Rhymes so loud and proud you hear it
It's Christmas time and we got the spirit
Jack Frost chillin, the orchids out
And that's what Christmas is all about
The time is now, the place is here
And the whole wide world is filled with cheer

~Run DMC

Happy Holidays. Back in 2007.

Get on Board

Modern mass transit is no longer an option for Great Lakes cities; it's an imperative. The environmental and social benefits that accrue to cities that invest in rapid public transit are well documented. Now mounting evidence suggests that public spending on transit systems yield significant economic returns as well.

The streetcar is a particularly stong economic engine, according to a presentation at the recent Railvolution conference in Chicago. Among the findings:
  • Little Rock, Ark., opened a 2.5-mile route in 2004 at a cost of approximately $20 million and already has experienced more $1.2 billion in new development.
  • Tampa's 2.3-mile, $56 million streetcar system, opened in 2003, already has leveraged $1 billion in private investment.
  • Tacoma's $89 million streetcar system, opened in 2003, already has generated nearly $1 billion in redevelopment.
Still, the majority of elected leaders across the Great Lakes region continue to view mass transit not as a crucial economic development tool that can revitalize cities and chart a course for 21st century prosperity, but rather as an expensive, big-government social service for getting poor people to work and old people to the doctor.

WMU Engineers Top Talent

Reinforcing the fact that the greater Great Lakes region is equipped with some of the strongest innovation infrastructure in the world, the American Society for Engineering Management recently ranked the engineering management program at Western Michigan University top in the United States.

This is third year that the program has ranked among America's top five, according to a university press release, and the national exposure has fueled significant jumps in enrollment, as well as graduation and placement rates for WMU-trained engineers.

The national acclaim comes amidst mounting awareness that the ability to cultivate talent, develop cutting edge ideas, and deliver new knowledge and technologies to market is perhaps the chief economic challenge confronting America in the 21st century.

Developing top talent has never been a problem for the Great Lakes. Retaining those skilled professionals, and leveraging their creativity in pursuit of prosperity, is where the region struggles.

What's needed to keep more of those smart people in the region, and compete more successfully in the global economy, is a coordinated development strategy that targets investment in research and higher education; modern infrastructure such as mass transit and renewable energy; and the restoration of the globaly unique waters of the Great Lakes. That will make the region a more attractive place to live and work.

Money Talks, River Waits

As the waterfront revolution sweeps across the Great Lakes, a coalition of municipal leaders is rising up to oppose a 50-year plan to transform the Niagara riverfront from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario with parks, trails, and public access, according to an article by Buffalo News reporter Mark Sommer.

The Niagara River Greenway plan is widely viewed as a strategy to help revitalize depressed western New York by making targeted investments to improve quality of life. But the plan is projected to direct some $145 million into the region over the next five decades. And that's ignited a political run for the money.

The fued comes as New York's own Bruce Katz, the urban redevelopment guru from Brookings, argues in a recent piece that reviving cities like Buffalo with, among other things, projects that reclaim riverfronts from industry and give them back to the people is essential to competing in today's knowledge economy.

Still, the Niagara Power Coalition contends the boundaries of the plan are too narrow and advocates funding for a broader area.

"Their position is irresponsible to future generations," Julie Barrett O'Neill, the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, told the News.

Downtown Upturn Part 4

So, what can central cities do to thrive amidst rapidly changing demgraphics, lifestyle preferences, and global competition? Develop places that appeal to young women, according to the recent economic analysis prepared for Denver.

Talented, professional, and creative young women increasingly are emerging as leaders in the knowledge economy, according to the report. In fact, the report states women will make up 60 percent of college enrollment by 2013. Downtowns can cater to, and capitalize on, the trend by offering urban experiences that are clean and safe with plenty of entertainment and shopping.

The report also recommends:
  • Ensuring downtowns welcome ethnically diverse population.
  • Investing in schools, parks, and essential services that appeal to talented people.
  • Establishing a variety of housing choices, priced to attract a multi-skilled workforce and economically diverse population.
  • Establishing and expanding local and regional mass transit.
  • Providing affordable health care.
  • Promoting walkability and active lifestyles.
  • Inspiring and supporting a culture of entreprenurialsm and creativity.
  • Decreasing dependence on fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy sources.
  • Rehabilitate historic building stock.
  • Developing a blueprint to promote growth that is economically, ecologically, and culturally sustainable.

The ideas appear to be working for Denver. The city continues to rank as a leader for its ability to attract 25-34 years olds, the key commodity in the knowledge economy. Meanwhile, Great Lakes cities are known more for their ability to repel the creative class.

Downtown Upturn Part 3

In addition to pro-urban shifts in demographics and lifestyle preferences, the rise of global economy driven by knowledge and innovation also holds far-reaching implications for central cities, according to the recent economic analysis prepared for the City of Denver.

The report identifies three trends that urban leaders should be mindful of as they position their cities for prosperity in the new economy:

The Rise of China, India, and a planetary middle class. Still don't think China is for real? Consider this: In 2006 alone, the city of Shanghai will add as much residential and office space as currently exists in New York City. The US can stay competitive - and tap the new markets fueled by the emerging middle class in these rapidly urbanizing nations - by promoting inter-active urban areas that spur innovation, incubate dynamic businesses, and invent new industries.

Technological advancement. The 21st century economy uses information as its essential raw material and is defined by technology and mobility. Industries and their workers are no longer bolted to a specific place by the need for iron ore or timber. They can be almost anywhere. The challenge for urban leaders, particularly those in the Great Lakes region, is to understand this modern economic reality and cultivate a quality of life and place that's capable of attracting the top talent.

The pursuit of sustainability. By 2007, the report states, the majority of the world's population will live in cities for the first time in history. So, for urban leaders, pursuing policies, practices, and investment strategies that promote sustainable development is critical. Not surprisingly, the cities on the leading edge of this movement - San Francisco, Portland, and Chicago - also are regularly cited as some of the most attractive places to live.

Despite their downtrodden appearance, the cities of the Great Lakes have all the assets - worldclass educational institutions, entreprenurial spirit, and a rich cultural people - to compete and prosper in the global economy. The region just needs to chart a common and new way forward as the Industrial Era continues to wind down.

Tomorrow: recommendations from the Denver study group.

Dowtown Upturn Part 2

Rising energy and construction costs - due in part to the emergence of China and India - likely will have a dramatic effect on the American lifestyle, making typical suburban development and transportation patterns increasingly expensive, ineffective, and unsustainable.

This creates an opportunity for vibrant central cities to maximize the use of existing infrastructure (housing, roads, transit) and offer an advantageous lifestyle that appeals to Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millenials, according to the recent economic analysis prepared for the City of Denver.

The analysis identified four lifestyle trends that translate into challenges and opportunities for central cities:

Traffic congestion. It cost Americans more than $63 billion and 47 hours of average annual delay, according to the report. Not surprisingly, many of the cities investing in mass rapid transit are not only experiencing dramatic increases in ridership. Portland, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Chicago represent some of the most competitive and attractice places in the nation and world.

Wellness and recreation. As the cost of health care rises, Americans are living longer and seeking more opportunities to lead a healthy lifestyle by walking, biking, and other daily exercise. Studies show a connection between urban living and health, with residents in suburban communities experiencing higher rates of obesity due, in part, to a sedentary lifestyle.

Tourism. It's the world's largest employer, according to the report, and the industry is projected to continue growing. Vibrant downtowns can capitalize on the trend with unique cultural experiences, modern convention centers, and becoming attractive destinations for people to visit and spend money.

