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Friday, January 13, 2012


by Michael Monks 
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This is another post from the right-leaning City Journal presented for your consideration. On Thursday, we discussed the merits of convention center expansions. Today, let's take a look at the magazine's position on economic development plans titled Urban Development Legends as it may relate to Covington's Center City Action Plan, currently under construction in Denver: 
A lot of grand theories have been advanced—targeted tax incentives! bike paths!—but they have proven of little practical use.
(snip)Though cluster-based strategies remain popular among economic-development strategists, they contain an inherent flaw: today’s winning clusters may be tomorrow’s losing clusters. Building an entire development strategy on one cluster is as risky as assembling an investment portfolio concentrated in one or two stocks.
(snip)A declining Rust Belt city can’t be turned around simply by inventing a snappy slogan. In the late 1970s, Rochester launched a marketing campaign with the tagline “I’d rather be in Rochester.” To judge from the city’s fortunes, the branding didn’t produce the desired results. It’s hard to imagine that the new slogan that Rochester introduced in the 2000s—“Rochester. Made for living”—will do any better.
(snip)Don’t get me wrong: I’m not ideologically opposed to public investments in the arts. But it’s hard to demonstrate that they promote economic growth. The problem is the direction of causality: Does a vibrant cultural scenecause local prosperity, as Florida’s acolytes say, or is it the consequence of local prosperity?
(snip) A city with poor development prospects is doing the right thing in educating its young effectively, of course, but it is also increasing the chances that they will leave, which is good for the students but makes the city even poorer. Indeed, the fact that education in America is usually financed locally means that richer cities are essentially free riders, importers of labor educated elsewhere.
(snip)Big and small cities are also very different economic animals, so no one development scheme is likely to work across the board. The small ones mostly compete by trying to offer lower costs (especially in real estate and wages) and access to various nearby markets, not by attracting the café latte crowd.
(snip)The conclusion to draw from all this isn’t that cities can do nothing to promote economic development. It’s that they should avoid academic fads and quick fixes, which are no substitute for obvious policy goals like competently providing mandated services at reasonable cost, keeping streets safe, and not taxing and regulating away businesses—good governance, in sum, and even that comes with no guarantee to work.
The whole thing is worth your time to read. So, what are your thoughts? It has been said that Covington has been "planned to death" as evidenced by the Center City Action Plan being the 20th such attempt since 2000 to revitalize the City. Are the obstacles for any plan too big to succeed?

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