Posts Tagged ‘urban revitalization’

THE SOUTH SIDE – A Portrait of Chicago & American Segregation

August 6, 2016

 Natalie Y. MooreMoore book

South side reporter for local NPR member station.
2016 St. Martin Press, New York

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods…places of similarity…racial, religious, ethnic, socio-economic.

These places both connect and divide human contact, economic investment, political capital… they also foster racial, religious and ethnic diversity while perpetuating segregation.

Growing up a Chicago “sout-sider” means you’re different – not bad, nor deprived but different.

Natalie Moore captures this difference.

Being a black “sout-sider” she shares her life experience; a middle class black family upbringing from the Chatham racially divided neighborhood to racially integrated Beverly and Hyde Park/Englewood neighborhoods to the up and coming Bronzville neighborhood all while expertly describing how Chicago social, political and economic forces shape the neighborhood landscape and their socio-economic strictures.

Being a Chicago “sout-sider” and a seasoned city planner – economic developer I was anxious to read her book.

The book refreshed memories, and I can say…I saw it, I lived it…and personally experienced both the good and the bad of Chicago’s “sout-side”.

For the city planner, her book offers many insights into today quest for community “placeMaking”.

Socio-economic homogeneity draws together economic and political power useful for neighborhood sustainability while at the same time posing a barrier to outside capital infusion and citywide political influence.

Readers will be challenged with the question of whether a socio-economic concentrated enclave is better than multi-faceted interests for neighborhood sustainability and social and economic betterment?

This is a must read for city planners and others with interest in “placeMaking” the art of “creating great communities” built around vibrant neighborhoods were people want to live.



December 10, 2012

How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocket Book and Your Future

Best Laid Plans

Government panning has become an accepted part of life in the United States.  Almost every city and county in the nation has a plan and employs planners to make studies and establish plans to better the future.  Most states require cities and counties to prepare plans, some being required to access much needed grant assistance to fund local projects.

Planning America CoverIn a recent study (spring 2012) Planning in America: Perceptions and Priorities commissioned by the American Planning Association, the trade group for professional planners, 79%  of American’s like the idea of local community planning even if they are unclear about the goals that planning should serve”.

However, according planning critic Randall O’Tool author of the The Best Laid Plans, “a plan written with the best intention, will likely go horribly wrong”.

He claims that planners who “advertise their methods as the solution to almost any problem or controversy” allow elected officials to turn over thorny problems to the planning bureaucracy rather than force elected officials to make decisions.

He notes this planning decision process is run by “well-intentioned but often clueless people called planners, who, having graduated from architecture [and planning] schools and other universities are eager to bring their visions of utopia to the American people”.

O’Tool cites that it’s  a ”bitter irony, freely admitted by numerous planners, that many of the problems that planners propose to solve were caused not by the free marketplace, but by past generations of planners and other government bureaucrats”.

He basis his conclusion on two fundamental facts –

  1. That rational planning cannot occur in a highly politicalized environment, and
  2. The notion that competing groups can sit down together and negotiate the goals for all interest groups is unachievable.

While published in 2007, the validity of his statement surely is confirmed as demonstrated by Republican and Democratic Party actions during Presidential election and currently shown by congressional efforts to address the pending national fiscal problems.

O’Tool notes “planners tend to be attracted to fads over hard economic based analysis”.  Try TND, TOD, Smart Growth and today’s placed based community strategy, as examples.

He claims, planners unlike employees in the private sector, face no risk, allowing for planning to be done without the risk of failure.

This “no risk – no consequence” situation O’Tool suggests, allows planners to  “hide behind risk-free prepackaged concepts such as smart growth principles for their plans rather than doing detailed economic analysis that might or may not lead to success”.

The fundamental premise held by these planners is that “government can be blindly objective and even altruistic and create great plans, whereas private individuals and corporations working in their own self-interests cannot.  Only government can protect the common good”.

O’Tool’s opinions are obviously disputed by planners based on the results of their recent survey.

The recent (APA) survey disclosed that the American public recognizes the importance of government planning in economic prosperity with 92% of the respondents stating they believe “things work better with a plan and that community planning is important to the economic recovery” with local job creation ranked seventh in importance by over 70% of the responders.

