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I Surrender

At long last comes a Joel Kotkin article that doesn't appear to have been dashed-off at blog-like speed, and I must admit that I basically agree with its conclusion:

This will mean making choices. New York needs to decide that fixing its subways represents a more important use of its bonding authority than a stadium for the Jets. Los Angeles needs to decide its biggest priority lies in preventing the region's port complex, its largest generator of private sector jobs, from becoming hopelessly congested and obsolescent. Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, and the other hard luck cases need to focus on trying to fix their schools, transportation systems, and economies. Phoenix needs to concern itself with generating jobs and opportunities for its soaring immigrant population. Let the glitzy restaurants and rock clubs take care of themselves.

Steps like these will require a new political consensus. Much of the current progressive agenda--with its anti-growth economic bias--does little to boost the competitive status of urban centers. Cities must return to a progressive focus on fixing their real problems--that is, the problems of the majority of the people who live there--not serving the interests of artists, hipsters, and their wealthy patrons. Right now school reform is often hostage to the power of teachers' unions. City budgets, which could be applied to improving economic infrastructure, are frequently bloated by, among other things, excessive public sector employment and overgenerous pensions. In the contest for the remaining public funds, the knitted interests of downtown property holders, arts foundations, sports promoters, and nightclub owners often overwhelm those of more conventional small businesses and family-oriented neighborhoods that could serve as havens for the middle class.

Ultimately, a new urban progressivism must challenge this power axis. It would force local governments to focus on the most important historical work of cities: the transformation of newcomers to America into successful, middle-class citizens. This has underlay the emergence of all great modern cities, from fifteenth-century Venice to seventeenth-century Amsterdam to twentieth-century New York. The American metropolis can be more than a way station for the wealthy young and part-time destination for the nomadic rich. It can be a place where average people live, thrive, and build communities across lines of race and class. Now that would be a cool city.

I must say, though, that I continue to be puzzled by the implication that the real problems here have something to do with the massive political clout of "hipsters" who, in my experiene, are all for better transportation infrastructure and tend not to be the ones pushing massive public subsidies for sports arenas. Instead, the problems of urban governance seem to be mostly attributal to fairly banal things like the massively disproportionate political influence of people who donate lots of money to candidates for office; a not-unfamiliar problem in the United States which is aggravated by the predominance of "weak mayor" models that make it hard for citizens to figure out who's responsible for what (corruption and malgovernance, like moss, grow in the shade), along with the fact that America's constitutional structure tends to put city governments at the mercy of events in state capitals.

Here in the District of Columbia, for example, I'm quite certain the mayor would, if he could, not have a Metro system primarily designed to serve the needs of suburban commuters rather than the residents of the city he's supposed to be in charge of. But it's not up to him. And I, as a citizen, would very much like to try and reward with votes a candidate who would commit to increasing the frequency of the Green Line but control of WMATA is so diffuse that it's very hard for me to know how to do that. And I have, for personal and professional reasons, much more ability than the average District citizen to figure out who's responsible for what. None of that gets the Williams administration off the hook for the stadium farce, but much as I'd like to believe there was a direct tradeoff between stadium money and better transportation, that doesn't actually seem likely to me. Instead, one of the most frequent ways you see cities improve their transit infrastructure is as a relatively small piece of a large, wasteful stadium boondoggle.

May 23, 2005 | Permalink

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» Lots of people are puzzled about why Kotkins can get away without "doing the math." from City Comforts Blog
Living as I do in one of the bluest cities in America -- Seattle -- I wonder what Joel Kotkins means when he [Read More]

Tracked on May 23, 2005 1:08:57 PM

» Lots of people are puzzled about how Kotkins can get away without "doing the math." from City Comforts Blog
Living as I do in one of the bluest cities in America -- Seattle -- I wonder what Joel Kotkins means when he [Read More]

Tracked on May 23, 2005 1:12:45 PM

» New development not the cause of high housing prices. from City Comforts Blog
The (interesting) comments on this post at Matt Yglesias were so all over the place, mixing up so many issues, that it's nice to see that someone thinks clearly and inteligently about the dynamics of urban housing and neighborhoods and Sprawl. ...it se... [Read More]

Tracked on May 24, 2005 1:49:55 PM

Comments

Replace "Williams" with "Bloomberg" and you've just described NYC as well - The mayor (and I mean any mayor, not just Bloomberg) gets all of the blame for the problems with city infrastructure, but the truth is that most of it is owned/controlled by state-appointed authorities like the MTA, PANY/NJ, etc.

Posted by: sam | May 23, 2005 11:03:39 AM

"I must say, though, that I continue to be puzzled by the implication that the real problems here have something to do with the massive political clout of "hipsters" who, in my experiene, are all for better transportation infrastructure and tend not to be the ones pushing massive public subsidies for sports arenas."

