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CEOs for Cities Blog

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    At CEOs for Cities, we understand that data are only a piece of the city success story.  We feel the need to make some clarifications in light of a blog post published on Gambit, a publication found at TheBestofNewOrleans.com, concerning one of many performance measurements found in our report City Vitals 2.0. The blog suggested that our report claimed New Orleans to be “the least cultured city in America,” ranking #51 among 51 metro regions among the country “when it came to ‘cultured cities.’”  That is not what we said or concluded. We have read this post thoroughly, as well as the comments, tweets, and emails that were sent regarding the blog post. We agree that if this was the conclusion our research was making, the entirety of New Orleans should have had the same reaction of disbelief and anger that was being directed at us. There has been, however, some very serious confusion surrounding this measure, what this report is, and more importantly, what it is not.

    City Vitals 2.0 is not a collection of “best and worst of” lists, like so many we see on the internet. It is not a set of value judgments. It is not a list of the best places to live. It is certainly not intended to be viewed in a vacuum. This report sets out four areas where cities have to get things right in order to be successful—talent, innovation, connections and distinctiveness—and offers a set of benchmarks to illustrate ways of measuring each of these characteristics. As Nate Berg explained in the Atlantic Cities article covering the report, “Rankings aren't always the best way to understand metropolitan success and vitality, and this report doesn't claim they are. Still it is interesting – and maybe even instructive – to see how metros stack up against one another through these various indicators.”

    Culture is not an easily quantified variable, and we wouldn’t dare claim to document such a concept in terms of one number. The benchmark mentioned in the Gambit post was not a measure of how cultured a city is, nor does it claim to be. It is a ratio of cultural events attended to the number of HDTVs owned within the city. This can have a whole host of different interpretations, but clearly the measurement comes down to the definitions and the data available for only two, very clear variables. In 2007, it was unambiguously the case that when we take a look at these two variables, out of the 51 metropolitan regions explored, New Orleans has the lowest ratio.

    Anyone that knows anything about New Orleans will associate it with a rich cultural history, including influential music, amazing food, and of course Mardi Gras. There is no denying that this resilient city has a rich, robust culture that is incredibly unique. To claim New Orleans to be devoid of culture would be—as many have pointed out to us—absurd and ridiculous, even disrespectful. We have not, and would never, assert this to be the case. Why, then, does it rank so low? Many have pointed out that Hurricane Katrina made cultural events far less frequent, and that the urgent replacement of furniture, including televisions, would explain this low ratio in 2007, just two years after the tragic event. We couldn’t agree more. Within this context, the small ratio makes much more sense—and that context is absolutely vital for interpreting the results of the analysis.

    The intent of our research is not to rank one city above another, but to provide a set of tools for exploring the performance of your city, and how you can work to improve it. We both understand and acknowledge that these indicators are not perfect:

    “We have compiled data in each of these four areas—connections, innovation, talent and your distinctiveness—to illuminate and better define the discussion of what it takes to build a successful metropolitan economy. There are, as often is the case, limitations to the data. Our indicators of talent, for instance, are good, general measures of skill but should not be taken to imply that only those with a college degree are talented. Nor do such broad measures capture the highly specialized talents that exist for corporate finance in New York, for movie production in Los Angeles, for petroleum geology in Houston or for logistics in Memphis. But these data provide a means for individual metropolitan areas to assess candidly their relative strengths and weaknesses against their peers nationally. While the data are the best and most recent available, they are still only indicators of the broad subjects we discuss.”

    Our world is one that is seemingly driven by numbers. Data allows us to understand and construct in a quantifiable way—which allows us to understand our position, track progress, and articulate measurable goals. It can empower us, help us understand our limitations, and put our focus where our efforts are most effective. All that being said, these numbers are meaningless without context. In order for any data to be useful, it must be framed in a way that is relevant to the people using it. Data are used to support a story, not make one.  

    New Orleans’ poor performance on this one measure in one year-–the ratio of cultural events to HDTV ownership  in 2007-- is an indication of how severe and lasting the impact of Katrina was on the city’s usually vibrant cultural life.  We would expect that subsequent data would show an improvement  in this indicator—and when it did, it would be evidence that the city is making progress this area.  And that will be something for the city to celebrate—as it should.

    In fact, we believe distinctiveness is one of NOLA's greatest advantages. Our other indicators show that New Orleans ranks in the top five in internet search variety, and above-average for all metros in our weirdness index (#21) and in restaurant variety (#15). Rather than fixating on any one indicator, we think cities should understand in depth their unique characteristics and build their economic strategies around them.

    The great amount of feedback that CEOs for Cities has received in response to the blog post shows just how passionate the residents of New Orleans are about their home.  Not only do they feel connected to the city, but also proud of its history, impressed with the strides it has made over the last seven years, and optimistic about the future. We  apologize to anyone who  feels that including this indicator in our report somehow  disrespected the legacy of the city of New Orleans in our research. We’re excited to see all of the progress as New Orleans rebuilds from this challenge.  Your story is an inspirational one that deserves all credit due. We hope that you channel that passion into action and use the entire scope of indicators in our report (within context) to support you in the development and implementation of your goals.

    Update:

    Since the preview edition of City Vitals 2.0 was being misinterpreted, we feel it is necessary to publish the disputed measures in their entirety in order to help explain our methodology and evaluation.  As explained below and in our full City Vitals 2.0 report, the Culture/HDTV report uses data drawn from SRDS marketing data (SRDS/Equifax, 2008).  It measures the relative consumption of mass entertainment and local culture by computing the “culture/HDTV” ratio: the percentage of persons reporting attendance at local cultural events divided by the percentage of households that had a high definition television receiver.

    Your Distinctive City

    One of the paradoxes of globalization is that as the globe has become more closely connected by commerce, communication and entertainment, the distinctive differences that distinguished one place from another have been muted by shared global commodities and multinational brands. Despite, or perhaps because of, the increasing sameness associated with globalization, the remaining local distinctiveness plays an increasingly important economic role. As Jane Jacobs said, “The greatest asset that a city or a city neighborhood can have is something that’s different from every other place” (Jacobs, 2006).

    Local differences in tastes can give rise to new ideas and new products. The insatiable fascination of Japanese and Korean consumers for ever smaller, more capable electronic devices (cameras, phones, computers) gave rise to clever and innovative new products that eventually paved the way for worldwide distribution of products with similar capabilities (Porter, 1990).

    The insights and original ideas behind many breakthrough business models emerged from practical experience gained in a local marketplace. In the 1960s, at a time when it was rare for most adults to exercise publicly, many people in Eugene, Oregon, took up the hobby of jogging and running. A small company formed to sell them imported sneakers. That company eventually became Nike, the world leader in shoes and sports apparel (Cortright, 2002).

    There are many dimensions to distinctiveness, and because each community has its own special strengths and characteristics, no single measure or set of measures can capture this adequately. Effectively measuring a community’s distinctiveness requires different measures for each city. Every city should look to recognize the ways in which their city is “First, best, or only” in some category (Waits & Fulton, 2003). Recognizing this limitation, we’ve compiled a broad set of measures that begins to assess how much metropolitan areas differ from one another, and identify which urban areas differ most from U.S. averages in a series of key behaviors, including consumption, culture, food and Internet searches. These indicators signal the ways in which communities can begin to measure and validate their distinctiveness.

    Culture/HDTV Ratio

    Ratio of persons that reported attending a cultural event in the past year to the number of households with high definition televisions, 2007.

    Individuals have substantial choice over the types of entertainment they enjoy. Residents of every metropolitan area have wide access to mass entertainment, like television, as well as a broad range of cultural events. One aspect of community distinctiveness is the extent to which people participate in local cultural activities (which vary enormously from place to place) as opposed to the passive consumption of electronic media (which offer the same set of choices everywhere).

    We measure the relative consumption of mass entertainment and local culture by computing the “culture/HDTV” ratio: the percentage of persons reporting attendance at local cultural events divided by the percentage of households that had a high definition television receiver. These data are drawn from SRDS marketing data (SRDS/Equifax, 2008).

    Overall, Americans are much more likely to report that own a high definition television than attend cultural events, such as theatre, concerts and museums exhibits. The ratio of attendance to cultural events to cable subscriptions is highest in San Jose, San Francisco, Rochester and Miami. In each of these cities, about a third as many households have attended cultural events as own a high definition television. The metropolitan areas with the lowest patronage of cultural events relative to cable viewing are New Orleans, Las Vegas and Louisville. In these cities, the ratio of households attending cultural events to those owning a high definition television is less than one in four.

    If you have any additional questions pertaining to the indicators, please feel free to leave a comment below and we will answer them as quickly as possible. Additionally, we are always open to suggestions that you have for improving our indicators in the future.


