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Want to better understand cities and how they actually work?  A few tips on some practical sources.

Want to better understand cities and how they actually work?  A few tips on some practical sources.

Posted by on May 28, 2015 in Urban |

1. Understand the key role of urban politics.

 Politics in cities, and by that I mean attention of elected officials to the will of a significant number of citizens, often can provide the spark for planning.  Building space in a city isn’t like building in space – planning rarely takes place in a pristine vacuum.

The book to read:  The Power Broker:  Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, 1974.  Available in paperback.  The transformation of an idealist into a get-it-done human bulldozer, and with it, the transformation of New York City neighborhoods and not always for the good, is a read one can’t put down.  Don’t let the number of pages put you off – the wisdom here is golden.

2. Try adding some reading in urban geography to urban planning.

 A generalist’s understanding of the distinction is that urban geography tells you how a city got to be the way that it is and how best to keep the existing civic infrastructure “gears” moving smoothly along with those who turn them.  City planning seeks to better arrange the pieces and spaces of the city to provide a more favorable board on which the players can build their lives.

A very good book to readUrban Geography, A Global Perspective.  Third Edition, 2009.  Available in paperback.

3. Keep up with the latest zoning and land use legal decisions – the courts literally “rule” in this area.

A must to readLaw of the Land blog on land use law and zoning.

4. Try a contrarian urban viewpoint from that heard from the typical Northeast & Northwest coasts.

 CityLab has its place, but sometimes appears slightly monolithic in its urban hipster viewpoint.  Believe me, this is not how the leaders of many cities think, perhaps especially in the growing Sunbelt.

Try instead some different knowledgeable observations from Southern California – in, but not necessarily of, Los Angeles.  Reading, especially anything written by Joel Kotkin, whose range extends to the usually overlooked Gulf Coast, is like turning the corner and seeing a completely new viewpoint that stands out from the often uniform (while still worthy of consideration) opinions of the planning community “establishment”.  There is nothing wrong with idealism in planning, but idealism seldom gets anything built.

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Communities on the “Rise”

Communities on the “Rise”

Posted by on Jan 21, 2013 in Community |

Following up from a previous post, The Emerging Focus on Local Economies (November 19, 2012), what else can happen on the local level? In Washington, D.C., two brothers began purchasing properties in their local emerging neighborhoods a few years ago with the belief that there should be a connection between the desires of a neighborhood and the bottom lines of its investors. Their simple question, “Why couldn’t people in the community invest in real estate right next door?”

So, they created Fundrise, a website that allows individuals to invest directly in local real estate development projects. While the idea seems hopeful, it may be far away from Shreveport-Bossier. The list of private offerings available on Fundrise are for properties all located in Washington, D.C. If, as suggested in the earlier post, millennials can influence the revival of American cities, perhaps they can begin to invest in and finance real estate development in their communities.

And, when is the last time a real estate developer asked you what you wanted in your community? One of the Fundrise brothers has now co-founded Popularise, a website that gives individuals a place, called a “drawing board”, to voice their ideas for what businesses they want in their communities, although the process isn’t necessarily democratic. “The concept with the most votes won’t necessarily take the space.” However, it does provide developers with insight into what communities are looking for when it comes to growth and expansion. So far, developers in five U.S. cities have posted potential development sites on Popularise – Fort Worth, TX; Oklahoma City, OK; Sarasota, FL; Seattle, WA; and Washington, D.C.

Fort Worth is only a few hours away. Is Shreveport-Bossier on the “rise”?

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Looks can be Deceiving for Wealth and Poverty in Communities – Measure instead by Creation of Personal Income

Looks can be Deceiving for Wealth and Poverty in Communities – Measure instead by Creation of Personal Income

Posted by on Jan 14, 2013 in Community |

All of us too often see what we want to see, or make assumptions on a community based on what is closest to our eyes as we drive down a shortcut to our destinations. But the shack along the road may mask the mansion down the lane.