Exactly. And I would add that a large proportion of those "hipsters," in fact, have already or imminently will turn into parents of young children, who want to raise their kids in a vibrant, diverse and functioning urban center.

Posted by: d | May 23, 2005 11:12:40 AM

Well, okay, but school boards are responsible for fixing schools, not mayors. School boards are directly accountable to the voters.

Federal transportation funding is usually allocated via a semi-transparent political process hosted by a regional metropolitan planning organization (MPO). The way it works is that regional business and political leaders come together and develop their priorities after a series of public meetings that are required by law, and then they usually present their Congressional delgation with a list, and help them lobby in Washington (the regional Chamber or whomever has people that do that). MPOs are now encouraged to allocate a certain percentage of their funding to "transportation enhancements," aka trails, multi-modal parking centers, and the like. I think there's also a formula for federal maintenance dollars based on the number of miles of roads and bridges. The construction and real estate lobbies is the 800lb gorilla (home builders, NAIOP, etc.), which is why transit usually gets short shrift.

Posted by: praktike | May 23, 2005 11:20:02 AM

"Phoenix needs to concern itself with generating jobs and opportunities for its soaring immigrant population."

Uhhh, now whyis it that Phoenix and others have a soaring immigrant populatio? Uhhhh, jobs?

Posted by: razor | May 23, 2005 11:25:34 AM

Uhhh, now whyis it that Phoenix and others have a soaring immigrant populatio? Uhhhh, jobs?

Uhhhh, proximity?

Posted by: JP | May 23, 2005 11:47:36 AM

Praktike: not all school boards are "directly accountable to voters"

In DC, for example, 4 board members are elected from "super districts" comprised of two district wards, 4 are appointed by the Mayor, and the President is elected at-large. This was put in place in 2000 is response to a broad consensus that the district's previously all elected 11-member school board was too dysfunctional and structurally predisposed to dysfunction.

And, given the low rates of voter-turnout for most school board elections, it's not clear to what voters school boards actually are accountable. If you want to see a politically dysfunctional operation where narrow interests have disproportionate power in a way that does not serve disadvantaged kids about whom progressives should be most concerned, urban school boards, and a lot of non-urban local school boards, for that matter, are a good place to look.

If one thought that mayors were better at fixing schools or had more incentive to do so, or some such, the state legislature is perfectly capable of transferring authority to them. Not that that's any panacea, of course, NYC, being a prime example....

Posted by: flip | May 23, 2005 11:48:25 AM

What Klotkin also fails to note is that the "progressive consensus" is usually distinctly "anti-hipster." Mayors are caught trying to balance off the interests of "open space advocates," community groups that are concerned about traffic, advocates for "family-friendly" urban renewal policies that involve building sterile tourist areas, and real estate developers that want to build a strip mall or a sterile office building.

Klotkin's making a subtle swipe at devotees of Richard Florida's "Creative Class" thinking, which demands the exact opposite tack for renewing cities-- don't throw up barriers in the way of people when they want to move to the city or open up restaurants and bars, encourage density, spend money on real infrastructure, like roads and public transportation, and foster an attitude of tolerance to economic development, not micromanaging in the hopes that malls and stadiums will "bring jobs" to the city. This thinking implicitly assumes that once you get the tax revenue flowing from the increased activity, then the money will come to fix the schools later, I think.

Why is Klotkin taking this swipe at the very group who would be on his side? Mostly it's the "Even the liberal New Republic..." type thinking. By taking a dig at Richard Florida and Kerry-voting hipsters, he's hoping to gain credibility with the "but what about the children and real estate developers?" lobby of conservatives.

Posted by: Constantine | May 23, 2005 11:52:59 AM

"I must say, though, that I continue to be puzzled by the implication that the real problems here have something to do with the massive political clout of "hipsters" who, in my experiene, are all for better transportation infrastructure and tend not to be the ones pushing massive public subsidies for sports arenas."

It's not political clout of the hipsters that matter. It's the socio-economic leverage over the middle-class and poor residents. I believe gentrification is becoming more of a curse than a blessing.

"Average" middle-class guys like me do not have a future in urban centers according to the Richard Floridas of the world.

I'm not gay
I'm not in a rock band
I don't hang out in art galleries or participate in wine tastings
I'm not an architect, lawyer or a high-tech entrepreneur

Gee...I guess that rules me out of living in an urban environment like my home town of Washington, DC. I guess "boring" middle-class people like me should be exiled to suburbia.

I love the city life. But since when does living in an American city require a certain income level and cultural tastes?

Posted by: ekko | May 23, 2005 11:56:09 AM

"I must say, though, that I continue to be puzzled by the implication that the real problems here have something to do with the massive political clout of "hipsters" who, in my experiene, are all for better transportation infrastructure and tend not to be the ones pushing massive public subsidies for sports arenas."

