Friday, May 18, 2018

The Big Ten’s National Footprint

Frequent commenter Frank the Tank, who is a guru about many aspects of universities and conferences, took the WSJ data I referenced two days ago and used it to create an extremely interesting analysis of the Big Ten. It’s highly recommended reading even if your interest is non-Big Ten schools.

Here Frank notes that the “big four” cities (as I’ve labeled them in other contexts) of NYC, DC, LA, and SF have a major Big Ten alumni presence:

There are only four markets in the entire country that drew more than 1% of the graduates from every single Big Ten school: New York, Los Angeles, Washington and San Francisco. None of these metro areas are located in the Midwest. Not even Chicago, the heart of the Big Ten, covered every single conference school, albeit the two sub-1% exceptions are the latest East Coast additions of Maryland and Rutgers.

To be sure, the Wall Street Journal notes that those four particular markets draw from a much wider range of colleges across the country. The sheer sizes of the New York and Los Angeles markets swallow up a lot of college grads and all four of the cities have strengths in industries that attract a national talent pool: finance in New York, entertainment in Los Angeles, tech in San Francisco, and government and politics in Washington.

The Big Ten’s top-to-bottom presence in those four markets is noteworthy because the only other Division I conference that has every member in those same markets is the Ivy League… and all of the Ivy League schools are in relatively close proximity to New York and Washington.

The Big Ten is the only conference with a truly national base of alumni, though the Ivy League is national where it counts:

The Wall Street Journal database shows that the Big Ten has the most nationalized alumni base of the Power Five conferences from top-to-bottom. As noted previously, the only other conference where every school has at least a Tier 3 connection with New York, Los Angeles, Washington and San Francisco is the Ivy League. More than half of the Big Ten has at least a Tier 3 connection with Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver and Seattle. There are 4 or more Big Ten schools with a Tier 3 connection with Houston, Miami and Phoenix, too.

Within the Midwest, Chicago is the dominant destination. But other than Chicago, no other Midwest city has a Big Ten draw outside of their home state universities.

Putting aside Maryland and Rutgers, Chicago is still the market with the deepest ties to the Big Ten by a large margin. It is a Tier 1 market for 6 schools, Tier 2 market for 2 schools and Tier 3 market for 4 schools. No other metro area has more than 2 Tier 1 Big Ten school connections. This isn’t exactly surprising with the annual migratory pattern of new Big Ten grads taking over apartments in Lincoln Park and Lakeview every summer (while the older Big Ten grads like me move on to places like Naperville). Big Ten schools also send a lot of grads to the largest metro areas within their own home states. Every Big Ten school has a Tier 1 connection to at least one market located in its home state.

What’s stunning to me, though, is the utter lack of Big Ten grads going anywhere else in the Midwest other than Chicago or a metro area that has a presence in their school’s state. Detroit is the 2nd largest metro area in the Midwest, relatively easy driving distance from most of the Big Ten schools, and larger than both the Seattle and Denver markets. Yet, the only 2 Big Ten schools outside of Michigan and Michigan State that have even a Tier 3 connection to Detroit are Northwestern and Purdue. Meanwhile, 10 Big Ten schools have a Tier 3 connection with Denver and 8 of the league’s colleges have a Tier 3 connection with Seattle.

If Midwestern metros want to have any chance of changing their slow growth compared to the rest of the country, it’s clear that they need to do a better job of attracting the college grads that are just beyond their own home state universities. There really isn’t a great reason why Indianapolis isn’t drawing at least 1% of grads from neighboring state Big Ten schools like Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State… and Indy is one of the healthier Midwestern economies. Essentially, the Midwest metros with the exception of Chicago have completely ceded their “home field advantage” for Big Ten grads to the coasts and other high growth locations (e.g. Dallas, Atlanta and Denver).

It has been fascinating to go through the grad destination profiles of the Big Ten schools along with other colleges across the country. Once again, in matters more important than conference realignment, Midwestern cities in particular need to review this data and understand that they are giving up their home field advantage of nearby Big Ten grad talent to coastal cities that are providing such talent with more professional and economic opportunities. This is sobering data for every Midwest city outside of Chicago. They likely knew that this challenge was happening at some level, but the results are actually even worse than expected.

