Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Nuggets of wisdom, interest, and of possible value

By Jim Vaughan, Senior Fellow

What better way to end 2014 than by scanning the clippings file and tagged emails in search of nuggets of wisdom, interest, and of possible value. Here are five random but thought provoking quotes you can use right away to make the case for making your city a great city: 
  1. On the importance of investing in arts, culture, transit and the like, my associate Alex Pearlstein shared this quote by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi from a City Lab piece by Richard Florida—

    “When we make investments in arts and culture and sports and recreation, in vibrant public spaces, and even great public transit, those are hard-nosed economic development decisions.”

  2. On higher minimum wages, the states aren't waiting on Congress to act. Twenty-one states are set to raise minimum wages in 2015 benefiting more than 3.1 million workers. CBS News puts the increased earnings into perspective—

    “Those wage increases should translate into more than $838 million in new economic growth, according to EPI, as workers spend more money.”

    Meanwhile, Paul Krugman makes the case that we can pay fast-food workers higher wages. In a Business Insider interview he said—

    “When the minimum wage is as low as it is in the United States, there is hardly any cost in raising it. Almost all minimum wage workers in the United States are employed in non-tradable industries—production can’t move to China. We can raise these wages without losing a lot of jobs.”

  3. On pinpricks of change that enrich city life. When I was president of the Chamber in Chattanooga, a local IBM executive and future City Councilman, Dave Crockett, attended the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio where countries adopted a blueprint for sustainable development. He came back singing the praises of one of the leaders he met at the conference, Jaime Lerner, the mayor of Curitiba, Brazil.

    An October 22 article in Next City tells about Lerner’s book, Urban Acupuncture: Celebrating Pinpricks of Change That Enrich City Life and it’s packed with low-cost, low-impact solutions to problems not unlike those he advanced in Curitiba in the 1970s and ‘80s.

    I've made it a practice of saving mentions of Lerner over the years and here is the latest clip from my Jaime Lerner file—

    “We make the mistake of saying that something is not worth it if there is no proof to it. In fact, our obsession with measurable results has killed many a good idea. If only cities had fewer peddlers of complexity and more philosophers!”

  4. On does design matter? James Howard Kunstler’s The Geography of Nowhere is a critique of the post-World War II built environment in America that led to everyplace looking like no place in particular. So what would our cities and suburbs look like and how much better would they work if we built as if design matters?

    Darius Sollohub, director of the New Jersey School of Architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, writes about the importance of good design in transportation in Intransition magazine—

    “Does design matter? Of course it does. When design succeeds, it can boost the economy and provide a distinct style recognizable to future generations. And when we design exceedingly well, we build classics that deflect the wrecking ball to become timeless.”

  5. On finding a place to park. Baylor University in Waco, Texas opened its new on-campus, riverfront football stadium in September to much acclaim. The only criticism of the 45,000-seat stadium was that only 2,500 on-site parking spaces were available. Fans could park on campus and downtown and walk or ride shuttles to the game.

    “I was wanting to show you pictures of massive traffic problems, but there were none,” said Police Chief Brent Stroman.” As expected, the inventory of parking in downtown and on campus was more than enough to accommodate the capacity crowd. The Baylor-Waco experience is just the latest example that parking is not the problem it’s made out to be. Project for Public Spaces says, “The hang-up on parking is an indicator that a community has no broader vision for itself.”

    The current obsession with parking is one of the biggest obstacles to achieving livable cities and towns, because it usually runs counter to what should be our paramount concern: creating places where people enjoy spending time. As long as the myth persists that economic prosperity depends on parking, local governments will continue to waste public money and distort the public planning process.” 
On behalf of everyone at Market Street, here’s to a prosperous 2015! We look forward to following your successes in the new year, and encourage you to follow us on Twitter for the latest thought-provoking community and economic development quotes, news, best practices, and innovations.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Growing Threat of Economic Immobility

By Ryan Regan, Project Associate. 

I recently finished reading the book Place Matters: Metropolitics for the Twenty-first Century, which as the name suggests, looks at how our quality of life can be significantly impacted by the place we live. Even though the book was written a decade ago, I couldn’t help but think that it could have been written yesterday. The book covers a number of topics that all center on the issue of economic segregation in major metropolitan areas. Put simply, economic segregation is the degree to which people of similar social class and financial well-being live amongst people like them, while disassociating themselves from all others. The authors highlight that where we live shapes our lives and future outcomes in ways that often go unnoticed. The very neighborhood that we live in can determine our access to job opportunities, access to public services (especially education), air quality, public transportation options, and a host of other basic life necessities. Urban sprawl has only exacerbated the opposite realities that face urban and suburban families when it comes to access to these aspects of everyday life. The book draws attention to the growing disparity between the rich and the poor and the resulting contraction of the middle class in the United States. Sound familiar?

