Economic Engines

What Jane Jacobs Missed

This originally appeared on Common Edge, a nonprofit website about architecture.

Not far from Jane Jacob’s famed home on Hudson Street in Greenwich Village, and the White Horse tavern, and her famous street ballet, lies the West Fourth subway stop at 6th Avenue and 4th Street. It’s a massive thing, one of the largest in the entire system, with eight tracks across four platforms on two levels. Seven subway lines -- the A, B, C, D, E, F and M -- connect there, and the station pumps thousands of people per hour onto the streets of the quaint village. This stop, and the trains and tunnels it leads to, are crucial to how Greenwich Village functions. READ MORE

De-Industrialization and the Displaced Worker

In George O. Smith’s science fiction short story “Pandora’s Millions,” society collapses when the invention of a “matter replicator,” like the ones from Star Trek, instantly renders most of the economy, and money itself, obsolete. Being a short story, this is resolved quickly with the invention of a substance that can’t be duplicated, followed by rebuilding the economy and society around services. 

Real life doesn’t always recover so quickly from disruptions, as we are finding out. READ MORE

From 'Her' to 'Mr. Robot': Movies and TV Make Public Transit Hip

I recently pulled down from my bookshelves a battered old paperback, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, that ’70s classic by Robert Pirsig that attempts to bridge the chasm that existed in those days between science and technology on one side and art and spirituality on the other. This was a time before the Internet and billionaire nerds wearing T-shirts and colorful socks. Scientists wore crewcuts; only hippies had long hair.

This book gained much of its power by looking at the lines we draw and the categories we put things in, often unconsciously. It still reads well, except for one moment where Pirsig reveals an unexamined assumption of his own. READ MORE

Should Economic Development Focus on People or Places?

There’s a raging debate about whether the focus of our economic development efforts should be on people or on places. That is, should we make investments in people, hoping to see them succeed regardless of where they end up? Or should we focus on investments in particular cities, towns and rural areas in order to bring jobs and growth, thus helping the people who live there?

Many in the know think that the focus should be on people. Rather than trying to resurrect struggling locales with various speculative endeavors, they think we should invest more in things like education. I myself have critiqued the place-based economic development strategy of trying to stop the so-called brain drain. READ MORE

When Height's Not Right for Urban Planning

Kitsilano, a lovely old neighborhood in Vancouver, British Columbia, looks much the same as it did a century ago when it was designed around a streetcar line. It still has enormous homes perched on lawns with alleys in the back, all within sight of downtown’s shimmering skyscrapers.

But unlike in 1930, when the neighborhood was home to a population of about 28,000, a lot more people live in Kitsilano now. By 2011, about 41,000 were living there. With family sizes smaller, the number of residences has increased by an even larger percentage. But just where are these new people and their homes if Kitsilano looks largely unchanged? READ MORE