How not to fix your city

November 3, 2007 at 2:02 pm 4 comments

Richard Florida of “creative class” fame links to The Where Blog, where Brendan Crain looks at five common mistakes made by businesses looking to be innovators. Crain then turns around and applies these myths to how we go about fixing cities.

Below are the five “innovation myths” with an excerpt of Crain’s comments, applying them to cities. All of these are related to the myth of the silver bullet — one shining project that will rescue the business, or city:

• Over-reliance on high-profile, “sexy” projects

Big projects can be important to cities, but it’s even more important to pay close attention to what trade-offs will need to be made in terms of basic services (transit ain’t the only thing hurtin’ in Chicago) in order to pull off a good piece of stunt urbanism. Millennium Park is an innovative piece of landscape architecture, but as an urban regenerator it’s as archaic as they come.

• Unhealthy fascination with unique, charismatic civic leaders

… (I)t is important to remember that the best and most innovative mayors from the past … were willing to take risks; that is to say that great mayors have often made names for themselves by bucking trends and trying new ideas that were responsive to their specific cities than following standard procedures being cut-and-pasted into other cities.

• Misapplication of other cities’ approaches

… (I)t is often assumed that because Idea X worked in City Y, it will be equally successful in City Z. This is absurd. … The misapplication of this lesson would be for a flat city to assume that building a cable car would be a good idea since it worked in Medellín (pictured).

• Descent into a cycle of self-recrimination

Untold energy is put into trying to make the city cooler and more attractive to young people. Meanwhile, (Pittsburgh’s) draconian tax system that discourages start-ups … go unchanged because Pittsburgh fails to realize that music festivals and extensive bike paths aren’t going to save them.

• Resignation to superficial changes

Cities have a long and storied history of believing in the power of cosmetic changes only to be let down by the results. A phenomenon that you might call Trinket Urbanism had a death grip on North American cities until relatively recently as every city rushed to have their version of one-off amenities built in other cities.

Most Harrison Square supporters seem to already realize that even if successful, Harrison Square is no “silver bullet.” That’s good, and I really hope for its success.

But the way to retain young business people can be as simple as making it easy to start a small business.

— Jon Swerens · Photo by (sean) on Flickr 

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Entry filed under: city culture, Harrison Square, Jon Swerens, Urbanism.

Looking at paleo-urbanism A maddening map of the precincts

4 Comments

  • 1. Kevin Knuth  |  November 7, 2007 at 10:24 am

    “But the way to retain young business people can be as simple as making it easy to start a small business.”

    I would appreciate you explaining how the city can mike it easy to start a business.

    Are you referring to financing? incentives?

    I am not wanting to sound snarky, I really do want to hear you view point on this.

  • 2. Jon Swerens  |  November 8, 2007 at 12:07 am

    Good question, Kevin. I’m going to answer this in a post later this week.

  • 3. Mike Harvey  |  November 9, 2007 at 10:19 am

    The Libertarians got good ideas about this including keeping property taxes low, and also along the idea of allowing a stability to form to allow that businesses to perhaps grow. Author Ken Wilber suggests that as a person you only only change 3 to 5% of yourself at a time because the ego needs stability. The same can apply to cities, businesses, etc…

  • 4. Proposal: Open-source government « the good city  |  November 10, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    […] a post below entitled “How not to fix your city,” I ended with an off-hand remark: But the way to retain young business people can be as simple as […]


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But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7

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