Chicago not only has a strong Big Ten presence, as Frank notes, “Interestingly enough, all of the Ivy League schools have at least a Tier 3 presence in Chicago, too.” It’s weaker than the big four coastal cities, but it’s there.

There’s a ton of other information in Frank’s post, including about the implications of expansion and analysis of future Big Ten conference moves. Click through to read the whole thing.

from Aaron M. Renn

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Chicago Parking Meter Lease Slow-Motion Train Wreck Only Has 65 More Years to Go

The Chicago parking meter lease is not just a bad deal that happened in the past. It’s an ongoing problem year after year. The Chicago Sun-Times just reported that the vendor’s annual revenues are now up to $134.2 million, meaning they will recoup the full amount they paid for the concession by 2021 – with 62 years left on the lease. The investors have already pocked $927 million. That doesn’t account for the time value of money, but even if you discount it back, this is looking like a good deal. (Just over the next decade, assuming revenues remain flat, that would equate to a discounted $384 million at a pretty high discount rate of 10%).

In more bad news, Emanuel had bragged that he’s significantly reduced the penalty payments that the city had to make to the vendor for closed parking spaces and the like. But that is now back up to $21.7 million per year.

In short, thecity:

  • Sold off rights to on-street parking revenues for 75 years for $1.1 billion, then promptly blew the money such as that residents have nothing to show for it.
  • Converted what used to be $23.8 million in annual revenues for the city and turned it into a $21.7 million expense – a $45.5 million per year swing in a city with serious financial problems.
  • Created barriers to repurposing on-street real estate for things other than parking, such as bus lanes, widened sidewalks, green space, etc.
  • Still has 65 more years to go


from Aaron M. Renn

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Where College Grads Are Moving

The Wall Street Journal just ran an interesting interactive feature where college grads move after graduation. They looked at 445 schools, and tracked destinations by metro area. They discovered that graduates, particularly from stronger schools, are flocking to major metro areas. The Big East, Ivy League, Pac-12, Big-12, ACC, and Big Ten are all over 70% in sending college grads to major metro areas (but see below for caveats).

The Ivy League grads are even more concentrated. A quarter of all Ivy League grads live in New York, Washington, or San Francisco. Here’s the WSJ map of cities where more than 2% of Harvard grads go.

Relative to population, Washington, San Francisco, and Boston punch well above their weight. Washington comes in #2 to NYC in the number of schools sending more than 2% of their grads there.

Alas, the Journal selected an unfortunate definition of major metro. They define them as the top 55 metro areas, plus the largest metro in the state, plus the largest metro in any state without one in the top 55, excluding Alaska. I don’t know anyone else slicing data this way. A more typical method would be to look at metro areas with more than a million people, of which there are 53. There are some clear midsized and lower tier cities below that on the Journal’s list, so the midsize city advocates are also going to claim this data for themselves. I can understand why they would want to include every state, but this definition of major metro raises questions about analysis based on it. I would like to see a re-slice, or better yet another field in their interactive tool to allow readers to set threshold sizes.

I’m also not quite sure what the graphs for schools mean. They are labeled as “Percentage of alumni in each metro area.” The top bucket is greater than 50%, yet some schools (e.g., Wisconsin) have multiple cities in that category.

College vs. College

I played around with comparing colleges, particularly within the same state. If we look at Michigan and Michigan State for example, we see U of M’s stronger east coast links.

Looking at Indiana vs. Purdue, we see that Purdue has a bigger national footprint.

City Draws

I’ve mentioned before that Indianapolis and Columbus draw migrants overwhelmingly from within their own states. The college draw maps confirm this.

In fairness, every region in the 1-2 million range I looked at was a regional draw. Here’s Nashville.

