the problems with cities…

Friday 17 December, 2010

I had lunch over this program The Next Metro Economy: Confronting the Persistent Challenges of Cities,which while depressing, was enlightening, I guess, as well.  Here’s what they lamented:

Michael Pagano, chair, opened by noting that 43.6M people live in poverty, 4.3% of the population.  17M/11% live in the suburbs, 21% are rural.

Gerald Frug posited that there are no real metro areas in the US, other than Portland.  Cities only have the authority granted to them by the states.  We need to map out authority to better address current needs without another centralized government.  States could empower cities to work together, but metros hide differences within metros.  We are now empowering undemocratic authority with public/private partnerships which do not include ordinary people.

Nik Theodore summarized the OECD competitive cities report which provided a guidebook for mayors to identify opportunities & choices to make them more competitive, which assumes Adam Smith’s invisible hand of capitalism (essentially everyone looking out for their own self-interest makes everyone better off), competition, & specialization.  This supposedly leads to rising labor standards too, but also increased worker insecurity.  Another survey quoted contradicted the OECD study.  1/4 were paid less than minimum wage & no overtime pay.  68% of firms had at least 1 pay violation in the last week, resulting in 15% wage theft.  Labor laws are not enforced:  OSHA only visits most businesses on average once every 133 years.

Pauline Lipman elucidated on the effects of education policy on cities.  She questioned the wisdom of using market-based policies that close down bad schools & open charter/magnet schools, which marginalize poverty & create inequitable investment.  Education is an actor in context driving policy.  National policy denies communities accountability for education.  These policies are destructive to low-income communities.  Violence increases with the number of transfer students.  Global mandates dictate high-stakes testing which test narrow measures of knowledge & turn schools into testing centers, which lead to a stratified labor force.  Mayoral control of eduation reflects the urban agenda, but has not served Chicago well, as Chicago public school test scores remain flat.  17% of charter school students have done better, but 37% have done worse.  Community-based organizations need to get involved to provide more teacher support, smaller classes, & curriculum enrichment.  Teachers should be evaluated by multiple assessments, not just test scores.  The problem starts at the top:  the composition of the Chicago public school board of directors is of investment bankers & real estate professionals, while 86% of students are from low-income households.  Communities should be better represented so that it’s realistic to be accountable to them.

Karen Mossberger related the role of technology in cities.  Productivity growth has come from information technologies, so broadband matters.  But in integrating technology into manufacturing, it displaces workers, so does that create equal opportunities? 63% of employed residents use the internet & they command a $118/week wage premium.  The result of this is a greater choice in jobs.  Technology disparities are related to differences in income:  some neighborhoods have less than 10% broadband penetration, which doubles the burden of being poor.  Questions of economic opportunity & home access are questions of human capital.  Cost is a barrier:  internet access in the US is more expensive than in some less-developed countries.

Alan Berube spoke to inequality.  The top 10% of American wage-earners earn 50% of all income;  the top 1% earn 25%.  Inequality is more pronounced in urban areas.  Our bottom 10% are on the same level as those in Uruguay, Argentina, & Ecuador.  Even the US has less social mobility now.  Tim Noah on slate cites 3 factors in rising inequality:

  1. globalization & labor policy
  2. corporate behavior
  3. interplay between education & technology, i.e. computers require more education

Those without college degrees have suffered most.  The new economy must create new demand.  A few changes may make a difference.  More exports should lead to better jobs.  More innovation may lead to more inequality.  We may be too late to capitalize on the low-carbon movement.

Xavier Nogueras complained that Mayor Daley is cutting the budgets/funding of 40-50 chambers of commerce in Chicago, which help small businesses create jobs.  Entrepreneurs haven’t gotten loan modifications & were the 1st hit by the recession.


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