The Economist [Fri, 24 Jul 2020]
Farmers say crops tell the story: if you see cotton, it’s the south; if wheat, the west. Only when gazing on great expanses of corn or soyabean are you in the Midwest.
A report last September by a group of mayors noted that 86% of Americans live in metro areas, producing 91% of national income.
The best-run cities of America’s Midwest offer lessons in recovery
– If a town centre is an attractive place to live, work and play—with renovated bike paths, lots of parks, restaurants and nightlife—that draws young graduates, the newly retired and more.
– Cities also do well when they tap their own resources, or local social capital, instead of hoping for federal help or for a one-off giant investor who, with enough subsidies, will come in as a saviour.
– Another lesson is that the most successful places bet on “eds and meds”. Cities with a decent university or an expansive hospital system (often the two go together) reliably outperform others.
– cities with the deepest pools of talented workers tend to be long-term winners.
– Investing in its people is, ultimately, the Midwest’s greatest strength
One insight: rather than luring investors with incentives, cities should just create appealing living conditions. A second: cities have more assets than they realise. Public land can be exploited to raise funds for redevelopment and better public transport.
Average life expectancy, at 60 years, is decades less than in richer places. Violence is partly to blame. On May 31st 18 people were murdered in Chicago, its bloodiest day in six decades. Yet Melvin, a barber, won’t blame those in Englewood. “Once you got torn down neighbourhoods, abandoned buildings, drug infested, guns, then you know these kids, they’re vulnerable.” Many homes, shops and churches have been boarded up for years. A Whole Foods supermarket opened in 2016, but is mostly used by commuters who pull in from a motorway. Chicago can feel almost as segregated as South Africa just after apartheid. The common story of Bronzeville and Englewood is of slow-motion ejection of African-Americans. The mostly white, Hispanic and Asian populations north of Chicago are flourishing. But black residents are flocking out. The black population in the city has shrunk by nearly 290,000 this century. People go to suburbs, to Indiana or, in a “reverse great migration”, back south. The census this year is likely to show, for the first time, more Hispanics than African-Americans in Chicago.
“How can you provide a middle-class way of life if the jobs are serving omelettes in a restaurant?”
Training does not have to mean four-year degrees. Instead what is needed are vocational skills that can be taught simultaneously by companies and colleges.
The bulk of our success is in advanced manufacturing, in family-owned, mid-sized firms in their third or fourth generation of ownership, just like in Germany.”
TO BUILD A great city is simple, the politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said. First create a university, then wait 200 years. They in turn spread prosperity, in three ways. One is to bring in young people, often a city-sized population. Second, universities pool employable talent. Third, universities can refocus a city’s economy.
On average, 32% of Americans (25 or older) have at least a bachelor’s degree.
The average age of cars on American roads has approached almost 12 years, and around a quarter are at least 16 years old, according to IHS Markit.