The Urban Core as Regional Economic Indicator

The importance of core urban areas to a region’s economy is the
subject of a post today from the always thoughtful Aaron Renn, who
blogs at The Urbanophile.
Renn examines data that suggest job growth (or decline) in a metro
region’s core counties is a good indicator for the overall health of
those regions. Renn argues that it’s important to keep a close eye on
what’s happening in the urban core in order to forestall the kind of
catastrophic decline we’ve seen in places like Detroit and Cleveland.

But he refuses to subscribe to a polarized vision that pits suburbs and urban areas against each other (unlike, say, Joel Kotkin). Renn writes:

4096645456_c149cbb7af.jpgDon’t let your city center end up looking like this. (Photo: Bob Jagendorf via Flickr)

It might be tempting to view the suburbs as the “bad guy” here. I
reject that view. In a growing community, it isn’t reasonable to
believe that all the new residents and businesses are going to land in
a fixed area. And clearly, despite an optimistic trend towards urban
living being back in fashion, the suburbs continue to have a hold on
the desires of large numbers of Americans, particularly families with
kids.

I want to bring the central city up, not pull the suburbs down. A
great city needs great suburbs. That doesn’t mean I don’t think there’s
room for regional solutions or other matters. But especially in a
struggling region like the Midwest, we need every part of a region to
understand its role on the team and bring its “A game”. Pitting city
and against suburb is like beggars arguing over table scraps. The real
competition is between, not within regions, on a global basis. And even
that competition need not be a zero-sum game.

If we start taking an antagonistic point of view towards the
suburbs, especially in regions like the Midwest and South with strong
suburban traditions and little political demand for pro-urban policies,
we’re just asking to fail, practically speaking.

Take a look at his post. As always, there’s a lot to think about there.

More good stuff from around the network: FABB Blog on the decline in teen drivers. M-Bike.org on the definition of "safe." And Copenhagenize on advertising in a bicycle culture.

  • DJB

    “If we start taking an antagonistic point of view towards the suburbs, especially in regions like the Midwest and South with strong suburban traditions and little political demand for pro-urban policies, we’re just asking to fail, practically speaking.”
    —–

    Well, I’m one to take an antagonistic attitude towards suburbs (I feel like I have that right, since I grew up in them). I just think it needs to be acknowledged that suburbs screw a lot of stuff up. They force people into driving, they don’t have the density to support frequent transit service, they make it nearly impossible to walk to things, and they gobble up land that used to be habitat.

    I get that it’s scary to speak out against something so popular, but damn it, somebody has to say something. It’s a dream to think that we can foster a balanced transportation system if your ideal is building 1950s subdivisions. It just isn’t going to happen. Maybe that’s inevitable. Fine. I’m just not ready to give up yet.

    I think suburbs can be something better than what they are now. They don’t have to be full blown cities, but they have to be denser and mix land uses more than most do now.

  • DJB

    I take a rather pessimistic view of human nature. People usually follow the path of least resistance. If getting in the car is the easiest thing, that’s what most people will do (e.g. most places in America). If getting on a bike makes sense, lots of people will do it (e.g. Davis, Boulder). If walking and taking transit are easy, people will do that (e.g. NYC, DC, San Francisco).

    There will always be some noble souls that will walk a mile to the supermarket in the suburbs to help the environment, or wait 45 minutes (or more) for a bus, or bike on an unfriendly road, but they will always be outnumbered by people following the path of least resistance.

    Hence, the need to make the path of least resistance something that’s also good for the environment. Hence, the need to challenge suburbia.

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