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    Photo via Institute for the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP)

    As Cleveland’s inner city population has yet to stabilize, despite a massive influx of young professionals, the city has turned to transit as a promising fix for the city’s problems. Transit-oriented development (TOD) is one of many ways cities are remaining competitive with outer suburbs for the almighty real estate dollar, and Cleveland has established itself as a regional leader worth keeping an eye on.

    According to Maribeth Feke, Director of Planning at the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority—the city’s transformative Healthline bus rapid transit (BRT) line is responsible for $4.3 billion in TOD. Feke said that TOD was calculated based on a half-mile radius. Despite the apparent success since its opening in late 2008, the $168 million project has its skeptics, though those critics are primarily working toward the same goal of revitalizing the city through transit.

    Ken Prendergast, Executive Director at All Aboard Ohio, believes the GCRTA should utilize rail and BRT more extensively in a few targeted corridors. “BRT lite is really just an effort to try and get some federally-funded streetscapes,” he noted. According to Feke, Cleveland’s BRT-planning incorporates amenities such as pedestrian islands and streetscaping in order to boost TOD. “Very, very rail-like,” Feke added.

    While conceding that the GCRTA has very difficult public constraints, All Aboard Ohio also espouses better stewardship of Cleveland’s already-impressive rail-based transit system. One such example is the heavy-rail Red Line which lies mostly in an industrial swath of the city. “It is hard to get new communities on board with these bad land-use models around existing stations,” he said. Prendergast suggests that nearby negative examples of land use, including the Red Line’s industrial surroundings, are more influential than further-away positive examples, whether they be Portland, Seattle, or even Cincinnati’s promising new streetcar system. 

    For Feke, there lies the rub—as it is politically difficult to coordinate land use around transit lines that transcend multiple municipal borders. “What we’re seeing today is that transportation corridors are regionally based, so we really do have to analyze existing land use and development patterns in those corridors, not to sprawl more.” Feke predicates her argument on Northeast Ohio’s inability to pay for further growing its infrastructure footprint while the regional population is stagnant and the central city is still loosing population.

    Regional planning, perhaps through a metropolitan planning organization (MPO) similar to Portland or Minneapolis-St. Paul, will be the key to coordinating land use according to Feke. Prendergast also championed regional planning, and went further suggesting a city-wide TOD community development corporation (CDC) could be an intermediary solution for coordinating between GCRTA and municipalities. Most CDCs focus on target neighborhoods, while some have more thematic missions, like affordable housing.

    While Prendergast also concedes rail is difficult to finance because of how Northeast Ohio’s low growth translates into poor FTA scores (compared to competing projects in high-growth areas like Denver that usually win funding), there are a few very simple fixes. These include embracing single-track operation on the outer ends of newly extended rail lines that would reduce rail construction costs, switching rolling stock on the light-rail transit (LRT) lines to bring down those expansion costs. Another is utilizing existing railroad corridors to provide commuter service beyond the existing rapid transit service that terminates in East Cleveland. Suburban Lake County (home to growing communities such as Mentor and Willoughby), he said, would score higher because rail realizes greater transportation efficiencies over farther distances. Job access, he argued, already exists along the railroad. Much of his vision is based on a 2011 Center for Neighborhood Technology study called Broadening Urban Investment to Leverage Transit (BUILT) in Cleveland.

    The easiest of all fixes All Aboard Ohio suggests is transit overlay zoning, which right now, only exists along the city’s BRT route. The transit overlay zoning was instrumental in streamlining Euclid Avenue’s revitalization, which has included over 4,000 housing units according to the GCRTA website. Many local planners deduce that the outdated housing stock may be the primary reason for Cleveland’s declining inner city population, pointing to 98% occupancy of downtown housing.

    GCRTA primarily sticks to BRT for its vision of how Cleveland could become a national transit leader, with several new BRT systems currently in the works, including a Clifton Boulevard/Shoreway line linking downtown and the extremely dense inner suburb of Lakewood, a HealthLine extension through the northeast inner suburb of Euclid, as well as preliminary planning of a Lorain Avenue BRT that could revitalize the west side of Cleveland. GCRTA’s new transit lines are largely based on a study that identified ten “transit propensity corridors” that will be studied as focus areas.

    Feke also offered hope for a W. 25th Streetcar linking Ohio City and Old Brooklyn, as well as projects that build off of the existing rail-based network, like the Blue Line extension in Shaker Heights. She called it “a way to strengthen what we already have and reinforce transit connections and better service.” Exciting rail extensions being considered include looping the LRT Waterfront Line around downtown’s east side, through Cleveland State University, and hooking back up with the existing rail network around Cuyahoga Community College, southeast of downtown. Another possibility is a western Red Line extension to better facilitate business connections around the airport. While Prendergast was skeptical of the airport extension’s cost feasibility, he praised the ideas of a W. 25th streetcar and Waterfront Line LRT extension.

    While All Aboard Ohio and GCRTA can be presented with competing visions, that may not necessarily be the case. Cleveland is lucky to have knowledgeable rail advocates who provide an infusion of ideas for transit planning, while the Regional Transit Authority must operate within the political reality of today. This could have been a much longer article, going into more detail on GCRTA’s plans to put Cleveland on the cutting-edge of TOD, including an ambitious program to build new or retrofitted rapid stations in conjunction with University Circle Inc.’s “Missing Links” program, or Shaker Heights’ massive “Van Aken District” Blue Line TOD plan. Likewise, it could have gone into more length on some of Cleveland’s problems, like an $8 billion hole in the local economy going toward transportation needs (cited in the CNT study) which the Brookings Institute concludes far outpaces the national average. $8 billion can support an incredible amount of retail or new housing, and fix many serious problems.

    The point, however, is that the regional transit authority and Cleveland’s rail advocates can foster a healthy debate while providing competing visions. More cities need a transit discussion like what is brewing in Cleveland. Here at CEOs for Cities we may be biased due to our Cleveland ties, but 10-20 years from now Cleveland’s rapid transit system will turn some heads while possibly serving as a TOD beacon that helps stabilize the inner city population, as Feke and Prendergast both hope. That can probably happen whether the priority remains building on existing rail infrastructure or trail blazing new long-distance rail service, as long as the city remains bullish on new fixed-route transit corridors.

    By Nick 


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    Photo via Flickr User DeclanTM

    Innovation in so many ways is seen as the key to driving economic growth in America’s cities. In fact, us here at CEOs for Cities truly believe that it is one of the four key elements that make up city success. As we all know, however, it doesn’t just happen on its own.

    One relatively recent phenomenon that we have witnessed in today’s world is the use of competitions as a format for generating energy and getting incredible results over a short period of time. Startup competitions are one such way that cities all over the country have attempted to generate an entrepreneurial culture and connect innovative, creative minds.

    Ryan Marimon and Brian Adams (no, not that Bryan Adams) are two software developers that are leading the charge in bringing this institution into the city of Cleveland, organizing the first Startup Weekend the city has seen in three years—which is taking place this weekend (March 8-10). They recognize the potential power of this competition to jump-start entrepreneurial energy within the city, even within a short time-frame.

    Participants signed up for the event give pitches to an audience, which then votes on the ideas they deem best. Teams are formed around these ideas and then have the rest of the weekend to create a startup business and finally present to a panel of judges. The winning team wins a prize (not yet announced)—but Marimon and Adams both agree that while winning the prize and creating a startup are great assets to participation, the real value is found in building relationships with other innovative, like-minded individuals.

    As participants in other startup competitions, they see the kind of people these events attract—noting that they are just the kind of risk-takers that drive action in places like Silicon Valley: “The people that take part in things like this are eager, energized, and creative. They see the big picture and are looking for a way to be a part of it. They don't mind trying things and don't mind failure.”

    Marimon understands the link between the competition and the future success of the city, explaining: “Cleveland is in need of fresh life-blood.  It has been struggling to pick itself up after the collapse of the steel industry.  We suffer from "brain drain" because young and talented individuals believe that they need to leave and head elsewhere to do big things.  By fostering entrepreneurship and innovation we will create jobs and opportunities  right here in Cleveland and make it a place that people want to be.” They are working to make the connection even stronger by ensuring that everything from tee shirt printing to refreshments are locally sourced. The event itself is taking place in the 5th Street Arcade, a historic institution located on the central thoroughfare in downtown Cleveland.

    While they find it important, however, this kind of grassroots organization is certainly no simple task. Building a wide net of players in the event is a sizable task for just two individuals. When asked why they were willing to put in the time and effort, Marimon’s answer reflected the entrepreneurial spirit the event itself attempts to inspire: “In this town things don't just happen, while in areas like Silicon Valley or Austin, TX there is so much momentum for things like this. It takes people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get the fly-wheel moving again. We are doing this because events like this are taking place all over the world, and there is no reason that it shouldn't happening here as well. When we can feel that we've taken a step towards engaging and connecting the next generation of entrepreneurs in Cleveland, it will all be worth it.”