Debt. It's a growing burden for Americans, who increasingly live pay check to pay check and remain vulnerable to fluctuations in interest rates, inflation, and a lack of savings. This trend threatens to dilute the economic influence of the nation in a way that slows growth and the pursuit of prosperity.

Downtown Upturn

Trends in demographics, culture, and global competition favor the redevelopment of downtowns and central cities, according to an economic analysis recently prepared to guide the Denver Downtown Area Plan. The document is one of the most insightful and comprehensive breakdowns of the challenges and opportunities confronting cities in the digital age.

Let's first look at demographics. Three generations will shape development in America for the next two decades, according to the analysis: 77 million baby boomers, 44 million Gen Xers, and 70 million Millenials. A significant portion of each group is fueling population growth in central cities as they pursue convenience and traditional neighborhood living, ethnic diversity, as well as access to technology and the innovative spirit of the city.

Then there's immigration and the fact that, according to the analysis, the United States is the only major growing industrial country with expanding population, primarily as a result of immigration. The U.S. - one of five major countries that welcomes immigrants as permanent residents - accepts approximately 800,000 immigrants each year. For many of these newcomers, the city is the portal to America.

Finally, there's the rise of what social scientist Richard Florida calls the Creative Class, and the notion that young, talented workers are attracted to hip, diverse, tolerant, vibrant, and ultimately fun, energetic places to live.

To capitalize on these changing demographics, Great Lakes cities - places like Gary, Muskegon, and Buffalo - must first revinest in their communities with urban projects such as mass transit and river cleanups that reverse the decline and decay of place.

Tomorrow: lifestyles.

Taxation Without Innovation

More and more, progressive business leaders suggest that the whole issue of taxes is a declining factor as CEO's, companies, and talented workers choose where to locate. The increasingly important determinant driving economic development, they say, is quality of life. And that requires targeted public investment in real assets such as schools, transportation infrastructure, the environment, and neighborhoods.

Nevertheless, the politicians are determined to cut taxes in Michigan in hopes of making the state more attractive to executives and generate jobs. Governor Granholm's latest plan to modernize the business tax is getting warm reviews, according to a report by the Associated Press. But does the proposal truly seize the opportunity to draft a tax strategy fit for the 21st century?

Michigan currently taxes a company's payroll, which turns out to be a disincentive for doing something positive like growing jobs. No doubt that outdated approach demands fixing. But a key tenet of the Granholm plan is to shift taxation to yet another important economic benefit: profits. That seems backward.

The Great Lakes State should be exploring ways to tax - and thereby discourage - bad things like pollution, waste, and other unsustainable activities that have a detrimental effect on communities and ultimately cost taxpayers - corporate and personal - real money.

Some question whether the Granholm plan would make Michigan competitive in the global economy. Another question is whether the approach inspires cutting-edge innovation and enhances a unique quality of life.

Detroit's Road to Renaissance

For the second time in less than two weeks, a high powered group of civic leaders in Detroit, MI has unveiled a strategy for the revival of their downtrodden metropolitan region.

The strategy, Transforming the Region's Economy: Road to Renaissance, focuses on six key areas:
  • Leverage the region's know-how in indusrial design, manufacturing, and distribution expertise to become a global logistics hub.
  • Nurture and grow the city's creative arts community
  • Stregthen "entreprenurial capacity" by making financing more available to people with new ideas
  • Engage the state's major universities in an effort to retain young workers in the fields science, math, and engineering.
  • Market the region globally as an international center of higher education, culture, arts, adn entertainment.
  • Establishing Detroit as a global hub of modern transportation technology and mobility.

That's a tall order for a region that can't agree on a strategy to provide basic bus service for its residents, workers, and visitors, as reported in yesterday's Detroit News.

Still, initial reports suggest civic leaders are pushing cynicism aside and striving to restore the Motor City's economic and cultural might.

Click here for a followup editorial on the effort from the Detroit News.

Staying with the News, the paper also interviewed some of Detroit's top business leaders about the challenges and opportunities confronting their city and the state. Click here to read the insightful comments.

A Way Forward

While the Bush Administration and the federal government continues to distance itself from a pledge to provide major funding for a major Great Lakes restoration program, one local leader advocates a reasonable way for residents and officials in the region to generate billions of dollars in funding and begin paying for the public works project themselves.

The region could raise over $634 million per year by assessing a $15 quarterly fee to the 10.5 million households in the US portion of the Great Lakes, according to Jim White, executive director of the Cuyahoga River Remedial Action Plan in Cleveland. At $25 per quarter, the region could raise more than $1 billion annually.

"Congress has neither the will nor the resources to pay for all the restoration needs in the Great Lakes," Mr. White said. "And, locally, our existing approach and organizational structure suggests we are not serious about protecting or restoring our water resources. We are not organizing or managing our assets to solve our problems."

The biggest problem in the greater Great Lakes today is an economic development strategy unfit for the 21st century. But the biggest asset is the Great Lakes ecosystem. The region must leverage that asset with thoughtful and targeted investments.

The Lakes remain soiled by the Industrial Revolution. But an aggressive plan to restore the globally unique waters - as proposed by the $20 billion Strategy to Restore and Protect the Great Lakes - will not only restore environental magnificence. It will prepare the region to compete in the global knowledge economy by elevating the quality of life, inspiring cutting-edge innovation, accelerating job growth, securing existing industries, and stregthening the overall economy today and for the future.

That's a signigicant return on investment that's worthy of local and national solidarity and funding.

Heads Above

"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves."

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America, in his annual address to Congress, December 1, 1862

The Business of Transit

It's no surprise that mainstream media is ramping up coverage of the campaign to expand modern mass transit in cities across the greater Great Lakes. What's news is 'where' in the media the stories are starting to pop up: the business section.

Rapid transit increasingly is viewed as part of a comprehensive strategy to generate jobs, reduce the cost of traffic congestion, and build cities capable of attracting top talent to compete in the global knowledge economy.

Minnesota Public Radio gets it. In a recent story, MPR reports in the business section how Minnesota voters approved a dedicated motor vehicle sales tax to help boost investment in transportation infrastructure, including public transit. But the story quickly turns to question whether the $60 million a year generated by the new tax will be enough to keep pace with Denver, Portland, and other growing cities investing heavily in public transit in search of a competitive edge in the new economy.

"This year Dallas is getting $700 million of federal money to build their transit corridors," State Representative Alice Hausman told MPR. "Dallas is one of our economic competitors."

Indeed, so is St. Louis, Salt Lake City, Washington, DC, and other U.S cities who now are expanding mass transit service far faster than the Twin Cities and the majority of Great Lakes cities.

Big Ten Party

While Democrats were busy trouncing Republicans in the recent national election, outgoing GOP Party Chairman Ken Mehlman took to MSNBC with some advice in anticipation of the 2008 campaign: "We've got to be a Big Ten party," Mr. Mehlman said, acknowledging the political significance of critically important swing states Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan for presidential hopefuls.

Republicans certainly have significant work to do in the greater Great Lakes. Prior to election night GOP leaders claimed majorities in five state legislatures (IN, MI, OH, PA, and WI) and held four gubernatorial seats (OH, NY, IN, and MN), according to an election analysis prepared by the Great Lakes Commission. Post election, Republicans now control one state legislature (OH) and two governorships (IN and MN).

"It is worth noting that Democratic governors now control states that carry 295 electoral votes, much more than the 270 needed to win the presidency," the GLC analysis notes.

