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Thread: Portland---Kotkin dumps on his favorite straw man

  1. #1
    Member japrovo's avatar
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    Portland---Kotkin dumps on his favorite straw man

    Its not often we get to read a classic Kotkin vilification side by side with a rebuttal. And in this case the opposing op-ed cites Kotin in rebuttal of Kotkin (links below). Too much fun!

    So many posts about Kotkin or Portland for that matter inspire tedious, reductionist, tit-for-tat arguments here and elsewhere. For the moment let's set aside Kotkin's use of straw man arguments and shaky demographic assertions (E.g. Did you know that Latino's are choosing Metros in the Southwest over Portland because the City of Roses is overrun with that darned Creative Class?)

    Let's focus instead in the one useful question he asks: "Can a city survive -- and thrive -- primarily as a marketer of an urban experience?" I think his effort to answer that question misses the mark. The City of Portland (which by way of full disclosure I lived in until last year) functions as a part of a region. Can we instead ask whether or not a region can survive---and thrive---without a marketer of an urban experience at its core?

    The irony in all of this is that we've seen generations of white flight and middle class exodus from central cities, with market oriented development being offered as the answer. Kotkin vilifies Portland, a central city that has found a highly marketable niche in the regional and national economy, for being too successful.

    A very wise man once said to me that the places that would succeed in the 21st century would be the ones that were super dense or super sprawled. The ones who tried to have it both ways would fail. Here though is where I start getting squeamish as it raises the question of whether cities are for people to grow and prosper, or simply for generating tax dollars for places which presumably “trickle down” to people in terms of services. That's appears to be the dynamic we created in the postwar US by telling people to “vote with their feet” and “comparison shop” local governments.

    Should we just accept that some central cities will play this role of capturing the creative class for their respective regional economies which then grows up and moves to the suburbs just like much of the middle class in a Detroit or Baltimore? Or is the loss of school age populations in “creative-class dependent” central cities something that will rebound if and when the housing market finally slows down?

    I’m glad I’m in Appalachia now where I can ponder such “big-city doings” with some measure of detachment.

    • Portland: lost in its own reflection
    http://www.oregonlive.com/commentary...400.xml&coll=7
    Few cities in North America are as widely feted as Portland. For many, Portland represents the epitome of "smart" urbanism, a paragon that puts other, less-brainy places to shame.

    • Which Joel Kotkin to believe: the scoffer or the booster?
    http://www.oregonlive.com/commentary...760.xml&coll=7
    Joel Kotkin is a gifted writer, glib and provocative. In the rush to have something to say that's new and interesting, he doesn't let facts, or even his own previous views, get in his way.
    Last edited by japrovo; 12 Dec 2005 at 12:50 PM.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I would agree that the creative class needs someone to sell its products to, anyone putting together a regional economy based soley upon advertisers, artists, tech heads, and greasy cell phone salesmen will fail miserably. Creative class arguement flies in the face of Jane Jacob's export base theories, and location theories.

    Detroit as you menationed has a huge creative class base, although it has matured and many of these folks can be found living in the cul de sacs of suburbia or the farms of exurbia. Detroit also has international pressures to move more manufacturing jobs (and even some engineering jobs) overseas where the work can be done for less, and the companies do not have to worry about medical care.

    However all is not gloomy. NAFTA has made Detroit one of North America's Crossroads, and there is more stuff being shipped out of Detroit than any other port of entry. The big question is, where does this stuff come from? where is it going? How can the local 'creative class' capitalize on it? I also expect that the rising oil prices will make North American manufacturers happy as it is no longer as easy to ship so much manufacturing over to China, Sri Lanka, Poland, or other developing economies.

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          abrowne's avatar
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    I've got two more days of studio hell, but I will return and comment in due time.

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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Kotkin's vilification of Portland is undeserved. While he blasts the "creative-class" city for no longer being a place for upwardly mobile immigrants and families, this has to do more with the nature of the "new" American economy and the far-reaching effects of globalism. The industrial city he is so nostalgic about for providing opportunity for all is gone and won't come back. So when he compares the city of yesterday with the city of today he is comparing apples and oranges.

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    Kotkin's "flip-flop" confuses me as well (I live in Portland, 8 years now). Is he going to write a piece in 2010 extolling Portland because the growth rate in Washington County (where Beaverton and Hillsboro are - where he cites the middle-class families and jobs have moved to) will have slowed, the Portland housing bubble will have long since either totally burst or at least slowly deflated, Adidas having years since moved its HQ from Beaverton to Portland, Nike and the City of Beaverton wrangling over annexation, that IKEA located a store in Portland, and the very ambitous MacAdam development (estimated $11 billion investment) has created another "downtown?"

    I'm just saying that, like all metropolitan regions, Portland's is in flux. The City's public schools have indeed seen a drop in enrollment...that is a local issue having as much to do with the sorry state of the school system's physical infrastructure and funding woes as much if not more so than the glut of childless couples and well-off retirees living here. You can't extricate the regional economic and political realities when talking of how a city seeks to lure both middle-income families and the creative class.

    And citing Wendell Cox on the "measured effectiveness of transit" issue in Portland...c'mon now

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    And I like Kotkin, but I am not sure what he means to say about Portland.

    Of course I also don't really understand the "genius" of Florida and his creative class.