Ironically, macro-economic theory is not typically emphasized as a critical component in planner education.  The educational framework of most planners is based on the notion that architectural design; the creation of a hospitable and livable physical environment, will dominate and shape people’s behavior.

O’Tool sees this dichotomy – the emphasis on physical environment shaping human behavior and providing the basis for job creation opposed to a free markets making the job creation decisions as the fallacy of government planning and reason that planning never will succeed.

So what are the planners to do?

Based on the notion jobs and economic development are to be higher priority for current community development strategy, planners need to gain a higher level of understanding of macro-economic influences that shape, or result from, community development plans.

Planners need to –

  1. Gain macro-economic education allowing assessment of potential impacts of optional community development strategies.
  1. Widen inputs into the comprehensive planning process to include greater consideration of government macro-economic policy upon future growth trends and the amount and timing of new development land needed to accommodate growth.
  1. Elevate the importance of municipal economic viability and sustainability into the overall framework of plan implementation, as professional standards of practice.
  1. Make mandatory the role of “concurrency” the notion that every capital expenditure must be confirmed by a funding source prior to inclusion into a comprehensive plan, thus eliminating speculative “build it and they will come” projects.
  1. Seek closure of the gap between the practice of economic development and comprehensive planning, recognizing that economic sustainability is only achieved when both disciplines act together to implement the comprehensive plan.
  1. Make real estate development economics a mandatory requirements of planner education giving planners a better understanding of private sector risk and reward principles for the creation of real estate taxable valuation which is the basis of local property taxes that derive revenue for local government operations.
  1. Create new unique public-private partnerships infrastructure models in recognition that traditional forms of developer “exactions” specifically the donation of public infrastructure will become a remembrance and local governments will be called upon to provide infrastructure when un-fundable by the developer’s lender.
  1. Create understandable and communicable matrices to quantify and measure success of plan implementation stressing short-term tangible results specifically new job and real estate investment creation.
  1. Establish accountability performance requirements for plan implementation which hold planners , as well as elected and appointed office responsible for plan implementation.
  1. Planners must also abandon the fundamental principle that community development and economic development programs must resolve multiple problems in order to be politically acceptable and fundable by local government officials. Planners must be able to “turn their back on certain problems which maybe a political impossibility under many current community and economic development strategies.

While O’Tool claims, “planners tend to be attracted to fads over hard economic based analysis”, there is evidence that a new fad – the recognition of macro-economic inputs into the shape, direction and viability of comprehensive planning may set direction for a stronger physical, social and environmental important strategy.

Reimaging Detroit – Opportunities for Redefining an American City

November 11, 2012

Back in the early 1970’s, my first planner job was to count the number of roof-tops shown on aerial photos for traffic zones for a small metro area’s first computerized transportation model.

The model was designed to provide a “base line” for origin and destination auto trip and inter-metro entry/exit commuting data.

This data, with our projection of where, when and the type of future development, would indicate the roadway improvements to correct existing deficiencies.

The transportation analysis would also show where future improvements were needed based on our projected pattern of future growth.

Good stuff!

We built the 25-year metro future land use plan and scheduled the timing and location of major transportation improvements.

Today, other than for a few road capacity and safety improvements none of the grand plans have been completed and the few where started, are not fully completed.

Population growth didn’t happen like local government interests projected.

John Gallagher, in his book Reimaging Detroit – Opportunities for Redefining an American City, chronicles this phenomenon.

This book should be required reading in every planning and economic development educational curriculum.

John sets the stage, not only for stagnate and declining metro growth strategy, but really calls out the pro-growth biased planning education taught to the planning profession.

This pro-growth bias is based on the notion that global and national growth will be distributed, somewhat equally, based on historical trends and propel current population counts upward over time.

This bias means planners must always expand the urban and suburban pattern of development to include land for new commercial, industrial and residential development.

But in many cases, the continuous upward population growth mentality isn’t correct for some metro areas, as John profiles Detroit where the pattern of development will shrink both in size and population count.

This is a must read for anyone interested in American city planning and metropolitan growth.

John Gallagher, a Detroit Free Press real estate journalist does a complete job of chronicling opportunities for remaking of depopulated cities; Detroit being his proving ground.

John asks the tough questions including –

1.  How do cities deal with infrastructure sized for 2 million folks being funded by user fees from ½ the users

2.  How does government provide services to a scattered less dense pattern of physical development.

3.  What do cities do with abandoned no longer needed – formally used but now vacant – land scattered among the depopulated urban pattern of development.