The question is how will Republicans compete for the Great Lakes vote? Will they attempt to divide and conquer with distractions like tax cuts, flag burning, and gay marriage? Or will they - and their Democratic rivals - strive to unite the people of the economically desperate Great Lakes - and the nation - by outlining a serious agenda to promote energy independence, education, health care, and other responsible investments in America's future?

Certainly Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott's return to leadership does little to signal a significant shift in party thinking.

Wind Work in Ohio

A substantial national investment in wind energy could bring as many as 13,000 jobs to Ohio, according to a new report released by Environment Ohio.

In addition to reenergizing the entreprenurial spirit and manufacturing might of the greater Great Lakes region - indeed, the very heart of the United States of America - a national wind project could also promote the country's energy independence from terrorist regimes, protect air quality, and revitalize rural areas as farmers lease land to energy providers.

The challenge is to muster the political will and leadership - on both the regional and national stage - to advance the ideas of the 21st century rather than subsidize and perpetuate the problematic patterns of the past.

Everytime the nation has jumped to a new energy source - from wood to coal to oil to nuclear power - the country has experienced real corresponding economic gains in efficiency, productivity, and profitability.

Given its history and know-how when it comes to energy production (and consumption), the Great Lakes region is uniquely positioned to lead the way in the development of sustainable energy technologies and build the energy platform for the future.

East Toledo, in fact, is competing for a $11.5 million federal grant to become America's first test site for wind turbine blades, according to a report by Tom Henry in today's Toledo Blade.

Wisconsin's Water Play

In a bid to distinguish themselves as the leader of Great Lakes stewardship, Wisconsin officials earlier this week introduced an ambitious agenda to promote sustainable water use and strengthen the state's economic competitiveness.

The report, presented to a special state legislative committee, calls for a state water czar to advance and oversee conservation programs; the installation of plumbing and other water fixtures that promote more effective water use; and adopting water pricing policies that promote conservation among consumers. The report, produced by an advisory group of industrialists, environmentalists, farmers, and utility officials, also called for a program to aggressively reuse and recycle existing supplies. If implemented, the agenda could establish Wisconsin as one of the more progressive state's in the region when it comes to marrying economic and environmental goals.

The report comes amidst growing regional awareness that the globally unique waters of the Great Lakes ecosystem are the region's primary competitive advantage in a knowledge-based economy. Ready access to robust water supplies not only allows state's like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio to attract and expand industry; clean fresh waterways also strengthens the region's competitiveness by enhancing quality of life and, by extension, the ability to retain and attract companies and the talented workers they covet. What's more, cities and companies across the nation have begun reducing costs and saving real dollars just by getting smarter about how water is used to meet daily needs.

The report also comes a little more than a year after the release of Gov. Jim Doyle's Conserve Wisconsin agenda.

Sharpening Detroit's Agenda

A historic alignment of civic and economic development groups focused on transforming Detroit into a more modern, attractive, and prosperous city was announced yesterday, according to a front page report in the Detroit News that broke the story.

Few cities in America face the monstrous economic, social, and environmental challenges confronting the Motor City. But the group, known as One D, reportedly would target improved education, mass transit, and economic policy. The effort, spearheaded by Edsel Ford, comes as more successful cities across the nation focus intensely on spurring a culture of innovation, revitalizing the urban core, and competing in the global economy.

Detroiters may be skeptical, as they've seen such calls for collaborations in the past bear little fruit. The Detroit News itself optimistically editorialized today that "there's something markedly different" about the current effort. And one expert responded by saying that, in order to be successful, One D must engage the "average residents," according to a followup report in today's paper.

News columnist Daniel Howes, one of the more astute observers of the Motor City's (and Michigan's) economic crisis, says in today's column its time for Detroiters to push aside the cynicism about a united effort in a region where whites and blacks, suburbanites and city dwellers, and Republicans and Democrats are traditionally at odds. Indeed, Howes implies that cooperation is essential to the region's competitiveness.

"What One D is about," United Way President Michael Brennan told Howes, "is finding the common intersection of the public, private and nonprofit sectors. It's taken 50 years to get here and we've got a long road ahead of us. We all realize that a go-it-alone strategy is not a sustainable strategy."

Getting There Together

The lack of convenient modern rapid transit is an urgent threat to the economic competitiveness of the Twin Cities region, according to a recent report from the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

According to the report, traffic congestion cost residents in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region approximately $975 million in 2003. That's sixteen times more than it cost in 1983. The availability of mass transit and other options that lessen dependence on the automobile increasingly is viewed as a legitimate strategy to combat congestion and its many social and economic costs.

Perhaps even more important to the sustainability of a healthy economy, the report details how four of the Twin Cities competitors - Denver, Dallas, Phoenix, and San Diego - already are building fast, convenient, and safe public transit. The movement is part of the growing recognition about the limits of the auto-dependent lifestyle. It's also driven by the idea that a city's ability modernize the economy, generate jobs, nurture healthy people, promote energy independence, and stem traffic congestion and sprawl depends on the extent of choices people have to move around.

"Transit plays a critical role in the growth and success of other regions," the report notes, "but a substantial gap exists between the realities of the Twin Cities' transit system and the potential for enriching the region's social, economic, and environmental conditions."

With the exception of Chicago, that gaps extends to every major city in the greater Great Lakes region.

Cleaning up in Waukegan

More than three years after an academic study projected that eliminating pollution in Waukegan Harbor could add more than $800 million to area property values, the Lake County Board has agreed to allocate $2.5 million toward the project, according to a report in today's News-Sun.

Decades in the making, the cleanup is projected to cost $36 million, according to the report. In addition to elevating property values, it will employee dozens of people to dig PCB's outta the harbor, safeguard human health, and improve the overall quality of life in northern Illinois.

Powering Up

The Great Lakes lost a dedicated advocate when Republican Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio was unseated by Democratic Challenger Sherrod Brown. But, with the change in power, the region's leadership now controls half of the major committees in the House of Representatives. Here's a breakdown:

  • Rep. John Dingell, D-MI, will oversee the Energy and Commerce Committee
  • Rep. John Conyers, D-MI, will chair the Judiciary Committee
  • Rep. Dave Obey, D-WI, will oversee Appropriations
  • Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN, will chair the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
  • Rep. Collin Peterson, D-MN, will oversee the Agriculture Committee
  • Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY, will chair the House Rules Committee

Perhaps the best news comes from the Senate, where Senator James Inhofe of Oklahama will be removed from his post as chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee. That guy clearly didnt get it.

What's more, Mr. DeWine vowed to remain active in the campaign to restore the Great Lakes in a recent article in the Dayton Daily News. All in all, the election brought good news for the Great Lakes. Now the task turns to educating the 2008 presidential hopefuls about the region's challenges and opportunities.


"If you're being run out of town, get in front of the crowd and make it look like a parade."

- Author unknown

One for the Birds

Despite shrinking representation in the nation's Capitol, the greater Great Lakes region maintains substantial political influence in the United States.

Voters in the region decided the past two presidential elections. Swing states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin will again play a key role in the 2008 campaign. And those three states plus Pennsylvania are the "canary states" in the 2006 midterm battle, according to a report in Sunday's New York Times.

"If you see Democrats take charge in any one of those eight chambers, it's a sure sign that it's been a red-letter night for the Democrats," Tim Storey, a senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures, told the Times.

Still, the Great Lakes region must elevate its own political discourse if civic leaders aim to inspire the 2008 national debate. The region is facing urgent and long-term economic, social, and environmental challenges. And it will be increasingly difficult to address these pressing issues, and forge a truly meaningful national dialogue, with the region's body politic engaged in petty smear campaigns and focused myopically on distractions like gay marriage, tax cuts, and preserving the practices of an outdated industrial era.

