Economic Engines

Are Car-Free Bridges the Future?

From a distance, it’s beautiful -- white spears with delicate white strands holding up an arched roadway across the Willamette River. It’s only when you get closer that it hits you: no cars. There are buses, trains, cyclists and walkers, but no cars and no trucks. This is a big new bridge across a major river in a major American city, and cars were left off the invitation list. It’s probably the first of its kind in a century.

The Tilikum Crossing in Portland, Ore., is in a city and state that have been at the forefront of ambitious planning efforts for decades. Since at least 1973, when the state’s landmark growth boundary law was passed, Portland has made itself a denser, more urban city within a state that strongly prioritizes protecting both the environment and agriculture. READ MORE

Looking Back From the Future

The unpleasant reality for many struggling postindustrial cities and regions is that there isn’t an obvious turnaround in sight. For some whose lives are tied up in these communities, that’s a truth they simply cannot confront, instead turning to politician after politician promising magic-bullet solutions. For others, that’s a reason to give up hope and just write these communities off.

But there’s a better way, one that acknowledges reality while recognizing that the future may hold possibilities that we can’t see or imagine. READ MORE

Before Joining the Bike-Lane Craze, Consider This

The taxi driver taking me from Chicago’s Midway Airport to Hyde Park was unequivocal about what he thought of all the bike lanes Mayor Rahm Emanuel was installing across the city. He named an intersection and said, with his voice rising as he took a hand off the wheel and gestured outside, “I could stand all day on the corner there and not see someone on a bike.”

That may or may not be the case, but the cabbie had put his finger on at least part of the truth. Cities and towns all over the country, ranging in size from Chicago and New York to the small town I visited recently in Minnesota, are striping streets for bikes at an astonishing rate. It’s part of a sea change in how we view our streets and what they’re used for. READ MORE

What Cities Need in the Global Economy

The globalized economy is about the networked flows of goods, services, capital and talent. What hobbled so many post-Industrial cities’ ability to reinvent their economies is that they were not connected to these global flows. This lack of a connection has left cities like Cleveland and Detroit as “cul-de-sacs of globalization,” in the words of geographer Jim Russell.

Today, of course, most cities recognize the importance of connections to global flows and are working to make sure they are part of the right networks. One small way they do this is through conferences, both hosting them and attending them. I attended two recent global urban conferences, the Chicago Forum on Global Cities and the latest iteration of the New Cities Summit in Montreal, and got to see this in action. READ MORE

Blah City

It is no longer news that more than half of the world’s population now lives in places that can be classified as “urban.” The village and the isolated farm increasingly are things of the past. The massive urbanization of Asian countries, China in particular, stands out for its pace and sweeping nature.

It’s also true that not only has the world urbanized but that urbanity itself has risen in stature. People have returned to urban living. In books, television and movies, it’s seen as a place of attainment, where things are happening. The older parts of many cities, once abandoned, have revived with new dwellers and businesses, like dry plants blooming with much needed water. READ MORE