Friday, February 23, 2018

An Action Agenda for Middle Neighborhoods

First, if you aren’t following it yet, you should go over to my post about the diverging fortunes of colleges and check out the comments. Because there is a lot of excellent commentary and insight to be found there.

I recently wrote about the fate of middle neighborhoods, those classic traditional middle class neighborhoods in cities that are increasingly under threat of tipping into distress (or, more rarely, becoming gentrified).

Last November I attended a conference in Baltimore convened by the American Assembly and the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond devoted to middle neighborhoods. A summary of this was written up and published as an action agenda for middle neighborhoods. If you are somebody living in or working in community development in one of these neighborhoods, you should check it out.

There’s also more information available at the home page for the American Assembly’s middle neighborhoods project.

from Aaron M. Renn

Thursday, February 22, 2018

US Colleges Diverging Into Winners and Losers, Shakeout Coming

Clemson University, one of the schools cited by the WSJ as a winner. Photo Credit: Yousef Abdul-Husain, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Wall Street Journal has been doing great work digging into the pending crisis hitting may colleges, particularly small non-selective liberal arts schools. In today’s paper they have a piece on colleges sorting into winners and losers:

The diverging fortunes help explain how U.S. higher education is shifting. For generations, a swelling population of college-age students, rising enrollment rates and generous student loans helped all schools, even mediocre ones, to flourish. Those days are ending.

According to an analysis of 20 years of freshman-enrollment data at 1,040 of the 1,052 schools listed in The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education ranking, U.S. not-for-profit colleges and universities are segregating into winners and losers—with winners growing and expanding and losers seeing the first signs of a death spiral.

The Journal ranking, which includes most major public and private colleges with more than 1,000 students, focused on how well a college prepares students for life after graduation. The analysis found that the closer to the bottom of the ranking a school was, the more likely its enrollment was shrinking. (There were 12 ranked schools that didn’t have full enrollment data, so they were dropped from the analysis.)

“In the same way the bookstores fell when Amazon took over, now it’s higher education’s turn and it’s been coming for a while,” said Charles Becker, Concord’s vice president for business and finance. “The shake-out is coming. It’s already here.”

Richard Vedder, the director of Center for College Affordability and Productivity and a teacher at Ohio University, believes dark days are ahead for the nation’s poorest ranked schools.

“You’re going to see, over the next five years, a real increase in the number of schools in serious trouble,” Dr. Vedder said. “A degree from a top school is a still a pretty good signaling device [to employers]. It means you’re smart and hardworking. But a degree from one of these lower schools doesn’t mean much of anything.”

Because the demographic dip is so pronounced in the Midwest and Northeast, low-ranking schools there are the most vulnerable to enrollment declines. Schools in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York made up a quarter of the 237 schools that saw a 10% or greater decline in enrollment between 2011 and 2016.

Click through to read the whole thing (subscription required).

Right now the problems seem to be limited to the bottom 20% of schools, defined using criteria such as student loan default rates and average salary after graduation.  This is something to keep an eye on.

from Aaron M. Renn

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

What’s Going On in San Francisco?

Image via Shutterstock

San Francisco is nationally known for its homelessness problem. I was there last year and must say I didn’t observe it being any worse than New York (which isn’t great either). But this report by the local NBC affiliate in San Francisco is eye-popping.

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit surveyed 153 blocks of downtown San Francisco in search of trash, needles, and feces. The investigation revealed trash littered across every block. The survey also found 41 blocks dotted with needles and 96 blocks sullied with piles of feces.

As the Investigative Unit photographed nearly a dozen hypodermic needles scattered across one block, a group of preschool students happened to walk by on their way to an afternoon field trip to city hall.

“We see poop, we see pee, we see needles, and we see trash,” said teacher Adelita Orellana. “Sometimes they ask what is it, and that’s a conversation that’s a little difficult to have with a 2-year old, but we just let them know that those things are full of germs, that they are dangerous, and they should never be touched.”

In light of the dangerous conditions, part of Orellana’s responsibilities now include teaching young children how to avoid the contamination.

It’s pretty stunning that one of the wealthiest cities in the entire world can’t even keep its streets clear of human waste. You don’t see anything like this in New York.

In a related story, last month the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story about the struggle of the SF tourist industry to explain the state of the city’s streets to horrified tourists.

As president of the Handlery Union Square Hotel, part of Jon Handlery’s job is to scour travel websites to find out what tourists are telling one another about his hotel and San Francisco.

He tries to respond, thanking his customers for their patronage and acknowledging their gripes. But he’s stopped even trying to explain the No. 1 complaint: the city’s miserable street scene that’s made all the more stark against the backdrop of so much wealth and luxury.

Tiffany’s and tents. Neiman Marcus and needles. Macy’s and mental illness.

This month, for example, Handlery noticed a review on TripAdvisor that praised the hotel’s location, its pool, its proximity to the cable cars and the easy walk to the Ferry Building. But it ended with a jolt.

“Seeing homeless men in wheelchairs without shoes in the winter, women with infants on the streets, young men and women on the streets doing drugs, it was painful,” wrote the commenter.

Handlery used to assure his visitors the city was doing all it could to combat rampant homelessness, but he no longer makes those claims.

