Lamentation for Detroit

The March issue of Atlantic Magazine on-line includes a very thoughtful and comprehensive article titled, “How the Crash Will Reshape America,” by urban theorist, Richard Florida. It is an vital analysis for anyone who cares about American cities and essential reading for those of us in planning, real estate, urban policy and economic development who will be dealing with the enormous changes this economy will bring over the next several years.  Wrenching change will not be limited to the Rust Belt but not surprisingly, one section of the article is subtitled “The Last Crises of the Factory Towns” which begins with this:

Sadly and unjustly, the places likely to suffer most from the crash – especially in the long run- are the ones least associated with high finance. While the crises may have begun in New York, it will likely find its fullest bloom in the interior of the country – in older, manufacturing regions whose heydays are long past . . .

Not surprising to even the casual student of American cities and our industrial economy.  Narrowing in to where the damage is greatest and most apparent, a later paragraph reads:

Perhaps no major city in the U.S. today looks more beleaguered than Detroit, where in October the average home price was $18,513, and some 45,000 properties were in some form of foreclosure. A recent listing of tax foreclosures in Wayne County, which encompasses Detroit, ran to 137 pages in the Detoit Free Press . . . and in December the city’s jobless rate was 21 percent.

Bleak.

Today, I happened to be looking at a new copy of The Bible that I brought home from church yesterday. I happened to open it randomly to the Book of Lamentations, an Old Testament book that I am not very familiar with. With Florida’s article (and likely my own unemployment) on my mind, I turned to the beginning of Lamentations and read the three verses below. I was shaken by how relevant the text is to today. With no intention to imply cause or blame, I have changed only one word in the text to create a sad modern prayer for the people and institutions of this once great American city:

A Lamentation for Detroit.

1 [a]How deserted lies the city,
once so full of people!
How like a widow is she,
who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces
has now become a slave.

2 Bitterly she weeps at night,
tears are on her cheeks.
Among all her lovers
there is none to comfort her.
All her friends have betrayed her;
they have become her enemies.

3 After affliction and harsh labor,
Detroit has gone into exile.
She dwells among the nations;
she finds no resting place.
All who pursue her have overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.

(TNIV©)

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The Super Bowl is Tomorrow. Who Knew?!

I am going to a party tomorrow and don’t want to appear more foolish or out of touch than usual. Apparently, the Super Bowl is tomorrow evening so that’s the theme of the party. I wondered why someone would schedule a party on a Sunday evening when people have to go to work the next day. Now I know.  Through some research, I have learned that the Steelers are playing the Cardinals. While the Steelers are still in Pittsburgh, it turns out that the Cardinals have moved from St Louis to Phoenix, who knew?!

This may surprise you, but it’s been a while since I’ve paid much attention to professional football. For example, I also learned during my research that Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and Mean Joe Greene have all retired so I don’t really know any of the players for the Steelers.

Football means the smell of Ohio Valley autumn leaves to me so I just can’t root for the Cardinals – there aren’t any trees in Phoenix for Chrissake!! Besides, I grew up in the shadow of the Black & Gold. I always liked that guy that played with half his foot blown off in Viet Nam. What was his name? You gotta love a team that would give a fella like that a chance. Nice bunch of guys, don’t ya think?

So here’s where you Steelers Fans come in. What are FIVE things I should know about the Steelers in order to cover up my total ignorance of the NFL? Nothing too complicated that would be difficult to memorize, please.  It would also help to have two or three things to help me trash talk those good for nuthin’ city hoppin’ Cardinals but don’t worry if you can’t come up with anything or you’re just to polite to diss the competition.

Thanks for your help.

Big Three Bailout and Foreign Automakers

David Broder, in his Washington Post column last Sunday, implied that the opposition to the bailout of US automakers by southern Senators, led by DeMint (R, SC) and McConnell (R, KY) was influenced by the presence of foreign auto manufacturers in many southern states. The column is about politics and not specifically about economic development but it raises important questions for economic developers:

-Is it reasonable to assume that the bailout of the US auto industry (approved administratively by President Bush after the legislation failed in the Senate) will be bad for foreign automakers?
-Will the bailout create a battle within the auto industry between the southeast and the midwest for future jobs and investment?
-Are Tier I and Tier II suppliers of the Big Three likely to migrate south as Ford, GM and Chrysler contract?
-Are the supply chains of foreign automakers insulated from the troubles of the US auto industry?
-How should the economic development profession react?