4.  What is the role of regional government cooperation in capacity building that results in new models of government service delivery based more on economic inefficiencies rather than political identity and governmental self aggrandizement?

5.  Is there a need for a new planning mantra, one that encourages economic sustainability by reduction in size and possibly abandonment of infrastructures no longer needed and affordable?

6.  Will there be community planning mindset change recognizing land reuse – a replacement philosophy that encourages rethinking of local government and urban boundaries with the new realities of demographic and population densities.

7.  Will the citizenry recognize the inevitable – that certain cities must adjust their land uses, abandoning no longer demanded or needed uses by current and future population but at the same time offering opportunity for increased open space and reclamation of lost natural amenities – wetlands, forest, agriculture, etc.

8.  How do cities change the populist fallacy that community cheerleading and platitudes cannot change the economic realities of economic dislocation due to lack of jobs and population growth.

9.  The importance of job growth, both the number and local proximity being vital to sustainability of a city……”jobs, like people die-off” and must be replaced by a new generation.  Failure to create jobs, at least at rates necessary to meet replacement quotas will ultimately result in stagnation and in some isolated cases death of the city.

10.  How to create community based economic entrepreneurship and new business formation programs coupling them with existing business inubators and accelerator efforts to ignite the entrepreneurial spirits within the metro area to make significant impact on the availability of jobs and increase personal wealth.

As John “points out” there is no simple one-way story of when the decline in America’s industrial Midwest began. The curse is here today for many Midwest urban areas, especially those somewhat smaller ones disconnected and isolated from the major metro centers.

He also states that today “it isn’t wise or practical to look at growth as our only definition of urban success….smaller can mean better”.

He emphasizes that both government and business leadership must capitalize on assets “in place” rethinking that growth solves all problems.  He advocates applying a new urban planning theory of “right-sizing” as part of the solution to reengineer prosperity.

To make such changes will not be easy. John quotes the Mayor of Turin Italy, who notes “the deeper the crisis the bigger the chance to do change and innovate.

The curse of many metro’s growth and prosperity surely indicates change and innovation will happen.


August 20, 2012


Joel Kotkin in his book, “The Next 100 Million Americans in 2050”, states that “America will inevitability become a more complex, crowed and competitive place, highly dependent, as it has throughout history on its peoples innovative and entrepreneurial spirit and emerge by mid-century as the most affluent, culturally rich and successful nation in human history”.

He opines that 80%, or more, of the total US population growth has taken place in suburbia, a trend that will likely accelerate in the future.

If true, planners will be faced with a new suburban land use planning framework, one that focuses on:

providing multiple housing choices at higher densities,

  1. walk-to-work/shopping opportunities,
  2. use of energy efficient vehicle transportation, and
  3. accelerated use of communication technology.

He concludes that in the coming decade communities will need to reinvent their economic and social viability.

Here are some thoughts on the trends, now forming, that will shape this new suburbia:

Suburbia population will grow, however not equally everywhere.

  1. Race and ethnic diversity will increase.
  2. Multigenerational households will become common sharing dwelling units.
  3. Today’s minority will become tomorrow’s majority.
  4. Globally, desire for US immigration will increase.
  5. Civic and social suburban “town center lifestyles” will be critical to communitywide social connectivity.
  6. Suburbs will continue to in increase geographic size and population density.
  7. Jobs will follow people but more people will follow jobs.
  8. Communication advances will expedite “declustering” of jobs into suburbia and rural locations.
  9. Organizational patterns of governance will change as citizen demands change.

Under this scenario, in 2050 social and economic acculturation will have occurred deemphasizing ethnic enclaves in favor of a homogenized multi-ethnic mankind.

Under this scenario, there will be more bilingual suburbia residents but English will remain the dominate language for social and business communication.

Concentrations of racial and economic minorities will diversify from concentration in urban settings creation and exposing suburban geography to racial and economic diversity.

Immigrant entrepreneurism will continue to exceed native interests and serve as economic development opportunities for community job growth.

 End Note.

For planners and economic developers employing these trends today will foster wholesale changes to some redevelopment strategy.

Clearly, social and economic changes for the basis of successful land use and economic development planning resulting in true government supported community sustainability.

