Friday, April 16, 2010

Cool Cities being pushed (forget new urbanism, the key is jobs)

In today's Argus,there was a big hoopla about an economic summit that was in the county, and it sounds like the same ole song and dance was being bantered about there. The headline read that "Experts say Livingston County must focus on marketing existing strengths." I agree with the headline, but I didn't see a lot of that in this article. I saw the Richard Florida koolaid being drunk again. Remember Granholm's Cool Cities?

After graduating from college, Jon Porta returned to Livingston County because he could work for his father, who owned an independent insurance agency.

If he hadn't had a job lined up, Porta wonders if his future would have taken a vastly different path.
"I don't know if I would have come back to Livingston (County)," Porta said.

That's the answer right there. It's not new urbanism. It's not trying to be something we aren't and never will be. It's jobs. We're Michigan. We're Livingston County. We aren't Chicago. We aren't Royal Oak. We aren't Ann Arbor. We won't copy them, and should not even try to do so. We don't need to be any of those. Livingston County's strength is rural character, small towns, lakes, and being driving distance from cities, but further away from its influence.

He said the state's old economy based on automotive manufacturing that fueled Michigan's amazing growth is gone and isn't coming back.

Gilmartin said the new group of college graduates aren't sticking around in Michigan because they're looking for a lively, multicultural urban scene. He said 46 percent leave the state after graduating.

"They don't see the urban opportunities here in Michigan, and they're gone," he said.

That's wishful thinking from Dan Gilmartin, president of Michigan Municipal League. His job is to advocate for the big cities. First off, yes the new economy is important, but damn it. Quit giving up on manufacturing. Diversifying the economy doesn't mean throwing manufacturing under the bus. Secondly, I know a lot of people that left the state. The reason isn't for multicultural urban scenes. The reason is jobs.

He said county officials need to "think differently" to create a region that attracts young people. While many generations might be accustomed to making a long commute to work, he said the young generation isn't as connected to owning a car. He said many college graduates think a $400 monthly car payment plus gas and insurance "is a complete waste of money."

Pure Richard Florida Crap. The real answers of importance. Jobs. Schools. Crime. It's not building lofts in some new urbanism paradise. I'll let the census give you the population answers:

Population Estimate:
Royal Oak
2000 - 60,062
2008 - 55,618

Ann Arbor
2000 - 114,024
2008 - 115,299

2000 - 951,270
2008 - 808,398

Livingston County
2000 - 156,951
2008 - 182,432

Royal Oak, the poster child of Richard Florida new urbanism in Michigan, lost population. Ann Arbor gained, but that was pre-Pfizer, and they have an ace in their hole. UM. Gilmartian always talks about the young professionals, but what happens when they start families and their kids become school aged? Oftentimes, the people that move to Livingston County from elsewhere are people who settle in the county. The commute for some suck, but the schools are relatively good, the taxes are lower than Oakland or Washtenaw County, the crime is lower, and the small town and rural character is its strengths.

Gilmartin embraced the idea of a commuter train from Howell to Ann Arbor.

"I think it will light your economy on fire," Gilmartin said.

The train to nowhere! I went into great detail in that waste of money 2 1/2 years ago, and nothing has changed.

Still, Pape said the state and southeastern Michigan has the assets to turn things around.

"Southeastern Michigan and Livingston (County) has an awful lot of smart people," he said.

He said the county needs to figure out "what we do better than anybody else and market the heck out of it."

Now that's more like it. People like Livingston County's small town and rural character. It isn't like it used to be when I was growing up here, but much of the character still remains. Lakes, woods, rivers, nature. It's still there.

In order to move on past this economy, Livingston County needs to do what Livingston County does best, and not try to be what it isn't.


mrfeld said...

As I post this comment, I'm going to state right away and let you and other readers know that I work for the Michigan Municipal League on behalf of communities, large and small across our state. We are not, as you claim, just an advocate for big cities. What we are is an organization striving to have folks understand what its going to take to get Michigan's economy moving forward again. And first and foremost is creating the kinds of places people want to work, live and play in. And we say this not just because we represent communities and it sounds good, but based on facts I'll get to in a moment. You cite population figures to make your claim on how everyone is flocking to Livingston County. Well, lets look at another statistic that is even more telling, unemployment. In 2007, the annual average unemployment in Livingston County was 5.7%. By 2009 that had jumped to 12.1%. So just because the county had a jump in population doesn't mean it had a jump in wealth or job creation. Not to further confuse your own rhetoric with facts, but according to a study done by the group CEO's for Cities, 2/3 of college grads, ages 24-35 look for a place to live first and then a job. So we better have some good places for them to live, hadn't we? The point here is that if we want to grow jobs, we better create the kinds of places job creators are looking for. and we know from the market research that the people creating the jobs are looking for vibrant places to live in, and not just quarter acre lots with 2000 square foot houses. As for Livingston County's role in that, it is true that communities in Livingston County and elsewhere across our state have to look to their own assets first, but they must also do so in the context of their relationships with the broader region they belong to. No community or county can sit alone as an island and expect to be successful long term. Just ask Oakland County. No, economies are regional and when you look across our country and across the world at the most successful regional economies, those regions are all anchored by a successful core city. So like it or not, Livingston County's future economic succes is not only tied to its own communities, but yes, to communities such as Ann Arbor and even Detroit and you need to learn how to connect with them. For more, I'd urge to check out the facts from groups such as Michigan Future and leave the rhetoric for the politicians.