Growing H2O Biz

As they struggle to explain and manage the intense transformation reshaping the regional economy, Great Lakes leaders continually tout biotech, alternative fuels, and homeland security as the leading business opportunities in the 21 century economy. Fueling innovation in the water industry is yet another opportunity perhaps so obvious it's regularly overlooked. But entreprenuers continue to push new ideas nonetheless.

The latest sign that the greater Great Lakes region has the unique potential to become an international hub of freshwater science and technology comes from Wisconsin, where public officials now are considering establishing a National Estuarine Research Reserve facility along the state's Lake Michigan coastline, according to a report in the Daily Press.

The proposed facility, one of 27 across the country, would advance research and education efforts related to the sustainability of natural freshwater systems. It joins a growing list of disjointed efforts - the Global Enterprise for Water Technology in Grand Rapids, MI; CLEERTEC in Cleveland, OH; the Drinking Water Technology Incubator in Oakland County, MI - that promise to redefine how the region enjoys and employs its water resource for the benefit of the economy and culture.

Meanwhile, the big economic development idea for water means harvesting the resource from the ground, packaging it in bottles, and selling it in convenience stores, as Jeff Alexander recently reported in the Muskegon Chronicle.

There's a broad spectrum of companies in the world organizing around the water resource - from the water sellers to the water savers. The people of the Great Lakes must decide which ventures they want to encourage.

Show Me the Money

On the bad news barometer, what could possibly top the revelation earlier this week that, of the Top Ten Most Dangerous Cities in America, six of them are located in the Great Lakes region?

How about the report last week from the Cleveland Plain Dealer that college graduates earn less - nearly $22,000 less for advanced degree holders - in Northeast Ohio than they do elsewhere in the nation. The report is based on the latest Census figures.

Nineteen of the top 100 universities in the world are located in the greater Great Lakes, according to a 2005 survey by the Institute of Higher Education at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. And the region's universities churn out the nation's leading talent. In 2003 they generated 30 percent of the country's bachelor degree holders and 37 of all advanced science and engineering degrees.

Sure the region boasts a relatively low cost of living compared to talent magnets like San Francisco. But with high crime and low pay, what incentive is there to relocate to or stay in places like Flint, MI, Gary, IN, or Cleveland, OH?

Cleveland on the Edge

I asked Brian Klecan, an investement analyst with Charles Schwab and the incoming president of Cleveland's Twenty-Thirty Club, a nonprofit group dedicated to retaining young talented workers in the Greater Cleveland area, the obvious question: does it make sense to maintain a small two-runway airport on the shores of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland?

"No," Klecan said. "That property is much too valuable."

Across the railroad tracks, over the I-90 expressway, and around Browns Stadium there's a waterfront with a ton of latent public value in Cleveland. The challenge is to dress it up with vibrant public places, integrate it into the city, and provide people convenient access to it. But right now the 20th century uses of lakefront property - landing single engine prop planes for a $5 fee, for instance - are major barriers to the city's revitalization.

Civic leaders recognize that. In December 2004, planning commisioners unanimously adopted the Waterfront District Plan to expand parks and open space; resurrect dilapidated neighborhoods; encourage water-borne recreation; and reconnect the city and its people with a globally unique lakefront.

The plan lays out some truly big ideas. Among other things, it calls for redesigning the expressway into a new, pedestrian-scaled boulevard with trees and slower-moving traffic; constructing a 9-mile continuous lakefront bike path; establishing five new beaches; developing more than 7,000 new housing units and some four million square feet of new commercial space; and transforming approximately 200 acres of the Burke Lakefront Airport into welcoming public space.

"This plan creates an overall vision to shape the lakefront as the most vital element in the transformation of Cleveland as a place to live, work, and play," the plan states, "and aims at enhancing Northeast Ohio's overall competitiveness in the 21st century."

A Billion Dollar Idea

The bulkheads built during the 20th century to strengthen riverbanks throughout the Great Lakes region gave rise to a multi-billion shipping industry, put tens of thousands of people to work, and elevated cities like Cleveland, pictured above, as a critical global transportation hub for the United States.

But those concrete and steel walls also accelerated the degradation of water quality, ruined fish habitat, and left behind unsightly waterfronts that are incompatible with the region's 21st century goal of attracting top talent and growing the knowledge economy.

Now, as the grey and decaying bulkheads wear out, and local leaders assess the expensive replacement costs, innovators in Cleveland are hard at work designing a new kind of retaining wall that aims to achieve the twin goals of improving river commerce and restoring the environmental health of working waterways.

"There currently are no products that do that," said Jim White, executive director of the Cuyahoga River Remedial Action Plan. "So inventing a new product that can be built, sold, and installed to replace the aging and failing old sheet steel system creates businesses and jobs."

White and a team of civic leaders recently received approximately $1.8 million in federal funding to develop performance standards for a High Performance Shoreline Management System, or Green Bulkhead; construct and install a prototype; and evaluate the new technology. The initiative further illustrates how many of the problems confronting the Great Lakes region - invasive species, contaminated waterways, etc. - are susceptible to new technologies. It also advances the case that a major investment in a Great Lakes cleanup program could spinoff entirely new industries that speed the evolution of the regional economy.

"Green bulkheads are easily a billion dollar marketplace just in the Great Lakes," Mr. White said in a recent interview. "If you add the numbers of miles of failing steel shoreline that have to be replaced in ship channels – the Milwaukee River, the Detroit River, the Maumee – river after river has a hardened edge shoreline and all of them suffer from the same related problems."

Restoration Means Revenue

As momentum builds behind a multi-billion public works project to cleanup the Great Lakes, civic leaders and entreprenurial thinkers here in Cleveland are building a team of public and corporate officials to attract as much of that funding as possible and diversify the local economy.

The Cuyahoga Lake Erie Environmental Restoration Technology Enterprise Center, or CLEERTEC, was organized to hatch the cutting edge ideas for new water-friendly technologies and secure the R&D dollars to turn those ideas into new products and services.

"Think about the Clean Air Act," said Jim White, executive director of the Cuyahoga River Remedial Action Plan and a leader behind the CLEERTEC initiative. "When it was passed, a bunch of companies, including several here in Cleveland, jumped into the smokestack cleaning management business. Precipitators. Ion scrubbers. Filters. All that stuff. They developed an industry that did not exist before the Clean Air Act. Now fortunes are made by people who make and sell stuff that make air quality better. The same thing now needs to happen for products that assist with [Great Lakes restoration]."

CLEERTEC already is working on a strategy to leverage the biogenetics expertise in Cleveland's world-class medical community to fight invasive species. The initiative also has secured a limited amount of federal funding to develop a prototype "green bulkhead" system that allows the commercial freight industry and fish to coexist in working waterways like the Cuyahoga River.

"We want Cleveland to emerge as a center for environmental restoration technology," White added.

CLEERTEC is that latest sign that a major investment in revitalizing Great Lakes waterways will put people to work today, enhance quality of life to attract the workers of tomorrow, and spin off new industries with global significance. But elected officials continue to perceive the program as a one-dimensional environmental cleanup project. As a result, they've lacked the will to dedicate funding.

A Turning Point

The time for fear, crying, and whining is coming to an end. Sure the Greater Great Lakes Region faces some serious challenges: an aging population; an outflow of talented graduates; low educational attainment among remaining workers; latent entreprenurial spirit; taxing healthcare costs; racism; and job loss.