    Building this culture of innovation certainly happens from the ground-up. It is the work of leaders, however, to support this work and be a part of a collaborative solution for city revitalization.

     

    For anyone interested in participating, use the discount code "CITIES" to save $25 on the registration fee! 


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    Photo via Flickr User Soupstance

    The focus of city revitalization efforts and policy prescription as of late has increasingly been focused on young professionals— in order to cultivate creative talent and innovation. Cities and municipalities have funneled money into amenities generally associated to the needs of this population, hoping to attract and retain these young people. Though this is generally deemed a vital step in creating a vibrant, economically feasible city, the effect of the transient nature of this group on the stability of the neighborhoods has historically been considered negative. The most common argument points out that homeowners have an incentive to invest in their community—primarily due to permanence and the overall neighborhood’s effect on property values.

    Young renters are on the rise, partly due to green housing, sluggish wages, and a preference for mobility within the job market. There are also a noticeable number of new renters to the market because of housing losses in 2008. According to Business Insider Magazine, the number of renters has jumped 16 percent since 2004— to include about 106 million people in America. Communities that were once almost exclusively owner-occupied, single-family homes have seen the rise of multi-family residences. Business Insider explains that the number of multi-family housing permit units “soared to 61% between the first quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012.”

    The behavior, consumer patterns, and desires of the millienials have been under much scrutiny as of late. The Atlantic Cities found that large amounts of student debt, the recent re-evaluation of the home as a permanent asset, and tighter lending standards have directly contributed to a paradigm shift in the choice of homeownership. As CEOs for Cities discusses in our report, The Young and Restless in a Knowledge Economy, this population is the most mobile—showing the aversion to committing to a particular area. The report explains, however, that as these people age they tend to sink their roots, potentially becoming the homeowners that anchor and provide stability to communities.

    Cities have always held the need to strike a balance between the unique needs of renters and homeowners. It is important, then, to understand what we can do to increase the stability of communities as the number of owner-occupied housing decreases. Inviting renters to attend block meetings and contribute to the success of a neighborhood is a win-win for everyone. Renters benefit from a network of concerned neighbors, and are more likely to stay in a community they feel is connected and striving for the same goals. Homeowners benefit from working with their more transient neighbors to make the community a better place. Getting younger community members (and more community members in general) involved in the conversation will necessitate using different methods for reaching out to individuals—which could include internet-based platforms as well as more interactive in-person strategies. Attracting renters into the conversation about the communal future of a neighborhood is essential to tethering people to a community.

    Offering neighborhood amenities that increase neighbor interaction is a way to enhance the relationship between a resident and the community at large, kickstarting some of these important relationships and the ability to co-own and co-create the future of the area.

    Shared Possessions

    Tools, yard equipment, and other functional equipment are things that many in the neighborhood need to use. Encouraging (or enabling) neighbors to mutually use and respect community belongings will facilitate the connectivity of residents. Also sharing of tools and lawn equipment enable to renter to maintain some of the upkeep on a house and yard—which can be a great asset in scenarios of absentee landlords.

    Shared Physical Assets

    Breaking down community isolation and encourage interaction is a concept that planners should be striving for, but in many cases has not be instituted historically over the course of the last few decades. Providing larger-scale community assets such as community centers, recreation centers, parks, community gardens, or even living space can all increase the likelihood of interaction and in many cases an increase in property values throughout the neighborhood.

    Shared experiences

    Community programming is a great way to strengthen identity, as well as get new residents involved. Having welcoming committees for new residents is a great way to initiate connections and familiarize new people with the neighborhood. Community walks, neighborhood clean-ups, potlucks, church raffles, poetry/art based events, and annual meetings all contribute to the strength of the community and the organization of the block club by providing a relaxed environment where residents can give feedback to the structured organization and meet other neighbors.

    It is healthy for communities to have a diverse set of residents—and the mix of renters and homeowners will become increasingly more successful as we find new ways to bridge the needs of these two groups and make our neighborhoods places that everyone would want to invest in.

     

    Written by Maria Agosto


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    Photo via Lanpernas Dospuntotzero

    Oppositional categories have been in existence throughout all of history: dark vs. light, good vs. evil, male vs. female—these are some of the usual suspects when we consider traditional dichotomies. It makes sense to categorize and label. We’ve been practicing taxonomy since before the time of Aristotle, attempting to organize the environment around us so that we can better understand, manipulate, and improve it. Categorizing in terms of two, however, becomes messy and can drastically oversimplify. The definition of dichotomy necessitates that a whole be divided into parts that are jointly exhaustive and mutually exclusive. There is nothing that fits outside the realm of the two, and any one item can only belong to one set.

    One of the more dangerous and pervasive dichotomies that exist in our culture is that of Us vs. Them. On its face, this opposition isn’t necessarily bad, except that it is an opposition—when we paint ourselves and others with broad brushes, we assume that the two are mutually exclusive and there is constantly tension and conflict. When we put this in the context of creating, managing, and recreating our cities, this (as we’ve seen through history) can be disastrous.

    A classic example in America is that of race. White vs. Black. This shaped our cities dramatically. We saw how us/them ideologies came into play as redlining practices concentrated race and then poverty in our urban cores. We used zoning practices to safeguard the character of “our” communities, which in some cases can be empowering, but in many ways also safeguarded against “them,” or more specifically the anxieties surrounding “them,” because by definition they must be different.

    In our political realm we see a starkly divided set of individuals who spend more time trying to preserve their ideas of the American Dream than they do actually ensuring its success. The paralysis of the system gets blamed on “those Republicans” or “those Democrats,” while our infrastructure crumbles, our middle class shrinks, and our people struggle to find jobs.

    There is nothing wrong or bad about having differences—in fact, diversity is a great asset to any city. When we only see the world in terms of us and them, however, we close ourselves off to a world of possibility and can in many ways sabotage the growth and functionality of our communities. Those of us responsible for making decisions, in particular, need to be cognizant of the harm we can do to the very people we are trying to serve when we perpetuate this ideology.

    A recent example exists in the argument concerning density. The urban/suburban dichotomy is a hot one right now, as we rethink the ways in which we plan our communities. I have heard plenty of anti-suburban rhetoric among the planners I’ve met, talking about “those people” who drive their SUVs and fly away from the center so that they can lead insulated, affluent lives away from the realities of the inner city. I’ve also heard New Urbanism touted as a conspiracy threatening the rights of Americans to chase their version of the dream and live comfortably. I’ve listened to advocates cry out that if it isn’t rail, it isn’t good enough—and people rally against the institutions driving economic growth in an area because they are afraid these parasitic entities will come take away all of their homes.

    Is there truth to any of this? Of course there is—because no one type of community, urban or suburban, is perfect. The problem isn’t that dense is bad or low-density is bad, but that they are not approached as ways to organize the built environment, they are approached as lifestyles that are considered completely different. When it comes down to it, though, what is it that we as Americans generally want? Safe neighborhoods, quick and accessible transportation, employment opportunities, entertainment, affordable living, functional infrastructure, good school systems—and like-minded people around us. Our job as planners isn’t to think through the lens of city and suburb, it is to create healthy, vibrant communities where residents thrive. Neighborhoods are not strictly “urban” or “suburban.” There is a continuum of qualities that make up neighborhoods, and a range of densities that encompass this continuum. While we can’t necessarily change the regulatory language, we can certainly start framing these issues differently and breaking down the dichotomies that inhibit compromise and complicate the decision-making process. 

    How can we do this? It will certainly never be an easy task—but we can start by starting to eliminate oppositional thinking. In a city, region, or even country it shouldn’t be Us vs. Them. It should be everyone working together to find solutions that benefit the whole. We need to stop looking at “other” as a four-letter word. We need to open our minds and expose ourselves to difference so that we can also see similarities while celebrating our uniqueness. It is essential that we look beyond our own immediate needs to understand the system of the whole and how our decisions can affect it.

    Because communities are made up of millions of interactions taking place spontaneously throughout space, within a diverse set of people with differing beliefs, talents, and preferences, it is easy to understand things in terms of us and them—because it’s difficult to be wrong. It takes a leap of faith to break free of our usual paradigms and open the doors for new ways of understanding and seeing the world we’ve categorized. When we do, however, we’ll find that possibility. Then it’s just up to us to seize it.


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    On March 1, 2013, listeners at the City Club of Cleveland waited eagerly to watch our President and CEO, Lee Fisher, unveil the secret sauce of City Success. You too can discover the recipe of the secret sauce by clicking here or above to watch the video. Enjoy! 


