Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Is It Cities vs. Suburbs Again? Hope Not

The headline begged the question.

"How Cities Can Gain The Edge" was the headline of a Q&A-style article featuring former Ohio Lt. Governor Lee Fisher.  It was part of a follow up from a invite-only session focused on urban development--the second of its kind in as many weeks in Ohio's largest cities.

Edge over whom?

The answer may be in a slightly deeper look at the first two questions.

The reporter asked, "What do you perceive as Ohio’s biggest economic strength?"  Fisher's paraphrased answer was cities and, in particular, urban manufacturing clusters.

Fisher is now CEO of CEO's for Cities.  Thus, he's paid to favor dense, urban places.

If a suburban-focused CEO of a hypothetical think tank called CEO's for Suburbs were to answer the question, the answer might be that Ohio's strength is in Ohio's diverse, family-friendly compact suburban communities where, increasingly, CEO's can work and live in the same place and, in particular, Ohio's diverse manufacturing corridors

In fact, the majority of Ohio's tax income is coming from the suburbs.  In fact, an even bigger majority of Millenials favor suburban living to their Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts.

The second question was just as interesting in contrast.  The reporter asked, "Is Ohio on the right track to pursue economic development?"

Fisher said the key was in, "Creating urban hubs of innovation" connected to urban universities.

Of course, the suburban-focused, hypothetical think tank CEO would answer, "Increasingly, sites and buildings need to be larger and larger to accommodate business needs.  Suburbs need public infrastructure improvements and workforce development to keep up and be able to accommodate growing manufacturers' needs.  The key is to get universities' capabilities brought to where manufacturers are located to accelerate innovation.  Bring innovation to the companies where it can get more readily produced.  Call them suburban spokes of innovation."

See the contrast? 

I sure hope it's not that cities are seeking an edge over suburbs.  A big city does best economically when its suburbs do.

Two weeks of activity does not make a trend.  However, it seems there's a growing public policy advocacy effort to re-ignite an us vs. them in cities versus suburbs.  I hope not.

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