What do you think?

This was also posted as a discussion topic at http://economicdevelopment.ning.com/forum/topics/big-three-bailout-and-foreign

City Blogs

I’ve added a box on the right titled, City Blogs. This morning, I stumbled across a post about deep-fried candy bars (no joke) from a blog called All Over Albany. AOA is a nice site full of things to do and be proud of  if you find yourself in Albany, New York.  I have also provided the link to the blog (online newsletter, actually) Cincinnati Soapbox, a great site that has done a lot to promote good news in the Queen City. OK, my bias is showing. Cincinnati is my hometown and I know the creators of Soapbox but it’s still a great example of how to do it right.

The use of social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and blogs to promote people and their organizations, businesses, interests and ideas is still in it’s early stages but is expanding rapidly. I am especially interested in how communities (neighborhoods, cities,  regions and states) can use these tools to promote themselves to attract and retain businesses, attract workers and strengthen the connections among the people who already live and work there.

If you know of a blog from a community like this, send me the link. I’ll post them and build a resource for others that want to find best practice examples of how to use the web as an economic development tool.

Team of Rivals – another Lincoln lesson for Barrack Obama

As President-elect Obama has been considering candidates for his administration’s cabinet secretaries and other key roles, there have been plenty of references to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 bestseller, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. The book details Lincoln’s selection of the most talented politicians and leaders he could assemble for his cabinet, many of them his bitter political rivals, in order to lead  the nation in a most difficult period.

Another important insight provided by Ms. Goodwin is Lincoln’s emphasis, early in his career, on “internal improvements” (ie public infrastructure) as a vital means of lifting the country’s workers out of their lives of poverty. The mid-1800s saw the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution with the construction of great infrastructure projects such as the Trans-Continental Railroad, the great canals in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, the invention of the telegraph and the origins of America’s energy reliance on coal and oil. Lincoln’s understanding of infrastructure as an economic catalyst is highlighted in the following excerpt from the book:

Lincoln knew firsthand the deprivations, the marginal livelihood of the subsistence farmer unable to bring produce to market without dependable roads. He had been paid the meager wages of a hired hand. Primitive roads, clogged waterways, lack of rail connections, inadequate schools – such were not merely issues to Lincoln, but hurdles he had worked all his life to overcome in order to earn an ampler share of freedom. These “improvements” to the infrastructure would enable thousands of farming families to emerge from the kind of poverty in which the Lincoln family had been trapped, and would permit new cities and towns to flourish.

Lincoln’s dedication to internal improvements and economic development was given strength, nourishment, and power, so the historian Gabor Boritt persuasively argues, by his passionate commitment “to the ideal that all men should receive a full, good, and ever increasing reward for their labors so they might have the opportunity to rise in life.” Economic development provided the basis, Lincoln said much later, that would allow every American “an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.” To Lincoln’s mind, the fundamental test of a democracy was its capacity to “elevate the condition of men, to lift artificial weights from all shoulders, to clear paths of laudable pursuit for all.” A real democracy would be a meritocracy where those born in the lower ranks could rise as far as their natural talents and discipline might take them.

Young Lincoln’s great ambition in the 1830s, he told Joshua Speed, was to be the “DeWitt Clinton of Illinois.” The pioneering New York governor had opened opportunities for all New Yorkers and left a permanent imprint on his state when he persuaded the legislature to support the Erie Canal project. In the Illinois legislature, Lincoln hoped to leave a similar imprint by way of an ambitious program of internal improvements.

Excerpt from Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, copyright 2005

Our nation’s infrastructure needs serious repair and improvement if we are going to compete in the 21st Century global economy. An intense, sustained effort to rebuild and improve our existing infrastructure will provide jobs for today’s workers. We must also invest in the infrastructure of new energy sources to replace our dependence on fossil fuels that began in the 19th Century.  This vital and massive effort must be among the top of our national priorities in the new administration.