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    Photo via Jason Paris

    “Right now, in your community, at this very moment, there is someone who is dreaming about doing something to improve his or her lot,” Ernesto Sirolli wrote on the rebirth of local economies. “If we could learn how to help that person to transform the dream into meaningful work, we could be halfway to changing the economic fortunes of the entire community.”  For every dreamer, there is someone who can match a passionate idea with needed skills, resources, or networks. It is the nurturing of these relationships that hold the potential for real progress.

    Yet, it has often been difficult for someone with an idea to cross paths with someone who has complementary resources and interests. Too often, this disconnect has resulted in palpable consequences: aspirations gone lifeless, underused and uninviting places in neighborhoods, and an impoverished sense of community. 

    Matchmaking is a service often associated to websites such as E-Harmony, but by harnessing the power of crowdsourcing and social platforms in the urban sectors, these necessary resources can come into reach (and our communities can certainly benefit from finding a little bit of love). Whether connecting with someone on ioby to fund a local environmental project, Change By Us to create a link between resident and leader, or matching spaces with creative ideas on ArtHERE to crowdsource revitalization, there are an increasing number of tools that help to realize the visions we previously thought impossible by simply creating connections.

    In the case of community revitalization, there are many stories about art breathing life into neighborhoods across the country, helping organizations and communities increase vibrancy often with little resources. Surfing the internet, examples of light hearted activism like guerilla gardening and yarn bombing, crowdfunded community projects, and inviting pop ups and public spaces inspire people to take action. The dreamers Sirolli speaks of are not the exception. Communities are filled with people with aspirations to improve the quality of life, but who are often uncertain of how to do it, where to do it, if they’re allowed to do it, if they can do it, or who to do it with. So often times, they just don’t do it.

    ArtHERE bridges this disconnect in creative place making and community engagement by facilitating the matching of spaces and art. Using ArtHERE.org, we are empowered by a platform to put our ideas into action – whether you have a space or a creative idea. Using this idea of creating connections as a template for future collaborative action is just the beginning of the essential process of activating an underutilized, yet powerful resource: the capital of a community and its social network.

    ArtHERE: Connecting Spaces And Art from WEREHAUS on Vimeo.

     

    By Lauren Sinreich, Cofounder of ArtHERE

    ArtHERE is a platform for crowdsourced revitalization through the matching of spaces and art. ArtHERE launched in partnership with ZERO1’s 2012 biennial, Seeking Silicon Valley, in San Jose, California and has recently expanded to New York City. For more information, go to arthere.org or email hello@arthere.org.

     


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    On March 1, 2013, listeners at the City Club of Cleveland waited eagerly to watch our President and CEO, Lee Fisher, unveil the secret sauce of City Success. You too can discover the recipe of the secret sauce by clicking here or above to watch the video. Enjoy! 


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    The growth and popularity of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has led to growth in map availability with increasing ease of use. As more and more people become familiar with GIS programs, they can make maps for recreational uses. Map websites for the public include Greemap.org and Google Maps. Both of these sources allow the public to contribute points of interest to a community map, creating a new visual angle on civic engagement and crowdsourced data.
    Greenmap.org has a community focus emphasizing three types of amenities in an area: cultural resources, green living, and nature. Once a person or entity registers (for free), they can add a point by choosing from a huge list of icons, including: wind energy site, farmers market, eco-spiritual site, water recycling center, and many others. These icons are then plotted on an interactive map. Google Maps is another mapping resource that can be used to promote the cultural amenities within an area. The advantage of this option is the Google database of addresses, phone numbers, and directions, pervasiveness of the platform, and the increased functionality Google has been building over the last few years.

    These resources are incredible pieces of technology on their face, but the important question to ask when dealing with these tools in a civic capacity is how they are used. Here are a few examples:

    Eco-Tourism

    New York City has been able to increase its tourism through offering green amenities, pushing their own internal standards for sustainability. The creation of their green map identifies green buildings throughout the city, multimodal transportation routes and options, and natural amenities – such as kayaking along the Hudson River. Wendy Brawer of Green Maps enterprise is one New Yorker who confirms her city's eco-offerings—pointing out amenities such as amazing bike trails, the biomass-powered Liberty Island, community gardens and progressive initiatives such as Sustainable South Bronx. In this case, the open green map is able to capture and disseminate information about amenities that may not generally be associated with a particular city.

    Local Database

    The general function of maps first and foremost is to provide the community with large aggregate of specific location data, while simultaneously showing the bigger picture of the area. Local communities can produce a map calling attention to the negative aspects of the neighborhood to solicit solutions and ideas towards solving those problems. Excellent examples can include Brownfields or high crime spots. Illustrating the positive aspects visually can provide both long term residents and visitors to a community a look at amenities offered locally. Urban neighborhoods that have created a visual path towards sustainability have the additional bonus of attracting new residents.

    Community Involvement

    The process of map creation is one of selectivity. There are many ideas and perspectives within a group of local residents, and maps can provide a great visual tool for guiding discussions and involving the community in both planning efforts and showcasing what is important. Interviews, focus groups, and block meetings provide mapmakers with the details of what to include in a map.

    The Future of Community Maps

    While the expected growth of map-making formats continues, the app market has connected maps to specific topics too—from apps that allow us to find the location and information about parks in the immediate area to ones that give us access to interesting demographics of the residents of our neighborhood. As technology continues to improve, we’ll find additional ways to make maps and the data within them more useful—and hopefully more useable by cities, for cities.

     

    Written by Maria Agosto


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  • 04/10/13--08:29: City Disrupters
  • 154 years ago, Charles Dickens, in A Tale of Two Cities, wrote in part:

    "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
    It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
    It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
    It was the season of light, it was the season of darkness,
    It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."

    Those words could just as easily have been written today about the critical crossroads America stands at today.

    Today, there is a tale of two futures.

    One of foolishness and darkness; the other of wisdom, light, and hope.
    One of top down dysfunction; the other of bottom up change.
    One of self-important status quo; the other of creative reinvention and disruption.

    First, the foolishness, darkness, top-down dysfunction, and self-important status quo.

    Not long ago I moderated a panel at the Clinton Global Initiative, and the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson said something that really struck a nerve with me.He observed, “the problem with you Americans is that you spend too much time waiting for Washington.” 

    As recently as 2010 when I ran for the U.S. Senate, I thought that Washington D.C. was the best place to bring about change. But President Grimsson was right. I was wrong. Washington is not the place to change the world today. Today, if you’re not angry about what’s going on in Washington, D.C., you’re not paying attention. Our federal government has never been more dysfunctional. Too many of our federal elected leaders have driven themselves into politically partisan  corners and are trapped in their own rigid ideologies. Ideological purity has trumped common sense and compromise. Our federal government is going from one self-inflicted manufactured crisis to another, with no end in sight. Every day, Washington proves the old adage that the difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits. As one Mayor told me, “we don’t have the luxury of doing nothing, and neither should they.”

    In my position with CEOs for Cities, I have the rare opportunity to travel to a different city almost every week. And what I’m seeing is lots of wisdom, light and hope in our own backyards. The change in the world is coming not from the top down, but from the bottom up. It is what is called “change by us.” It’s happening in our cities where rubber meets the road and risk meets results. Cities are the new ground game. Tip O’Neil famously said, “All politics is local.” I’ve come to believe that “All change is local.”

    I find it particularly ironic that at a time when our federal lawmakers talk about the need for jobs, so few seem to understand that cities and regions have become the true engines of economic growth.  
    As Tom Friedman has noted, cities are “the job factories of the future.” And as Jim Clifton, the Chairman of Gallup and author of The Coming Jobs War has observed, “fixing America’s  biggest problems and re-winning the world can only be accomplished one city at a time.”

    The hope and wisdom that I’m seeing is not just in the brain hub cities you would expect like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Austin, San Jose, Portland, Seattle and Boston.
    I’m also seeing it in Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Memphis, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Des Moines, St. Louis, Kansas City, San Antonio, Pittsburgh, Miami, Greensboro, Richmond, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Cleveland.


    Most of all, I’m seeing the hope, wisdom, and light in a diverse new mobile generation, often called the “ young and the restless”(ages 25-34). They are moving twice as fast as all other age groups into close-in urban neighborhoods. The number of college-educated young and the restless has increased two to three times faster in cities than in the overall surrounding regions.

    In my home town of Cleveland, for example, we are seeing that exciting trend in many neighborhoods such as Tremont, Ohio City, University Circle, Kamms Corner, Edgewater, Old Brooklyn, and Detroit Shoreway.
    Among these young and restless are a growing group of remarkable new leaders who are reinventing cities and disrupting the status quo. They are city disrupters.

    They lean into the city and grab it. They don’t wait for permission and they refuse to sit at the kids’ table until another generation gets off the stage. They’re not angry; but they are impatient. Most of all, they see possibility where others see barriers and roadblocks.

    Everywhere I go, I’m discovering these city disrupters and changemakers hidden in plain sight.

