors have also bought single-family homes, particularly in heavily Asian suburbs in the Bay Area, Orange and suburban LA. Now, for the first time in recent memory, there are more sellers than buyers as sales falter. Worried about financial problems looming over its own domestic real estate market, and battling a trade war, China’s government is working to send strong signals to both individual investors and companies to tamp down on new real-estate projects.

    That money river may dry up even as the higher interest rates we’re finally seeing will mean rapid increases in mortgage costs for buyers. Higher interest rates tend to undermine the viability of high-priced markets in particular—such as New York, which hardly saw a little recession, let alone a great one, as artificially low interest rates kept the banks the city relies on humming and massive foreign investment propped up real-estate prices. As investment slows and interest rates rise, New York’s financial sector could suffer, dragging the city’s economy down.

    Nationally, we could be setting the stage for a new kind of housing debacle, a reprise no one much wants to see. There are already disturbing signs, such as the rising percentage of buyers paying 45 percent of their income or more on mortgages, up four-fold from 2010. Then there’s the return of thehome-equity loan market back to its pre-recession level.

    As we begin to recover from the damage done a decade ago, a new housing crisis may be bubbling just under the surface.

    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 Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

    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.

    Photo: Jorge Royan /

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    Neither Kevin Kwan’s novel “Crazy Rich Asians” nor the movie based on it should win any prizes as literature or film. Yet the “Crazy” phenomena — both the best-selling book, its sequels and the smash movie — represent a critical moment not only in Asian, and Asian-American, history, but in how we look at race.

    “Crazy Rich Asians” is about an on-again, off-again, on-again romance between a young Singaporean oligarch and a predictably plucky Asian American woman. Neither performance is particularly memorable, but the world they inhabit is wildly garish, entertaining and increasingly important, particularly here in California.

    The Young family portrayed in the movie has ridden the rise of East Asia itself as the world’s emerging economic center to phenomenal wealth. Much of the film is shot in glittering parts of Singapore, a global hub for Asian trade. The leading families portrayed in the film are no longer meek former colonials but people increasingly believing in their culture’s intrinsic superiority.

    The world of Asian Americans portrayed here is not so glittery, but important for other reasons. In contrast to the well-born elites in east Asia, many, like the female protagonist in the movie, have excelled through hard work as well as dedication to family and education.

    The Asian ascendency — here and there

    The rise of the Asian economies represents the great economic success story of the last half-century. First Japan rattled the West’s cages with its meteoric rise, followed by the ascendency of the “Tiger” economies of southeast Asia. Today Asia rides on China’s current ascendency — its share of world output has been growing dramatically from 4 percent in 1990 to a projected 21 percent in 2022.

    Asia’s rise represents a new day in capitalist development, even though the Communist officialdom continue to insist it’s really “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Deng Xiaoping, the committed Communist and architect of China’s revival, was certainly no liberal or democrat. He pushed modernization for nationalist and pragmatic reasons, but in the context of maintaining the primacy of the Party, remaining firmly opposed to what he considered “bourgeois liberalization.”

    Yet despite the Marxist rhetoric, Asian capitalism is hardly egalitarian; a third of China’s wealth is held by 1 percent of citizens. This may explain why China’s image managers are so embarrassed by “Crazy”’s garish materialism, and they may prevent the movie being shown there. What Asian entrepreneurs have done is create a form of capitalism that operates on what Lee Kwan Yew, Singapore’s founding prime minister, called “Confucian” values, centered on family, tradition and hierarchy.

    Why Asians matter so much to America

    Here in the U.S., one of the first, and utterly predictable, reactions to “Crazy” came from the Asian media, academic and political circles. Always resentful of any association with being a “model minority,” they immediately attacked the movie for promoting strong “success” to Asian Americans. They laid out their arguments by using the logic that because a handful of relatively small communities — Hmong, Laotians, Cambodians — lag far behind the larger groups such as Chinese and Indians, who constitute the vast bulk of the Asian population, Asian success is ephemeral.

    Asian success undermines the whole discussion of “privilege” that dominates discussion of racial issues, particularly in the media and academia. Many leading Asian intellectuals would wish to regard their community as just another discriminated-against racial minority. The real danger, they maintain, is “whitening,” essentially a code word for following the successful model of other immigrants, notably Irish, Italians and Jews.

    The facts are a problem for the victimization crowd. Overall, Asians, according to extensive research done by Pew, make on average $73,000 annually, well above the national average of $53,600. Roughly 50 percent have a college degree or more, compared to 30 percent for the entire country. They have so overperformed that Asians are the first racial minority to be actively discriminated against under affirmative action policies.