What we need to see – and a useful measuring stick for elected officials – is how a community fares in its creation of per capita personal income.* 

Let’s start with Louisiana.

By some measures, Louisiana one of the “Poorest States”

Louisiana often is called one of America’s “poorest states” based on its ranking of 3rd highest level of poverty in the U.S. (20.4% of the state’s population, 2011 Census Bureau American Community Survey, with Mississippi #1 at 22.6%).

This picture would appear to be matched by Louisiana’s position as having America’s 7th lowest median household income of $41,734 v. #1 Maryland’s highest median household income of $70,004.

This explains, on the surface, why some in the Pelican State bemoan the lack of high end retail and other day to day amenities seen in such “wealthy” states as Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York.  But looks can be deceiving.

Louisiana has made Leaps in Personal Income

An underreported figure is the growth of Louisiana’s per capita personal income.  As recently as 2000, Louisiana ranked 45th among the states by personal income.  By 2010 and 2011 (federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, March, 2012) Louisiana ranked 28th.

In the 12 states of the Southeastern U.S., Louisiana’s per-person personal income of $38,578 in 2011 ranked third, behind only Virginia’s $45,920 and Florida’s $39,563. (Associated Press, March 28, 2012, from federal Bureau of Economic Analysis.)

Louisiana’s growth in personal income recently has been fueled by earnings jumps in oil and gas employment, manufacturing, health care and social assistance, plus growth in professional-science-technical services.

Why such different pictures?

 Income Inequality Makes the Difference in the Picture

The answer is income inequality, with obvious implications – both good and bad – for communities around the state.  As well as the evolving definition of “community” itself.

While personal income as a whole in Louisiana has taken great leaps over the past decade, for those in the bottom 5th income has stagnated, or possibly even worsened.  On the other hand, for the wealthiest, income has increased, mirroring a national trend.  (Or, putting it in a less class-conscious way, the comparison is between the less successful and more successful.)

This accounts for Louisiana’s current ranking as having the nation’s 6th highest level of income inequality, looking at the gap between the top earners and bottom earners.  (New Orleans “Times-Picayune,” November 15, 2012, highlighting a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.) 

In Louisiana, the wealthiest 5 percent of households have an average income more than 14 times the size of the bottom 20 percent, not a large difference between the national gap between these two groups of 13 times, but more than the “most equal state,” Iowa, where the highest earners make 5.6 times as much as those at the bottom.

Whose “Community” is doing Well, and Not So Well?

What defines “community” now?  In the future? 

Among Louisiana’s most successful, times have been dramatically improving over the past decade.  Among those who have been struggling, the struggle hasn’t gotten much easier.  Perhaps explaining why Louisiana was ranked #10 in federal aid to state and local governments per capita in 2009, not counting military spending (U. S. Census Bureau, August, 2010.)

So, before forming an opinion about how “rich” or “poor” any particular community might be on first glance when driving through, here are figures for some Louisiana metro areas. 

Among Top 100 U.S. metropolitan areas, ranked by per capita personal income, 2010**:

New Orleans             $42,485                     #46 out of 372 metro areas. 

(New  Orleans has the nation’s fastest per capita income growth since 2005.)

Lafayette                   $41,129                      #64

(Compare:  Houston, $44,001, #36, Dallas, $41,282, #62.  #1 is Bridgeport, Connecticut, $71,768, with San Francisco #2, Washington, D.C. #3, Pittsburgh #44, Durham – Chapel Hill #72.)

Among the Top 200 U.S. metro areas, ranked by per capita personal income:

Baton Rouge             $37,254                      #135

Shreveport-               $36,871                      #144

Bossier City 

Alexandria                $36,007                     #166

Lake Charles             $34,708                     #199

(Compare: Birmingham #103, Huntsville #105, Little Rock #108, Memphis #127, Killeen – Ft. Hood, Texas #131, Tampa #140, Louisville #141, Jackson, Mississippi #157, Phoenix #163, Gulfport-Biloxi #186.)

