The Urban Core as Regional Economic Indicator

The importance of core urban areas to a region’s economy is the subject of a post today from the always thoughtful Aaron Renn, who blogs at The Urbanophile. Renn examines data that suggest job growth (or decline) in a metro region’s core counties is a good indicator for the overall health of those regions. Renn argues that it’s important to keep a close eye on what’s happening in the urban core in order to forestall the kind of catastrophic decline we’ve seen in places like Detroit and Cleveland.

But he refuses to subscribe to a polarized vision that pits suburbs and urban areas against each other (unlike, say, Joel Kotkin). Renn writes:

4096645456_c149cbb7af.jpgDon’t let your city center end up looking like this. Photo: Bob Jagendorf via Flickr

It might be tempting to view the suburbs as the “bad guy” here. I
reject that view. In a growing community, it isn’t reasonable to
believe that all the new residents and businesses are going to land in
a fixed area. And clearly, despite an optimistic trend towards urban
living being back in fashion, the suburbs continue to have a hold on
the desires of large numbers of Americans, particularly families with
kids.

I want to bring the central city up, not pull the suburbs down. A
great city needs great suburbs. That doesn’t mean I don’t think there’s
room for regional solutions or other matters. But especially in a
struggling region like the Midwest, we need every part of a region to
understand its role on the team and bring its “A game”. Pitting city
and against suburb is like beggars arguing over table scraps. The real
competition is between, not within regions, on a global basis. And even
that competition need not be a zero-sum game.

If we start taking an antagonistic point of view towards the
suburbs, especially in regions like the Midwest and South with strong
suburban traditions and little political demand for pro-urban policies,
we’re just asking to fail, practically speaking.

Take a look at his post. As always, there’s a lot to think about there.

More good stuff from around the network: FABB Blog on the decline in teen drivers. M-Bike.org on the definition of "safe." And Copenhagenize on advertising in a bicycle culture.

  • There are different types of suburbs. I think that environmentalists should be:

    – in favor of building walkable streetcar suburbs, of the sort that New Urbanists have been designing for the last couple of decades. One of the best examples if Orenco Station, a suburb of Portland, OR.

    – against building freeway-oriented suburbs where it is impossible to leave your house without driving. Most suburbs built during the 1950s and 1960s are examples.

    – in favor of improving existing freeway-oriented suburbs to make them more walkable, for example, by converting shopping malls and strip malls into walkable Main Streets.

    It is much to simple to make blanket statements about being against suburbs or in favor of suburbs.

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