    It’s just beginning

    We are likely just in the beginnings of our integration with all things Asian. Chinese real estate investors are critical to propping up many of our most expensive markets, notably here in Southern California. China’s government has taken steps to slow this investment, but it’s not clear they can stop it entirely. In tech areas, Chinese venture firms are looking feverishly to fund new ventures, buy companies and hire local technical talent.

    But perhaps the best result from Asian immigration is what it tells other Americans about both race and success. First, despite a sordid history of discrimination, Asian values have been more than enough to power their communities upward, a critical lesson for other groups. Second, they demonstrate race is no longer an insurmountable barrier to making it here; the biggest restraints on ethnic success may as much be those imposed internally as opposed to the depredations of racist institutions.

    We clearly are entering a new, Asian-oriented epoch. Our economic prospects may depend on how more Crazy Rich Asians, including those not yet rich, choose to invest or live here. We don’t just need their money, but their values and work ethic, too.

    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 Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

    Photo: Via The Mary Sue.

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  • 09/18/18--22:41: Welcome to Park Forest
  • Recently a follower sent me an interesting e-mail. He said he recently re-read The Organization Man by William Whyte, originally published in 1956. The suburban Chicago village of Park Forest, IL, about 30 miles directly south of the Loop, figured prominently in the book, as an example of the kind of Levittown-style suburban development that was taking America by storm at the time. In checking in about Park Forest today, he found that yesterday’s model of white middle class and middle management homogeneity is now a black-majority community. He asked, are there any books or articles out there that described what happened in Park Forest since The Organization Man?

    Whyte used the community to symbolize suburban conformity and the problems that could stem from it. However, early residents were resistant to the characterization, even then. Back in 1999, shortly after Whyte’s death, the Chicago Tribune wrote about the impact Whyte’s image had on the community:

    Whyte died last week in New York City at age 81, leaving behind an image of suburbia, and more specifically one of Park Forest, that some residents continue to challenge as too sweeping; while others see it as merely part of the post-World War II culture.

    A former Cook County Circuit judge and the second Park Forest village president, Henry Dietch said he challenged Whyte's theory of rigid, corporate conformity and sameness."I told him that his theory was not foolproof," Dietch said.

    He insists that neither Park Forest residents nor the landscape were predominantly cookie-cutter, as Whyte portrayed it. The community has always welcomed a diverse population and embraced progressive thinking.

    "There was some truth to it," Dietch said of Whyte's work. "But Park Forest has always been more diverse than `The Organization Man.' "

    The truth is, Park Forest did indeed embody much of what was good and bad about post-World War II suburbia at the time. But Park Forest has changed dramatically since then, as it’s been tossed about by a host of other social and economic forces over the last 70 years.

    The first change was, in my opinion, one of class: Park Forest subtly shifted from being a white-collar, middle class, middle management enclave to a blue-collar, middle class, skilled labor town not long after that book came out. This was prompted by the development of newer suburbs with larger homes and lots than could be found in Park Forest, which was dominated by small rental co-ops and starter homes. Park Forest’s first residents decamped for nearby Richton Park or Matteson or Olympia Fields for larger and newer homes.

    Take a look at some homes in Park Forest. First, a few single family homes:

    And one of the co-op townhouse buildings that can be found throughout the village:

    I recently read an article about a proposal for merging inner ring suburbs with Chicago. In it, author Ed McClelland notes that northwest suburban Niles looks as if it was "constructed over a three-week period in 1962 and not touched since." Park Forest can have that feeling, too, but maybe in 1952, not 1962.

    This was accompanied by the growth of factories throughout south Cook County in the '60s and early '70s, as manufacturers looked outside of dense Chicago neighborhoods for cheap land for expansion. By the mid-'70s Park Forest was pretty much swept up in the growth of manufacturing jobs that came to Chicago's south suburbs during that time.

    But Park Forest's homes and commercial centers, like the Park Forest Plaza mall, became dated very quickly as other housing and shopping options developed nearby. Throughout the 1960’s, as the Interstate Highway system expanded, developers sought out sites that were easily accessible to the new highway network. However, the planned community envisioned by developers Philip Klutznick and Nathan Manilow was built on a connection to Chicago’s commuter rail system and turned itself away from the interstates. Park Forest Plaza initially suffered from competition from Lincoln Mall in nearby Matteson, which opened in the early 1970’s; the relative lack of access to commuting shoppers meant that commercial decline accelerated pretty quickly. Park Forest Plaza effectively closed in 1996 when its two anchor department stores closed. The Village of Park Forest has since tried to create the former mall site as a traditional town center, with local services, a cultural arts center and senior housing on site (note: Matteson's Lincoln Mall itself closed in 2015).