    Jack Storey and Gina Prodan are two of many city disrupters throughout Cleveland who are not waiting for Washington, or anyone else. They are leading from the bottom up.

    Jack played guitar and sang in a Cleveland band called “Reasons for Leaving.”  Unfortunately, that’s exactly what every member of the band eventually did. They left Cleveland. Jack left in 2000 and for the next 10 years, lived in St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Orlando. But he always wondered whether he should return home and give his hometown another chance. So he did. Jack returned home and bought the house his great grandfather first purchased in North Collinwood in 1936 for $8,000 cash. He got together with some Afghan War veterans and decided to start a new organization called “Saving Cities.”  They raised $20,000 to make a film about so-called “rust belt” cities and the film had its debut this week at the Cleveland Film Festival.

    Gina grew up on the near east side of Cleveland and moved around for years, her sights set on a sparkly life in New York. One day, as she was ready to wrap up her Cleveland life for good and store it in a memory box, she heard a NPR radio story on brain drain in Northeast Ohio. It made her stop and think. She turned her car and her life around and came back home to Cleveland. Gina has made it her daily mission to help people make the most of Cleveland every day. She helps people understand how to navigate the city, to get out of their boring everydays and get into new places. 

    There are city disrupters everywhere.  Eric Wobser, who’s leading the renaissance of Ohio City ; Cleveland Councilman Matt Zone (my brother-in-law) who’s leading the renaissance of Detroit Shoreway, the neighborhood where the Zone family grew up in ;Jennifer Coleman, who founded City Prowl, an audio walking tour of Cleveland neighborhoods that can be used according to your own schedule and lifestyle; Dan Brown, who started a community garden on a vacant parcel of land in the St. Clair Superior Neighborhood; Rachel Downey, who is fast becoming a nationally known expert in placemaking, wayfinding, and branding that invigorates public spaces; Graham Veysey, who bought the Ohio City Firehouse and renovated it as a business incubator, coffee shop, florist, and his own company; Hallie Bram and Eric Kogelschatz , the founders of TEDx Cleveland. This year, they sold out all 685 seats in 24 minutes.; and Andrew Samtoy, the founder of Cash Mobs, a creative crowdsourcing platform to encourage people to go into small, local businesses and spend their money, en masse, to give the business owner a little bit of economic stimulus.


    Civic engagement is critical for a city’s success, but the stories that I’m discovering in cities throughout the country are much more than that. These are stories of a new generation,  reinventing and disrupting what it means not only to engage, but to lead.

    I’ve never been more pessimistic about the ability to make change from the top down, but I’ve never been more optimistic about the power to make change from the bottom up.

    On the ground. In our cities. Led by city disrupters.


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    Image via Civic Data Challenge

    Challenge Yourself: Use Civic Data to Meet Community Needs

    The 2013 Civic Data Challenge launches today at the Data Visualization Summit in San Francisco. The Challenge invites participants to turn raw data about civic health into useful applications and visualizations that have direct impact on public decision-making.

    Last year, the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) and Knight Foundation launched the first-ever national Civic Data Challenge. Winning teams spanned the country and included undergraduate students and nonprofit leaders, financial analysts and graphic designers, developers and coders. They brought new eyes, new minds, and new skill sets to the field of civic health to help make this trove of community insight more valuable and accessible to decision makers and the public. For a great recap of last year’s Challenge, read Fast Company’s Visualizing Civic Data to Make the Case for Civic Health.

    This year, NCoC and Knight Foundation are teaming up again to launch an expanded version of the Challenge. Exciting additions to this year’s Challenge include: 

    • Three Challenge phases--ideation, creation, and implementation-- to help teams come together to build entries that are responsive to community needs.
    • Grand prizes to teams that create exceptionally useful products AND work with community partners to successfully implement those tools.
    • The opportunity for participants to improve entries along the way with the support of a team of expert advisors.

    Submit an idea now

    The Civic Data Challenge is asking community leaders, government officials, developers, coders and all interested citizens to get involved. The first step is to submit an idea through the Challenge website, from April 11 - May 19. This ideation phase is an opportunity to create a collective brainstorm about what tools (apps, websites, videos, and infographics) can be informed by civic data and used to improve a community's civic health. These ideas will inform the parameters of the Challenge and teams will begin building entries to respond May 24 - July 28. Join at www.CivicDataChallenge.org.

    The Civic Data Challenge is supported by our launch partners at Innovation Enterprise who are organizing the Data Visualization Summit. DVSF is the world’s largest executive led data visualization summit and will be attended by Fortune 500 executives. The challenge is also supported by promotional partners at CEOs for Cities, DataKind, Data Visualization Summit and sponsors at Iron.io.


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    Photo by Flickr user James

    A number of entities gives cities in the US and abroad scores for livability based on a variety of criteria.  Use these resources to find out how livable your city is!

    International Rankings

    The Economist Inelligence Unit’s (EIU) Global Livability Report ranked Melbourne, Australia as the most livable city in the world in its most recent calculations.  The EIU bases its rankings of 140 cities, worldwide on “30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five broad categories: stability; healthcare; culture and environment; education; and infrastructure” (eiu.com).  Cities are given a score between one and one hundred and ranked accordingly.  No US cities ranked in the top ten, with Pittsburgh receiving the highest rank among US cities at 22. Read more!

    The Mercer Quality of Living Survey ranks over 460 cities worldwide.  Its rankings are based on:

    living conditions according to 39 factors, grouped in 10 categories: political and social environment (political stability, crime, law enforcement); economic environment (currency exchange regulations, banking services); socio-cultural environment (censorship, limitations on personal freedom); medical and health considerations (medical supplies and services, infectious diseases, sewage, waste disposal, air pollution, etc.); schools and education (standard and availability of international schools); public services and transportation (electricity, water, public transportation, traffic congestion, etc.); recreation (restaurants, theatres, movie theatres, sports and leisure, etc.); consumer goods (availability of food/daily consumption items, cars, etc.); housing (rental housing, household appliances, furniture, maintenance services); natural environment (climate, record of natural disasters) (mercer.com).

    Mercer’s 2012 report gave its top spot to Vienna, Austria.  Again, no US city ranked among the top ten and Honolulu, Hawaii received the highest raking at 28.  Detroit ranked the lowest among the US cities at 71.

    Monocle magazine’s Most Livable Cities Index named Zurich, Switzerland the most livable city in the world.  The magazine’s index takes into account some unique measures such as “’number of bookshops’ and ‘well-maintained swimming lakes’ as well as the usual quality of life indicators (like crime rate, infrastructure, and cost of living)” (newescapologist.co.uk).  Monocle’s list also has Honolulu as the highest ranked US city at 17. Read more!

    International Top 10 Livability Rankings

     

    US Rankings

    Forbes called Pittsburgh America’s Most Livable City in 2010.  The team at Forbes ranked over 200 US cities based on five criteria: unemployment, crime, income growth, the cost of living, and artistic and cultural opportunities (forbes.com).

    Livability.com is a website that allows you to customize the aspects of a city that are important to you and your lifestyle and find a place that will best suit you.  The site focuses primarily on small to mid-size cities across the US and allows users to search for cities by state.  It regularly compiles “Top 10” lists around different themes such as “Top 10 Foodie Cities,” “Top 10 Best Winter Vacation Destinations,” “Top 10 College Towns” and “Top 10 Cities for Book Lovers.”

    Areavibes.com is another online resource that ranks a city’s livability based on amenities, cost of living, crime rates, education, employment, housing, and weather.  Each city is given a score between one and one hundred.  The site compiles data from a number of resources, such as the US census, the Council for Community and Economic Research, and the National Weather Service, allowing users to search any US city or location of any size.  The site currently ranks Plano, Texas as the best place to live in the US.

    Businessweek’s America’s 50 Best Cities put San Francisco at the top of its list.  The scoring of 100 of the biggest US cities were based on “leisure attributes (the number of restaurants, bars, libraries, museums, professional sports teams, and park acres by population), educational attributes (public school performance, the number of colleges, and rate of graduate-degree holders), economic factors (income and unemployment), crime, and air quality” (businessweek.com).

    Artplace America compiled a list of the 2013 Top 12 ArtPlaces in America using what they call “vibrancy indicators”: population density, employment rate, percentage of workers in creative occupations, number of indicator businesses, number of jobs in community, walkability, number of mixed-use blocks, cell phone activity, percentage of independent businesses, and number of creative industry jobs.  The organization chooses to focus on arts because they believe in the “idea that arts-related activity plays a key role in contributing to the kind of quality of place that attracts and retains talented people and enables people to put all their talent to work” (artplaceamerica.org). Their top 12 cities, listed alphabetically, are: Brooklyn, NY; Dallas, TX; Los Angeles, CA; Miami Beach, FL; Milwaukee, WI; New York, NY; Oakland, CA; Philadelphia, PA; Portland, OR; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; and Washington, DC.

