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Thread: how important are the old factors of a city?

  1. #1
    Member simulcra's avatar
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    how important are the old factors of a city?

    I'm wondering, even today, do factors that determined the success of a city in the past (major rivers, solid ports) still play a significatn role in a city of today?

    i ask this because with the development of rails and highways, development patterns altered, but with continued air traffic increase and the furthering of the wireless/digital age, does geography still play a huge role?

    like, is austin or portland never going to achieve, say... seattle (for the sake of argument) status because they don't have anything like the puget sound for ease of access? or can the boise's of the world find their own advantage and potential independent of advantageous geography?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Re: how important are the old factors of a city?

    I'm wondering, even today, do factors that determined the success of a city in the past (major rivers, solid ports) still play a significant role in a city of today?

    I think they do, but not in the original way. The port of Boston may have shriveled, along with the fishing fleet, but the waterfront offers new economic opportunities for recreation, tourism and luxury living--and the memory of history. The port was good as a workplace and it is good as a playground.
    You could say the same of St. Louis, along with San Francisco, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Charleston, Savannah, Seattle, Vancouver, and New York.

    Most cities on Cyburbia’s Top Ten Places to Live poll fit your criteria. It is hard to think of a single good city without water or some other geographic feature, such as mountains (which were never very utilitarian). It’s not hard to think of some cities that lack these features and are not so good. Rather than bash these places here, I’ll let you make your own list; a lot of them can be found in the “No way would I live there” department of Cyburbia’s top ten poll.

    I ask this because with the development of rails and highways, development patterns altered, but with continued air traffic increase and the furthering of the wireless/digital age, does geography still play a huge role?

    If you take a strictly utilitarian view of life and the workplace, it no longer matters so much where you live, unless you are in certain industries, such as entertainment, publishing, finance or atom bombs. I did all my Christmas shopping on the Internet, and I noticed the parking lots were not quite as full as last year. More and more people make their living on the Internet.

    But man lives not by bread alone, and yes, geography does still play a huge role—maybe huger than ever, now that people have a bit more freedom to choose where they live. Just look at all the comments about weather and setting on the Cyburbia Top Ten poll. With the advent of air conditioning, people are choosing to live in the Sunbelt (but they also grouse a lot, about the fact that there’s not much to do).

    Cyburbians, being largely urbanists, prefer cities with large areas of pre-automotive urban structure, such as (in order) New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, Portland, San Francisco, Toronto, San Diego, Philadelphia, Seattle and Vancouver.

    There are plenty of others that share the preferences of Cyburbians. If they have money, they indulge their geographic preferences and move to one of these places, driving the cost of living even further up, by supply and demand. These places are not growing much in population, in spite of being desirable to live in, because they are pretty much locked up, growth-wise, by NIMBYs and their servant, zoning. If you consult the law of supply and demand, you could say that hidden evidence of the continued growth of these places is the ongoing upward march of house prices and rent.

    Most Cyburbians are income-challenged and mature realists who recognize that they can’t necessarily live in their dream cities, because they can’t afford to, and the job competition from the like-minded is too fierce. According to the Harris Poll, most Americans (also being realists and perhaps less in love with cities) have shifted their dreams from nice cities to nice climates, which are much more affordable.

    So, yes, there is a geographic factor emerging to supplement water and mountains: a climate with a mild or nonexistent winter. This is one factor that explains ongoing migration to Florida, California, and the Sunbelt in general.

    Air traffic, imo, is pretty much neither here nor there.

    Like, is Austin or Portland never going to achieve, say... Seattle (for the sake of argument) status because they don't have anything like the Puget Sound for ease of access? or can the Boise's of the world find their own advantage and potential independent of advantageous geography?

    It’s no longer “Puget Sound for ease of access”, and hasn’t been for a while; it’s Puget Sound for the atmosphere: the foghorns and the nostalgia left behind by the stevedores and lumberjacks, and their predilection for hot coffee—and the fact that you can walk. It’s great for a few years until the perpetual drizzle gets inside your bones.

    For their own sake, I hope some alternative to advantageous geography emerges to allow places like Boise to emerge from the shadows of mediocrity (btw I think Portland is misplaced on your list and I thought Boise was near the mountains—never been there), but it hasn’t showed up yet, or if it has I am not aware of it. Maybe they can figure out how to get rid of winter in Boise.
    Last edited by ablarc; 04 Jan 2004 at 5:54 PM.

