Friday, September 03, 2010

Cities - Not What They Used to Be

Urban Plight: Vanishing Upward Mobility — The American, A Magazine of Ideas Cities were once the place to go to get a leg up on life. Low cost housing, but not horrible housing, jobs in walking distance at the mill or factory. But that changed a long time ago. Those blue collar jobs are gone, for the most part, mostly overseas, but definitely out of the city. The schools by and large don't provide the kind of education required for the jobs that are there, (finance etc.) most of which require a college or advanced degree anyway. At some point they became traps.
President Obama’s hometown of Chicago shows much the same pattern, according to a recent survey by Crain’s Chicago Business. Conditions have improved for a relative handful of neighborhoods close to the highly globalized central businesses. But for many neighborhoods things have not improved, and in some cases have deteriorated. Even before the recession there were fewer jobs than in 1989 and fewer opportunities for the middle class, many of whom—including more than 100,000 African-Americans—have left the city over the past decade.
I worked for a multinational (with headquarters in Switzerland) at their Chicago facility in the late 1980s. Their main data-center was in Chicago and we bought a lot of supplies, and paper, and PCs. We justified moving to the suburbs just based on the tax savings. Difference in sales tax, slightly more than 1%, Chicago had a head-tax (cost per employee), etc. etc. It didn't help that even then it was expensive and slow to get any electrical work done. And we were all happy because we ended up working in a safer neighborhood.

I can't imagine why anybody would want to work, let alone live, in that city anymore. It used to be a great place. Now it's a mess.

The mayor, in his rush to get more income, raised the parking rates to something obscene - several dollars per hour. Of course the result is people who can avoid it are not parking at meters even if they have to walk blocks to avoid it. They also avoid areas with meters, which hurts business, which drives even more jobs away, which will cause Mayor Daley to look for even more income. He will keep digging that hole, because it is all he knows how to do, even though continually doing the same thing and expecting a different result is one sign of madness.

Of course Chicago isn't alone, just a city I am (or was) very familiar with. But all cities are struggling with similar problems. The basic problem is good-jobs. They just aren't in the cities anymore.
Green-oriented policies are often hostile to “carbon intensive” industries such as manufacturing, warehousing, or construction that employ middle-income workers. Green policies implicitly tilt towards industries such as media, entertainment, and finance that employ the best-situated social classes.

Indeed, some climate change enthusiasts, such as The Guardian’s George Monbiot, see their cause in quasi-religious terms. In Monbiot’s words, he is waging “a battle to redefine humanity.” In his view, we must terminate the economic “age of heroism,” supplanting the “expanders” with anti-growth “restrainers.”

This is not just the latest edition of British “loony Left” thinking. President Obama’s own science advisor, John Holdren, long has embraced the notion of what he calls “de-development” of Western economies to a lower level of affluence.
Of course while your "de-developing" all those jobs out of existence, it will be a little hard on the workers of America.

And when did getting rid of jobs become a good thing? I thought the Left was all down on sending jobs overseas. (If you de-develop the US, somebody somewhere is going to make the stuff we used to make.)

The factory in Chicago my tech-skills supported packed up and moved out some time ago. The space couldn't be given away, given the age of the buildings, the deteriorating neighborhood and the taxes, so it belongs to the City and is a school or something similar last I heard. 1200 jobs ranging from entry-level to skilled gone from the city, without anything put in its place. But I am sure whatever is there now has a smaller carbon footprint. (No trucks coming and going, no manufacturing, etc. etc. etc.)

If US Steel suddenly wanted to reopen the South Chicago steel-mills (South Works), there would be an outcry about putting that big a polluter in the neighborhoods of the poor. Of course before the mills closed, those neighborhoods weren't poor. There was a lot of pollution however. And we can discuss the reasons those mills were shut at length if you want to, but that isn't the point. Those jobs left the city and were never replaced with anything. Part of the South Works has been made into a park. I'm sure it's very nice, and employs less than 1% of the people the mills did.


Zendo Deb said...

It actually wasn't US Steel that closed the South Works, but I doubt many people associate Wisconsin Steel and Chicago.

"In 1980 Wisconsin Steel workers on the three o'clock shift were told to go home because the mill was closed and headed for bankruptcy. By 1982, the furnaces were shut down, doors, gates, and machinery were closed and turned off, and the process of selling site assets began. After a series of court challenges, the property is now once again owned by Navistar which is charged with the responsibility of cleaning it up so that it can be used for light industry. "

If you follow that link above, you will see a picture of haze hanging over the mill. The state, or the county or the city paid to keep the blast furnaces running for those 2 years while they tried to find a buyer. Once the furnaces were shut down, they needed to be deconstructed/rebuilt before relighting. Not cost effective in 1980 given the age of the furnaces.

They want to redevelop the site, but there are problems of pollution.

Anonymous said...

I think that traditional cities are an artifact of the industrial revolution that was required by the need for large numbers of workers to be in the same physical location to acheive economy of scale. Now with modern transportation and telecommunications, that's no longer the case.

In a hundred years, I think most of the US's major cities will have essentially disappeared.

Zendo Deb said...


There are still reasons to congregate with like minded folks. And cities have been around a lot longer than the steam engine.

Universities. Arts. etc.

You can do a lot over the internet or with modern communications, but I still need to get out with folks, or I start to feel trapped.