    US Top 10 Livability Rankings


     


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    Authored by: Michelle Connavino and Alexandra Malkin

    Photo by Flickr user James

    A number of entities give cities in the U.S. and abroad scores for livability based on a variety of criteria. Use these resources to find out how livable your city is!

    International Rankings

    The Economist Inelligence Unit’s (EIU) Global Livability Report ranked Melbourne, Australia as the most livable city in the world in its most recent calculations. The EIU ranks 140 cities worldwide, based on “30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five broad categories: stability; healthcare; culture and environment; education; and infrastructure." No U.S. cities ranked in the top ten this year, and Pittsburgh was the highest ranking at 22. Read more!

    The Mercer Quality of Living Survey ranks over 460 cities worldwide. Its rankings are based on:

    Living conditions according to 39 factors, grouped in 10 categories: political and social environment (political stability, crime, law enforcement); economic environment (currency exchange regulations, banking services); socio-cultural environment (censorship, limitations on personal freedom); medical and health considerations (medical supplies and services, infectious diseases, sewage, waste disposal, air pollution, etc.); schools and education (standard and availability of international schools); public services and transportation (electricity, water, public transportation, traffic congestion, etc.); recreation (restaurants, theatres, movie theatres, sports and leisure, etc.); consumer goods (availability of food/daily consumption items, cars, etc.); housing (rental housing, household appliances, furniture, maintenance services); natural environment (climate, record of natural disasters)

    Mercer’s 2012 report gave its top spot to Vienna, Austria. Honolulu, Hawaii received the highest ranking among U.S. cities at 28.

    Monocle magazine’s Most Livable Cities Index named Zurich, Switzerland the most livable city in the world.  The magazine’s index takes into account some unique measures, such as number of bookshops and ‘well-maintained swimming lakes,’ as well as the usual quality of life indicators (like crime rate, infrastructure, and cost of living)." Monocle’s list also has Honolulu as the highest ranked U.S. city at 17. Read more!

    International Top 10 Livability Rankings

     

    US Rankings

    Forbes called Pittsburgh America’s Most Livable City in 2010. Their team ranked over 200 U.S. cities based on five criteria: unemployment, crime, income growth, the cost of living, and artistic, and cultural opportunities.

    Livability.com is a website that allows you to input the aspects of a city that are important to you and your lifestyle in order to find a place that will best suit your preferences and needs. The site focuses primarily on small to mid-size cities across the U.S., and allows users to search for cities by state. It regularly compiles “Top 10” lists around different themes such as “Top 10 Foodie Cities,” “Top 10 Best Winter Vacation Destinations,” “Top 10 College Towns,” and “Top 10 Cities for Book Lovers.”

    Areavibes.com is another online resource that ranks a city’s livability based on amenities, cost of living, crime rates, education, employment, housing, and weather. Each city is given a score between one and one hundred. The site compiles data from a number of resources, such as the U.S. census, the Council for Community and Economic Research, and the National Weather Service-- allowing users to search any U.S. city or location of any size.  The site currently ranks Plano, Texas as the best place to live in the country.

    Businessweek’s America’s 50 Best Cities put San Francisco at the top of its list. The scoring of 100 of the biggest U.S. cities was based on “leisure attributes (the number of restaurants, bars, libraries, museums, professional sports teams, and park acres by population), educational attributes (public school performance, the number of colleges, and rate of graduate-degree holders), economic factors (income and unemployment), crime, and air quality.

    Artplace America compiled a list of the 2013 Top 12 ArtPlaces in America using what they call “vibrancy indicators”: population density, employment rate, percentage of workers in creative occupations, number of indicator businesses, number of jobs in community, walkability, number of mixed-use blocks, cell phone activity, percentage of independent businesses, and number of creative industry jobs. The organization chooses to focus on arts because they believe in the “idea that arts-related activity plays a key role in contributing to the kind of quality of place that attracts and retains talented people and enables people to put all their talent to work." Their top 12 cities, listed alphabetically, are: Brooklyn, NY; Dallas, TX; Los Angeles, CA; Miami Beach, FL; Milwaukee, WI; New York, NY; Oakland, CA; Philadelphia, PA; Portland, OR; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; and Washington, DC.

    US Top 10 Livability Rankings

     


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    Authored by Conrad Lumm

    Photo by Elliott Brown

    What do we really know about parking?

    Of everything that the responsible urban planner has to think about, parking can be the most vexing.

    Incredibly, no one knows how much of it there is in the U.S., which can make it tough to study. Part of the problem is that all parking is local, to paraphrase Tip O’Neil. You can’t borrow one of Albuquerque’s plentiful parking spots when you’re circling the block in Manhattan’s East Village. And although satellites can give us part of the story, it would take an unprecedented nationwide census (on par with the one we conduct of people) to deliver an accurate count.

    Furthermore, parking is subject to a dizzying range of local regulations, mostly minimums that force developers to build more than they might want to. As long as they don’t contravene Federal regulations for accessible parking, cities have wide latitude to decide what their complexion should be like, and that includes figuring out how much parking new businesses need.
    Unfortunately, these requirements are often boilerplate – according to Donald Shoup, 45% of all American cities just look at what the next town over did, and copy it. Since these guidelines were formulated when parking was seen as an unqualified plus, and they aren’t revisited very often, and outsized, half-baked requirements are a major problem.

    Is Houston really a parking desert?

    When MyParkingSign looked into parking minimums for a sample business type – miniature golf courses – we found that Houston requires 1 parking space per hole, while Phoenix, AZ requires 1.5 per hole plus one additional space per 60 sq. ft. of “game room” area, and Santa Ana, CA requires 3 parking spots per hole. According to stats from The Green Dividend, Houston tops the list of American cities for average vehicle miles traveled per day – it’s not a city that’s unfriendly to cars!

    This level of variation tells us that at least some of these cities are basing their requirements on something other than careful study – there’s just no way that Santa Anans need three times as much parking at mini golf courses as Texans do, and we’ve looked in vain for Houstonians who couldn’t find a spot at their favorite courses.

    So thanks to decades of planners treating it as an afterthought, we do know that Americans are drowning in oversupply – according to one of the few studies to look at nationwide stock, the U.S. has anywhere from a little over two and a half to as many as 8 parking spots per vehicle, and more is being built all the time, even as our overall appetite for cars dies down somewhat.

    The trouble is, having too much parking nationwide does have nationwide consequences. According to Elan Ben-Joseph’s book Rethinking A Lot, each car’s share of parking adds 10% to its lifetime carbon dioxide emissions (as well as 20% to its sulfur, and a whopping 90% to its soot emissions, so-called “black carbon,” which also causes climate change). Since 27% of the U.S.’s carbon emissions come from transportation, eliminating emissions due to parking would mark a serious step toward reducing our overall pollution load. It’s important to note that these statistics use an assessment of parking stock that’s toward the low end of the spectrum so total emissions may indeed be higher.

    Moreover, the more parking we build, the more we need cars to get around, and parking minimums can lead to development that doesn’t make sense.
    One EPA case study looked at a hotel being built in Long Beach, CA, the D’Orsay. The study found that following the city’s parking minimums of one space per hotel room plus four spaces per 1,000 sq. ft. of floorspace would have led developers to spend $2 million over and above their projected needs on parking. (Fortunately, the developers managed to obtain variances and in-lieu arrangements that reduced the final cost.)

    Still not enough information

    A lot of this story will be familiar to anyone who’s read Donald Shoup’s seminal book, The High Cost of Free Parking, an urban-planning chestnut if ever there was one. But holes remain in what we know. For example, even though statistics from the International Parking Institute fill in some of the blanks about how many private lots there are, there are still lots of questions:

    • Is new off-street parking construction accelerating or slowing? How about private parking facilities?
    • How much of new parking construction uses permits to allocate spots? (Since permit-only lots are typically closer to capacity than baggy, mall-like lots, this is an important statistic!)
    • Can encouraging turnover provide a substitute for providing more parking? How aware is the public of the benefits of higher turnover rather than big lot size?

    Sometimes, when you’re missing an important data set, it’s helpful to look at phenomena at a little bit of a remove, like when Google looks at “flu” searches as a way to estimate flu incidence, or when analyst Richard Aboulafia looks at the ratio of fighter jet sales to business jet sales to measure world peace.

    We can’t definitively answer all of those questions, but Myparkingsign.com is well situated to look (obliquely) at how parking is changing in America. As part of a report on parking and signage trends, we looked into what’s selling, what isn’t, and where the public interest is (as reflected in search statistics).  It’s as noisy as any sales or search data is wont to be, but still points in the direction of a few changes in how we park.

