Blog Archives

Viewpoint: What’s a motto with those folks up in Phoenix?

[Source: Anne T. Denogean, Tucson Citizen] — Phoenix: “Arizona’s urban heart.”  That, my friends, is Phoenix’s new marketing slogan, its desired image or branding, if you will.  The Downtown Phoenix Partnership actually paid some marketing firm $160,000 to come up with it.  I’d say that was a lunch hour well spent.  For the marketing firm.  Not so much for Phoenix.

What does it even mean?  If Phoenix is the heart, does that make Tucson the groin and Yuma the armpit of Arizona?  And does the slogan make anyone want to visit or stay in Phoenix?

It’s supposed to be “aspirational,” according to the downtown partnership. Aspirational of what?  When I think “urban,” I think traffic, pollution, and crime.  Does Phoenix want to be known as the Detroit of Arizona?  I don’t get it.  But this is something that cities do.  [Note: To read the full opinion piece, click here.]

Phoenix #6 on Forbes list of America’s emptiest cities

[Source: Richard Florida,, Feb. 22, 2009] — Las Vegas takes top spot, followed by Detroit. Atlanta, Greensboro, and Dayton round out the top five.  Phoenix comes in sixth.  No surprises there.  But, I was surprised frankly to see Chicago make the list.  Here’s the full list, from, based on fourth-quarter rental and homeowner vacancy rates for the 75 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the country.  Curiously, there is considerable overlap with this Forbes list of the places where home sales are rising fastest.  [Note: To read the full blog entry, click here.]

Phoenix ranks #7 of places Americans would rather be

A new national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project finds that nearly half (46%) of the public would rather live in a different type of community from the one they’re living in now — a sentiment that is most prevalent among city dwellers.  When asked about specific metropolitan areas where they would like to live, respondents rank Denver, San Diego, and Seattle at the top of a list of 30 cities (Phoenix #7), and Detroit, Cleveland, and Cincinnati at the bottom.  To read the full report, click here.

Viewpoint: 2009 predictions for American cities

[Source: Diana Lind, editor in chief, Next American City magazine]Next American City sent out a survey with four simple questions in it.  Carol Coletta, President/CEO of CEOs for Cities, gives her predictions of where cities will be in 2009.

What city do you predict will be hit the hardest by the economic crisis? The cities that were the fastest growing, like Phoenix and Las Vegas, and those most dependent on manufacturing.

Will there be a comeback in Detroit (beyond the auto industry, but in the city itself)? If yes, how?  If no, what will happen to the city then? Detroit can come back if the city finds a way to shrink sensibly and can make what remains less auto-dependent. Detroit, like many cities, must find ways to concentrate and amplify its strengths.

If 2008 was the year of “green” and “sustainability,” 2009 will be the year of…? Real estate vacancies.  Expect retail and commercial vacancies to have greater negative impact on communities than housing vacancies.

What is the story in your city that no one is covering that you think will make the news this year? Suburban development will be hard to fund and risky to undertake. With commercial and residential vacancies on the rise, many suburbs will be hard hit, fueling momentum toward central cities.

Viewpoint: Slow-growth achievements best route for urban renaissance

[Source: Joel Kotkin, Special to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review] — The current recession provides a new opportunity for Pittsburgh’s elite to feel good about itself.  With other boom economies from Phoenix to Miami on the skids — and other old Rust Belt cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo even more down on their luck — the slow-growth achievements of the Pittsburgh region may seem rather impressive.  Yet at the same time, the downturn also poses longer-term challenges for which the local leadership is likely to have no answers.

In large part, Pittsburgh’s “success,” such as it is, has been based on what may be called a “legacy economy,” essentially funded by the residues of its rich entrepreneurial past.  This includes the hospitals, universities, and nonprofits whose endowments have underwritten the expansion of medical services and education, which have emerged as among the region’s few growth sectors.  [Note: To read the full article, read here.]

