04 November 2009

Who needs hip to grow? Not York

What really matters to the City of York’s socioeconomic sustainability? This piece from Joel Kotkin is worth contemplating. While I don’t always agree with Kotkin, his work is rock solid – he’s a serious academic, not a shoot-from-the-hip booster or ideologue.

He makes two main points. First:

"The Wall Street Journal, for example, recently identified the "Next Youth-Magnet Cities" as drawn from the old "hip and cool" collection of yore: Seattle, Portland, Washington, New York and Austin, Texas.
It's not just the young who will flock to the blue meccas, but money and business as well, according to the narrative. The future, the Atlantic assured its readers, did not belong to the rubes in the suburbs or Sun Belt, but to high-density, high-end places like New York, San Francisco and Boston.
This narrative, which has not changed much over the past decade, is misleading and largely misstated. Net migration, both before and after the Great Recession, according to analysis by the Praxis Strategy Group, has continued to be strongest to the predominately red states of the South and Intermountain West."

And second:

More important, the key group leaving New York and other so-called "youth-magnets" comprises the middle class, particularly families, critical to any long-term urban revival.

I think there is good news and bad news for a place like York in Kotkin's essay. The bad news is that we happen to find our city trapped in a state with seemingly intractable systems that work against the success of older communities, and that, as a whole, is a “donor” to the migration patterns he describes. The good news is that we probably don’t need to spend so much time beating ourselves up that we’re not Austin or Portland – that we’re not hip enough to attract the ballyhooed “creative class” – and focus on the message that for plenty of families, value and jobs matter more than hip coffee shops and jazz clubs. I’m not arguing against those things – they are a proper part of creating a downtown “Market District” that offers the quality of life that is needed to attract a certain segment of the population, and they are good for our downtown. But let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture either.

At the end of the day, York County has a couple of things going for it that are as much good fortune as they are clever economic development:

1. A great location on the edge of the Northeast Corridor, with excellent transportation access to some of the wealthiest markets in the world.
2. Relatively inexpensive land and a lower cost-of-living than is found in those markets.

With those two factors as the backdrop, the City of York has a couple of things going for it:

1. An absolutely fantastic built environment with a downtown and neighborhoods that bear all the attributes of a great urban place.
2. A shifting demographic, cultural and energy-cost climate (that will last probably 30 years) that will be far more favorable to walkable, urban places than the last 30 years have been.

It’s our job to stop apologizing for ourselves and our city (and our schools, and our taxes, and our crime) and take advantage of the above factors with an economic- and community-development strategy that looks at how to change the game based on where the market is headed. Let’s make ourselves a great urban place and let the other chips fall where they may. Today would be a good opportunity to start.

- Eric Menzer, YorkCounts chairman of the board


Eugene DePasquale said...

While I agree with just about everything the one item we need to get is confidence. At a basic level, are we attracted to individuals that always moan or ones that are upbeat…communities aren’t much different. Do we have challenges…of course. Name me one place in the world that doesn’t. For the first time since I have moved here York has begun to get positive NATIONAL attention because of the historic nature of what happened yesterday. Many cities came to this point sooner, for sure, but came to it we have. We need to embrace this opportunity because it doesn’t come along every day.

As Crash Davis said to Annie Savoy in "Bull Durham:" A player has to respect the streak because they don’t happen very often.

Steve Mitchell said...

I agree with Eric! Who cares about “cool” anyway? York is a great place to live and work, and we need to tell that story effectively. Also agree that this is the time to start, we are so ready for an attitude adjustment.

Bill Swartz III said...

Totally agree with your conclusions Eric. And this piece checks our assumptions. The good news is that the Central Market, Market Square District and many other existing and planned downtown destinations are attractive to a wide variety of people, all ages, races and income levels. Central Market in particular is an example of a place that is equally loved by the progressive, hip, health conscious crowd, the suburban crowd and the more traditional, rural crowd. Interestingly, in many ways, the PA Dutch mentality fits right alongside the green mentality. Resuse, recycle. It's cheap. And it's the right thing to do. At market, we see the PA Dutch types and green types sitting right next to each other at Mezzogiorno's lunch counter. My point is, it seems that we don't need to choose between hip and mainstream because the two in many ways are beginning to merge. The evidence is Giant Foods and Weis Markets pushing fresh local produce. Hip and progressive has gone mainstream. I hope we can keep developing venues with this broad appeal. It is so important for us to keep in mind the lesson contained in the article you sent. We can't get too "hip happy."

Deron Schriver said...

Great points by all! It all starts with a vision that includes people from all races, income levels, etc. Too many people are sitting around waiting for elected officials to make it happen. This ship is too big to be steered solely by our elected officials mainly because, despite their powers, they are still only a small piece of the puzzle. Do we want a movement lead by 20-30 people, or do we want to figure out how to attract and harness the power of 10-20 thousand people?

I see a very bright future for York. We just need to figure out how to engage enough citizens to create the momentum. We can't pave over our problems with big projects. Let's address the people aspects first. Then projects like NW Triangle become no-brainers.

Whenever you're ready, save me a seat at the table!