 Action today means successful communities here people will want to live today and in the future.


May 22, 2012

Our post-recession economy will be different from history.

Richard Florida provides a convincing argument that the new economy, now in the making, will change not only what we do and how we do it but where we do it.

Community and economic developers, take note, the “Great Reset” will be characterized by the new technology and new patterns of land use.

How we react today will either hasten or hinder the eventual change separating growing from declining communities.

Florida summarizes two historic resets, the (1st)   rural to urban the farm to city movement of the late 1800’s and the (2nd) urban to suburban movements of late 1940-50’s.  Florida notes that in each, the change “gave rise to new district geography” for the pattern of development.

He opines that the current “Great Reset” will likewise take shape around a new economic landscape and a whole new way of life that is in line with the emerging social and economic realities of our times – less orientation around cars, houses and suburbs…being concentrations of population within urban centers.

Florida bases his theory on the notion that an economic crisis ultimately helps economic growth and this growth is inevitable as documented by history.

He supports the theory that concentration of urban humanity creates “long term innovation” a necessary ingredient that keeps cities vital and forms a catalyst for change.

As the subsequent recovery plays-out, Florida believes “we will see the rise of certain cities and regions, within the US and the decline of others”.

Cities that fail to keep up will be trapped when they depend on one or two backward-looking industries deflated entrepreneurial spirit or by high cost and outmoded organizational social structures.

So what’s to be done by local governments to enable and nurture growth?

Florida’s answers include –

1. Support innovation

2. Install new systems of technology and infrastructure

3.  Create new living and working environments

4.  Remold the economic landscape and pattern of current living environments

5.  Breed tolerance – cultural, sexual, religious, social and personal economic stature

Government’s role is to enable and accelerate these changes by creating the fertile environment where they can grow and develop.

The challenge before community and economic developer’s is how to identify the creative and special features of every single person in their community and organize these into a program of community economic development that creates jobs that increase individual productivity and wages.

This is most aptly done by:

1.  Individual educational improvements

2.  Municipal infrastructure investment to create new technologies and living environments

3. Increasing concentration of urban population thus increasing innovation

The end product is a new lifestyle and new economic landscape that can power new kinds of development and serve as the foundation for new economic growth.

These changes will increase what is termed “urban metabolism” which, as the urban population grows faster, more frequent innovation leading to faster growth.

Economic developer’s now have their assignment according to Florida……..making the Great Reset work to their communities advantage!


April 19, 2012

As a planner educated in a HUD funded New Town where the University was to anchor the city center, government involvement in new community development and “Place Making” holds special interest.

We can trace the origin of federal government new community development to the Hoover/FDR era, where government policy focused on the relocation of over populated urban tenants to rural farm locations via the “back to the land” homestead subsistence program.

FDR’s subsistence and new community social engineering effort was designed to reduce unemployment and population density within urban centers by providing a garden plot for agricultural self-sufficiency ultimately reducing reliance upon governmental financial support.

Some 34 subsistence homestead experiments were begun in 1933 as a precursor of the WPA federal supported new community experiments.

However, after eight years of experimentation the efforts were terminated by congressional action.

This period of history provides an excellent example of governmental social engineering by the use of regulatory and incentive action.

Study of the 99 subsistence homestead and new community program experiments undertaken between 1933 and 1939 offer an understanding of the basics of today’s “Place Making” strategy being popularized by current planning and community economic developers.

“Place Making” today is the federal government’s modern-day social engineering experiment to create vibrant urban oases that will attract young creative class residents for which new businesses will be attracted seeking employees.

Government planners seek to replicate the strategy of regulating and incenting human behavior to create concentrations of selected population to behave in a certain manner – young well educated – especially skilled population in central city locations that would otherwise remain economically stagnant and wither.

The pundits claim higher density urban living will solve environment and social ills.  Compact higher density urban living will reduce auto emissions, reduce oil consumption, create a lower carbon footprint, create less crime ridden safer neighborhoods, offer higher-wage job opportunities, reduce poverty and more.  “Place Based” community development will offer opportunities for improvement in “open space green infrastructure”, creation of walkable communities less dependent on auto transport and create small business economic viability due to higher concentrations of household shoppers to patronize locally owned businesses.

But will social engineering of where and how people live actually work?

