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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Cities' "hipness" competition

I've blogged here before about the "cool cities" / "creative class" argument.  Now, in a similar vein, comes this New York Times piece, "Cities Compete in Hipness Battle To Attract the Young."  The piece opens with this:

Some cities will do anything they can think of to keep young people from fleeing to a hipper town.

In Lansing, Mich., partiers can ease from bar to bar on the new Entertainment Express trolley, part of the state's Cool Cities Initiative. In Portland, Ore., employees at an advertising firm can watch indie rock concerts at lunch and play "bump," an abbreviated form of basketball, every afternoon.

And in Memphis, employers pay for recruits to be matched with hip young professionals in a sort of corporate Big Brothers program. A new biosciences research park is under construction - not in the suburbs, but downtown, just blocks from the nightlife of Beale Street.

These measures reflect a hard demographic reality: Baby boomers are retiring and the number of young adults is declining. By 2012, the work force will be losing more than two workers for every one it gains.

The essay, and the phenomenon it addresses, raise interesting questions, I think, about what law can do -- e.g., zoning laws, liquor licensing, etc. -- to make cities / metro areas more (or less) attractive to the young (or the old, for that matter).  And, I imagine that to the extent law has an "expressive" function, a particular city's policy-regulation package might attract target populations simply through the message / image it communicates.

Posted by Rick Garnett on December 7, 2006 at 03:11 PM in Rick Garnett | Permalink


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Not really responsive to your question, but I grew up down the road from Lansing and remember when the local leaders thought it would improve the city's image to sponsor and promote a generic-sounding rock song called "Dancing in Lansing." Good times.

More responsive. Gay/lesbian friendly laws (anti-discrimination in employment would be only one example).

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Dec 7, 2006 4:06:29 PM

No restrictions on booze sales/ bars never close.
Good, free, safe 24 hr public transit.
Relax DWI laws
Legalize Pot
Four day work week

Posted by: Anon | Dec 7, 2006 10:24:19 PM

Rick, what does any of this have to do with “law” and “cities”? The only example involving city-provided goods was the trolley. The rest are simply perks provided by private employers to their own employees. That is, you are just listing various (in-kind) forms of employee compensation.

Some employers offer higher salaries; some offer more vacation time; some offer fancy cafeteria with free food, bigger offices, flexible schedules – and some offer basketball courts! Oh my. What’s exactly so new and exciting about it? And why is this about the government and laws and licensing and zoning? What am I missing here?

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Dec 7, 2006 10:51:57 PM

Does Portland need to be made cool? It already seemed cool when I was living in Idaho, but maybe that just says something about Idaho. (And I can't see the advantage of offering basketball at work- I think I'd rathe go home earlier.)

Posted by: Matt | Dec 7, 2006 11:06:25 PM

Kate: I said, in my post, that the piece -- headlined "Cities compete" -- "raise[s] interesting questions . . . about what law can do -- e.g., zoning laws, liquor licensing, etc. -- to make cities / metro areas more (or less) attractive to the young (or the old, for that matter)."

Although, as you say, the specifics mentioned in the piece were, for the most part, perks being provided by private employers or non-profits, the piece also referred to the state of Michigan's "cool cities" initiative, it talked about the "problem for cities", quoted Philadelphia's "director of Commerce", etc. My suggestion -- and I apologize if I didn't pose it clearly enough, or if you think it was not worth posing -- was simply that the phenomenon described in the piece, i.e., "cities" competing for the young, might make us think about what the *law*, in conjunction with employers' (presumably non-required) benefits-packages, might do and express in order to help cities succeed in that competition.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Dec 8, 2006 10:27:07 AM

I sure hope cities won’t decide to spend my tax dollars on perks to a group who is in no particular need for government subsidy. I also sure hope that cities won’t decide to stifle companies with more regulation (re whom to hire, how many hours to work, what benefits to provide, etc.) that will increase the costs of doing business and will, on the margin, drive employers away.

I am willing to pay for basic education and roads and the police. But a bar-hopping subsidy for investment bankers and computer geeks? You’re kidding.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Dec 8, 2006 4:42:20 PM

Kate, I agree with you. It seems to me that the best strategy for attracting residents who will contribute to the health and vitality of a city is to create regulatory and physical environments that are attractive to the people who create, staff, and seek good jobs. The "hip" amenities will follow, it seems to me, without ham-handed government subsidization. In fact, I wonder if the more promising "cool city" strategy is not increased subsidization or regulation, but *de-regulation*, e.g., changing zoning laws to permit the kind of land-use patterns that, apparently, the folks these cool cities want like.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Dec 8, 2006 4:52:05 PM

I often wonder whether hip people who claim that they want freedom from overbearing government actually want freedom from overbearing government – or whether they just want the kind of overbearing government that takes resources from unhip people and gives them to hip people.

Judging by the number of hipsters who support rent control, mandatory paid vacations, and government subsidies for dumb rich girls who want to major in “women’s studies,” I suspect it’s the latter. Hip people aren’t really different from the uphip army of corn growers, steel manufacturers, unionized teachers, and other protectionists and leeches. Rent-seeking galore – the designer-jeans edition.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Dec 8, 2006 8:34:34 PM

"Dumb rich girls who major in women's studies" are "rent seekers"? I wonder if you've got anything to back this up or an explanation for it. Maybe this is one of those evidence-free experessions of a personal prejudice we sometimes hear about.

Posted by: Matt | Dec 8, 2006 9:24:38 PM

Matt, I am not sure whether you don’t know what “rent seeking” means or whether you are unaware that our undergraduate education is heavily subsidized by the government -- both federal and state, in multiple ways, especially in public universities. Dumb rich girls receive a heavy government subsidy for their four years of junk-major entertainment, while men (and women) from working-class families just get a job after high school, pay taxes, and get no equivalent of such subsidy. As dumb rich girls go through their binge of consuming public resources (aka college years), they pontificate on how this wealth transfer is “fair” and “improves America,” and lobby to increase it.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Dec 8, 2006 11:07:28 PM

I hope you'll forgive me, Kate, if I don't just take your word for the fact that people who take women's studies classes are, even in the majority, "dumb" and/or "rich". (If they were rich wouldn't we expect them to be in private schools, where they would at least be extracting fewer rents?) I'll grant you that most of them are women. I also hope you'll not feel bad if I don't just take your word for it that such study contributes less to the public good than it costs. Since, of course, we don't have anything to go on here but your opinion, and in the areas outside of your field of study I can't say I think that highly of it or see any reason to credit it, I'm not much moved here.

Posted by: Matt | Dec 8, 2006 11:27:16 PM

Oh yes, Matt. Dumb people don’t tend to concentrate in junk majors of the “women’s studies” or “communications” sort. No, dumb people are all in Physics and Statistics and Electrical Engineering. Because we’ve all seen lots and lots of dumb people who started in women’s studies, failed miserably, switched to theoretical physics, and graduated at the top of the class. Anybody who claims otherwise must show empirical data!

I am also rolling my eyes at your failure to capture the difference between my comment (“dumb rich girls concentrate in junk departments”) and your recitation of it (“most people in junk departments are dumb rich girls”), but I will leave this little weakness on the conscience to your Ph.D. advisors.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Dec 8, 2006 11:59:29 PM

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