Economic Engines

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

The Rage of Those Left Behind

The middle class has been getting a lot of attention lately. In May, The Atlantic described the “middle-class shame” of half of Americans being unable to come up with $400 in an emergency. A recent Pew Research Center study found the middle class in decline in almost nine out of 10 metro areas. And there is increasing talk of an America in which the upper 20 percent are doing well, while middle-income Americans, like lower-income ones, are under intensifying economic pressure.

The response of some is to deny that things are really that bad, to point to positive developments here or there, or to defend the same policies the parties have been pushing in recent years: more stimulus spending, more free-trade agreements, looser immigration control and so on. READ MORE

Immigration and Income Inequality

As a man of the left who sees fighting inequality as his central political mission, is it surprising that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has made welcoming illegal immigrants in his city a top priority?

An estimated half-million undocumented immigrants in New York City, and 11 million across the country, work at generally low-wage jobs with few rights. Giving them some protection from deportation, along with quasi-legal status, will help them build lives in the U.S., even doing such things as “joining the PTA,” as one de Blasio aide put it to me. READ MORE