For community planners this is a question that needs to be asked and answered?

Using the FDR experiment as an example, one can question whether this form of social engineering will achieve its desired and expected outcome.

Reading the Paul Keith Conkin book Tomorrow A New World: The New Deal Community Program will provide some background and stimulate thinking about the need for, and role of, government in shaping where and how people choose to live.

He chronicles the beginnings of the “back to the land movement” and its rise to suburban and rural new community planning.  He focuses on the rise of the professional city planner in advocating the” need for government [sponsored] whole new towns or communities in spacious rural environments” to house a growing population and to remedy social and economic ills.  The need for government involvement was based on the fear of private sector “inefficiencies and waste that would occur by non-government involvement in effort to provide housing and jobs to the mass of unemployed suffering the effect of economic depression”.

Conkin begins by summarizing early efforts of the federal government to provide housing for veterans returning from the Civil and World War I where federal government policy was formed establishing the role of government to provide housing opportunities, a policy that grew in stature through the great depression and end of WWII.

Documented is government’s experiment applying Garden Cities and City Beautiful city planning principles to what we today might call “Place Making”.

As the new communities movement grew over the years, the Department of Agriculture’s Rexford Tugwell (an original FDR Brains Truster) responsible for the program sought to intuitionalize within government a “long-term solution [for the provision of housing and geographic population distribution] through economic planning for agriculture with social control over the individual and his use of the land”.

His main goals were to “point to a new way of life …to promote industrial decentralization and to show what social and economic planning might accomplish if given a chance” using example governmental planned communities scattered throughout the US.

Sixty suburban new communities were planned as this social experiment.

The success of the FDR new communities program is a matter of serious debate.  Tugwell’s  legacy of federal government involvement in the provision of housing,  although scattered, remains encased principally in the Department of Agriculture, Department of Housing and Urban Development but remnants are found in other departments.

Today’s Place Based planning strategy is just more of the same, the current edition of principles discovered during the FDR era  repackaged to meet modern concerns similar to those of the great depression era, lack of individual employment opportunities, insufficient affordable housing opportunities and lack of individual economic opportunity all giving way to national economic turbulence and US economic instability. 

My study of history raises question of the ability of government via social engineering to regulate and incent human behavior for successful implementation of a federal land use policy directing where people live and work.

For government sponsored “place making” to be successful – individual choice, not governmental regulation and incentives will need to prevail.

Reading Conkin’s book will give the reader much to think about – the government’s role to influence individual choice in determining where and how we live.

For the most part, I’m a skeptic.  While I fully support urban revitalization much which, by necessity, must be completed by government action,  I have serious questions about social engineering policies to regulate and incent behavior that reduces individual choice.

New Deal Planning; The National Resources Planning Board

April 5, 2012

For every community planner and economic developer, the history of the 1920’s and 30’s hold special meaning. 

It’s the Hoover and FDR presidential era that provides the “birth right” of government regulation of private property land use and governmental aid to assist private business investment in new job creation.

As a student of this period of history and an avid follower of current political and economic conditions, comparison of history with today supports the claim that “history repeats itself”.

Planning and economic development was born out of necessity – the remedy of economic depression and the depilating financial impact upon a vast majority of the American population.

Marion Clawsen in his book New Deal Planning; The National Resources Planning Board documents the history of FDR’s attempt to introduce national cooperative planning to reshape the role of government’s effort to reinvigorate the depression economy.

Through several iterations of national planning organizations FDR’s goals of creating an institution within the federal government that would plan and program public works investments; stimulate city, county and regional planning; coordinate all federal planning activities with state and local planning efforts plus conduct various forms of research was rebuffed and eventually terminated by  direct congressional action.

While the difficult economic times paved the way for imaginative and innovative ideas that would better coordinate new and existing programs to stimulate the economy, this experimentation, the Hoover Employment Stabilization Act of 1931 and the formation of the FDR’s Nation al Planning  Board in 1933; work which continued under different names and authorities till 1939, never achieved the stated FDR goal of achieving a long-ranged plan “laying out a 25-50 year program for national development”.

What the reader will take from reading Clawson’s book is the dependence today upon similar “depression era” programs by federal and state government to remedy today’s economic recession.

Additionally, for those followers of federal government bureaucracy, it will easy to identify the legacy of the depression era government planning and research activities now embodied, but scattered, among various federal agencies.