Fast forward ten years later and income inequality and the associated threat to the “American Dream” are still public policy issues that command the attention of economists, urban planners, and politicians alike. There is plenty of research on the topic of economic mobility (that is, the ability to move up the income ladder), but little quantitative research in the way of comparing economic mobility across metro areas. A group of researchers from Harvard and UC-Berkeley changed that with a new study released earlier this year, and the results of their research are sobering for many major metropolitan areas. The joint Equality of Opportunity Project looks at the geographic dispersion of economic mobility in the United States, especially as it relates to children. Researchers looked at the income records of millions of children and their parents over time in order to project the likelihood that a child born into a family in the bottom quintile of the national income distribution would eventually be able to rise to the top quintile in their adult years. Their key findings show significant geographic variance in intergenerational economic mobility. The factors that were cited as positively correlating to upward mobility were 1) less income inequality, 2) better primary schools, 3) greater social capital, 4) greater stability in the family structure, and 5) less residential segregation.

The “Bottom 10” list of metros that were singled out as having the lowest chances of upward mobility are concentrated in the Midwest or Southeast. While that by itself may not be that surprising, the composition of the list did stick out to me. Half of the metros are ranked in the top 50 of the Milken Institute’s 2013 List of Best-Performing Cities, so it’s not like these are all floundering cities with stagnant economies. Nevertheless, the list should serve as an eye-opener for these communities. Economic immobility and the disparity between upper and lower income classes are serious issues that threaten the competitiveness of these major metro areas.

The need to address the issue of economic mobility in the Southern metros in the Bottom 10 is only further heightened when you consider just how rapidly these metros are growing. Between 2003 and 2013, the Raleigh MSA grew by 36.6%, the Charlotte MSA grew by 29.9%, the Atlanta MSA grew by 17.8%, and the Jacksonville MSA grew by 16.7%. These rates are well above the 8.9% national growth that occurred over the same time period. In fact, population growth projections from the United Nations Population Division estimate that Charlotte and Raleigh will be the two fastest growing urban areas in the country over the next fifteen years. Rapid population growth rates and low rates of economic mobility aren’t a good mix. Improving economic mobility, while still accommodating population growth, is a challenge that Southern metros are collectively confronting and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Durham, NC-based Manpower Development Corporation, Inc. (MDC) is a non-profit organization that does a lot of research on the topics of educational attainment and economic opportunity in the South. Since 1996, they have published their “State of the South” report to draw attention to some of the issues that Southern cities still face as the region adapts to a shifting economy and workforce. Their most recent State of the South report was released just last month, and it focuses almost entirely on the growing threat of economic mobility in the region, including a case study of Charlotte, NC. As the MDC folks put it, Southern communities need to create an “infrastructure of opportunity that consists of a clear and deliberate set of pathways and supports that connect youth and young adults to educational credentials and economic opportunity.” We at Market Street Services couldn’t agree more. The link between educational attainment and economic opportunity is undeniable. According to a report by the Milken Institute on the effect of educational attainment on regional economic prosperity, adding just one extra year of schooling to the average educational attainment among employed workers with at least a high school diploma can result in an increase in real wages per worker of 17.8 percent. [i] Any effort to improve educational outcomes also needs to embrace the impact that early childhood education has on lifelong learning goals and economic mobility. A growing body of research demonstrates the link between household income and cognitive and non-cognitive skills in children and adolescents across various age groups. Children from households in the top income quintile are far more likely to score in the top third on key cognitive ability tests than their peers from less affluent backgrounds. The gap between the two is overwhelming with almost half of the children in the most well off households scoring in the top third on cognitive skills tests, while only 1 in 7 children from the poorest families are able to accomplish the same feat. [ii]

Improving the economic mobility of residents in major Southern metro areas (and elsewhere) will be the preeminent challenge that these places face when competing for jobs and talent. It is clear that there is no quick fix to this problem, but like most things related to community economic development, the road to future prosperity for these metro areas will go through the classrooms of young people who will help shape the region’s future.

[i] DelVol, Ross C. et al. “A Matter of Degrees: The Effect of Educational Attainment on Regional Economic Prosperity.” The Milken Institute. February 2013.
[ii] Reeves, Richard V. “Early Childhood Achievement Gaps and Social Mobility.” The Brookings Institution. September 2013.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What’s Going On?

By Ranada Robinson, Research Manager. 

The events in Ferguson, MO, New York City, and Beavercreek, OH in the news, on social media, and the subsequent protests have captured my attention – I’ve been almost addicted to reading news updates and thought pieces. The issue of the abuse of power by those who are charged to serve and protect and the issue of race in America have been in the forefront of my mind lately, not just because I’m black, but because I’m the mother of a black child who will one day become a black man. Reading article after article, watching news stations, seeing people of all colors and ages protesting the lack of indictments all over the country in all these cases, and listening to NPR just makes me want to belt out Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?

Why does this matter to economic and community development? One of the common issues that arises when I’m collecting public input in client communities is a concern that leadership doesn’t adequately reflect the diversity present in those communities, whether it is race and ethnicity, age dynamics, sexual preferences, income levels, etc. According to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community Project, one of the most important factors that makes a community a desirable place to live is openness—and the perception of residents that they can be a part of networks and feel safe and secure and hopeful in a place. When people feel represented and safe, they are more connected to their communities. When they feel more connected to their communities, they are more likely to be civically engaged. When more people are civically engaged, communities have a better chance of retaining their talent, developing leaders who represent a wider array of that community’s constituents, and eventually providing more opportunities for more people to increase the community’s overall wealth.