I’m not going to suggest there are easy answers for SF’s problems. But at a minimum this should prompt some more humility when it comes to how area residents view people in the rest of the country.


from Aaron M. Renn

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Rise of the Low Trust Society

Photo Credit: Anthony 22/Wikipeida, CC BY-SA 3.0

One reason some cite for America’s success is that we’ve been a high trust society. While some caution was always prudent, you didn’t constantly have to keep watching out for other people and businesses to be scamming you. It seems to me that this high-trust society has been eroding for sometime, paralleling the decline in trust of our institutions. A small example would be that when I was a kid in my home town people left their doors unlocked and often their keys in their cars. People don’t do that today. You have to have things locked up or risk theft.

This news item goes along with the same theme. LL Bean just announced it was changing its guaranteed policy. Here was their statement:

A Letter to Our Customers,

Since 1912, our mission has been to sell high-quality products that inspire and enable people to enjoy the outdoors. Our commitment to customer service has earned us your trust and respect, as has our guarantee, which ensures that we stand behind everything we sell.

Increasingly, a small, but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent. Some view it as a lifetime product replacement program, expecting refunds for heavily worn products used over many years. Others seek refunds for products that have been purchased through third parties, such as at yard sales.

Based on these experiences, we have updated our policy. Customers will have one year after purchasing an item to return it, accompanied by proof of purchase. After one year, we will work with our customers to reach a fair solution if a product is defective in any way.

This update adds clarity to our policy and will only affect a small percentage of returns. It will also ensure we can continue to honor one of the best guarantees in retail, with no impact for the vast majority of our customers. To learn more, please view our full return policy at

L.L.Bean has stood for quality, service, trust, and getting people outdoors ever since my great-grandfather founded our company over 100 years ago – and that will never change. Thank you for being a loyal customer and we look forward to continuing to inspire and enable you to Be an Outsider.

Shawn O. Gorman
L.L.Bean Executive Chairman

Today, the number of scammers in America is going up. So companies like LL Bean that used to be able to take a high trust approach for many decades, assuming very few customers would abuse its generous returns policy, now have to change direction. Note that their new policy is still very generous.

Lowering of trust creates sand in the gears of relationships and transactions. This is only one example, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

from Aaron M. Renn

Monday, February 19, 2018

“Where Are You From?” vs. “Where Did You Go to School?” Cities

This week I sat down with Michael Hendrix, recently arrived Director of State and Local Policy for the Manhattan Institute, for a podcast on cities. We talk about how the questions people ask when they meet you say a lot about cities. We also talk about tech scenes, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and Northeast and Columbus, Ohio.

If the audio player doesn’t display for you, click over to listen on Soundcloud.

Subscribe to podcast via  iTunes | Soundcloud.

Cover image of Salt Lake City by Pasteur, CC BY-SA 3.0

from Aaron M. Renn

Friday, February 16, 2018

Seattle Keeps Posting Strong Transit Gains

Streetsblog pointed me at a study out of Seattle showing very strong transit growth in the central core. Since 2010, the number of jobs in central Seattle has grown by 60,000, but the number of people driving alone to work fell by 4,500. Transit mode share grew by 6 percentage points and is now at 48.4%.

One thing you’ll notice is the preponderance of bus utilization. Historically Seattle has had a bus oriented transit system. The fact that it’s grown not just central city but regional mode share for transit with bus makes Seattle a real candidate city for rail investments. I haven’t analyzed the current proposals in any details, but Seattle has proven itself with transit.

from Aaron M. Renn

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Gentrification and the Rust Belt

Following up on my podcast with Akron’s Jason Segedy, I want to highlight this excellent piece of his from December on gentrification and the Rust Belt. Segedy observes the same thing I do, the rise of an anti-gentrification movement in cities where the real problem is continued neighborhood decline.

While it can be unclear whether the return of middle class and affluent residents to a neighborhood will really do anything to improve economic conditions for the poor, it is an ironclad certainty that a continued lack of socioeconomic diversity, and its concomitant concentrated poverty, will improve nothing and help no one in these cities – the poor most of all.

For 50 years now, people, jobs, and economic opportunities have steadily left our cities for the suburbs. The status-quo in our region is, indisputably, one of widespread, entrenched urban poverty, geographically separated from (predominately suburban) economic opportunity.

Yet, even the earliest signs of neighborhood revitalization, and nascent attempts at building new housing and opening small businesses in these cities are frequently opposed by people who are convinced that they are acting in the name of social justice.

Sincere as these anti-gentrification sentiments might be, I believe that they are harmful, and, if allowed to derail incipient efforts to reinvest in urban neighborhoods, simply serve to ensure that the existing dynamic of socioeconomic segregation will remain unchanged.

In many cases, the very people who claim to be fighting the current unjust system are inadvertently perpetuating it. Gentrification alarmists have yet to come to grips with the fact that their position usually serves to reinforce the existing, highly inequitable, situation.

Many critics of Rust Belt gentrification are holding cities to an unreasonable standard, and placing them in an impossible situation.

If much of the city remains poor and run-down, this is proof that the city does not care, and is not trying hard enough.

If, on the other hand, parts of the city begin to attract new residents and investment, this is proof that the city does not care, and is not trying hard enough.

Heads I win. Tails you lose.

Sometimes, it seems that the only thing that people dislike more than the status-quo, is doing anything substantive to change it.

Click through to read the whole thing.

from Aaron M. Renn