But through it all the region also maintains numerous powerful and unique assets: 97 million people; the largest freshwater ecosystem in the world; 300 of the planet's Fortune 1,000 firms; the largest concentration of the world's research universities performing 29 percent of the nation's R&D, producing 38 percent of its bachelor degree holders, graduating 37 percent of its advanced degree holders in science and engineering.

Who says the people of the Great Lakes are a bunch of factory grunts who can't compete in a knowledge economy? Bring it on.

Indeed, even as the region de-industrializes, it remains an incredible force to be reckoned with in the global knowledge economy, according to the Vital Center, the latest report from the Brookings Institution released here in Cleveland today. The report recommends a series of strategies designed to spark industrial achievement, social progress, and civic interest across the Great Lakes.

"We have a huge asset base here in the Great Lakes," said David Nash, an attorney and leader of Sustainable Cleveland. "Despite the decline in manufacturing, rather than say whoa-is-me, this [Brookings report] is a wake up call and an action call to globalize our assets, grow those assets, and leverage those assets."

Connecting Cleveland

Construction began in March on the Euclid Corridor Transportation Project in downtown Cleveland, OH. The $200 million, approximately 9 mile bus rapid transit system is scheduled to open in late 2008. And by 2025 the new Silver Line is projected to generate 13,000 jobs, 7.9 million square feet of new commercial space, and a million new riders annually.

"It should be a real shot in the arm," said Sarah Hawkins, property manager of the Arcade, a collection of shops and services located in a magnificent and historic building located on Euclid.

Euclid Avenue - like Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Broadway in Gary, or Division Avenue in Grand Rapids - currently is strewn with empty lots, boarded up storefronts, and potholes. But the new rapid transit line will run up and down the disinvested corridor and connect the two largest employment centers in Northeast Ohio: the downtown business district and a booming life sciences corridor located just east of the central city that includes the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and Case Western Reserve University.

Cleveland State University and the city's Theatre District also are located along the new route, which will include 36 new stations. Residents, civic leaders, and business owners hope the modern transportation infrastructure will set the stage for the acceleration of the city's revitalization.

Reawakening the Giant

One hundred years ago, the people of the Great Lakes discovered the utility of water; developed premier centers of higher education; and pioneered innovative new industries, social programs, and modern cities that set the course for a nation and changed the world. Reclaiming that leadership role is essential to the region's economic competiveness and the strength of the United States of America, according to a report being released today by the Brookings Institution.

"The Great Lakes region stands today in a precarious position," the report says. "With one foot planted in a waning industrial era, the other in the emerging global economy. The region is teetering between a future marked by growth and innovation, and one that conforms to the 'Rust Belt' label applied to the region due to the decline of its factory-based economy."

"The time is now," the report states, "for Great Lakes leaders to articulate a meaningful agenda for what the states of the region and federal government can do together to ensure that this economic giant steps in the right direction."

The report, titled a Vital Center, recommends:
  • Cultivating the region's human capital with pioneering programs such as a 'common marketplace' for education and employment that focus on producing highly skilled workers.
  • Restarting the region's economic engine by stimulating R&D investment in high tech industries; pursuing emerging sectors such as alternative fuels, water tech, and next generation transportation systems; and restoring Great Lakes waterways.
  • Updating the region's social compact by modernizing health care plans, pension programs, and employment services.
  • Rebuilding decayed central cities, the innovation hubs of the new economy, with targeted investments in high speed transit, new water and sewer infrastructure, and urban redevelopment projects.

"The region can lead again by reanimating the attitudes and practices that made it great," the report concludes.

A Glimpse of MI's Future

While people in Michigan mourn the loss of more than 205,000 manufacturing jobs in the past six years, a new report from a Lansing-based think tank finds "significant growth" in the state's knowledge economy.

Jobs in automotive manufacturing, motor parts supply, and steel mills continue to decline precipitously. But work in the recreation, business support, and health care industries is on the rise, according to A Look at Michigan's Emerging New Economy, published by Public Policy Associates, Inc. In fact, the report finds that, of the 122,500 jobs Michigan added during the past four years, some 55,000 of them were generated in sectors that represent new economy industries.

That certainly doesn't makeup for the nearly quarter-million jobs the state has shed. But the numbers illustrate a pattern and signal a shift in the state away from low-skill, low wage jobs and towards emerging economic sectors where higher education and pay are predominant. Think design, computer technology, finance. Similiar changes also are underway in Great Lakes states such as Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York, each of which lost between 170,000 and 200,000 manufacturing-related jobs in the new millenium.

Accelerating the transition, and capturing the new economy job opportunities, requires a fresh development strategy that supports aggressive investment in higher education, modern infrastructure like rapid transit and internet access, innovative ideas like alternative energy sources, as well as environmental restoration and protection.

The 21st century economy is defined by technology and mobility and uses information and new innovations as its essential raw material. Companies and talented workers are no longer bolted to a specific places by the need for resources such as iron ore (employment in MI steel mills dropped 19 percent in the past four years, according to the report). They can be almost anywhere.

As a result, among the critical assets workers and executives increasingly cite when choosing a place to locate are a clean environment, reasonable personal and municipal costs, convenient, energetic cities, and a high quality of life. Those places that offer such superior living conditions are turning out to be the nation's most prosperous and economically competitive.

The Drain of Commuting

The American worker is spending considerable more time and money getting to work these days, according to two recents reports. And the combined costs are especially burdensome for working families in the Great Lakes region.

The Commuting in America study, recently released by the Transportation Research Board, finds that more and more workers are leaving earlier to get the job - some as early as 5:30 AM - travelling farther distances from home to the workplace, and usually making the drive alone. The report, which is based on US Census data, also found that 1) the number of new solo commuters in the country grew by 13 million from 1990 to 2000 and 2) the number of workers with drive times longer than one hour grew by nearly 50 percent during the same decade.

The Heavy Load study, prepared by the Center for Housing Policy, sheds some light on the financial costs of those trends on working families. The report found that Great Lakes workers spend a cosiderable portion of their income on transportation-related costs. Minneapolis residents, for example, spend 27 percent of their income on transportation. Detroit residents 24 percent. Milwaukee residents 25 percent.

Drivers in San Francisco, Portland, and other major cities are saddled with similiar driving-related financial burdens. But commuters in those cities also have more transportation options. In Chicago, for instance, 79 percent of workers drive to work in private vehicles while 14 percent opt for public transit. In San Francisco, 77 percent drive while 12 percent take transit.

Those numbers are dramatically different in most Great Lakes cities due primarily to a lack of mobility choices and public policies that fail to integrate housing, transportation, and workplace development decisions. In Detroit, for example, 92 percent of commuters get to work by car while a ridiculously low 3 percent take transit. In Milwaukee, 88 percent drive and 6 percent choose transit. In Cleveland, 90 percent drive and 4 percent take transit.

The trends illustrated by the two reports shed new light on the limits of the auto-dependent society. The challenges will only grow more profound as the escalating costs of energy, vehicles, and pavement collides with static family income and rising government deficits. Great Lakes leaders must anticipate these trends and respond by ramping up investment in rapid transit infrastructure that provides affordable, convenient, and safe connections throughout the region.

Two Steps Forward, One Back?

Easy access to public parks and open space is one basic element that separates the cities competing successfully for top talent in the 21st century from the ones that aren't.

That's why officials in Lorain, OH are demanding that public access to Lake Erie must be an essential component of any plan to redevelop the city's waterfront. ''I want what's going to be the best for the next 100 years for this city,'' said Mayor Craig Foltin in a recent report appearing in the Mining Journal.

