Saturday, January 29, 2005

Planning and People

Undercaffeinated cites an interesting article about the failure of city planning. The article says that large investments by big cities, such as Baltimore and New Orleans, to promote tourism have done nothing to stop falling populations and a quarter of the city’s population living in poverty.

But the meat of the article is here, whether The Brookings Institute knew it or not:

For these cities, and a host of other older central cities that have invested hundreds of millions in convention and visitor infrastructure, the return on that investment in terms of job creation and urban turnaround has been modest at best. Edward Glaeser's "Reinventing Boston" offers a longer term historical perspective that supports an alternative policy approach.53 Noting that Boston has succeeded in adapting itself to a series of economic changes since the early nineteenth century, including the recent shift from manufacturing to a center of the "information economy," Glaeser attributes the city's adaptability to its human capital: "Most skilled cities have done well over the past two decades, and Boston in 1980 had a strong skill base relative to its Rust Belt peers like Syracuse and Detroit."54 He goes on to emphasize Boston's ability to re-orient the local economy as other cities challenged its dominance, and its character as "a place that people wanted to live."55 The Boston case and a large volume of related research suggest that the future of a city rests on its investment in education and human capital, as well as basic city services, rather than in the sole development of a tourist wonderland.

Some phrases used by the Brookings Institute need some clarification:

“Human Capital” and “Skill Base”


Really Smart, Hard-Working, Type-A People Who Get Things Done and Aren’t Satisfied to Spend Their Lives Wallowing in Shit and Squalor

Cities are falling apart because these people left. Some left for the suburbs so they could have more wide-open spaces. Some went even further because their city’s industry—and their own pocketbook--were taxed and regulated out of existence by “city planners” who think it their God-given right to micromanage people and who take human genius for granted. Efforts to promote tourism are half-hearted, half-assed attempts to make these people come back, even if only to visit.

The article concludes that Seattle has succeeded because of a litany of welfare programs. Never mind Microsoft, Intel, Starbucks, etc.


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