In green ranking, Phoenix drops to #32

[Source: Ginger D. Richardson, Arizona Republic] — Ever wonder who gets to proudly bear the moniker “The Greenest City”?  Hint: It’s not Phoenix.  A new survey out Monday ranks the 50 largest U.S. municipalities based on their performance in 16 key eco-friendly categories, including the ability to maintain air quality, a solid drinking-water supply , and use of public transit and alternative fuels.  Portland came in first; Phoenix was No. 32, dropping 10 places from its ranking just two years ago.

Adding more insult to injury: Detroit has topped Phoenix as the more “sustainable” municipality, having jumped 12 places to claim the 31st spot.  The Motor City was lauded for its efforts to revitalize blighted land while Phoenix was knocked for its poor air quality and lack of plentiful water supply.  This is the first year the report measured each city’s water supply using data such as level of drought, population-growth rate and gallons of water consumed per person each day.  Those factors hurt Mesa, too, which saw its overall green-city ranking fall to No. 50 from No. 47 in 2006.

Still, SustainLane, which bills itself as the largest online community dedicated to healthful, sustainable living, did find some positive things to say about the Valley.  Phoenix, for example, won kudos for its reuse of wastewater, its soon-to-open light rail and its recent push to use more solar energy.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Between 1999-2005, working poverty declined in metro Phoenix

[Source: Brookings Institute] — An analysis of the changing geographic distribution of low-income workers and their families, measured by receipt of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in tax years 1999 and 2005, nationwide and in 58 major metropolitan areas across the country reveals that:

  • The number of tax filers nationwide living in areas with high rates of working poverty increased by 40%, or 1.6 million filers, between tax years 1999 and 2005.  By 2005, 12.3% of low-income working families lived in high-working-poverty communities — ZIP codes where more than 40% of taxpayers claimed the EITC — up from 10.4% in 1999.
  • Of 58 large metropolitan areas studied, 34 experienced increased rates of concentrated working poverty (the share of EITC filers living in high-working-poverty communities) over the first half of the decade, while 24 showed declines.  Older industrial metro areas including Detroit and Rochester exhibited the greatest increases in concentrated working poverty, while the Los Angeles and Phoenix metro areas experienced the largest declines.
  • Major metropolitan areas in the Midwest and Northeast experienced substantial increases in concentrated working poverty over the first half of the decade, but Western metro areas saw steep declines.  Metro areas in the Northeast and West had similar rates of concentrated working poverty in 1999 (13%), but by mid-decade, the rate had risen to 18% in the Northeast while it dropped to 7% in the West.
  • Both central cities and suburbs saw an increase in high-working-poverty communities between tax years 1999 and 2005.  The number of tax filers living in high-working-poverty areas in the central cities of major metropolitan areas across the country grew by 40%, while the surrounding suburbs experienced an increase of 36%.  Still, central-city EITC recipients were five times as likely (25%) as suburban EITC recipients (5%) to live in high-working-poverty communities in 2005.

These trends suggest that the decline in concentrated poverty that occurred during the 1990s may be reversing over the course of this decade, particularly in regions hardest hit by the economic challenges of the early 2000s.  Policies that foster stronger national and regional economic growth — together with targeted efforts to create and protect neighborhoods of choice and connection — may offer the best route to longer-term progress against concentrated poverty.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Census shows older U.S. cities hold on to more people, Phoenix slows

[Source: William H. Frey, Senior Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program, The Brookings Institution] — Newly released U.S. Census Bureau population data for U.S. cities show a new twist on a well-known theme that could be good news for older cities hoping to reverse population declines of the past.  The familiar part of the report indicates that most of the nation’s fastest growing cities are located in the South and interior West.  Places like McKinney, TX; North Las Vegas, NV; and Cary, NC, are registering growth rates that cities in baseball’s “American League Central” division (e.g., Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City) can only dream about.  But the new estimates also show a clear retrenchment of the old “Snowbelt to Sunbelt” population surge, a turnaround that has brought modest gains to many older and coastal cities that lost population earlier in the decade.