That's why civic leaders in Northwest Indiana have set a steady course to transform their Lake Michigan shoreline from ugly steel mills to attractive green space. “I do believe it will take a generation,” said U.S. Representative Peter Visclosky in a recent report in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

And that's why its suspicious that the City of Detroit now plans to sell off 115 acres of Rouge River park to developers as part of an ongoing strategy to plug budget shortfalls. "World class cities do not sell parks like this," said Sally Petrella, a member of the Friends of Rouge Park, in a recent report in the Detroit Free Press.

Moving In Motown

Providing new evidence that targeted reinvestment in public plazas, modern condos, and riverfront revitalization is working for the City of Detroit, a recently released housing study predicts demand for downtown living will remain strong through 2010.

The analysis, produced by Beebe & Associates, found the city's immediate downtown area attracted 4,000 new residents from 2000 to 2005, a time when developers added 1,400 new residential units. The study also predicts there is demand for an additional 1,700 in the urban core over the next five years. Indeed, buyers already are signing up for $1 million flats in the soon-to-be renovated Book Cadillac building.

The movement likely is not fueled by Tiger Fever. The Detroit Tigers were the worst team in baseball just three years ago. What's really attracting new residents to the city are stunning public works projects such as Campus Martius, relocation of modern companies like Compuware, and more than $250 million in new investment to clean and dress up the Detroit River waterfront.

Now if the city could just start building a light rail line down Woodward Avenue.


"The 20th century was about getting around. The 21st century will be about staying in a place worth staying in."

- Jim Kunstler

11 Steps to Sustainable Water Use

Two leaders of the global sustainability movement are the architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart. In the tenth anniversary edition of their book, The Hannover Principles: Design for Sustainability, the authors write: “Designs should recognize the communal, cultural, historical, spiritual, and poetic possibilities of the use of water and its central role as a precondition for life.”

More concretely, these visionaries say that architects, engineers, and developers should:

  1. Carefully account for water throughout their entire design process.
  2. Protect water sources from contamination and carefully consider efficiency techniques at every step.
  3. Use potable water only for life-sustaining functions.
  4. Consider groundwater, rainwater, surface-runoff water, graywater, and any water used for sewage transport or processing systems within a cyclical concept.
  5. Return wastewater to the earth in a beneficial manner, using organic treatment systems whenever possible.
  6. Avoid groundwater contamination in any use of water related to the construction or operation of a project or facility.
  7. Consider rainwater and surface-runoff water as possible resources for inhabitants and building systems.
  8. Minimize impermeable ground cover.
  9. Treat and apply graywater to practical or natural purposes that fit its characteristics.
  10. Put water used in any process back into circulation, and minimize the use of toxic chemicals or heavy metals. All discharges of process-related water should meet drinking water standards.
  11. Restore water used for sewage treatment or transportation to drinking water standards prior to distribution or reuse.

Pools of Diversity

The world's greatest cities - the ones attracting highly skilled, highly educated, and well paid workers - share in common some key characteristics. The list includes 1) a range of transportation choices that ensure the urban area is readily accessible and 2) public parks and open spaces - even better if they're near water - that make metro areas fun and inviting. The list also includes a culture of tolerance and racial diversity. Most Great Lakes cities continue to progress slowly in these basic areas while rising powers like Portland, Denver, and San Francisco move full speed ahead.

The City of San Jose - one of America's top talent magnets - clearly gets it, too. The city already is networked with an extensive light rail system. And civic leaders there recently opened the $100 million Guadalupe River Park & Gardens in an effort to continue attracting new residents and businesses downtown. The 2.6 mile long riverfront park includes hiking and biking trails, open meadows, public art, fountains, sitting areas, and playgrounds right in the heart of downtown. The park also includes a "Gene Pool," pictured above, that contains a collection of stones marked with first names from the various cultures that enrich the city.

"The idea is to celebrate the integration of cultures that goes on here in San Jose," said Dennis Korabiak, program manager for the city's Redevelopment Agency. "It's key to who we are and our success."

Talking Trash, or Preparing for the Future

While political hopefuls across the Great Lakes region debate tax cuts and bicker about a wide ranging list of distractions from fundraising fraud to nursing home scandals, the talk in California - one state leading the nation into the knowledge economy - centers on making major investments for the state's future.

On November 7, 2006, Californians will head to the polls and decide the fate of five bond measures with a combined price tag of $42.7 billion. One proposal would pour $19.9 billion into new roads and modern mass transit; another would dedicate $2.8 billion to ensure good housing for low-income residents; another would provide $10.4 billion to modernize schools, universities, and career training centers; still two more measures would authorize $9.3 billion to clean up beaches, secure levees, and improve parks.

Sure California has a $1 trillion state economy, so comparisons with any individual Great Lakes state are problematic. The point is civic leaders in the Golden State have effectively framed a targeted list of priorities - transportation, education, housing, water, and green space - and proposed ways to actually pay for them. The proposals, if approved, will not only stregthen the state's economic competitiveness for the future. They will put people to work today on public works projects such as light rail expansion and the Napa River restoration, pictured above.

Considering the state of the regional economy, these are the types of substantive issues and discussions that should be informing the policy debate in the Great Lakes region.

From Ghetto to 'Go To'

Much like downtown Flint, MI, Gary, IN, or other similiar grey and gritty Great Lakes cities, the neighborhoods at the bottom of Portrero Hill in San Francisco are often perceived as the place to go if "you wanna get shot," as one local put it. But the rundown and crime-ridden area is changing dramatically in anticipation of a new light rail line.

The T-3rd - a 5.6 mile transit route running down Third Street south of the city - is scheduled to open in April 2007. But the $667 million public works project already is attracting significant attention from from developers, local business owners, and other private investors. They're busy constructing luxury condos, developing a new campus for UCSF, and transforming empty storefronts into fancy wine bars, like Yield pictured above.

Together, their work is beginning to change a forgotten and seedy area into a vibrant, thriving urban district that's a model for the redevelopment of dilapidated Great Lakes cities.

"It's only a matter of time," said Jake, the barkeep at the Dogpatch. "The new rail line will improve mobility for people so business is really optimistic this area."

Lame Brains

America's educated and elite workers are concentrating in an handful of cities, and none of them are in the Great Lakes, according to Richard Florida's latest column in the Atlantic.

The number of Americans holding a graduate degree has more than doubled, Florida reports, in the past 30 years. So, in 2004, magnet cities like San Francisco counted about half of their residents holding a college degree. But Midwest cities like Detroit and Cleveland, by sharp contrast, counted 11 and 14 percent respectively. When the discussion turns to graduate degrees, the numbers get even bleaker for the Great Lakes region.

But that's not the worst of it for the Great Lakes. Young, talented workers, it turns out, are not only attracted to hip cities with convenient transit, happenin nightlife, and cool public spaces - amenties absent from most Great Lakes cities. They also seem to favor places where the crowds of their peers are congregating. And that's not in the Great Lakes either, which means that - absent an aggressive strategy to change traditional development and patterns - the region is at risk of falling even further behind in the global race for creative workers.

Car Companies, or Transportation Providers?

With dozens of construction workers already hard at work extending Portland's highly successful streetcar system, the city is now pushing to expand its next generation transportation industry.

"We're trying to get a streetcar manufacturer going here locally," said Chris Smith, chair of the Citizen Advisory Committee for Portland Streetcar. "We got $4 million in the last federal transportation bill to build a prototype." Now Oregon Iron Works is working on a deal with a company based in the Czech Republic, where Portland currently buys its streetcars, to source design and manufacturing in the United States. Companies in California and Pennsylvania want a piece of the action, too.

