Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Inclusive Urbanism


http://www.citylab.com; May 22, 2018

Hello Everyone:

Yours Truly is back from a restful Memorial Day Weekend.  The long weekend was not entirely news-free.  There was the viral story of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, "losing" 1,500 children.  The children, unaccompanied minors, arrived in the United States without a parent or guardian, were taken into federal custody until they were placed in sponsor homes (i.e. biological relatives or foster homes).  The concern over the missing children is that they might have fallen into the hands of human and drug traffickers.  Technically, the ORR is correct when it said that they were not responsible for the children once they leave them.  However, the ORR has a morale responsibility to follow through by notifying the state and local Departments of Child Protective Services regarding their presence.  Further, the DCPSs, under the direction of HHS, to monitor the homes.  You do not "lose" that many children.  What is painfully obvious is that, in implementing the Trump administration's hardball immigration policy, no one had a clue about what to do with unaccompanied minors.  Typical.  Alright, on to revisiting the New Urban Crisis.

Recently, urbanist, co-founder and editor at large of CityLab; senior editor at The Atlantic, Richard Florida published his latest book The New Urban Crisis.  The book focuses on how the emergence of the creative class and the decline of the middle class has affected cities (nytimes.com; June 26, 2017; date accessed May 29, 2018).   It is now available in paperback (amazon.com; date accessed May 29, 2018) and his CityLab article, "Revisiting the New Urban Crisis," is adapted from the epilogue.

He begins, "A colleague who heard me speak shortly after The New Urban Crisis was published in hardcover approached me at a follow-up event a few months later:

You seem a lot more optimistic than you did the last time I saw you,.... What happened?

The question took Mr. Florida by surprise and he hesitated before responding to his colleague.  Then it hit him and he replied,

You're right,.... It's because because I've been traveling and visiting cities all across the country.

 He was genuinely amazed at how willing people were to admit their part in the new urban crisis, and how quickly they were able to come up with remedies to deal with it.

Over the course of Mr. Florida's career in urbanism, he has found inspiration in cities' capacities to adapt. He writes, "For the past 20 years, an incredible number of cities big and small have successfully transformed their post-industrial neighborhoods into vibrant hubs of culture and commerce, in a process that is still ongoing."  The cities worked hard to transform their downtowns and the surrounding neighborhoods; are now ready to take the next step, "create a more sustainable kind of urbanism that spreads its benefits more broadly--urbanism for all."

Richard Florida's goal in writing The New Urban Crisis was, "to try to nudge the prevailing narrative about urban development toward a more inclusive paradigm--to make equity a principle concern of economic development."  This is happening, right now.  A senior economic development professional told Mr. Florida,

For too long we've emphasized economic growth, and that has helped accentuate many of the problems we now face.  Our profession is called economic development, and that's what we should emphasize--not just growth, but the full development of our people, neighborhoods, and communities.

The move to greater inclusive development takes time.  For example, it took close to two decades to turn cities around, and it will likely take at least a decade or more to pick up speed.  However, Mr. Florida is "convinced that the shift has already begun."

This begs the question, "what will it take?"  It will require all of the participants in urban revival to re-direct their efforts towards inclusivity.

In particular, anchor institutions, i.e. universities and medical centers ("eds and meds"), have played a big part in revitalizing their host cities and neighborhoods, but all too frequently, the changes they generate only positively affect affiliated institutions.  Thus, instead of only providing subsidized housing for faculty and students, academic and medical institutions should also reach out to local residents afford more desirable neighborhoods.  Here are some examples.

Johns Hopkins University is one of a few academic institutions leading the way.  The East Baltimore Development Initiative is working with JHU to build housing for low-income families and senior citizen, as well ad graduate students in Eager Park.  In Columbus, Ohio, the Weinland Park Collaborative is working with local anchor insitutions to offer $3,000 in down-payments assistance to Ohio State University employees who buy homes in the University District.  In West Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and the University City Science Center teamed up to create affordable housing for community residents and university staff and faculty.

The "Eds and Meds" are not the only civic institutions and cannot carry the burden of generating more inclusive prosperity.  Mr. Florida writes, "Real estate developers, who have benefited so mightily from the urban revival and the subsequent rise in real estate values, also have have a major role to play."  He implores developers, "When constructing new buildings, especially in mega-developments like Manhattan's Hudson Yards or Boston Seaport Innovation District, developers should do everything in their power to avoid turning these areas into isolated pockets of wealth."  Sound suggestion.  Whether they care to or not, they will have to embrace practices such as inclusionary zoning and set aside a proportion of units as affordable.