The city data look like follow some kind of gravity model based on size and distance, so many of the maps look vaguely the same with different origin points. Nevertheless, it’s fun to look at. Check it out.


from Aaron M. Renn

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Northern Ambition: Young and Foreign in the Twin Cities Circa 1987

[ When I wrote about there being social factors other than the cold keeping people from moving to Minneapolis, Sami Karam, a Lebanese immigrant who now lives in New York City and posts insightful demographic analysis as his site Populyst, mentioned that he’d had similar experiences trying to fit in there when he lived in Minneapolis in the 1980s. I asked him if he’d write up his experience, and he graciously agreed. While this story is about 30 years old, I believe it still holds relevance today. You can also follow Sami on twitter at @sami_karm – Aaron. ]

“For how much longer will you go by Sami instead of Sam or Samuel?… Because after a certain age, a Robby, for example, would revert to a more grown-up name like Bob or Rob or Robert”, I was once asked and informed by a man in Minneapolis. My answer that Sami is a real first name, albeit not necessarily one that I favored over its variants, did not seem to satisfy him.

A decade later, when I started working on Wall Street and heard a similar comment, I found that this reaction to ‘Sami’ was not unique to the midwest or to the less diverse non-coastal US but that it was instead emblematic of cultures that were somewhat insular. Minneapolis did feel insular when I lived there as a young immigrant in 1986-88.

When Aaron Renn recently suggested that I write about my experience there, I was not sure that I could do a fair job of it. Would I use a chronology, as in a fragment of biography? Would I showcase the 1987 Twins triumph at home in game 7 of the World Series? How would I insert my fast weekend escapes to New York or L.A. on discounted fares that I bought in bulk from People Express ($45 to New York)? And my slow other weekends spent alone writing computer code in the office because I had nothing better to do?

When undecided, use data! So in the end, I settled on five main data themes. Minneapolis in 1986 was 1) cold, 2) flat, 3) remote, 4) rich, and 5) very white. The first four are still true today.

But first a few general comments.

Minneapolis was (is) a great place in many ways. The people around me were unfailingly kind. I liked the city’s well-designed infrastructure and amenities and its perennial ambition to turn itself into something bigger and better. “It wants desperately to be New York”, a Minnesotan college friend had volunteered before I moved there.

But after living there for two years, I was dubious. I thought that Minneapolis, though known as the ‘Minneapple’, was very happy just being Minneapolis. Further, if I want to be lucid, these same unfailingly kind people did not seem all that interested in me. I was an oddity in a place that seemed perfectly content without too many oddities.

As to Minneapolis becoming bigger and better, the most visible of the city’s major improvements, for example Cesar Pelli’s stunning Norwest (now Wells Fargo) Center then under construction, seemed destined to remain off bounds for the likes of me. I projected, rightly or wrongly, that were I to stay, it would take me a very long time to penetrate the higher circles of local industry.

Norwest (now Wells Fargo) Center. Image via Wikipedia/Public Domain

On the whole, my time in Minneapolis was comfortable but not easy. Although I had already lived in many places away from home, I felt in this case an unfamiliar isolation that was heightened by the cold winters and by the city’s remote location deep into the northern plains.

Of little assistance to my outlook was the fact that I was reading, in the dead of winter, Roland Huntsford’s The Last Place on Earth, a chronicle of the 1911 two-team race to reach the South Pole. Would I sail through and emerge victorious like Amundsen? Or would I endure an exhausting slog only to then freeze to death like Scott? Neither, of course, though my February psychology was trending to Scott.


How bad is the weather in Minneapolis? Regarding the temperature, it is as cold as Anchorage in winter, but no worse than Chicago in spring, and similar to New York and Denver in the summer and fall. On the whole, I found it quite bearable, and even enjoyable, except for the most extreme days of winter.

There are other weather factors beside temperature. For one, Minneapolis enjoys an unusually high number of completely cloudless days. “It is too cold for the humidity to hold up in the air”, my recruiter had deadpanned during the first interview.

Minneapolis-St Paul (MSP) has more clear days than Chicago and more total sunny hours than New York, and far more than Seattle. Its annual snowfall is similar to Denver’s but Denver is even sunnier. Surprisingly, Denver has more clear days than Miami and as many sunny hours.

So in sum, Minneapolis is abysmally cold and snowy in winter. But overall, it is frequently sunny even in winter. If you prefer sunny cold days to tepid wet grey ones, you could argue that the weather in Minneapolis is in fact better than in Seattle. The temperatures in Seattle are less extreme and there is little snow. But the sky is frequently overcast and releases rain in forty more days every year than in Minneapolis.