Its a smart move, considering that more than 40 U.S. cities now are building or evaluating urban streetcar systems. And the absence of Great Lakes-based companies like Ford and GM in the conversation highlights the region's ongoing struggle to redefine its mission and adapt to the global economy.

As globalization and the movement toward sustainability takes off, entire industries are now redefining themselves and their services. Companies like Shell and BP, for example, ceased being mere oil companies and evolved into energy companies pursuing a much broader portfolio of power sources such as wind and wave energy in addition to oil.

American auto manfucturers, however, have been much slower to adapt. They're still focused narrowly on making cars, instead of evolving into transportation providers or mobility companies that build modern trains, aerial trams, and other alternatives that - like the car - help people get around.

Sure GM makes a few busses. But for the most part the auto industry appears to be ignoring the promising modern mass transit markets developing right in their backyards. Cities like Milwaukee, Chicago, Grand Rapids, and Columbus now are drawing up plans to possibly spend tens of millions of dollars to rebuild streetcar systems and add light rail. And companies in Germany, the Czech Republic, and now Oregon prepare to service them.

And therein lies the irony. Are the U.S. car companies willing to recognize that future success could, in part, depend on rebuilding the very mass transit systems they helped to dismantle?

Endless Work on the Great Lakes

Two thoughts as the Urban Waterfronts conference comes to a close here in Portland, OR.

The first is that the waterfront revolution is a global reality and Great Lakes leaders need to get more excited about it. Around the world, from downtown Louisville, KY to Umag, Croatia, cities with lake and river frontage are wiping away waterfront factories and highways and dedicating the space to public parks, luxury condos, and modern businesses. Great Lakes leaders need to recognize the trend and get more actively involved if they intend to maintain a competitive quality of life, attract top talent, and prosper economically.

That leads to the second thought: an entire industry is organizing around waterfront redevelopmment. The firms fishing for business here at the conference offer services ranging from economic analysis and real estate market forecasting to master planning and landscape design; civil, structural, coastal, mechanical, and electrical engineering; hydrological studies; traffic studies; flood management; wetlands restoration; construction project planning and supervision. It's much more than organizing volunteers to cleanup garbage along the water's edge.

The proposed $20 billion Great Lakes restoration initiative, then, is much more than the one-dimensional environmental cleanup program civic leaders claim it is. It's a multi-dimensional public works project that could provide an endless amount of jobs for the underemployed Midwest.

The City that Works

With waterfront redevelopment plodding along at a snail's pace across the Great Lakes Basin, Portland, OR is aggressively pursuing a plan to reclaim the prime riverfront property along the Wilammette River from its industrial past. And the resolute action is paying big dividends.

The revitalization of the South Waterfront District - now underway - is the largest economic development project in Portland's history. More than $2.5 billion of investment is planned for the 140-acre former ship yards site over the course of the next decade. The project includes 2,700 residenital units, a four-acre greenway, a two-acre neighborhood park, and approx. 250,000 sq. ft. of new retail space.

The expansion of the Oregon Health and Science University campus is the project's center of gravity. When completed, university officials estimate the development will support more than 10,000 new jobs. And that doesn't include the hundreds of workers now toiling to build condos, lay streetcar track, and erect an aerial tram that will float over hills, houses, and highway to connect the waterfront with the university's impressive campus up above on Marquam Hill.

All this creativity and investment, and the Great Lakes city has barely revved up the bulldozers.

A Recipe to Attract Talent

The conventional wisdom in the Great Lakes is that young people and talented workers are running away from the region to find jobs that aren't readily available in Michigan, Ohio, and other states wallowing in an economic funk. But they might just be leaving in search of cleaner, hipper, and more convenient places to live.

I met today with Sam Adams, a city commissioner in Portland, OR. Portland continually ranks as a national leader in high-tech business, quality of life, mass transit, attracting young people, and sustainability and I'm in town to better understand how they do it.

In the nation's last recession, Commissioner Adams told me, Portland also lead the way in a less flattering measure, unemployment. Much like Detroit, Cleveland, and other Great Lakes cities today. But Portland residents didn't leave. They stayed to wait out the downturn.

"Portland is one of the top in-migration locations for 18 to 34 year olds in the country," Commissioner Adams said. "But when you meet these people on the plane, the train, the bus, and in the cafes here, a high percentage of them don’t have a job. They come here because they think it's a great place to live."

After two days of interviews with civic leaders here, it's become exceedingly clear that Portland is a people magnet because they're focused intensely on developing three basic pieces of urban infrastructure:
  1. Active, interesting, and welcoming streetscapes that make folks feel comfortable walking around town.
  2. Parks, public plazas, and waterfronts that draw people in.
  3. Streetcars, light rail lines, bike routes, busses, and other transportation options that make the city accessible to a wide range of residents and visitors.

How many Great Lakes cities do you know where those types of amenities abound? Chicago is the first one that comes to mind. Beyond that, they're few and far between.

A Streetcar Named Revival

Just five years ago, Portland, OR was shaped much like the typical Great Lakes city. Polluted industrial property obstructed the waterfront along the Willamette River waterfront, vacant commercial property plagued the central business district, and urban living was a rough, daring choice. But the city built a streetcar system in 2001, and now its teaming with new businesses, residents, and street life.

Since identyfing the the original path of the system in 1997, Portland has added 7,248 new housing units, 4.6 million square feet of office, institutional, and retail space, and leveraged approximately $2.3 billion in spinoff private investment - all within two blocks of the streetcar route. To date, the cost of the system itself - which contines to expand due to increasing popularity - approaches $100 million. That's a helluva return on investment.

Imagine that wave of development washing down mainstreet of Pick-A-City in the Great Lakes, USA. It's entirely possible. Dayton and Columbus, OH; Kenosha, Madison, and Milwaukee, WI; Minneapolis, MN; St. Louis, MO; Champaign-Urbana and Chicago, IL; and Grand Rapids, MI all are pursuing or evaluating a major public investment in a streetcar system. A day spent in Portland raises the question: what are they waiting for?

Capital Ideas. Capitol Action?

While Congress turns its back on one $20 billion plan to help modernize the sputtering Great Lakes economy, Michigan Representative Mike Rogers intends to introduce a second, entirely separate $20 billion proposal to, well, help modernize the sputtering Great Lakes economy.

Rep. Rogers this week will present a plan to provide auto manufacturers with as much as $20 billion in federal loans to innovate, develop, and commercialize the next generation of sustainable transportation technologies for the nation and the world, according to a recent report written by Ken Thomas and published in the Detroit Free Press.

The national commitment could help speed the transformation of the Great Lakes region - the epicenter of global automotive design and engineering - from a lagging, rust-ridden rhinoceros into a forward-thinking, knowledge-driven, galloping gazelle ready to compete in the worldwide economy.

So could a separate $20 billion proposal introduced earlier this year to launch a full scale rehabilitation of the Great Lakes ecosystem. The plan seeks a federal investment to catalyze urban waterfront redevelopment and establish more inviting places to live and do business; modernize ancient sewers to keep beaches clean; and rid rivers and harbors of toxic contamination that depress adjacent property values. The public works project could also spur the development of the lucrative water tech industry.

Yet Congress has yet to give it a serious look. We'll see how Rep. Roger's plan is received in D.C.

