Friday, January 31, 2014

Guerrilla Geographies of Artisanal Toast

Gentrification of urban industrial food space at Pacific Standard magazine.

Theme: Globalization and urban geography.

Subject Article: "Foodie frenzy helps push up San Francisco industrial values."

Other Links: 1. "A Toast Story."
2. "Buns, Germs and Steel."
3. "Gentrification of Work in the City."
4. "Rebecca Solnit: Resisting Monoculture."

Postscript: Much more going on in the story by John Gravois than paying $4 for artisanal toast in San Francisco. The source of the trend, Trouble, reveals the social technologies underwriting a global labor market. Bowling with strangers:

If Trouble’s toast itself made instant sense to me, it was less clear how a willfully obscure coffee shop with barely any indoor seating in a cold, inconvenient neighborhood could have been such a successful launch pad for a food trend. In some ways, the shop seemed to make itself downright difficult to like: It serves no decaf, no non-fat milk, no large drinks, and no espressos to go. On Yelp, several reviewers report having been scolded by baristas for trying to take pictures inside the shop with their phones. (“I better not see that up on Instagram!” one reportedly shouted.)

Nevertheless, most people really seem to love Trouble. On my second visit to the shop, there was a steady line of customers out the door. After receiving their orders, they clustered outside to drink their coffees and eat their toast. With no tables and chairs to allow them to pair off, they looked more like neighbors at a block party than customers at a café. And perhaps most remarkably for San Francisco, none of them had their phones out. ...

... At first, Carrelli explained Trouble as a kind of sociological experiment in engineering spontaneous communication between strangers. She even conducted field research, she says, before opening the shop. “I did a study in New York and San Francisco, standing on the street holding a sandwich, saying hello to people. No one would talk to me. But if I stayed at that same street corner and I was holding a coconut? People would engage,” she said. “I wrote down exactly how many people talked to me.”

Greater density won't catalyze innovation unless you have a coconut.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The White Flight Myth

Save the place, kill the people at Pacific Standard magazine.

Theme: Migration theory and urban planning.

Subject Article: "White Flight in England? White attraction rather than repulsion seems to be the story."

Other Links: 1. "Mapping 60 Years of White Flight, Brain Drain and American Migration."
2. "Migration as a Strategy for Household Finance: A Research Agenda on Remittances, Payments, and Development."

Postscript: There exists an overtly stated link between quality of the built environment and migration. Walkable, dense, and diverse development will prevent people from leaving. This perspective is at odds with migration scholarship.Speaking from professional firsthand experience, urban planners and developers are ignorant of the migration patterns in their own backyard. This is a grave oversight that results in lousy policy. Well-intended efforts end up as boondoggles, perhaps making things worse instead of better.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Walkability Boondoggle

People follow jobs, not sidewalks at Pacific Standard magazine.

Theme: People follow jobs debate.

Subject Article: "Homes a Short Walk From Princeton Prove a Tough Sell."

Other Links: 1. "How to create a creative city? The viewpoints of Richard Florida and Jane Jacobs."
2. "Walk this Way:The Economic Promise of Walkable Places in Metropolitan Washington, D.C."
3. "These Are The Cities Where People Walk The Most."

Postscript: Shout out to my editor who came up with the snappy line, "People follow jobs, not sidewalks." I'm jealous I didn't think of it first. I'm surprised at the reaction to this post. Then again, posts I write to provoke usually end up as duds. I touched a nerve. Interesting. Is it more the walkability issue or critically unpacking Jane Jacobs?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Monday, January 20, 2014

Geography of Innovation: Why Nashville Is Music City

The sinking legend of Jane Jacobs takes on more water at Pacific Standard magazine.

Theme: Innovation geography.

Subject Article: "The Art of the Hang."

Other Links: 1. "Can you build an intersection?"
2. "A tale of two scenes: Civic capital and retaining musical talent in Toronto and Halifax."
3. "Inbreeding Homophily."
4. "Jane Jacobs Was Right: Gradual Redevelopment Does Promote Community."

Postscript: I'm anticipating I'll have to dig deeper into the notion of social capital proffered by Jane Jacobs. Via a cursory glance, reads like the same nostalgia misinforming Robert Putnam's research. I'm skeptical of the utility. It might be backwards or harmful. There is definitely a link between the urban romanticism of Jacobs and the current density fetish.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Why Technology Firms Are Moving Downtown

Outsourcing innovation employment to recent college graduates at Pacific Standard magazine.

Theme: Convergence of Innovation Economy.

Subject Article: "Companies Say Goodbye to the 'Burbs: Young Talent Wants to Live in Chicago, Not Libertyville; Dilemma for Older Workers."