Minnesota has little variation in its land elevations and is the fifth flattest state in the US. Standing at any high point in the city, say on the tenth floor of a building, the view is unobstructed by natural topography in all directions. Except on hazy or foggy days, the towers of downtown are clearly visible from far away. In winter, the chill wind can do its work unbothered by natural obstacles and its steady sweep undulates drifts of snow from one side of the road to the other (‘snow snakes’, per one of my friends).

Lake Harriet in Winter by Amy Mingo. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

I once took a drive north to Duluth and pressed on along the north shore of Lake Superior. We encountered few hills until we reached the Sawtooth range of low mountains along the lake.


In my view, the most unique geographic feature of Minneapolis is not its weather, but the combination of its weather and its remoteness. It is very far from any other sizable city. Its own metro population has 3.6 million today, up from less than 2.5 million when I lived there. But the closest large city is Chicago, 409 miles away. That is the same distance as Boston to Baltimore, and 30 miles more than San Francisco to Los Angeles. Unlike on those trips however, there is little to break the monotony of a day-long trek through rural Wisconsin, except for a quick bypass of Madison and perhaps a lunch break at Wisconsin Dells.

On my first long drive to MSP, coming from Indiana, I was thrilled at dusk to finally reach Eau Claire because that meant that I only had… 90 miles to go to get to MSP.

Minneapolis is even more isolated to its west. Driving in that direction, the first city of over one million inhabitants is Seattle, 1,656 miles away. I never ventured in that direction. But I did head to Kansas City for New Year’s 1988. That was a mere 436 miles of driving through the frozen grey-brown fields of southern Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri. The city of Des Moines, helpfully located half way, was the only pretext to take a break.

The next large cities beyond Kansas City were Denver and Dallas-Fort Worth, both at over 900 miles from Minneapolis. But I never went there by road.

The brave that push northward from MSP into Canada will not encounter a sizable (say greater than 500,000) concentration of humans until Winnipeg in Manitoba, 460 miles away.

I wonder if MSP’s remoteness made it more insular back then. Today, people fly more easily and everything seems closer. But in 1986-88, I met some people in their 50s or 60s who had never left the state. In some cases, they were proud of it and intent on keeping it so until the end. There was no need to venture anywhere, other than for curiosity or a love of travel, especially when the local economy was doing so well.


Minneapolis-St Paul was quite content with its economy. Back then, it boasted higher median household income (MHI) than the US average. Today too, the MHI in Hennepin, Dakota, Ramsey, Anoka and Washington counties (the metro Minneapolis-St Paul area) is significantly higher than the national average, roughly in line with that of Manhattan.

Minnesota is home to corporate giants Cargill (agriculture, trading), Carlson (travel), United Health (health care), Target and Best Buy (retail) and others.

I saw first hand and was inspired by the Minnesota work ethic that seemed to strike just the right balance between personal ambition and team work. I was employed by an architecture-engineering design firm that had at the time its headquarters in Minneapolis and a small satellite office in Milwaukee. I had no doubt that it would grow smartly. Today it has eight offices coast to coast.


When I lived there, Minneapolis’ ethnic makeup was over 80% white. Today, this percentage has dropped to the mid 60s. I am guessing that the new diversity has changed the character of the city and opened up new cultural vistas.

Someone like me would probably find it easier to integrate today than I did in the late 1980s and may more readily decide to settle in Minnesota for the long term. To be sure, it is still brutally cold. It is also still very far, but it may feel closer today thanks to easier travel and social media. The locals are probably more interested in the foreign-born today because there are more of them around. And they bring with them something new and interesting.

My guess overall is that Minneapolis is a much better place for an outsider today than thirty years ago, though still not as socially navigable as the traditionally more universal cities on either coast. Nonetheless, as I alluded above about Wall Street, coastal America seems more inclusive overall but it still comprises smaller sub-cultures that can be just as exclusionary as some midwestern cities. The outer walls are gone but smaller inner citadels remain off limits.

In 1986, as a Mediterranean in the land of the Scandinavian and German-American, I sought warmer personal connections. As luck would have it, baseball rescued me in the end. When the Twins made it to the 1987 World Series, a groundswell of camaraderie and good cheer spread through my entourage, one that was broad and generous enough to see me invited to several homes where I watched the games and liberally high-fived everybody. There was no going back to formality after that.