Dirt Digging is Done

The death of the Silver Spade - a 14 million pound mining shovel with a boom 14 stories tall and a scoop that could carry 300,000 pounds of dirt in one load - is a timely reminder of the ingenious and industrious heritage of the people of the Great Lakes. The machine - one of only a few dozen ever made - was built in Milwaukee and operated on an Ohio strip mine until it died after 41 years of hard labor, according to a report in yesterday's Milwaukee Sentinel Journal.

But like the heavy layoffs of manufacturing workers, factory closings, outsourcing, and other distressing trends affecting the region, the death of the Super Stripper is yet another sign that the intense resource extracting industries that drove prosperity in the 20th century - timber, gas, etc - will not be the key to economic success in the modern era. Innovation, creativity, and talent drive job and economic growth today, just as it did 100 years ago. The people of the Great Lakes just need to rediscover the spirit and can-do attitude that built modern marvels like the Silver Spade.

Credit to the Associated Press for the mind-bending photo.

Success in Sheboygan, WI

The City of Sheboygan, WI is a card carrying member of the waterfront revolution. The South Pier of the Sheboygan Harbor for decades was cluttered with piles of coal, salt, fertilizer, and other industrial materials. The 40-acre parcel was inaccessible and impassable to residents and visitors - a barrier not only to beautiful Lake Michigan but also the city's hope to prosper.

So city officials bought the property in 2001. And in short order, public and private operators invested approximately $80 million in the cleanup and redevelopment of the pier. The reclamation plan is putting underutilized properties back on the tax rolls, establishing new businesses, and generating jobs. Now developers are interested in neighboring real estate such as the old Reiss Coal Company Building pictured above. Construction workers are busy transforming the historic building into luxury lofts and apartments beside the Sheboygan River.

"This is the biggest success story on the shores of Lake Michigan," said Sheboygan Mayor Juan Perez at a community forum today.

What's next? Residents and local leaders are organizing to clean up the chemical contamination in the harbor. The project could add as much as $108 million to local real estate values, according to researchers at the University of Illinois.

Higher Earning

Michigan's household income likely is not as far below the national average as recent media reports suggest, according to a letter written by State Demographer Kenneth Darga and published in the Detroit News. The paper recently reported that Michigan's median household income fell below the national average for the first time since the data dudes started tracking the numbers. The paper also reported that Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio fell in national rankings.

One reason why is the region's underdeveloped human capital. After working in the factory for a century, the Great Lakes worker is dramatically under-educated. And that affects earning power and wages. It's the highly educated workers experiencing income gains in the knowledge economy. But, accoding to a 2003 US Census Bureau study, about 26 percent of the population in the midwest aged 25 and older have achieved a Bachelor's degree or higher.

Clearly, making investments that speed the development of new skills and talent for the Great Lakes worker is an immediate priority if the region intends to compete in 21st century economy.

Toronto's Waterfront Revolution Gaining or Losing Energy?

With plans to revitalize Toronto's waterfront slow to gain traction, Christopher Hume writes in today's Toronto Star about the benefits and lessons learned from Stockholm's push to redevelop its once industrialized harbor.

Waterfront rehab in Stockholm, planning for which began in 1990, already has attracted 7,500 new residents, according to Hume's report. City leaders project 25,000 new residents and 10,000 new workers by 2015.

So what does Toronto need to do join the waterfront revolution? Bury the highway and railroad tracks in subterranean tunnels and reconnect the central city to the waterfront; streamline governance; and establish financial incentives to attract developers, according to the article.

Unfortunately, efforts to rescue the waterfront from its industrial past suffered a setback with the news that a gas-fired power plant will be constructed on the shore of Lake Ontario, a highly questionable use for such rare and valuable land.

Same Song Across Lake Erie

Two days after the release of an economic study suggesting that water pollution saps some $140 million from the real estate market along the Buffalo River, the New York Times published an article chronicling the numerous efforts underway to revive life along the waterfront in New York's second largest city, stem the population loss, and reverse the economic decline on the north end of Lake Erie.

"It's important to the public's confidence that we can demonstrate that we can get something done on the water," said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.

On the south end of Lake Erie, the Detroit Free Press published a news story saying that Congress appears unlikely to fund in 2006 a $20 billion plan to rehabilitate sewers, wetlands, and waterfronts across the Great Lakes region. The public works project could dramatically speed up waterfront revitalization efforts in cities like Buffalo. It would also spur innovation, generate jobs, enhance property values, and stregthen the overall competitiveness of the second most influential economic region in the United States.

"All Americans have someting to gain or lose in this," said Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office. "The Great Lakes can either be a drag or a boon to the national economy."

Listen All You New Yorkers

Normally, real estate gets more expensive the closer you get to the waterfront. But not in Buffalo, NY. Toxic contamination in the Buffalo River depresses property values in adjacent residential areas by as much as $140 million, according to a study released today by a group of local officials, economists, and scientists.

"If you had a home worth $100,000 two-tenths of a mile from the river, and you moved it one-tenth of a mile closer to the river, it would lose $10,000 in value. There's a hug effect from being really close to the river," said Dr. John Braden, the economist from the University of Illinois who led the study, which is based on homeowner surveys, a review of real estate sales, and GIS mapping.

The report also found that, given a clean river, prospective homebuyers would be willing to pay 15 percent more for homes in the area if pollution was cleaned up. That translates into an additional $543 million in assessed value for the properties adjacent to the river. Dr. Braden also suggested cleaning up the Buffalo River would unleash a wave of new economic development in the city.

"We measured just a very small part of what might follow cleaning up the Buffalo River," Dr. Braden said, noting that the report did not account for the far-reaching benefits related to human health, improved fishing, and increased recreational opportunities.

"It seems clear that [the polluted river] is depressing property values, especially near the river and to its south," Dr. Braden said. "It appears that reversing this 'quality of the river' effect could have appreciable affects on property values and hence on the tax base in the area. And it appears that, with a clean river, residents believe that properties could be appreciably more valuable than the conditions in the current marketplace. It looks like there's considerable upside for property owners in the vicinity of river and perhaps more broadly in the Buffalo area."

Local officials agreed.

"These academic results support what we already know," said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. "In every instance, a clear outcome of this activity will be improved property values," Mayor Brown added.

A related report released in 2003 confirmed similiar economic benefits related to cleaning up Waukegan Harbor in northern Illinois. And Dr. Braden et. al. will release a report on the economic value of cleaning up the Sheboygan River in WI next week.

Still, the Bush Adminstration continues to reject the call for increased federal funding to accelerate a major Great Lakes cleanup program. And the vast majority of state and federal leaders across the region continue to view Great Lakes restoration as a one-dimensional environmental issue. Not as a multi-dimensional public works project that will have far-reaching affects for the region's - and the nation's - economic competitiveness, natural bounty, and quality of life.

Envisioning a New Buffalo

The ongoing effort to reclaim the waterfront for something cool in Buffalo - rather than scrub brush and highways - continues to be hampared by sorry governance, according to Donn Esmonde's latest column in the Buffalo News. But Dr. John Braden is coming to town tomorrow. The University of Illinois scholar will announce the results of a two-year study on the economic benefit of cleaning up the Buffalo River. A similiar report conducted by Dr. Braden in Waukegan, IL found that restoring the degraded harbor there could lead to hundred of millions of dollars in gains for local property values.

"It is time we caught on to what every place from Chicago to Chattanooga knows," Donn Esmonde writes. "To develop a waterfront, you need roads, bridges and byways that lead to it. We have $30 million in our pocket for waterfront walkways, parks, roads and bridges. Build them, and people will come. Where people go, developers follow. That is when we get the marinas, office buildings and condos that inflate the city's wallet and turn a barren embarrassment into an asset."