     

    What signs tell us about parking

    Time-limited signage and turnover

    In municipalities and on particularly crowded private lots, users occasionally have use for signs that encourage turnover by limiting the amount of parking time allowed.


    [What we talk about when we talk about time-limited signage.]

    • According to our findings, the median amount of time on the time-limited signs we sold in 2008 was 45 minutes – many customers bought 1 or 2-hour parking signs.
    • In 2013, the median time was 20 minutes, marking a noticeable drop in the period of time allotted motorists for short-term parking. Our strongest sales were in 10-, 15- and 20-minute signs.

    Although we only have anecdotes and customer feedback to go on to explain these trends, we believe that our customer base for these products has shifted toward small lots already at capacity, particularly takeout restaurants, doctors’ offices, and apartment buildings that need a loading and unloading area, and larger businesses that want to reserve prime spots near the door for quick purchases. In the case of retail, we believe that in a poor economy, when retailers in some sectors can generally expect profit per transaction to fall, maximizing turnover is one way to avoid “leaking” business and maximize volume.

    Parking permits

    An affiliate business, myparkingpermit.com, has seen a particularly rapid growth in sales. Part of this is due to customer-collecting – once a potential customer orders from us once, they’re likely to do it again on a cyclical basis, because permits are usually recurring expenses, bought on a schedule. But that shouldn’t affect search statistics, and “parking permits” sees 170% as much search traffic today as in 2008.

    For comparison, traffic for “No parking” (a popular parking sign in off-street lots) has risen by only about 12% over the same period.

    Over the past five years, our own sales volume has increased by several orders of magnitude, though this is due to internal factors like better search optimization, a broader range of SKUs, and more online advertising.  At the same time, though, between the size of the average myparkingpermit.com order has decreased by 43%, from $283 to $161.

    Put together, these two statistics – in conjunction with the overall growth of our business – tell us that smaller and smaller lots are opting to institute parking permits, even as lot owners are ever more likely to use permits in their lots.

    What it means

    Our report includes much more information drawn from our own sales, as well as a summary of the knotty economics of parking in the U.S. and a state-by-state map of permit sales. We think it provides a good précis of debates over parking policy and parking minimums. But what do moves toward increased turnover and the popularity of parking permits tell us?

    Parking lots are gradually losing their status as public spaces. Sociologically, this can cut two ways. Businesses and schools no longer see their responsibilities ending at the door – which will make for safer, more organized environments (where we’re more likely to find parking when we need it).  At the same time, more formalized parking arrangements can appear less welcoming.

    Since the Americans with Disabilities act was signed into law in the 1990s, we’ve seen parking undergo a radical transformation. Once a free-for-all, preferential treatment was granted a minority of lot users – sensitizing owners to the value of spots close to the door. There’s just no reason to encourage turnover on the periphery of most lots, so we think retailers and residential property owners no longer see all parking spots as created equal, and are starting to incorporate parking lot turnover into their overall business strategies.

    After all, there usually isn’t much difference between a customer who has an hour to buy and a customer who has two – but the difference between 20 minutes and 45 is much more important. A 2012 study in the UK showed that the much-rumored link between plentiful parking and retail success may have been overstated, too. Tighter, more organized lots are what we want as a sign company, yes – they help us sell our products – but we’re also citizens who want to live in a human-scaled environment.

    ***

    Conrad Lumm is a content director at MyParkingSign, an affiliate of SmartSign, which Internet Retailer calls one of the fastest growing e-commerce companies in America. Conrad is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and a former journalist; although he lives in Manhattan, he pines for his hometown in northern Michigan.


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    There are many great books you could use to kick off your summer reading—and those of you interested in urban design may be excited to get your hands on Pedestrian and Transit-Oriented Design—a joint project of the American Planning Association and the Urban Land Institute.

    The book provides measurable guidance for creating communities that are designed for humans. There are 28 features it promotes as “best practices,” divided into 3 groups—essential (orienting buildings toward the street, without parking in between), highly desirable (closely spaced street trees), and nice additions that may not be essential (“worthwhile” characteristics, public art, water features, etc.).

    We were thrilled to get the opportunity to talk with Reid Ewing, a coauthor of the book, to hear his thoughts on the book, on urban design, and how what the book’s topic fits in with the CEOs for Cities mission.

    CEOs for Cities: What sets this book apart from others like it today?

    Reid Ewing: Others are not nearly as specific, concrete, tangible. This book takes the subject of urban design into the realm of operational guidance. The photos are incredible. There are also two code examples for each of the features from local development codes—so the practice is connected firmly with implementation.

    We also utilize a different model of urban design. You usually get general statements like “need lots of open space,” with a photo. In Chapter two, though, we talk about qualities—perceptual qualities of the built environment. Urban designers have talked about these qualities for over 100 years and are deemed by designers to be important to people in creating livable/walkable spaces. Complexity, visual enclosure, outdoor rooms, transparency—the book goes through all of these qualities in classic design literature,  and then outlines them. Then, when you go through the features, it explains how that feature contributes to these particular perceptual qualities.

    I think it’s going to be an eye-opener.


    CEOs for Cities: What are some of the "low-hanging fruit" measures cities can take to create more walkable, pedestrian-oriented communities— particularly as budgets become increasingly sparse?

    Reid Ewing: Moderate to high density. It doesn’t cost more. In terms of the literature, it’s been seen that public infrastructure actually costs less to develop at higher densities. Spreading the cost of infrastructure differently and more cost-efficiently would be my first suggestion—and mixed uses.

    I also think it’s important to use the more expensive solutions, but just be selective to save on costs.

    One that is a bit glossed over is the need for more public space. This costs something, but can be provided (like it has been in NY) as a density bonus for private development. I think it’s important to remember that there’s a market for what we’re pitching.


    CEOs for Cities: CEOs for Cities embraces four basic concepts as the "recipe for City Success": Connectedness, Innovation, Talent, and Distinctiveness. How do you feel the topics from the book might fit into this framework? 

    The first quality in Chapter 2 is imageability. This is a Kevin Lynch term, and it very related to memorability—whether places are memorable, distinct, and have their own identity.

    Creating walkable places with a mix of uses and lots of public space and amenities attracts talent, the creative class—they like walkable, social interaction, higher density living, and require a critical mass promoting face to face contact.

    If you created a place (and there are some) that have all 28 features), that would be really innovative. Or even half of them, for most communities, would be innovative.


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    Oklahoma City’s urban revival is characterized by a uniquely Oklahoman strive to pull oneself up by the bootstraps. The secret to Oklahoma City’s success is simply empowering grassroots urban pioneers rather than hanging them out to dry.

    When pick-up trucks and Spring tornadoes coexist with a network of bike-share racks and arts districts, you have found a flexible formula that deserves a tip of the hat from older east-coast communities that already have a densely-built environment. The classic revitalization conundrum is either finding resources or passionate people but failing to connect the two simultaneously. The revitalization of Oklahoma City’s two major arts districts proves that OKC has been able to make that connection.

    Kristen Vails, of the Plaza District Association (an artist herself) explained her neighborhood’s role in Oklahoma City’s urban revitalization since it burst onto the stage recently. “Early on, it was inspired that this area was perfect for the arts and creativity,” she said—noting the 1997 formation of a 501c3 community non-profit as an important genesis. In 2003 City Hall played the role of dream-maker with a $2.75 million streetscape project (with a local match). Now in 2013, the focus is back on the area as the Planning Department eyes walkability enhancements in the Classen-Ten-Penn neighborhood south of the Plaza’s iconic NW 16th Street strip.

    Vails herself lives down in Classen-Ten-Penn and has led the charge for its urban resurgence, but also cited concerns about gentrification displacement, aspiring toward a more organic renaissance.

    “You just didn’t go down there at night, but now my friend Amanda lives down there and she does gardening outside,” Vails added. Crime has dropped significantly in this once-blighted corner of the city since the Plaza District’s resurgence.

    Oklahoma City is a city of two halves: north and south. The major focus of gentrification has been in a wide swath from downtown northward to the NW Expressway. A major emphasis of City Hall is to somehow bridge the gap, while historic preservation, infill, and cultural development activity is perceived as a “north side thing.” That is where Plaza and Paseo lie.

    In 2010 Travel & Leisure named The Paseo one of “America’s Ten Most Beautiful Neighborhoods” and the American Planning Association named it a “Top Ten Great Neighborhood.” Travel & Leisure summarized the neighborhood thusly:

    Once a thriving artists’ colony of Spanish Revival 1920s bungalows, by mid-century Paseo, two miles north of downtown, was plagued by gang warfare and prostitution. Unfazed, artists moved in, taking advantage of low property values, and brought things back to a state of homey bohemianism.