Two messages from reading this book – First, government new deal planning remains, abet scattered, uncoordinated, unrecognized and largely ineffective within our current federal government.  Second, faced with national economic difficulties the federal government response is to fall back to strategies and program, much of which originated in the FDR era, many which history has questioned their overall long-term effectiveness.


March 31, 2012

Edward Glaeser author of “Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier” offers a convincing argument that future suburban and rural development will languish as the benefits of dense urban development force rethinking of the here-to-for generally accepted American lifestyle pattern of urban, suburban and rural development.

Glaeser a Professor of Economics and Director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at Harvard, is probably the most noted spokesperson on the role of cities and the benefits of dense urban development.  An out spoken critic of past urban planning practices that result in low-density suburban and rural development, he offers clearly stated reasons that compact higher density development will make significant contributions benefiting a new American city-centered lifestyle.

Convincingly stated, Glaeser credits urban density as the remedy for many economic, social and environmental evils.  He claims that “urban density provides the clearest pathway from poverty to prosperity” and future environmental sustainability.

His arguments include that –

  • City workers earn 30% more wages,
  • Workers are 50% more productive,
  • Increasing city population by 10% results in 30% GDP increase,
  • City per capita income is 400% greater,
  • City folks report higher happiness, and
  • Cities serve as global cultural & market gateways.

all which contribute to the clustering of commerce, intellectual skills and entrepreneurial innovation in cities.   He credits the attributes of cities with the unique ability to magnify human creativity.

Glaser advocates public policy that capitalizes upon the fact that cities along with their economic benefits, use less energy, have a smaller carbon footprint, conserve land, maximize governmental supplied infrastructures, and offer pathways for elimination of poverty.

To grow this success he suggests:

  1. Giving cities a level playing field – don’t prop them up – letting them find their own competitive advantages for sustainability.
  2. Eliminating limitations on global free trade that will increase city transport economics.
  3. Allowing enhanced immigration which increases city population.
  4. Increasing city resident population education attainment.
  5. Eliminating public school monopolies to obtain better education delivery services.
  6. Eliminating government redevelopment subsidy programs.
  7. Eliminating government programs that sustain “live in place” unemployment lifestyles.
  8. Creating consumer centric places which attract creative class residents.
  9. Reversing NIMBY’ism and status quo biases.
  10. Redirecting mortgage interest rate dedication away from single-family homes on large lots.
  11. Refocusing transportation infrastructure funding away from suburban expansion projects.
  12. Equalizing per person tax burdens to geography redirecting urban tax generation from suburban/rural geographies.
  13. Creating a carbon tax.

However while well-intentioned, absent in this analysis is comment on “what will the suburban and rural communities of today look like in this future?”

Will we create “ghost towns” and dying pockets of rural poverty, a trend now emerging especially across the Midwest due to globalization and productivity innovation of the US manufacturing economy?

Will we abandon traditional smaller towns which sprang-up along transportation routes when the rail and highway system dominated the movement of people and goods?

Will we incent or regulate out-of-existence urban sprawl advancing the notion that a better life is always available in the more dense cities?

Aaron Renn the “Urbanophile Passionate about Cities” blogger takes Glaeser to task on this vary subject in his March 25, 2012 posting.

Aaron takes an exception to the idea that only the denser big cities can, or should survive, and become the catalyst for this preferred future.

Personally, I subscribe to a more middle road position advocated by Richard Longworth in his book Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism. He recognizes the Midwest of the future will be populated with more ghost towns, as we move to a more centric form urban development functioning on higher capacity and speedier transportation of information.

This new globalization transportation mode – the movement of information – will likely require more education and innovation of younger workers, skills likely to be more readily available in urban areas compared to rural areas.

This plays well into the idea, supported by Glaser, that cities leverage and magnify human resources for community and personal benefit.

The future is clear under Glaser’s scenario. 

First, cities will “out shine” all competition for human and financial capital providing greater personal advantages than offered in suburban and rural settings.

Being close rather than farther is better. Suburbs will survive, as a personal choice, especially geographic locations with transport convenience to the denser urban cities with demonstrable advantages.

Bottom line – some additional ghost towns, some additional cities will depopulate over time into ghost towns and some additional economic stronger, yet unidentified, cities will revitalize.

