Odds and Ends — Links and Commentary

Cleveland

Chicago

I’m making a strong attempt to get back to the more regular posting schedule I once had, so I’m back with some observations on recent links that caught my attention.

I’ve mentioned here before that I’m a big believer in Jim Russell and his blog Burgh Diaspora.  Earlier this week he wrote a good piece about the obsession cities have with population growth at the expense of economic growth.  In the succinct way that only Jim can do, I think this sums up his views:

Population increases and vibrancy have taken on normative qualities. Initiatives designed to stop the brain drain often state population increase as a goal. Such growth is an economic effect, not a cause.

Another interesting article was posted in Rust Wire, a site generally focused on Rust Belt city revitalization but with a focus on Cleveland.  The author bemoaned the professionalization of neighborhood revitalization taking place in Cleveland.  Citing the coolness and authenticity of Chicago’s Wicker Park and Columbus’ Short North neighborhoods, the writer goes on to say:

Wicker Park in Chicago and Short North in Columbus are neighborhoods that didn’t become fashionable because nonprofit organizations did a really good job. They’re unique, with vibrant economies, but they followed a well-known pattern: some slightly marginalized or counter-cultural group (bohemians or hipsters in Wicker Park and gays in Short North) moved in and started making it their own, which in turn made it cool.

In Cleveland, that role belongs to a nonprofit, and they are sort of skipping the cool phase altogether. Nonprofit community development organizations on the near West Side of Cleveland are run by white men with college degrees who are pushing or have reached middle age. And they are effective in some ways, but believe me, they’re not aiming for hipsters or gays; they’re aiming right at folks with money, hence the idea that up and coming neighborhoods need more parking, to attract suburbanites which will somehow fix the neighborhood.

True, Wicker Park (which I know more about) did not become what it is today through the intervention of CDCs.  It followed what I believe is the more traditional gentrification path — an affordable area with a solid building stock, accessible transit, and near-downtown location attracts hipsters.  Start with that, shake vigorously and — voila! — you have a hip neighborhood.

But what of those neighborhoods that lack one or more of those assets, and therefore can’t summon the momentum to get revitalization started?  That’s where CDCs come in.  CDCs are, in my opinion, a necessary step to begin generating nonprofit investment in communities until private investment recognizes profit potential.  Sometimes it’s a roll of the dice for CDCs (private investment may not necessarily come where you want it), but the nonprofit component is crucial for many communities.  Don’t knock it.

Lastly, The Urbanophile blog has undertaken an epic series on the state of Chicago.  In short, Aaron Renn portrays Chicago as a city-region that had reached the cusp of the global city hierarchy by the early 2000s, only to suffer economic decline in the last decade that threatens that status now.  Aaron has always brought a thoughtful, corporate-management-type approach to his writings on cities, and this series is no different.  It’s insightful stuff.

One disclaimer, though — readers of this blog, which has spent a lot of time writing about Midwest cities, will note that there is nothing about Chicago here.  That’s because my work is with an agency that works to improve the Chicago metro area, and I don’t want any personal opinions about the Chicago region to be misconstrued as my real gig’s policy.  So I stay mum on Chicago.  However, I highly recommend the state of Chicago series.

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