    John Belt, “Mayor of Paseo,” who passed away unexpectedly back in March, was almost single-handedly responsible for the district’s revitalization. “I think that Larry [Nichols, of Devon Energy which recently completed an 850-foot skyscraper] could have built eight Devon towers in the period of time it's taken us to fool with this little street and make it an arts district,” he joked. After his favorite deli in Paseo was forced out of business in 1976, he reactively bought and fixed up each property along where Paseo Drive bends up the hill between NW 30th and Walker Avenue. He filled each of these buildings with a hand-selected collection of 17 art galleries, 60 individual artists, mix of restaurants, bars, boutiques, and a theater company.

    Regardless of which arts district “OKCers” prefer, there is a growing consensus that a strong inner city requires more than a great downtown—it needs great neighborhoods. In the 1990s the entire inner city was forlorn and derelict, but revitalization efforts have helped bring some prosperity to these parts of the city.  Now the challenge is ventilating some of this redevelopment momentum to outlaying inner city corridors.

    Blair Humphreys of the University of Oklahoma Institute for Quality Communities likes the Plaza District’s role in a city-wide urban transformation. “It’s probably the best example of a mixed-use community in the city today. In fact, it is the only place you can take a date out for dinner, catch a show, buy a t-shirt, dance the night away to live music, have too much wine, and wake up with a tattoo.”

    This kind of critical mass exists in the Paseo and Plaza districts, and nowhere else in the state. In the revitalization of Oklahoma City, the story has always been about the success of the grassroots community. Their work has helped transform the city by expanding on a sense of community and a wide-scale elevation of local pride – both of which are exactly what successful neighborhoods are made of.

    ***

    Nicholas Emenhiser is a native of the southside of Oklahoma City.  Nick worked from CEOs for Cities in Cleveland while an exchange student to Cleveland State University's Levin College of Urban Affairs.  He earned his B.A. in Political Science from Oklahoma State University.


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    Earlier this week, June 10th, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Equal Pay Act being signed into national law. Women and their influence in the workforce have come a long way since the bill became law, but are women and men’s pay as equal as The Equal Pay Act would suggest?

    A recent study released by the National Women’s Law Center has indicated that there are large state-by-state variations on just how wide the gap is between women and men in the same positions.  Over the last 50-years the gap has narrowed to a national average of 23 cents for the same positions and comparable qualifications.

    Why does equality matter in the workforce?  Great ideas could be overlooked because a woman does not feel comfortable or equally compensated in their position and they do not speak out. Women are not likely to succeed if they are not treated as candidates for success.

    Innovations and positive company experiences are directly linked to equal treatment and could benefit a company’s profits and customer relations says Tony Hsieh’s new book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and speaker at our upcoming conference in Grand Rapids, MI, has a lot more to say about creating a positive company culture inclusive of all. Equal treatment of employees is a key to happiness and success. The focus should be on creating a positive company culture inclusive of all and profits will stem from this relationship.

    For more on Tony Hsieh’s book see our ReThink article and to collaborate on some great ideas while hearing from incredibly successful and influential speakers like Mr. Hsieh and Bill Katz, Vice President of Brookings, sign up for our conference: The Art of the Collaborative City September 29-October 1, 2013 in Grand Rapids, MI.


    0 0

    Earlier this week, June 10th, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Equal Pay Act being signed into national law. Women and their influence in the workforce have come a long way since the bill became law, but are women and men’s pay as equal as The Equal Pay Act would suggest?

    A recent study released by the National Women’s Law Center has indicated that there are large state-by-state variations on just how wide the gap is between women and men in the same positions.  Over the last 50-years the gap has narrowed to a national average of 23 cents for the same positions and comparable qualifications.

    Why does equality matter in the workforce?  Great ideas could be overlooked because a woman does not feel comfortable or equally compensated in their position and they do not speak out. Women are not likely to succeed if they are not treated as candidates for success.

    Innovations and positive company experiences are directly linked to equal treatment and could benefit a company’s profits and customer relations says Tony Hsieh’s new book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and speaker at our upcoming conference in Grand Rapids, MI, has a lot more to say about creating a positive company culture inclusive of all. Equal treatment of employees is a key to happiness and success. The focus should be on creating a positive company culture inclusive of all and profits will stem from this relationship.

    For more on Tony Hsieh’s book see our ReThink article and to collaborate on some great ideas while hearing from incredibly successful and influential speakers like Mr. Hsieh and Bruce Katz, Vice President of Brookings, sign up for our conference: The Art of the Collaborative City September 29-October 1, 2013 in Grand Rapids, MI.


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    Photo via Jason Paris

    “Right now, in your community, at this very moment, there is someone who is dreaming about doing something to improve his or her lot,” Ernesto Sirolli wrote on the rebirth of local economies. “If we could learn how to help that person to transform the dream into meaningful work, we could be halfway to changing the economic fortunes of the entire community.”  For every dreamer, there is someone who can match a passionate idea with needed skills, resources, or networks. It is the nurturing of these relationships that hold the potential for real progress.

    Yet, it has often been difficult for someone with an idea to cross paths with someone who has complementary resources and interests. Too often, this disconnect has resulted in palpable consequences: aspirations gone lifeless, underused and uninviting places in neighborhoods, and an impoverished sense of community. 

    Matchmaking is a service often associated to websites such as E-Harmony, but by harnessing the power of crowdsourcing and social platforms in the urban sectors, these necessary resources can come into reach (and our communities can certainly benefit from finding a little bit of love). Whether connecting with someone on ioby to fund a local environmental project, Change By Us to create a link between resident and leader, or matching spaces with creative ideas on ArtHERE to crowdsource revitalization, there are an increasing number of tools that help to realize the visions we previously thought impossible by simply creating connections.

    In the case of community revitalization, there are many stories about art breathing life into neighborhoods across the country, helping organizations and communities increase vibrancy often with little resources. Surfing the internet, examples of light hearted activism like guerilla gardening and yarn bombing, crowdfunded community projects, and inviting pop ups and public spaces inspire people to take action. The dreamers Sirolli speaks of are not the exception. Communities are filled with people with aspirations to improve the quality of life, but who are often uncertain of how to do it, where to do it, if they’re allowed to do it, if they can do it, or who to do it with. So often times, they just don’t do it.

    ArtHERE bridges this disconnect in creative place making and community engagement by facilitating the matching of spaces and art. Using ArtHERE.org, we are empowered by a platform to put our ideas into action – whether you have a space or a creative idea. Using this idea of creating connections as a template for future collaborative action is just the beginning of the essential process of activating an underutilized, yet powerful resource: the capital of a community and its social network.

    ArtHERE: Connecting Spaces And Art from WEREHAUS on Vimeo.

     

    By Lauren Sinreich, Cofounder of ArtHERE

    ArtHERE is a platform for crowdsourced revitalization through the matching of spaces and art. ArtHERE launched in partnership with ZERO1’s 2012 biennial, Seeking Silicon Valley, in San Jose, California and has recently expanded to New York City. For more information, go to arthere.org or email hello@arthere.org.

     


    0 0

    Earlier this week, June 10th, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Equal Pay Act being signed into national law. Women and their influence in the workforce have come a long way since the bill became law, but are women and men’s pay as equal as The Equal Pay Act would suggest?

    A recent study released by the National Women’s Law Center has indicated that there are large state-by-state variations on just how wide the gap is between women and men in the same positions.  Over the last 50-years the gap has narrowed to a national average of 23 cents for the same positions and comparable qualifications.

    Why does equality matter in the workforce?  Great ideas could be overlooked because a woman does not feel comfortable or equally compensated in their position and they do not speak out. Women are not likely to succeed if they are not treated as candidates for success.

    Innovations and positive company experiences are directly linked to equal treatment and could benefit a company’s profits and customer relations says Tony Hsieh’s new book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and speaker at our upcoming conference in Grand Rapids, MI, has a lot more to say about creating a positive company culture inclusive of all. Equal treatment of employees is a key to happiness and success. The focus should be on creating a positive company culture inclusive of all and profits will stem from this relationship.

    For more on Tony Hsieh’s book see our ReThink article and to collaborate on some great ideas while hearing from incredibly successful and influential speakers like Mr. Hsieh and Bruce Katz, Vice President of Brookings, sign up for our conference: The Art of the Collaborative City September 29-October 1, 2013 in Grand Rapids, MI.

    ***

    Valerie Lightner is a CEOs for Cities Summer Success Fellow. Valerie is a Junior at Kenyon College in central Ohio, majoring in Anthropology with a minor in History and a concentration in Women’s and Gender Studies. She was raised on the east side of Cleveland and is, of course, very passionate about her Cleveland teams. She also loves blues music, animals, and city exploration adventures. This upcoming school year she is excited to embark on her first international adventure, studying abroad in Denmark and England. Valerie hopes to continue her work in non-profits after graduation, potentially moving in the direction of social activism in urban centers.


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