Forever etched in my memory is a night drive into downtown on the last day of the World Series. Every window of every building was lit up in tribute to the Twins victory and the entire city was glowing like a celebratory thank you to the heavens.


from Aaron M. Renn

Monday, May 14, 2018

I-345 and the Freeway Teardown Phenomenon

Photo Credit: Wikipedia/25or6to4 CC BY-SA 2.5

First a question for you. A reader just took a job as planning director for a small city and is looking for good blogs on urbanism topics focused on cities of less than 50,000 people. Does anyone have any suggestions? Please send or post, because someone could use our help.

In the 1960s and 70s, cities and states plowed interstates through central city areas until the freeway revolt movement more or less put an end to it. I’m not as down on urban freeways as some, but clearly we went overboard.

In recent years a new trend has emerged, that of the downtown freeway teardown. Business Insider recently put out a nice compendium of before and after shots. The transformation is dramatic, particularly in places like San Francisco.

In my recent study on infrastructure projects we should actually build, one of my selections was the I-345 teardown proposal in Dallas. I noted:

Downtown Dallas, about 1.5 square miles, is circumscribed by a five-mile freeway loop that consumes large amounts of valuable real estate and makes pedestrian access to downtown unpleasant. Though primarily a commercial area, the downtown has seen substantial residential growth. Areas immediately beyond I-345, the northeast section of the freeway loop, have also experienced substantial residential growth and revitalization. The demolition of I-345 would connect these two growing neighborhoods and also free up 245 acres of downtown land for high-density, taxpaying development. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) estimated an increased land value of $2.5 billion from removal, a minimum of $1 billion greater than any other studied scenario.

This illustrates part of the superfecta that you can get with freeway tear downs:

    • Save money today. Tearing down a freeway is generally cheaper than reconstructing it at end of life.
    • Save money tomorrow. Removing a freeway eliminates future maintenance spending on it. Even if replaced by a surface boulevard, those are cheaper to maintain.
    • Reconnect neighborhoods. Removal eliminates a barrier separating neighborhoods.
    • Increase property values and tax revenue. A removed downtown freeway can raise the value of adjacent land and put more land back onto the tax rolls as development.

That’s a win-win-win-win. It’s not everyday that you can create a lot of new value with infrastructure changes while saving money at the same time. If you can find a way to make it work given the transportation demand (which plenty of places already have), this is an action that’s more than worth exploring.

Read more in D magazine.

from Aaron M. Renn

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Increasing Pressure on University Presses

Samuel Cohen, an English professor affiliated with a university press, wrote an interesting article about their decline in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Cohen recounts the storied history of university presses, and excoriates modern university administrators who don’t see their value and expect them to operate according to traditional business principles. Here are some excerpts:

University publishing is nearly as old as printing: Within 23 years of Gutenberg finishing his Bible in Mainz in 1455, Oxford published a commentary on The Apostles’ Creed. Four decades later, Cambridge set up its own press. In North America, Harvard began printing a few years after its 1636 founding, beginning with religious texts, as they all did, but quickly moving on to publishing secular works. So the publishing of scholarship by university presses has long had something of the sacred about it.

The University of Missouri Press, established four decades after President Hill blocked Veblen’s book, has managed to survive on its backlists and local-interest lists, books on flora, fauna, and folklore, but its ability to freely publish scholarly monographs that may or may not recover their costs is seriously challenged when it is not directly threatened. When it is, it is by business men whose expertise does not include matters concerning higher education — men who are chosen to run our universities because, as Veblen puts it, of the “high esteem currently accorded to men of wealth at large, and especially to wealthy men who have succeeded in business, quite apart from any special capacity shown by such success for the guardianship of any institution of learning.”

Such was the case in 2012, when Timothy M. Wolfe, late of IBM and Novell and then president of the University of Missouri system, announced that its academic press would be shut down. He had never been to the press or talked to its leaders. After a national outcry, the resignation of series editors, and threats by authors to sue to get back their rights to titles on the press backlist (a backlist whose profits, as is the case at many presses, helped support the publication of new titles), Wolfe reversed course.

The increased pressure to commercialize causes presses to be treated more like businesses, expected to turn a profit, more than even big-time college-sports programs are. This treatment results in editors being required to sign books that each bring in a minimum in projected sales or risk losing their jobs.