    That led to the next shift, from largely white, blue-collar middle class to largely black, blue-collar middle class between about 1980-2000. During that time Park Forest tried to implement that racial integration and open housing model that had been quite successful in Oak Park, IL, in Chicago’s western suburbs. The village was honored as an “All-America City” for its work on integration in 1976. However, as much as it tried to brand itself as an integration-friendly community, white flight was likely a stronger force on the town than black in-migration.

    Then, Park Forest was subject to global and technological changes in manufacturing. The loss of manufacturing jobs throughout the Chicago area in the '90s/'00s made Park Forest's residents substantially poorer during this time.

    Today, Park Forest is indeed a black-majority community, with just under two-thirds of its residents being African-American. Its median household income of $44,000 is about 20 percent lower than that for all of Cook County, and about 30 percent lower than that for the metro area. Few private sector jobs exist in the community, and it’s lost virtually all of its commercial base. Park Forest has the second-highest composite property tax rate in Cook County, Illinois, an unfortunate distinction in a high-tax county. I think three factors caused this: 1) an older mid-century housing stock that lost its luster and value; 2) the rapid decline of its mall and other commercial development (the mall effectively closed in 1996); and 3) almost no industrial or office development to offset the property value decreases in other areas.

    Park Forest went all in as a mid-century bedroom community, and once other options opened up the community has struggled.

    Park Forest's rise and fall over the last 70 years is pretty consistent with what's happened in virtually all of Chicago's south Cook County suburbs over the same period. Middle class to working class/poor, white to black, and largely off the radar for the rest of the metro area.

    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: The Jewel Supermarket at Park Forest Plaza, in Park Forest, IL, in 1962. This was at the height of Park Forest's popularity. Source:

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  • 09/19/18--22:33: Urban Divergence in Ohio
  • One trend we’ve seen in many domains is the bifurcation of society into two tiers, the successful and unsuccessful. One way we see this divergence playing out is between cities in the same state. This NBC article looks at divergence in Ohio between Dayton and Columbus.

    "Columbus, home of the state capital and Ohio State University, is riding a knowledge economy into prosperity. Buildings are going up and being renovated as new businesses arrive chasing a growing population.

    Just an hour west, Dayton is trying to shake the rust off its manufacturing roots and find a place in the new world. Blocks of downtown Dayton are empty and local leaders are working and wondering how to refill them.

    Since 2010, Columbus has grown by more than 11 percent, adding nearly 100,000 residents. And it’s not just how many are coming to the city, it’s who is coming.

    The state capital and Ohio State draw people from across the state, filling the city with a young, educated labor pool. The median age in Columbus, 32.7, is seven years younger than the rest of the state. And the percentage of people with college degrees, 34.8, is eight points higher than the state as a whole.

    Those problems are visible in the data. Since 2010, Montgomery County has actually seen its population decline by a percentage point. That’s as the nation as a whole has grown by more than 5 percent. And the county has also gotten grayer in that time as well. With a median age of 39.4 years, it is older than both the national and Ohio medians.

    If those numbers sound like a good fit for Donald Trump and his populist message, the 2016 election showed they were, marking a change from the past.

    In 2000, even as Ohio voted for Republican George W. Bush, Montgomery County voted for Democrat Al Gore. And Montgomery County voted for Barack Obama twice.

    But in 2016, Montgomery narrowly went for Trump, the first time it had gone for a Republican since 1988. This is a place where the promise of “fixing the economy” carries weight."

    Click through to read the whole thing.

    ProPublic also just ran a long piece on divergence, focusing on the struggles of Dayton.

    There have always been more and less wealthy cities, but nothing like what is on display today, as a select group of hyper-prosperous cities put ever-greater distance between themselves and their counterparts. Consider this. In 1980, even after the first wave of deindustrialization, Middle American cities such as Dayton were remarkably close to par with their coastal peers. Per capita income in the Seattle area was only 16 percent greater than in the Dayton area. In metro Boston, the edge was only 6 percent. In New York, 14 percent. In Washington, 31 percent. And in the San Francisco Bay Area, 33 percent.

    All those cities have since left Dayton in the dust. Seattle’s per capita income is now 48 percent greater. Boston’s edge has jumped all the way to 61 percent — a tenfold increase. New York and Washington are both over 50 percent greater. And in the Bay Area, per capita income is 94 percent greater than in the Dayton area—that is, almost double. (And these stats are for the whole Dayton area, not just the diminished city proper, which has lost nearly half its population since 1960, to about 140,000 today, and where more than a third of the population now lives in poverty.) You’ll find similarly widening gaps if you substitute Dayton with St. Louis or Milwaukee or Fresno or Buffalo.

    Click through to read the whole thing.

    In a diverging world, your town had better be doing everything in its power to make sure it lands on the right side of the dividing line.

    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: Dayton, Ohio by Mark Donna, CC BY-SA 3.0