Economic Engines

The Economic Case for Free Bridges and Roads

People should pay their own way. It’s a maxim that many Americans hold near and dear. It grows out of our traditions of self-reliance and individual initiative. It’s such a strong belief, that it’s even seeped into the rules we apply to infrastructure projects. 

By this logic, a road, bridge, airport, museum or subway should support itself through its user fees, fares or tolls. If it doesn’t, it’s a freeloader, like a welfare recipient having to be “subsidized” by the community at large. READ MORE

If Cities Want to Succeed, They Need to Focus on What Makes Them Distinct

Have you ever noticed that while every company tries its hardest to convince you it’s different and better than its competition, every city tries its hardest to convince you it’s exactly like the coolest cities? 

This is easiest to see in marketing videos put out by various chambers of commerce and convention and visitors bureaus. If you happen to watch one that isn’t of your own city, you will immediately be struck by how generic it is and how it tries to sell you on a list of purported amenities and attributes we’ll label “conventional cool.” A list that includes things such as coffee shops, bike lanes, trendy fashion boutiques, startups, microbreweries, skateboarders, silk-screen-print posters, hip restaurants, tattoos, public art and so on. READ MORE

The Death or Life of a Sidewalk Ballet

When I first lived in New York City in the late 1980s, I was struck by how the proprietors of the tiny grocery store below my apartment on upper Broadway would hold keys for the children/guests/friends of nearby residents, as well as packages, notes and so on.

The late Jane Jacobs put a lot of importance on the practice. In her masterful and influential 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs wrote it was an example of the “casual, public trust” that underlies the “casual, public contact” that constitutes a rich street realm. This is great -- except shopkeepers don’t do this much anymore in New York City, nor do people ask them to. READ MORE

Do Cities Really Want Economic Development?

So many cities and regions continue to struggle economically. Even within nominally well-performing places there are pockets that have been left behind. Most of the have-nots in the current economy have been struggling for an extended period of time, often in spite of enormous efforts to bring positive change.

Why is this? Perhaps we need to consider the possibility that these places are getting exactly the results they want: Maybe they actually don’t want economic development. READ MORE

Faster Cars, Hotter Tech, Fewer Drivers

Since the Model-T, Americans have brought cars not only onto their streets, but also into their lives and their homes. Government has been handmaiden to this marriage, building millions of miles of roads, requiring vast seas of parking as a condition of development, and setting up traffic systems like stoplights and left-turn lanes that indicate paved thoroughfares are principally for drivers.

Like all relationships, the one Americans have with their cars evolves. In recent years, it would seem the nation’s long-term romance with the auto is beginning to wane. Stats from a recent U.S. PIRG report say Americans are driving less per capita, particularly young people, who are also getting licensed at a later age. Young people view cars more like refrigerators. That is, like an appliance. They want one, and for it to work reliably, but it’s less a projection of who they are. READ MORE