Population trends in the nation’s nine largest cities (those with over one million residents) offer a glimpse at the story (Table 1).  Three of these — Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Diego — flipped from population declines to gains in the past year, while their more high-flying sunbelt counterparts — Phoenix, Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas — showed reduced levels of growth.  The growth slowdowns in Houston and Phoenix were substantial, while at the same time, Chicago’s modest gain was the first registered since 2001.  Another notable flip occurred in Boston, which last year became the fastest growing city in the Northeast, after losing population the year before.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Idea of the Day: Turning to t-shirts to spiff up downtrodden cities

Modern Phoenix

From time to time, we’ll throw out an “Idea of the Day” culled from sources here in Arizona and elsewhere.  The following idea was passed along by Brian Kenny and written about in a July 13, 2008 New York Times article, Turning to T-Shirts to Spiff Up Downtrodden Cities, by Catrin Einhorn.  Here’s what it’s all about:

As Jeff Vines pulls down the iron on the heat press in his small studio here, he is trying something far grander than simply searing another image onto another T-shirt.  The machine hisses, Mr. Vines opens it and sizes up his handiwork: a cotton weapon in his quest to revive his long-challenged city.  The St. Louis-themed shirts that Jeff Vines and his identical twin, Randy, make are not for tourists.  They sport neighborhood references and inside jokes unintelligible to those not from here.  Some easily offend, displaying profanity and raunchy innuendo.  But to the Vines brothers, their edginess is part of their mission for St. Louis — a place many of their friends from high school fled — to rehabilitate its image from the inside out and, ultimately, to make future generations want to stay.  “You have to get the people who live there to be the best advocates for the city, or else you don’t really have much,” Randy Vines said.  “So you need to change the psyche and change the way they see their own city.”

The Vines brothers, 30, are not alone in their effort.  In cities like Youngstown, Ohio, and Detroit, damaged by the decline in manufacturing and decades of population loss, entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s are pushing back with the simple stuff of T-shirts, tote bags and soap.  Faced with condescending attitudes from outsiders and grumbling from many locals, they are determined to peddle in pride, and hope to convert others in the process.  “It’s reframing the identity of these places that have been misrepresented,” said Abby Wilson, a co-founder of the Great Lakes Urban Exchange, a new group dedicated to bringing post-baby boomers together to work for the health of postindustrial cities in the Great Lakes region.

The Vines brothers’ company, STL-Style, makes retro-looking T-shirts that extol and lovingly tease St. Louis; slogans include “My Way or Kingshighway,” and “Where the Mullet Meets the River.”  In Pittsburgh, Lindsay Patross, 28, offers T-shirts and aprons that read “Pittsburghers are tasty.”  At City Bird in Detroit, siblings Emily and Andy Linn, 30 and 25, make clocks, lamps, earrings and bracelets patterned with maps of their city.  Another company, Rusty Waters Apparel, sells skull-adorned T-shirts celebrating Youngstown, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.  A quote on the company’s MySpace page says: “Don’t mess with the underdog.  Rustbelt Warriors!”

Another Rusty Waters Apparel design depicts a downtown Youngstown building, the Home Savings and Loan, hanging upside down from the neckline, with birds flying around it.  “The fact that it’s upside down signifies the struggle that Youngstown has gone through,” the shirt’s designer, Kate Butler, 24, explained.  But the birds are flying right side up, symbolizing hope, she said.

These T-shirt makers know, of course, that their merchandise will not cure the deep-seated problems of their cities.  But they see them as one way to fight against powerful stereotypes, and consider them more authentic than city officials’ public relations campaigns.  Mark-Evan Blackman, chairman of men’s wear design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, said T-shirts can have a profound effect on social change, and that these shirts should not be underestimated.  “It’s saying we’re cool, we’re here,” Mr. Blackman said.  “We’ve not jumped out of the boat, this city is cool and we’re making it cooler, and look at us.” [Note: To read the full article, click here.]