At the American Planning Association National Planning Conference in Chicago last week, a major theme was smart tactics for planners to help foster job growth and economic development. In the opening keynote, Xavier de Sousa Briggs of MIT, who had a stint in the Obama administration, said cities -- and not just Boston or San Francisco -- would gain better jobs by being hubs in the innovation economy, "the biggest transformation of our lifetime." He showed correlations between income growth and patent requests, contrasting places like San Jose and San Diego versus Rochester, N.Y. and Flint, Michigan.
Yet how can this work for cities large and small, still using old playbooks for economic development -- especially when not everyone can be San Jose, with Samsung and Apple in its midst? Amid much discussion of the continued use of TIFs (tax increment financing) -- including its use to fund workforce training -- Lincoln Institute visiting fellow Daphne Kenyon cautioned against the unbridled use of property tax breaks to encourage business location. She noted that "incentive wars" -- as when Applebees moved across and back across the state line three times in the Kansas City area, each time taking advantage of economic development offers -- were destructive for all.
San Jose city planner Joseph Horwedel, part of the annual gathering of Big City Planners held by the Lincoln Institute in partnership with APA, said some basics still apply: doing everything possible for transportation infrastructure, guaranteeing a permitting schedule for new construction, or pilot projects for new green techonology products. Thomas Clark, head of the Denver Economic Development Corporation, representing some 70 cities in the Denver area, said his region was stuck in a rut characterized by "Coors, carbon, and the Cold War," but started "thinking like a region" and indeed established a non-compete pact so communities don't race to the bottom in competition against each other, trying to lure businesses.
Senior fellow Armando Carbonell moderated a lively final-night event hosted by The Next City at the Chicago Architecture Foundation on the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, a framework for financing major infrastructure capital investments totalling more than $7 billion, seen as key to continued business location and quality of life in the metropolitan region.
Also at APA, Julie Campoli signed copies of Made for Walking, and Jim Holway director of Western Lands and Communities at the Sonoran Institute led a panel on zombie subdivisions -- approved and platted parcels of land that are undeveloped following the 2008 housing bust, and have virtually no chance of being built out. He was joined by Teton County commissioner Kathy Rinaldi and Don Elliott of Clarion Associates, author of a working paper on the topic, who detailed the challenging process of reinventing these properties -- in some cases involving vacating the approved lots. A Policy Focus Report on what is also called "excess entitlements" is due out in the fall.