Today, the questions before the smaller town and suburban planner and their local elected officials is which do we choose – do we take action to identify our true competitive advantages and leverage them to our future advantage or do we stick with our “status quo biases” and let time determine our future!

For me activism is called for!


February 6, 2012

California has always been a national trend setter.  It gave us the hippies of the 70’s, Silicon Valley in the 80’s and 90’s and tax limitations in the 00’s.

If being a leader is a forecast of the future, California’s repeal of its Redevelopment Agency enabling legislation in June 2011 may signal similar action by state legislatures elsewhere.

Could Michigan be one of them?

Governor Jerry Brown, under the authority of California’s fiscal emergency legislation enacted two bills (The Termination Bill & The Continuation Bill), “to secure funding for ‘core government services’ including fire protection, police and schools”.  His action bares the state’s 400 Redevelopment Agencies from conducting new business and provides for their windup and dissolution effectively terminating use of Tax Increment Financing in California.  The action did however, allow cities and counties that created Redevelopment Agencies to continue operations if they agree to make continuous payments to fund core government services.

Challenged (July 2011) at the California Supreme Court level by local government Redevelopment Agency sponsors, the court recently upheld the law. In its ruling (December 29, 2011), the Court held that “if the legislature creates a political entity, it can later dissolve it, baring specific Constitutional removal of power”. 

The Court ruling established February 1, 2012 as the terminal date for the state’s 400 Redevelopment Agencies.

This is a major philosophic change in practice of economic development.

California was one of the first states to recognize the need for special financing tools to eliminate blight, establishing in 1945 legislation allowing the use of a portion of property taxes to create public/private partnerships to eradicate blight.  It was the first state to use tax increment financing in the early 1950’s whereby taxes paid on the value of new development was redirected to pay for government supplied infrastructure needed to serve the new development.

Like almost every state, Michigan followed suit enacting similar legislation in 1980’s that gave local government specific power to establish a special purpose local government authority that can establish a tax increment financing district and redirect a portion of real estate taxes to a special fund, funds which are to be used to promote economic development or another specific purpose specified by the authority.

Today Michigan has over a dozen special purpose authorities authorized to use tax increment financing. In fact, to many economic development practitioners, the use of tax increment financing is the “back bone” of local government economic development efforts.

These special local government authorities and use of TIF funds is one of the top, if not the top, Michigan economic development tool to attract and incent new development. 

With the constriction of developer bank financing for project infrastructure today, economic development practitioners in almost every development project consider use of TIF financing for funding required infrastructure improvements needed to make the project happen.

Is Michigan in line for TIF termination?

For the past several years, this author has watched as university research and public and private “think tanks” have studied use of Michigan tax increment financing authority. 

There is no doubt that TIF has been used inappropriately in many cases, the most flagrant misuse being use of TIF funds for purchases and services that would ordinarily be funded by the operating budget of the local government.  Some example being the purchase of public works vehicles since they plow snow in the authority district, purchase of street signs both in and outside the district, replacement of street light luminary globes, development of a park next to the authority district to attract visitors, payment of salaries for the portion of time government employees spend doing their regular job in the special purpose district.

In my opinion call for termination of TIF due to misuse is inevitable.

However we must remember the original purpose of TIF was to provide infrastructure financing not to replace local government general fund budgeted expenditures.

Here’s why TIF in Michigan is necessary. 

During the economic good times land use planners and government officials could require developers of new projects to pay-for, install and donate to local government both on-site and off-site infrastructure necessary for their project.  Today developers are not inclined to do so.

If the private developer can’t or won’t fund public infrastructure needed for new development, the burden is upon Michigan local government to do so in order to support future new growth and development.

With revenue limitations upon local governments TIF may be the only means to effectively financing infrastructure necessary for new development.

There is no doubt in my mind that TIF termination will be on the legislative docket for discussion as Michigan’s financial emergency is no different that California’s.

My hope is that Michigan’s TIF returns to its original purpose “project infrastructure financing”.

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(For an overview of Michigan TIF’s see: Michigan Tax Increment Financing: A Primer; Planning & Zoning News, Dec. 2008, p.11-14).

(For a description of the importance of TIF in Michigan Economic Development see:  If Not TIFA, Then What?; Planning & Zoning News, May 1994, p. 5-8)


January 30, 2012

Innovation – like the” iPad”, you know it when you can hold in your hand but like “beauty”, don’t ask what it is or how to make it happen.