As we learn the fates of presses like Kentucky’s, we might try to think about the connections to what is happening to the public universities in which they live and, in turn, to a culture that starves and poisons these homes.

This is a pretty standard critique, only applied to the university press. There’s undoubtedly a lot of truth to it, though of course much of the argument is based on the author’s values.

But what I find most notable is that Cohen nowhere in this piece suggests that university presses themselves might need to change or adapt to the 21st century. The impression I get is that he believes state governments (or university administrators) should simply stump up cash and get out of the way.

That’s not realistic. The world is in a time of rapid change. Virtually every industry is experiencing massive change and disruption. Higher education is not immune to this. Higher ed, and its government financiers, are under a lot of pressure. I’ve noted before the many forces bearing down on the university.

Higher education, including university presses, are going to go through the same process the rest of us are being put through. Important thought it may be, universities are not exempt from the dynamics of our society.

from Aaron M. Renn

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Double Decking Interstates Is Not the Answer for Nashville Traffic Woes

Fresh off the defeat of Nashville’s transit referendum, a Republican gubernatorial candidate is proposing a major highway expansion that would complete the I-480 loop around the city to the north and double-deck I-65, I-40, and I-24 through downtown.

Nashville’s traffic is getting worse. But it’s first worth asking whether it has too few freeways. I have a database from the Texas Transportation Institute that can help shed light on this. It’s five or so years old, so updated data would need to be pulled, but as of 2011, Nashville did not appear to be short on freeways.

In that year, Nashville ranked 7th in the country among major metro areas in freeway lane miles per capita. That’s more than peer cities like Indianapolis and Columbus, though less than Kansas City. It also ranked 19th in arterial lane miles per capita.

But while it appears to rank as having among the biggest freeway networks relative to its size, Nashville already had a lot of traffic too. It ranked 13th in the country in freeway vehicle miles traveled per capita, and 18th in congestion as measured using the travel time index.

This foots to my observations. That major radial routes in and out of Nashville are already very wide – four to five lanes each direction in many cases. That’s wider than peer city interstates. Yet they are full of cars. Why is that?

I would suggest looking again at the architecture of Nashville’s freeway network and its development pattern. Nashville lacks a traditional beltway, instead having a series of branching interconnections of roads that forms a sort of inner belt but with lots of merging and diverging traffic that drives congestion.

I-840 is a partial beltway to the south of the city, but it’s too far out to be useful. Based on the proposed routing of the northern section, its average distance from downtown would be about 30 miles. This contrasts with 8-9 miles for Indy’s I-465 and Columbus’ I-270. Atlanta’s I-285 averages around 10 miles from downtown. Yes, cities like Houston have outer belts that might map to Nashville’s I-840, but they closer rings as well as well as being much larger.

A commenter named Jake also suggested that completing I-840 to the north would be geologically difficult:

A full circle freeway cannot be built around Nashville for technical reasons.  The city is situated on a geologic anomaly called the “Nashville Dome” that is comprised of super-hard rock that is super-expensive to blast through.  The area northwest of downtown is especially rugged and blasting a 4-lane freeway from I-40 north to I-24 and I-65 is cost prohibitive.

The rock is the reason why the city has sprawled to the north, east, and south, but not to the west.  This has pushed the equivalent amount of growth further in those directions than it would have otherwise, not unlike a waterfront city.

Looking at the urbanized area map of Nashville, we do see surprisingly unevenly spread development for an interior city.

Image via Nashville long range transportation plan

Nashville also seems to have the Atlanta problem of few “crosstown” arterials. There are some like Old Hickory Road, but compared to Midwestern cities with their township grid systems, it’s not as easy to make trips not involving the radial routes.

I do believe Nashville, as a rapidly growing city, needs to invest into its roadway network. But the fundamental architecture of its network relative to development and travel demand patterns needs to be reevaluated. Charlotte built a traditional beltway at a fairly late date. The ship may have sailed for that with Nashville (though it has a partial one to the north in TN 155), but thinking about the kind of network Nashville needs is important. Simply widening the existing interstate system that is already very wide may not do the trick.

from Aaron M. Renn