Other Links: 1. "Move to Dubuque, Not San Francisco."
2. Comment from Dave at Burgh Diaspora.
3. "Mapping Silicon Valley’s Gentrification Problem Through Corporate Shuttle Routes."

Postscript: The resonating read for today's post, "Tales from an overworked City":

Competition among interns is incredibly tough, says one undergraduate who has completed a stint at a boutique bank. “Only a certain amount of interns get through. You will try to be the first one in and the last one out.” Interns, he says, will break the rules. “You want to impress.”

Moreover, an increasing number of international students is adding to the pressure: “Once they’ve got the internship they want a job in the City to get their foot in the door in London so they can get their visas. We’re competing against students from America, China and India. It’s very, very competitive.”

Pay sky-high rent to locate in London in order to "hire" the best and brightest for a pittance. The driving logic behind the economic geography of innovation is the cost of talent.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Move to Dubuque, Not San Francisco

Revitalization of Dubuque, Iowa is a strong indicator of the demise of the Innovation Economy at Pacific Standard magazine.

Theme: Rise of the Talent Economy.

Subject Article: "Corporate Entrepreneurs Are at the Heart of Downtown Revitalizations."

Other Links: 1. "Dubuque?"
2. "Learning from Dubuque, Iowa."

Postscript: When the cost of labor starts driving firm location decisions, the economy is dying. The Innovation Economy is dying (i.e. converging):

But while this geographic battle for supremacy is compelling, its effect is actually to make location less, not more, important. For instance, thanks largely to the internet itself almost everyone has access to the same information; for most people, the days of having to be close to a data centre are long gone; and investors such as us are looking globally for promising companies we can help.

While every location has its opportunities and disadvantages – it is easier to find top computer scientists in San Francisco, for instance, but easier to hold on to them in Helsinki – where you start out is no longer a helpful predictor of your chances of success. Today, the simple truth is that great companies can come from anywhere.

Like manufacturing before it, the world of innovation is getting flatter.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Richard Florida Explains Why Density Doesn’t Impact Innovation

The more parochial a place, the more ineffective the talent at Pacific Standard magazine.

Theme: Innovation geography.

Subject Article: "How to Build a Productive Tech Economy."

Other Links: 1. "Triumph of the Entrepreneurial City."
2. "Science: Orkney – hot spot of the Stone Age."
3. "Natural Experiments Of Rust Belt History."
4. "Urban Myths of Innovation: Density and Serendipity."
5. "Migration Matters."
6. "Are These America's Brainiest Cities?"
7. "America's Truly Densest Metros."

Postscript: In 2010, Richard Florida wrote a series about density. I'm listing them here for personal reference because I'm trying to track how this concept is changing.

"The Density of Smart People."
"The Power of Density."
"Human Capital Density."
"Creative Class Density."
"The Density of Artistic and Cultural Creatives."
"The Density of Innovation."

So there is that. From the titles alone I would infer why so many people think greater density is the cat's meow concerning innovation.It's intuitive, like greater density causes more disease. Florida expressing the density dividend in stark terms:

But that was then; the economy is different now. It no longer revolves around simply making and moving things. Instead, it depends on generating and transporting ideas. The places that thrive today are those with the highest velocity of ideas, the highest density of talented and creative people, the highest rate of metabolism. Velocity and density are not words that many people use when describing the suburbs. The economy is driven by key urban areas; a different geography is required.

Peter Gordon and Sanford Ikeda tackle such claims in "Does Density Matter?"

Of course, density, as we have defined it, remains important, and the kind of face‐to‐face contact and informal network‐building described by Jacobs still serves as the foundation of living cities today, as they ever have. But relying on crude measures of density to fashion policy, whether to promote economic development in the traditional sense or to foster growth by somehow attracting “creative” denizens is unhelpful.

That's hardly a definitive word on the debate, if there is a debate. Much of the density myth seems to spring forth from Jane Jacobs and her geography of innovation:

One of Jacobs’ four prescriptions for successful cities was “the need for aged buildings.” (The others were mixed primary use neighborhoods, short blocks and density.) Maintaining a mix of older housing and commercial stock, Jacobs believed, allowed neighborhoods to retain the diversity that she valued above all else. “New ideas,” as she put it so memorably, “must use old buildings.”

It is a utopian geography for cities: density, diversity, and authenticity. It is a certain kind of urban aesthetic that currently holds sway with policymakers thanks to the evangelizing of Richard Florida. But it isn't a rigorous analysis of the geography of innovation.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Gentrification of Work in the City

How Jane Jacobs helped push employment away from the urban core at Pacific Standard magazine.

Theme: Producer city versus consumer city.

Subject Article: "The Art of Gentrification."