  3. #3
    I think the only factors in deciding where people are going to live in the future will be

    A) Where the jobs are (the sunbelt)
    B) Where the family is
    C) Where there is excitement (well esablished cities)

    I live in Spokane (very close to Boise geographically and in city size. Read as: small town with big city problems.) It's a farming town that is the result from too much money comming in from mining barons near the turn of the century. Now we are the "entertainment center of the inland northwest." Yeah right. Three malls, a bunch of bars and a few blocks of pretty downtown.

    The benefits of a town this size are-

    A) Cheap housing (I mean really cheap, median price for a house is about $100,000)
    B) Good public education
    C) Virtually untouched by economic slumps (and ups)
    D) Close to nature

    As much as I love the parts that are nice here, and as much as I would love to see it grow into something special, I don't think it will ever be anything other than "a good place to raise the kids."

    I don't think towns like this will be exciting because that's not what the residents want, and there is nothing important about their locations (mainly proximity to the equator).

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Interesting observations, Quail. I visited Spokane last year and came away with a mixed impression. The downtown is nice, there are some really decent neighborhoods, and the surrounding countryside is beautiful. On th eother hand there is far too much run-down retail, some banal (or worse) neighborhoods, and it appeared as if the economic base needed some greater diversification.

    I think you are being far too limiting in saying jobs, family, and excitement are the deciding factors, or at least in the way you define these. Many places outiside of the sunbelt will thrive. Some of these are older urban centers such as Boston and Chicago, and some are up-and-coming cities like Santa Fe (climate is hardly "sunbelt") or even Missoula, or Jackson Wyoming. "Entertainment" is a broad term and can apply to the Tetons as well as the New Orleans jazz scene as well as a beach in San Diego. Florida should not be so easily dismissed when he speaks of the flexibility of employment to follow people, rather than people coming to where the jobs are.

    I would also hesitate to believe that the jobs are all going to be in the south or southwest. There is a tremendous base of industry and the resources to support it in th enorth and northeast. These assets will not simply go away. Machinery manufacturing in the Milwaukee-Chicago region, plastics manufacturing in Ohio and Indiana, and financial services in New York are among hundreds of clusters that will continue to provide jobs outside of the sunbelt.

  5. #5

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    Plus, many of the core industries in the Sunbelt are as easily "off-shored" as any midwestern auto parts plant.

  6. #6

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    [QUOTE]Originally posted by ablarc
    I think they do, but not in the original way. The port of Boston may have shriveled, along with the fishing fleet, but the waterfront offers new economic opportunities for recreation, tourism and luxury living--and the memory of history. The port was good as a workplace and it is good as a playground.
    You could say the same of St. Louis, along with San Francisco, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Charleston, Savannah, Seattle, Vancouver, and New York.



    I agree, except that I think that rail freight and coal mining will be way out in America for a good while yet. So, towns that were based on being a railroad hub (Scranton?, Harrisburg?), or a coal mining town (Charlestown, WV) probably have a good bit of trouble ahead of them still.

    Agricultural "market" towns which are no longer surrounded by agriculture, and have lost whatever industry made them grow will also, in my opinion, continue to have a hard time (Flint, MI)

    Mill towns can sometimes capitalize on the old mill buildings, if they're close enough to a population that can appreciate them and want to move their residences/businesses into them (Lawrence, Mass), but lacking that population, its rough going (Lewiston, ME).

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Hmm, since the quake, Valdivia has changed lots, before it was a heavy industrial city, now mainly touristic and universitary city.

    Valdivia wouldn't have many touristic atractions if it weren't for the quake, but still Valdivia is Valdivia because of the river, and without it, it would be just another city, without a touristic attraction.

    Through the years, the function of Valdivia has changed, but it's forvever linked to the river. So the "old" factors still apply.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Originally posted by BKM
    Plus, many of the core industries in the Sunbelt are as easily "off-shored" as any midwestern auto parts plant.
    I'll give a qualified yes to the first part, and no to the second. For many years, the south pursued a strategy of raiding northern states to move low-wage production jobs into their states. Highly-skilled positions in mchinery manufacturing, tool & die works, etc., were generally less resistent to relocation as the skilled work force was not readily available in the south. Southern states have more recently managed to begin creating these jobs, more so from foreign companies setting up shop in the US than from relocating northern companies. The older, less-skilled positions created in the 1960's and 70's are going overseas, along with pre-existing industries such as textiles.

    As for midwestern auto parts plants, the results are mixed. We have not done a good job of expanding our assembly operations, as these tend to favor the south, with its lower standards, lower costs, and ridiculously high incentives. On the other hand, our parts manufacturers are mostly doing a very good job of competing. Much of this growth is due to contracts to supply parts overseas.

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