    Haven't smart, young, diverse, artistic types always live in places like Boston, New York and San Francisco?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Planetizen carried the article and Kotkin already has given his rebuttal.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian ChevyChaseDC's avatar
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    I think that overall, Kotkin's vision of what makes a city successful are curious. Even though he mocks the reinvestment in and revitalization of central cities as an insignificant blip within an economically obsolete area, it is these very 'obsolete' areas that contain a disproportionate amount of a region's wealth and cultural resources, not to mention jobs. New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco - these cities have solidified their places as the permanent centers of their regions, and will endure for time imemorial, regardless of what is happening on the friges of these regions, from so-called "competition" with their own suburbs for economic prosperity. As long as San Francisco is a dynanimic place where people want to live and work, it doesn't matter that a startup company has decided to locate in Half Moon Bay or Livermore or Santa Rosa. It's (indirectly) because of San Francisco that all these firms and institutions have sprouted up in suburbs in the first place. The same is true in other regions with first-tier world cities at their center. I see no beef with Portland trying to emulate first-tier cities.

    Kotkin tends to heap praise on regions like Phoenix, which are indeed growing very fast, both in terms of population and employment. I (and I suspect most of you too) don't agree with the idea that growth alone is worth pursuing for its intrinsic value and the buzz it creates ('we're the Valley's fastest growing HVAC specialists!'). Quality of life is important. People all over the country have begun to recognize that. The days of investing tax dollars in the kind of public infrastructure that fosters water, energy, and land guzzling are over in an increasing number of reigons. Voters in Metro Denver recognize the value of a central place, and are putting their money ( infrastructure ) where their mouths are, to spur growth in places where it will last for a long time, as opposed to, say, Phoenix or Las Vegas, which increasingly resemble (sans weather) Detroit 90 years ago. If Kotkin were alive during the era of Henry Ford and the Model T, which were booming times for Detroit, he may have praised that city's ability to provide upward mobility to working class families at a fast pace. Fast forward to now, and the city is a shell of its former self (the largest in the United States with a daily net out-migration of workers to the suburbs ), and the region's economy is still largely tied to the fate of the struggling "Big Two-and-Half."

    Just because the fringe is growing at a faster rate than the center, that should never mean focusing public expendature to accomodate market failure, and abandon the central place. Sadly, this already happened in countless cities (i.e. Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo). Other places began their growth spurts after 1945, and never developed strong central places (e.g. Phoenix). I don't believe such places are designed for enduring prosperity; Which cities and regions do you think will continue to prosper 50, 100 years from now? I'd say Greater Portland, Oregon is following the wise path so that it'll still be a great place for a long time.

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          abrowne's avatar
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    OK, I now have time to comment after emerging from studio. I find that Kotkin is a very strange fellow, and similar to the above poster, I feel that his typical vision of a successful city is a strange one indeed. Having (painfully) read his book, The City, I found it very curious that he seemed to emphasize religious institutions as the foundation of the city, as I can find no actual evidence to support such a claim. Collective security, the need to stay in one place for agriculture, et al are all reasonable... but religion? Religion as the city-maker? The entire book was shot for me at that point.

    Mumford touched on the idea of the shrine, the deity, the religion as being one of the many elements that glue populations, but he never went so far as to suggest it was the absolute factor, as Kotkin did. The more I think about the book the more I become steamed and angry. Worse, still, is that I saw a signup sheet on a professor's door at the School of Planning here in Waterloo for a trip to Toronto to see Kotkin speak. Blegh. Infection within academia!

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    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Just to toot my own horn, I wrote a rebuttal to one of Kotkin's previous articles in my not-oft-updated blog last june:

    http://hafd.org/~jordanb/pyblosxom.p...ity-07-25-2005

  11. #11
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    I just read Kotkin's critique of the LA mayor's plans for "densifying" LA.

    Kotkin seems more and more contrarian with every paper he pens. He even contradicts himself. In five paragraphs he compares the prospect of a dense LA to an unruly third-world place capital like Tehran or Mexico City then says that Angelenos don't want to live in an expensive, dense city of high-rises like Paris or San Francisco? (cities of high-rises????)
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

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    Cyburbian ChevyChaseDC's avatar
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    having read Kotkin's column where he is critical of Villaraigosa's plans for LA, I suspect he may be exhibiting classic urban infill NIMBYism. Take every instance of the words "Angelenos", "we" or "they" and replace it with "I", "me," and "my." It's understandable that a resident of one of the nicer neighborhoods on the Westside or up in the hills would not want to cope with even more traffic along Wilshire and other east-west thoroughfares as ever more highrises and density appear. But there is little to no chance that such a pattern would ever find its way into single family residential areas such as to eliminate the detached single family home as LA's standard abode. True, many low-rise 'Melrose Place' style apartments have proliferated there as infill, but the simple fact is that LA will never look like Manhattan. Or San Francisco. Or Paris. So Kotkin shouldn't worry about that. But he should already know that. What the mayor was referring to was not recreating Manhattan; rather, fostering denser mixed use development along corridors a la Wilshire, that can be connected via transit. He's even going to push to complete the subway to the sea, as originally intended before Congressman Waxman passed a federal law banning more subways in LA. Waxman himself has since come around to the idea that a subway line is the only feasible way to increase capacity. More people are coming; they have to live somewhere and have some way to get around. LA is no longer the poster child for car-oriented urbanism; it's already quite dense and lively in spots, and will only become more so.

    Kotkin has officially emerged as pro-fringe and anti-infill. He bristles at the ever-densifying LA landscape, criticizing the Mayor's plans as something that residents do not want. This is contradictory to his extolling the virtues of low-density auto-oriented development as (similar to David Brooks) a market phenomenon, dismissing anti-sprawl and smart growth activists. The roles have been reversed. Now the Sierra Club lists its favorite infill projects while Kotkin hopes to help block growth and progress in LA.

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