For economic developer practitioners and those who fancy themselves as entrepreneurship facilitators, innovation is important.  It’s economic gardening – the current government mantra for job creation as a means to reduce unemployment by creating high-wage jobs to improve household wealth.

Go to any bookstore business section and you will find more than a dozen titles, all telling their story on how you and your company or organization needs innovation to compete in the global economy and, by the way create jobs.

But more importantly, to the economic developer practitioner, is can we identify how to innovate and how do I get innovation to happen in my community.

This is where “THE INNOVATOR’S DNA – MASTERING THE FIVE SKILLS OF DISRUPTIVE INNOVATORS” will help.  Authors Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Claton M. Christensen explain skills that can cause innovation to happen.

With the notion that we can identify personal behavior skills that cause innovation, we can then apply them in a directed pathway increasing the opportunity to identify new products and services resulting in business investment and new jobs.

Let’s examine each of the skills and how economic developers may wish to apply them.

But first, we have to agree on a basic principal – innovators think differently and act differently….creating a curiosity that results in changed behaviors.

The good news, according to the authors, is if we change our behaviors we can improve our “creative curiosity” and creative impact.


Now that’s a powerful statement one that can be used to develop a community program to stimulate business innovation resulting in new business investment and jobs.

This is great news to economic developers seeking to create innovative communities.

If “two-thirds of our innovation skills come through learning – from first understanding the skill, then practicing it and ultimately gaining confidence in our ability to create”, than innovation can be taught on a communitywide basis leading to greater innovation and increased business investment resulting more and better paying jobs.

The behavioral traits –

 1. Questioning

Innovators are consummate questioners who show a passion for inquire frequently challenging the status quo.  They show a high Q/A ratio where questions (Q) out number answers (A) in a typical conversation.

 2. Observing

Innovators are intense observers – the world around them, customer behavior, new technologies, and new products and services.  These observations provide them insights into new ideas on how to do things.

 3. Networking

Innovators spend time testing ideas through a diverse network of individuals of varied backgrounds and perspectives.  They tend to seek out comments and reactions from a wide group of people that, at times, may have radically different viewpoints.

 4. Experimenting

Innovators are not just “thinkers” but actually try-out new ideas.  They test hypotheses and seek new information and continue to experiment to learn new things.  They hold that questioning, observing, networking and experimenting are discovery skills that together identify new ideas.

 5. Associational thinking

Innovators routinely see the essential features of an idea and make surprising connections across areas of knowledge – connecting the unconnected knowledge producing innovative business ideas.  Successful innovators are always “on the hunt” for new associations that will create combinations of diverse knowledge, experience and personal perspectives

 6. Challenge the status quo

Innovators believe in economist Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of “creative destruction” and thus actively challenge the status quo. Schumpeter popularized in the 1950, the theory of challenging the status quo reformulating conventional thinking by associating existing and new knowledge and technology thus creating economic innovation.  Innovators are unafraid or inhibited in rebuffing “the notion – because we did it that way in the past, we’ll do it that way in the future”.  They see “many things broken and want to fix them”.

 7. Taking risks

Innovators are “risk takers” unafraid of failure and actually promote failure a part of the process of experimenting to achieve success.  They feel personally responsible for “coming-up” with ideas and innovation solutions.

A Last Thought on Innovation and the Practice of Economic Development

Innovation begins with you.  You can change your behavior to become more innovative.

For the economic practitioner this is good news.

By asking yourself some simple questions such as, am I good at generating ideas, can I find  and “friend” innovative people, can I get myself and colleagues to “think outside the box” you too, can begin the process of being a better innovator.

If you find yourself struggling with “frank and honest “answers cheer-up, the authors state you can change your behavior and become more creative. 

This also holds true for economic development organizations which many economic development practitioners staff on a daily basis. 

As stated earlier, if two-thirds of innovation skills come through better understanding of behavioral traits that inspire innovation, this knowledge coupled with a program to incorporate change should result in new innovative ideas fostering economic development success.

The challenge before the economic development practitioner is not more business subsidies, tax forgiveness or other business aid but changing the communitywide behavior of individuals to become more innovative thus producing innovative business ideas resulting in new business investment and jobs.