In the San Franciso Bay Area, a group of for-profit developers have agreed to dedicate half of their total units as below market-rate (bizjournals.com; Mar. 9, 2018; date accessed May 29, 2018) in exchange for a quicker entitlements process.  Mr. Florida reports, "And in many places, developers have agreed to lease ground-floor retail to non-profits and small businesses."  Cities have a lot of other incentives to encourages these types of practices, "like allowing increased density, or using valuable public infrastructure like parks and transit to extract benefits from developers."

Richard Florida insists that "Tech companies must act as urban anchor institutions and better urban citizens, as well."  As they rapidly grown their urban footprints (citylab.com; Feb. 14, 2018; date accessed May 29, 2018), they are experiencing considerable backlash (Ibid; May 15, 2018) in tech hubs such as Seattle and San Francisco.  Tech companies no longer have the luxury to view their host cities as just merely interchangeable locations where they can hire talent, extract value, and move on to the next place.  There is so much they can and have to do.

Mr. Florida suggests, "..., they can work with non-profits and local governments to help finance and develop 'workforce housing' for all their lower-paid service workers, as well as affordable housing for loca residents."  Rather than create a private bus system, the tech companies can work with municipal governments and metropolitan transit agencies to improve the transportation infrastructure.  

More important, "they can work to transform the low-paid service jobs on which their offices, campuses, and knowledge workers depend into higher-paying career pathways."  The can function like the SAS Institute (sas.com; date accessed May 29, 2018) in North Carolina's Research Institute, "which instead of contracting out its cafeteria and groundskeeper workers, hires them directly into higher paying, stable jobs--practice that pays off in reduced worker turnover and more productive employees."

The long-term solution will necessitate shifting power from the federal and state governments to municipalities.  Over two decades ago, Alice Rivlin of the Brookings Institution makes a compelling case (amazon.com; date accessed May 29, 2018) for moving education, housing, transportation, social services, and economic development programs from national to state governments, whose leaders, Ms. Rivlin says, "are closet to the conditions on the ground."  Recently, arguments for devolution have highlighted the role municipal government can play.

Mr. Florida writes, "While top-down national governance tends to impose one set of choices on all of us, localism (citylab.com; Jan. 23, 2018; date accessed May 29, 2018) respects our differences."  Mayors tend to be more pragmatic, not partisan or ideological.  Mr. Florida observes, "Their policies are a reflection of what they feel will best serve the needs of local residents."  It is no surprise that municipal governments have emerged as a foundational political force in an era when trust in the federal government is absolute low point. "Between two-thirds and three-quarters of Americans express trust in their local government, compared to just 55 to 65 in state government, and around a fifth to a third in the federal government according to surveys by Pew (people-press.org; Nov. 23, 2015; date accessed May 29, 2018) and Gallup (news.gallup.com: Sept. 9, 2016; date accessed May 29, 2018)

Although the national political landscape remains incredibly divisive, devolution is something that can be locally accomplished at the bipartisan.  Mr. Florida points out that the most pressing governance issue of the century "is developing a new kind of federalism than can meet the needs of our highly clustered and geographically unequal knowledge economy."

Eventually, devolution is not just a simple matter of ceasing power from the federal government and giving it to the municipalities.  "It means making the best use of the complex vertical separation of powers among the federal, state, and local levels."  For exampl, transit and transportation investments can be administered by the networks of cities and suburbs that compose the metropolitan areas, or groups of metropolitans that make up the mega-regions.  Public or private-public housing investments can be tailored to local conditions--"detached houses and gardens apartments for more spread-out places; high-rise rentals for denser and more urban locations."

Richard Florida confesses, "Pointing out the dimensions of, and the potential solutions to, the new urban crisis es does not represent my mea culpa for getting the urban revival wrong, as some critics have suggested.  On the contrary, if anything, my mistak was that I sorely underestimated and under-predicted the strength, depth, velocity, and ferocity of the urban revival, and the unintended and unexpected consequences that came with it."  That challenge for urbanism right now is continuing the urban revival and make sure it includes everyone.

Cities are organic, never static.  They are ongoing works in progress, "always being built and rebuilt to fit changing needs and conditions." While the urban revival took more than a generation to accomplish and require the hard work of local participants--mayors, city councils, activists, labor leaders, urban designers, anchor institutions, non-profits, the residents, and most important shifting from "winner-take-all urbanism to more inclusive urbanism--" will take time.  However, this can be accomplished through hard work and close collaboration of local participants who understand the shared benefits of more inclusive urbanism