Other Links: 1. "Outgrowing Jane Jacobs and Her New York."
2. "Jane Jacobs, Andy Warhol, and the Kind of Problem a Community Is."
3. "We're Not in New York Anymore."
4. "Triumph of the Entrepreneurial City."
5. "Find a New City."

Postscript: The reintroduction of the producer city to San Francisco has upset the apple cart:

Nearly five decades after the Summer of Love transformed San Francisco into the epicenter of the hippie movement, a new generation is redefining this city's culture again. No longer content to live and work in the quiet suburbs of Palo Alto and Menlo Park 30 miles south, thousands of young tech workers are migrating to the city, seeking a more urban, multicultural lifestyle. They are bringing with them a stampede of tech companies and venture capitalists, and inevitably attracting some homegrown resentment for jacking up housing costs and gentrifying once gritty neighborhoods.

The tension is between workers enjoying the wages of a global labor market and the creative class that inherited the city from manufacturing. Forgotten, as usual, are residents who were unable to change with the times. Gone are the days when higher wages meant an exit from the city. The geography of aspiration has switched from suburb to downtown. This puts tech workers at odds with artists, the economically dislocated, and firms seeking a CBD address. As artists displaced the blue collar, the white collar now displaces the creative class and the ghost of Jane Jacobs is very angry.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Triumph of the Entrepreneurial City

Entrepreneurship is urbanity at Pacific Standard magazine.

Theme: Geography of innovation.

Subject Article: "The Future of Downtown Vegas Is Somewhere in Tony Hsieh's Apartment."

Other Links: 1. "The Metropolitan Revolution: The New Geography of Innovation."
2. "Silicon Valley Is Detroit: Are Zoning Laws to Blame?"
3. "Why Today's Start-Ups Are Choosing Urban Lofts Over Suburban Office Parks."
4. "Burbank to Brookline Soar in Suburb Shift: Real Estate."
5. "Monumental Roots: The great stone monuments of prehistoric Britain, including Stonehenge, were born in a wave of innovation that apparently began on a remote Scottish island."
6. "When Innovative Cities Were Set in Stone."

Postscript: Stonehenge not as city of innovation, but center of gravity:

From all over Britain they came by the thousands, with their families, their pigs, and their cattle, to this huge complex of earthen and wooden monuments by the River Avon, known today as Durrington Walls. Inside a circular earthen bank and ditch, 500 meters in diameter, stood a smaller circle of dozens of stout, upstanding timbers. In the center, the body of a venerated chief lay in state. The pilgrims feasted to his triumphs and to his memory, roasted their cattle and their pigs, and then the procession began. ...

... Right next to Durrington Walls, excavators have found a village with a population that might have been in the thousands, with houses built in a style—including the placement of the beds and a central dresser— that apparently originated in far-off Orkney. Parker Pearson and others are confident that the people who lived there helped build the monuments, and the huge number of animal remains suggests that whoever was in charge of the vast project had to keep them well-fed. Other researchers have found that pottery from the village—manufactured in the Grooved Ware style first seen in Orkney—held rich traces of both dairy products and pig fat.

If a city doesn't bring together people from the ends of the earth, then that city won't be innovative. Likewise, places other than cities can bring together people from the ends of the earth and spur innovation. All the talk about the inherently innovative city thanks to density is hogwash.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Rust Belt Geography and Awful Journalism

Dying city myths at Pacific Standard magazine.

Theme: Geographic stereotypes and migration.

Subject Article: "A restaurant to fuel Rust Belt renewal."

Other Links: 1. "This is One of America's Most Violent Cities — And It Deserves More Attention."
2. "The Lowest Hanging Fruit."
3. "Portland Is Dying."
4. "'Fastest Dying Cities' Meet for a Lively Talk."
5. "Braddock mythos redux."
6. "Braddock Misunderstood."
7. "Picture Show: Urban Decay and Renewal in Braddock, Pennsylvania."

Postscript: Chris Briem (Null Space) also blogged about "A restaurant to fuel Rust Belt renewal." Where the attention belongs:

I will only add one statistics for those who really want to claim there has been progress in Braddock of late. The latest poverty statistics released last month* show that the overall poverty rate of Braddock residents is 39.9% and for children under 18 no less than 66.2%. 

How should a journalist raise concerns about Rust Belt community struggles? I'm not all that concerned about the hype. For the most part, it is harmless and might do some good. As for the problems, they remain ill-defined and unsolvable as a result. And that goes for the restaurant venture as well. What problem does it address? I think we have skipped over the step of establishing a working baseline geography and thus the facts are made to fit the popular narrative. Braddock drowns in the hell that has become much of Rust Belt coverage in the press.