Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Queen Turned King

Between all of this mortgage meltdown/bank failure discussions is a discussion of city competitiveness. Recent blog posts have focused on Charlotte especially this one from the Urbanophile comparing Charlotte to cities in the rust belt. He comments that Charlotte is leading because of its attitude and that cities in the Midwest outside of Minneapolis and Chicago have just tossed in the towels.

As Ryan has said, Charlotte looks like it won't get hit too hard by sudden bank death syndrome but the Urbanophile's comments got me to thinking. While Charlotte is out there scaring the pants off of not only the Rust Belt, but titans of the South like Tampa and Atlanta, is it really because they "want it more"? When I ran back in college, I would like to say that if I ran against Haile Gebresellasie in the Marathon (He broke the world record this weekend) I could win if I wanted it more, but we know that's not even close to being true.

But what are Charlotte's advantages? I thought really hard and tried to think about it in terms outside of the creative class argument that people always try to make about cool places. I kept thinking about things like new beginnings and not really having glory days to look back on but when it got down to it the thing that stuck out to me was age group. Why are cities like Charlotte places where younger folks want to locate. I'll admit when I got out of grad school it was Denver, San Francisco, or Austin. But there has to be more than that right? I must not be thinking hard enough.

Everything I seem to come up with is without a backup in data, such as its a younger city in terms of infrastructure. But that doesn't explain cities like San Francisco or Chicago. Is it because banking was thriving and growing and folks moving down from the Northeast wanted to make it more familiar? Maybe that is it. All of these new exciting cities seem to have an influx of people from either California or the Northeast. It's certainly not Nascar thats pulling them towards Charlotte. I still can't bring myself to think that it's because cities don't want it bad enough. Thoughts?


Kiran said...

When it comes to transit the 'new' cities have an advantage over the 'old'. Cincy, Detroit, Milwaukee are all pretty old places. Thus they have all the costs associated with being old (legacy poverty, crumbling infrastructure), and the reduced tax base due to the suburban migration. They just don't have the money to throw up a rail system without federal hellp.

Houston, Charlotte, Denver, etc. have alot more money, the suburbs are part of the city. The city doesn't have much legacy costs.

I don't think it has anything to do w/ wanting it more. Its resources. A city w/ more resources is going to be more successful.

Anonymous said...

NC has annexation laws that "caputre" the suburbs while older cities have independent suburban towns.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing it has to do with service sector jobs. You have the headquarters of Bank of America and Wachovia, the first and third largest banks in the US, respectively (until Wells Fargo bought Wachovia today). I think it has to do with state laws that incentivize banks to locate there.

But, I guess if you compare it with Wilmington, DE, who is able to take advantage of state laws that encourage credit card companies to locate there, Charlotte must be doing something other than just creating jobs to attract people.

Cavan said...

I don't know about Charlotte, but I do know there is a high correlation between walkability and "coolness" or "creative class". It is no coincidence that the coolest neighborhoods here in Washington are all Metro accessable.

Based on our experience here, Charlotte is doing itself a favor by investing in its long term viability and "coolness" by building rail.

Alon Levy said...

My guess: North Carolina has embarrassingly low education spending. The creative class doesn't care about schools; its members don't have children. The low education spending enables the region to keep property taxes down, so companies and childless people can move in, free of the need to support the next generation.

(If you don't believe me, look at California, home of Prop 13. Outside of the anti-growth Bay Area, it has very fast growth for its age. LA Metro is growing at about 1% a year; this comes almost exclusively from the Inland Empire exurbs, but in the Northeast, even the exurbs are growing fairly slowly.)

Alex said...

America right now has three kinds of cities: shiny new western and southern cities, old eastern megalopoli and old eastern regional centers. Everyone can see why the western and southern cities are growing. They have great weather, low taxes, less legacy poverty, new infrastructure, etc. Their downtowns can be built from scratch for the "creative class."

The old eastern cities have major problems: bad weather, ingrained poverty, infrastructure decay, white flight, etc. The difference between the Clevelands and Pittsburgs and the New Yorks and Chicagos is that the biggest cities had enough resources (transit, critical mass of businesses, etc) to maintain a viable, necessary and exciting city center. The rust belt cities didn't have enough central city developed to withstand the forces of the second half of the 20th century. Because these downtowns are now a relative afterthought to these urban areas, and the transit systems necessary for a central downtown don't exist, their potential for sources of rebirth via attracting the creative class is negligible.

What can be done for these cities? I don't think they should try to be like the major eastern cities. Unless the government is going to give massive tax breaks and other expensive subsidies to downtown office development, the downtowns should be redeveloped FIRST like the western and southern cities: as entertainment districts with bars, restaurants, sports venues, and a waterfront. People have to remember the positive aspects of an urban core before they will want to invest in it. Austin started with 6th St, San Diego has the gaslamp district. Small bar areas are growing up in downtown Buffalo. Baltimore has the harbor. Don't try to turn downtown Cleveland into midtown Manhattan or the Loop in Chicago. The condos on the waterfront will follow the entertainment, then the transit, and finally, the office buildings.