It's not political clout of the hipsters that matter. It's the socio-economic leverage over the middle-class and poor residents. I believe gentrification is becoming more of a curse than a blessing.

"Average" middle-class guys like me do not have a future in urban centers according to the Richard Floridas of the world.

I'm not gay
I'm not in a rock band
I don't hang out in art galleries or participate in wine tastings
I'm not an architect, lawyer or a high-tech entrepreneur

Gee...I guess that rules me out of living in an urban environment like my home town of Washington, DC. I guess "boring" middle-class people like me should be exiled to suburbia.

I love the city life. But since when does living in an American city require a certain income level and cultural tastes?

Posted by: ekko | May 23, 2005 11:57:12 AM

People bitch about teachers, but the demand / need for good teachers hasn't gone down.

Here in Pittsburgh, the fire departments are in desperate need of downsizing -- the number of fires has gone down for decades. Garbage disposal could be privatized. And, of course, we didn't need to give gazillions to the Steelers and Pirates in cash and subsidies...

But those damn teachers!

Posted by: Al Gore | May 23, 2005 12:08:56 PM

School boards may be responsible for fixing schools, but they're not the ones who decide how much money schools get. (And in some states they also don't have the authority to choose textbooks or set educational standards.) Authority to make educational changes is pretty diffuse too.

Posted by: Matt Austern | May 23, 2005 12:09:43 PM

"Why is Klotkin taking this swipe at the very group who would be on his side? Mostly it's the "Even the liberal New Republic..." type thinking. By taking a dig at Richard Florida and Kerry-voting hipsters, he's hoping to gain credibility with the 'but what about the children and real estate developers?' lobby of conservatives."

It's your line of thinking that makes middle-class people gravitate to the Republican Party in the first place.

I don't make a six-figure salary and I don't follow the latest fashion trends. I believe middle-class families have the RIGHT to live a in a safe community within a city. Unfortunately, it's the real estate developers who are jacking up property rates for the trendy, hip "Creative Class" people. Yes, the urban pioneer yuppies contribute significant tax revenue but they could care less about the quality of local schools.

In the end, middle-class families and senior citizens get squeezed out of the urban redevelopment projects. They either have to find a more affordable home in a crime-ridden part of town or find a hum-drum McTownhouse in outer suburbia. The city government sees a drop in student enrollment because of middle-class family emigration; less public funds are earmarked for local public schools. It's another example of the vicious cycle of gentrification.

Posted by: ekko | May 23, 2005 12:11:53 PM

Wow. Matt Y must have had a career epiphany this weekend. I guess he decided if he's going to make the move from being C-list blogger who gets maybe one piece in the Prospect per quarter, to full-fledged political operative, he's going to have to stop mocking/pissing off older journalists who actually have made it to rub shoulders with Important People, and have won things like, Pulitzer Prizes and such. So now we get posts in the past few hours where he starts being more deferential to the Brooks and Kotkins of the world. Next up: lauding the newest Friedman piece!

Posted by: The Man from K Street | May 23, 2005 12:14:13 PM

"I love the city life. But since when does living in an American city require a certain income level and cultural tastes?"

How about bikes? Do you like bikes? Walking?

Posted by: praktike | May 23, 2005 12:30:49 PM

ekko, one of the reasons you're getting squeezed out of your home is that there's not enough housing being build to fulfill the demand. Why's that? Because plenty of people don't like the idea of having more people move into their neighborhood, are worried that a new building will obstruct their view, are concerned that the street-level storefont will "create too much noise," think that a strip-mall will provide more tax revenue, and, my personal favorite, would rather that every area with redevelopment potential be reserved for "open space."

Politicians tried to seduce the middle class by telling them that spending hundreds of millions of dollars on stadiums, big box stores, and sterile tourist areas will "bring jobs" and "revitalize the city." It hasn't worked. Seems you might want to try something different.

Incubating a vibrant urban culture helps everyone... and since young single residents are the group that is going to be least interested in the concerns of teachers' unions and the patronage machines on the school board, these would be the groups most sympathetic to your cause. The hodgepodge of open-space advocates and "community associations" that currently dominate the political landscape of cities are going the be the least sympathetic to your concerns.

Posted by: Constantine | May 23, 2005 12:33:47 PM

"How about bikes? Do you like bikes? Walking?"

Yep, sure do. But I cannot afford to enjoy those healthy endeavors if city governments following the Richard Florida Creative Class model price me out of urban areas.

Posted by: ekko | May 23, 2005 12:35:49 PM

I don't get Kotkin's argument at all in some places. "First, there is the issue of affordability: Housing costs in the most desirable cities--New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, Boston, Seattle--have now reached stratospheric levels." How is high demand an argument for cities being in trouble? At best, this is irrelevant.