I’ve had my eye on these cases and others for many months now, and before the most recent events in the court cases, some interesting facts were published about Ferguson and its elected officials and other public servants. According to CNN, two-thirds of Ferguson’s population is black, and its mayor, police chief, and five of six city council members are white. Only three of the 53 officers on the police force there are black. With these dynamics—no matter why they came to be this way—it’s no wonder that the residents feel unheard and unrepresented. A couple of months later, USA Today published an article discussing arrest disparities across the nation uncovered using data from the FBI. In their review of the data, they determined that “at least 70 departments scattered from Connecticut to California arrested black people at a rate 10 times higher than people who are not black.” Amidst all the concerns that stem from groups of people, how can this particular disparity be addressed? President Obama released his plan to strengthen community policing earlier this week, and it includes promoting a community-oriented policing model. So what is that? Below are a few best practices of cities trying to restore the faith that citizens have in their safety and security.

Taking citizen complaints to foster trust and create checks and balances: San Francisco voters supported the creation of an Office of Citizen Complaints in the 1980s, and it still exists today and has increased staff capacity over the years.[1] The agency investigates every complaint that comes in about officers acting in a position of authority. The Office can make recommendations to the Chief of Police or go directly to the Police Commission in more serious cases. The Office strives to be a tool for the police department to improve public safety and efficiency while also ensuring that the public feels it has an outlet. It is important to note here that there exists tension between the police department and the Office as well as some tension among the public, who sometimes thinks the Office isn’t doing enough.

Developing relationships with youth and providing services early on: Here in Atlanta, the police department has the Police Athletic League (PAL) youth program that is a partnership between Atlanta police officers and Atlanta businesses to “use sports, education, and recreation to connect police and local youth.” The program exposes local kids to the city’s many activities and creates positive interactions to help them become productive citizens as they grow up.

Preventing crime by engaging citizens through understanding and training: In Cary, NC, residents are able to enroll in a 12-week Citizens Police Academy, where they learn about the operations of the Cary Police Department, including patrol procedures, the recruitment and selection process for new officers, and other items that citizens might not normally be aware of. The city also has the Citizens Assisting Police program, which consists of volunteers who do not carry weapons and cannot make arrests but who are able to help with security at public events and assist their fellow citizens with minor but necessary needs like car seat installation.

Proactively listening to citizens before major incidents happen: The police department in Minneapolis, MN has developed a Chief’s Citizens Advisory Council. The council includes both police department personnel and community members to identify and address pertinent issues concerning public safety, particularly pertaining to “community outreach and engagement; recruitment, hiring and promotions; training and development; and accountability.” The goal is to “help build a police department that provides exceptional police and public safety services, embraces a culture of respect, reflects the diversity of the people of Minneapolis and is committed to building relationships in the community.”

Retraining existing police officers: Yesterday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the NYPD will be retraining approximately 22,000 officers through a three-day tactics training course that will focus on topics such as “deescalating situations and interacting with people who are mentally ill.” This retraining is an effort to begin changing the relationship between police and the community and building trust.

Ensuring that police are members of the communities they serve: Boston Police Department requires city residency prior to hiring new officers, and one city leader would like to consider a requirement for officers to have lived in the city for three years. There are other cities (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia that have similar residency requirements), and others (D.C. and Detroit) that don’t require residency but offer incentives to encourage officers to reside where they work. I would love to see an analysis done to determine if police officers are more effective and less likely to abuse power if they are policing their own community.

One more best practice is rigorously screening and evaluating new police trainees. Of course, all police departments I’ve read about say that they physically and psychologically screen and assess their recruits. This process needs to be evaluated further to ensure that future police officers don’t have biases against various groups of people and that they have no inherent fears or negative views about groups that would change their approach in any situation.

In this turbulent time in our nation, it is vital that we develop and implement long-term solutions. In economic development, this is particularly important because diversity is here to stay, and communities that have embraced and even celebrate diversity are also communities who have or are building strong workforces. But none of these or any other programs will ever be effective if we don’t begin to cultivate and build respect for all human lives, no matter their color, culture, or any other difference. As our CEO J. Mac Holladay says from time to time—tolerance is not the answer because it still implies that who is being tolerated is unpleasant or disliked. It bothers me to the core when I hear people dream of a colorless society—it will never be possible to “not see color.” But if we as a nation ever join together to truly celebrate how colorful we are and seek to see each color for its individual beauty while also enjoying the rainbow as a whole, maybe we won’t have such disturbing and polarizing issues such as those we’ve seen this year, and #blacklivesmatter won’t be a trending topic on Twitter. Answers to such complex issues aren’t easy ones, but with thoughtful conversations, citizen engagement, proactive policy designs, fair enforcement of the laws stemming from those policies, and an underlying spirit of acknowledging that all lives matter, change can be made over time.

[1] Interviews: Best Practices in Community Policing.