Dan said...

mrfeld - Welcome aboard.

Part 1 - I've heard the stuff in the Argus article for years, going back to a David Brooks speech I heard at Michigan State where I first heard of Richard Florida. That was in the early 2000's. Granholm's "cool cities" rhetoric was based off of Florida's "creative class" thesis (and a strong distain of blue collar values). Most of the areas, Ann Arbor excepted (as it rises and falls with the UM population), that were blueprints for that area, have not risen in population. (Even Chicago's, the midwest posterboy registered a estimated drop in population)

I agree that no area is an island. We're hit with the largely abandoned auto industry that the politicians give up on since blue collar manufacturing isn't cool anymore. NAFTA, GATT, and Most favored nation/normal trade relations status with China has killed us there, and that affects Livingston County as well as all of Michigan. (Oakland, Macomb, Wayne, Genesee, Jackson, Shiawassee all higher unemployment rates, but Livingston's is unacceptable in its own right)

Of the areas in Michigan growing, Livingston County consistency leads the list. Not every area here is a "1/4 acre, 2000 lt house", but it is more rural in character than the more suburban areas. People don't move out this way for urban areas. Many of us natives here, don't want Richard Florida style of urbanism here.

Detroit (and Grand Rapids to a lesser extent) is the anchor of the state. It's developed its downtown with lofts, casinos, sports, clubs, the arts, etc that Florida's thesis pushes. It's still dropping population. Why? Families don't settle there. Despite people starting families later in life, DINKS don't still make strong cities and economies because of transience. Families do because they are more apt to settle into a community. Those young professionals who move to these cities get different priorities when there's kids. Jobs is still one, but schools, and crime. Detroit (outside downtown, a few neighborhoods, Cass Tech, and Renaissance) fails right now in all three. Downtowns are important, but they don't make a city. Neighborhoods do. Livingston County has one strike right now, the same as anywhere else in Michigan. Jobs. However, crime is low. Taxes are lower, and people settle here. Neighborhoods are mostly stable in Livingston County. Schools have small issues at times, but they are competitive in this state.

Dan said...

Part 2 -
Yes, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing, East Lansing, and Flint impact Livingston County. They are important, and I never said they wern't. What I have said, is that we shouldn't try to be like them. However, we are what we are. We're not Ann Arbor or East Lansing and won't be, because we aren't a Big 10 university town. We aren't Royal Oak. We shouldn't try to be, because the imitation is never respected. We need to be the best Livingston County possible and concentrate on our strengths and improve on them so we are the best place in SE Michigan. Lower cost of living compared with Oakland County. Lower Crime than the city. Good schools for the taxes paid. Rural character. Close access to nature.

I'm aware of that study you cite. I'm in that 24-35 age bracket, and know countless others. Many leave the state because of one reason. Jobs. Many who can, stay in the area they grew up, or stay in their college town if possible. Some I know in Wayne County are looking to get out of one area for neighborhood concerns and property values, and moved their kids to Catholic schools. Others I know like the country and got a bargin on a house with room for their dogs to run around. The big concern is always jobs, and if they go elsewhere without a job, it's to look for a job.

It's not WALLY trains, roundabouts, or superficial structures that will turn this state, and county around. It's jobs, schools, and crime, and specifically jobs. Right now, the business climate in Michigan sucks due to regulations (even more than taxes), turf wars, and taxes. That needs to be addressed first.

You can call this political rhetoric, but it's no different that what the chamber speakers pushed. Titles, studies, and "experts" don't impress me. Results are what matter.

If I had to find a template that Michigan should build off of (never emulate, but learn from it), this is what we should look at. We're Midwesterners. We have our strengths. We should be who we are, and do it better than anywhere else. - The Heartland - Texas