Posted by: AlanC9 | May 23, 2005 12:37:09 PM

> It's your line of thinking that makes middle-class people
> gravitate to the Republican Party in the first place.
>
> I don't make a six-figure salary and I don't follow the
> latest fashion trends. I believe middle-class families
> have the RIGHT to live a in a safe community within a
> city.

That is funny, because historically urban planning and management of diversity of income levels in neighborhoods has been considered a Democratic issue, while the Republicans have decried all such as "socialist" and been in favor of turning over all control over the urban environment to well-heeled real estate developers. With the results you see today.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | May 23, 2005 12:37:39 PM

OK Connie,

There was a time when middle-class and working class families lived comfortably in dense, urban areas in places like New York City, San Francisco, and Boston. This was before big-box stores or open space zoning requirements. Middle-class families shopped at the local stores within walking distance. Schools and jobs were fairly close in proximity.

What happened? I think middle-class tastes changed when real estate was cheaper in the outer fringes of cities. You could buy more land at pennies on the dollar and enjoy complete privacy in a single-family home. Thus, the explosion of suburbia begins shortly after WW II.

But not all middle-class families prefer to move to the distant cul-de-sacs of Loudon County. Not everyone prefers a big yard and a three-car garage. Yet the economic development policies advocated by cities are going against middle and working class peoples. The family has NO CHOICE but to remain in the suburbs due to the costs of living in urban locations.

I totally hear the message from Joel Kotkin.

Posted by: ekko | May 23, 2005 12:49:56 PM

"I don't get Kotkin's argument at all in some places. 'First, there is the issue of affordability: Housing costs in the most desirable cities--New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, Boston, Seattle--have now reached stratospheric levels.' How is high demand an argument for cities being in trouble? At best, this is irrelevant."

Because cities will see a significant drop in middle and working class population. African Americans and Latinos will also leave expensive cities for cheaper property in the burbs.

You have 75 percent of cities livable for upper income white and Asian households and the remaining 25 percent for high crime ghetto areas. Hmmmm...we have some serious sociological problems here.

Posted by: ekko | May 23, 2005 1:03:28 PM

Yes, I agree. When middle class tastes changed, and manufacturing jobs, if they didn't disappear altogether, moved away from cities, this caused a disruption in the urban economies. So what happened? Mayors scrambled to attract real-estate developers to construct sterile areas to eat and shop, in the hopes that those middle class suburbanites would come back to visit the city now and then. Hundreds of millions were handed out in order to build stadiums. The schools boards hustled to ensure that their friends and families got a position in the patronage machine, allowing them to stay in the city (or at least give them a stable job while they saved up enough money to go to the suburbs). At the same time, some remaining "activist" city residents complained that their cities weren't enough like suburbs and that there were too many people and bars and not enough lawns and boutiques.

These are those "economic development policies advocated by cities are going against middle and working class peoples," that you decry. I agree with Klotkin. I simply think he's taking a gratuitous swipe somewhere in order to shore up his "moderate credentials" with conservatives who, for some reason, have reacted with a lot of resentment towards Richard Florida's thesis.

Posted by: Constantine | May 23, 2005 1:08:55 PM

Well i would murder if it got the Minnesota Twins a new stadium WITH A ROOF.

Actually, the new light-rail mass transit line was put in as a way to relieve congestion after games at the Metrodome and it has been more successful than thought. It was a limited project but it seemed to work.

With that success, has come the political clout to push for extending the light rail line all the way out to St. Cloud, MN to relieve the almost constant congestion as people struggle to commute to work. That was one of the key reasons that the Democrats in Minnesota were able to compete strongly in suburban counties during the state legislature races. Suburbanites were pissed off by the opposition to the things like the light rail in favor of paid-commuter fast lanes etc. that some of the GOP house members especially were pushing.

Simplified I know, but it was one of the things that came out of 2004.

Posted by: MNPundit | May 23, 2005 1:19:57 PM

"The family has NO CHOICE but to remain in the suburbs due to the costs of living in urban locations."

You could live in a smaller, more expensive house. That's a choice.

Posted by: praktike | May 23, 2005 1:49:27 PM

Amen to the Green Line increased frequency. And while they're at it, they should keep the metro open past 11:30 on weekdays. It's ridiculous.

Posted by: Jordan | May 23, 2005 2:17:09 PM

Count me as a stadium skeptic. I don't pay attention to any sports, whereas I lived for six years in Baltimore without a car and wished there was better public transportation.

But it's funny about Matt's other post on Baltimore crime. It almost does seem that violent crime fell concurrently with the success of Baltimore's downtown sports facilities. I find it hard to believe that this really had any impact, but I also wonder how much crime used to occur around the old Memorial Stadium, which was stuck in a residential part of the city away from downtown restaurants and bars.

Posted by: PaulC | May 23, 2005 2:25:28 PM

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