Thursday, February 26, 2009

America's Emptiest Cities


I have an insane backlog of stuff I want to talk about, so forgive me for posting some older news items over the next few days. This recent Forbes article about America's Emptiest Cities obviously caught my eye and it contains some fascinating data. Check out this Yahoo article summary, if you don't feel like going through the annoying slideshow. Looking at apartment and home vacancy rates, it details the cities that are being hit the hardest by the real estate bubble bursting and subsequent economic depression.

What interests me is what the type of cities that seem to be suffering the most, especially the new, Western/Southwester/Southern cities that everyone saw as the future. Cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix have been annexing land and adding people at a prodigious rate and it was assumed that they were the future great cities. Not so fast, it would seem. I've been talking a lot about how different I think New York City will be in 5 years, as we go through this economic depression. But, the effect on these boom cities might be even more interesting and pronounced, as they were built so much on the real estate bubble that it's hard to tell just how many people the cities will lose. We are no where near the bottom of this real estate market, I think there is far more pain ahead. Does Las Vegas have much else going for it? What happens when the casinos start suffering because of the lack of discretionary income for most people? Does the city have any real support systems for those people, like older, East Coast cities have built up over the decades? For that matter, do all of these newcomers to these Sun Belt and Southern cities have any real connection to their new homes? Will they stick around? For all of the talk about Philly's decline, it has held steady over the past decade, despite being considered a relic for years.

It'll be interesting to see the Census list that comes out in a few years and who stands in the top 5 when all is said and done. Always bet on the tortoise.

Penn Planning

UPenn School of Design

Well, I left you on a good note (Legos!) and I return on another nice note. I found out a few days ago that I was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania's City Planning Department for the Fall of 2009! Yeah! Nothing quite like checking your inbox expecting another stupid Facebook event invite to learn that you have taken a new path in your life. I am ecstatic right now, really excited to get down to real work to make cities more fair, more diverse and more rad. Yeah!

I want to take the time to thank a few people who helped me get through the whole application torture. JH-B, AB and TA all took a look at my personal statement, gave me great criticism and grammar corrections and helped me write a damn fine essay, if I do say so myself. Each of those three, plus my girl MR, more importantly inspired me with their own grad school work and hard work getting in, inspiring me with their committments to make real change, see the world and get involved in the battle over ideas. Oh, and all three are brilliant, amazing women (confirming the Grateful Dead song, "Man Smart, Woman Smarter"), who if we're lucky, we just might get to check in here at Street Ballet.

Okay, we're back for good now. Expect regular posting and lots of angry missives about the suburbs, lack of transit funding, parking lots and whatever I can think of, plus lots of other good stuff. So focused, so focused.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I Lego N.Y.

Christoph Niemann - I LEGO N.Y.

I do plan to do more with this blog than rant about the lack of funding for public transit in the stimulus bill. One aspect of cities that is very dear to my heart is their inspirational status for art. It amazes me how much my favorite works - whether The Third Man, early hip-hop or Edward Hopper's paintings - take the city as its subject and source of inspiration. The city, with all of its grit, colors, people, sounds and life,

All of this is a way too wordy intro to this amazing little post by Christopher Niemann at his Abstract City blog on the New York Times site. I won't say too much, other than that it is one of the coolest things I've seen in awhile, so creative, imaginative, hilarious and simple. Two things I especially love about this. One, here is a work about a city that is whimsical and fun. So much of the great art about urban life is dark as hell. The sadness of Hopper's characters, film noir's world of danger and paranoia, Richard Price's world of crime and poverty, the list is long and distinguished. I'm the most guilty of loving this type of stuff, but as someone who has lived in a city his entire life, these works are so unreflective of city life, it's sad. When I think of a city, I immediately think of its beauty, its great buildings, the characters that you encounter, the excitement of being in such an ALIVE place. Those feelings are rarely conveyed in the art about city life and that's a shame and has helped allow people to stereotype and denigrate those who live in the "urban jungle."

Secondly, I love love love the fact that there is another generation of kids growing up with Legos, the greatest toys EVER! There's something wonderful about being to create these little cities when you are a little kid, it probably had some impact on me wanting to go into the planning field. Not that I will ever find anyone who wants to give birth to my children, but if I did, I would really want my kids to get into Legos and avoid the whole video game pit.

Thanks to both TE and JH-B for pointing me to this link. As two of the coolest people around, I knew it must be good if they both were hyping the post.