 Among the Top 300 U.S. metro areas, ranked by per capita personal income:

 Monroe                      $33,942                     #220

 (Compare:  Greenville, S.C. #221)

 The Lesson – Don’t Judge an area’s River of Income by the view from only one Side of the Stream

Before judging which communities are “rich” or “poor,” consider whether one’s view takes in only those at one end of the success ladder or the other.  Or whether one has seen, or even can see, the entire breadth of the river of personal income flowing through a metropolitan area.

Of course, if the absolute number of “mansions” is too low, don’t look for any Tiffany stores.  But do look at what’s behind the façade of “shacks” – you might be surprised by the possible Tiffany purchases resting inside the whole community.

 * Personal income is the income received by all persons from all sources. Personal income is the sum of net earnings by place of residence, property income, and personal current transfer receipts.” (U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis.)

** Source:  Compiled by New Jersey Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development, Gov. Chris Christie


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The Emerging Focus on Local Economies

The Emerging Focus on Local Economies

Posted by on Nov 19, 2012 in Other |


A public-private partnership, the Louisiana Boardwalk in Bossier City, LA.

If “All Politics are Local,” then “All Economics are Local.”

“I think that post election, the economics and job creation focus is going to move to cities and what’s happening at the local level,” predicted Rana Raroohar of TIME in September 2012.

So what is happenning at the local level?

There are different growth strategies and experiments which are working in many of American cities, with different factors which underpin the metros with more consistent and resilient growth. While productivity is the main growth factor of any economy, Richard Florida agrees that “[i]t’s time to recognize that the U.S. economy is not only made up of industries which grow and decline at different rates, but hundreds of metro regions that do so as well.”

Graph above- the Metro Productivity Index— developed José Lobo of Arizona State University shows a ratio – the level of economic output per person for metros is compared to the gross domestic product (GDP) per person for the nation as a whole. Period 2001 to 2010 is covered, and is based on data from the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

What should also be asked, in addition to what’s happening at the local level – is who is driving the demand for local government and business in cities and mega regions?

Milliennials (those around the ages of 20-34) have influenced the revival of the American city’s rebound over the last two decades, enabling the demographic to start putting down roots in urban neighborhoods and generating new demands for local government and businesses.

Downtown Fort Worth, Texas

Rolf Pendall in the Atlantic Cities believes “[a]s a result of these demands,  Milliennials may affect tomorrow’s cities as much as Baby Boomers have shaped today’s suburbia…The last time this big a generation of young people started reaching their late 20s was the Baby Boomers in the early 1970s.”

If the economics and job creation focus is shifting to cities and mega regions and what’s happening at the local level, there will also be political and cultural implications.



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Institutionalizing Innovation in Government

Institutionalizing Innovation in Government

Posted by on Nov 2, 2012 in Government |

Can a local government body organize itself in a manner that will generate creativity and progressive problem-solving? The Governor of Massachusetts thinks so. He has appointed that state’s, and likely the nation’s, first Government Innovation Officer. Its purpose? – “to find innovative ways to improve efficiency and streamline the delivery of government services.” Innovation in government is a fairly new concept, while innovation in other industries, such as technology and small business, has long been recognized and rewarded as today’s society advances

Locally, trendsetters include Bossier Parish Community College which has become quite adept at responding to recent, monumental budget cuts to higher education in the state. BPCC administration created and staffed a Division of Innovative Learning that seeks to identify new and more efficient educational opportunities for the area’s workforce. It seems to be working as BPCC just posted its highest ever enrollment at 7,900 students, an increase of 11% from fall 2011.


So, is the public argument of bigger vs. smaller government just rhetoric now? Author Mark Funkhouser succinctly sums it up “[T]he present debate about bigger or smaller government is beside the point – the real issue is how to make government more flexible and adaptable.”

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