Have you ever been to Cleveland Mr. Folkman?

When I read Jim Folkman’s recent article in the Albuquerque Journal on the need for “downtown revitalization,” I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. The basis of his article is that Albuquerque should have an attractive downtown. I couldn’t agree more. The problem is the rest of the article.

If government spends a bunch of money on amenities downtown, will that bring people in or do we need a strong economy to attract people to live in our City with a certain percentage of them being downtown? Folkman seems to advise the former (mass transit) while I’d argue the latter. Cleveland does have mass transit, but with all due respect, if downtown Cleveland is the answer, you’re asking the wrong question. Another city that has “invested” in arenas and mass transit is Detroit. Not exactly the model we’re looking for. See the following chart (taken from this study) for details on the population declines in several of the cities Folkman cites as “models.” Is this really what Folkman wants for Albuquerque?

Quite simply, I’d argue that a bustling downtown is the result of broader economic growth not the generator of that growth. I’m not sure where Mr. Folkman got his “study” which claims that “nearly 73 percent of all graduating college will move to an urban area for its attributes as much as for a job,” but this nugget of information is not convincing. I lived in Washington, DC in the mid-1990s when noted crack smoker Marion Berry was Mayor and that city’s urban core left a lot to be desired despite second-to-none amenities and a massive investment in mass transit. As Washington’s economy has grown in recent years and governance has improved within the District itself, the City’s urban core has been completely revitalized.

All downtown areas have their problems. There are plenty of bums in Washington, DC, but with a flood of office workers and young professionals in the area due to the strong job market, you hardly notice them. Downtown Albuquerque’s issues are made all the more obvious because it is like a ghost-town at most hours. A new convention center and more mass transit are not and were not the answers to downtown’s woes (I question whether the “Innovation Corridor” will have the desired impact without serious policy reforms in Santa Fe).

Downtown Albuquerque needs the same thing the rest of this state needs: Economic prosperity driven by private sector growth, in other words JOBS.

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9 Replies to “Have you ever been to Cleveland Mr. Folkman?”

  1. 1826 Poplar Lane SW — Downtown Cleveland? Downtown Detroit? Are there no trash heaps? Are there no sewers? Been there, seen both; and all the ‘improvements’ were and still are Monuments to Stupidity at best and select graft machines at worst.

    Albuquerque does need to join that Idiotic Parade lest we be considered ‘square’ by all that ‘in’ crowd. Otherwise we’ll end up squandering untold millions on something totally worthless.

    Colonel Robert F. Cunningham,
    Aku Press, LLC.
    Albuquerque

  2. What struck me about Folkman’s piece is his apparent 180 from his previous HBA position. As Director of Home Builders Assn he spent a lot of time arguing against promoting urban core development in favor of suburban (the Planned Growth Strategy). Then, the paucity of available infill sites was justification for exurban emphasis. Now, somehow, its not so much of a problem. I guess my question for Mr Folkman is, if urbanization does take off, how does he propose to address the inevitable gentrification issue?

  3. Gentrification is a shift in an urban community toward wealthier residents and/or businesses and increasing property values.[1] Gentrification is typically the result of investment in a community by local government, community activists, or business groups, and can often spur economic development, attract business, and lower crime rates. In addition to these potential benefits, gentrification can lead to population migration, which involves poorer residents being displaced by wealthier newcomers.

    In a community undergoing gentrification, the average income increases and average family size decreases. Poorer pre-gentrification residents who are unable to pay increased rents or property taxes may be driven out. Often old industrial buildings are converted to residences and shops. New businesses, which can afford increased commercial rent, cater to a more affluent base of consumers—further increasing the appeal to higher income migrants and decreasing the accessibility to the poor.[2][3]

    Political action is often the community’s response, either to promote the gentrification or oppose economic eviction.[4] Local governments may favor gentrification because of the increased tax base associated with the new high-income residents, as well as other perceived benefits of moving poor people and rehabilitating deteriorated areas.[citation needed] (Wikipedia)

    I thought it would be useful to define “gentrification” so everyone understands the term. I can see a major threat to private property rights if Mr. Folkman gets his way.

  4. Even if we could remove governmental barriers to business, it’s more likely that new commercial development will be dispersed around the city rather than clustered in downtown. I don’t see the innovation corridor (essentially a public building project) or mass transit having any impact on job creation.

    The best-case scenario for downtown is increased residential development and gentrification, which will attract new service businesses and restaurants. We’re starting to see new residential projects, and many nearby neighborhoods are ripe for gentrification. The city can help by encouraging residential and small business development downtown, and by improving policing to make new residents feel safe.

    1. I agree with you on that. I do think there is a shift among young people back to city living, but this is not enough to turn downtrodden urban areas around.

  5. We need a national discussion on how to measure compensation for performance. We are not born equal. Our parents are the first to recognize this and usually try a bit harder to promote the talents of lesser endowed children. Undue rewards have accrued to those children who chose to enter the banking and financial professions. Their siblings, equally talented scholars, who chose to enter medicine, teaching, engineering and social service professors, and do not spend all their professional time thinking about how to maximize dollar profits do not fare so well in accumulating those dollars. Is it a moral issue? If so what are your thoughts?

    Allen Cogbill, I particularly welcome your thoughts on this issue. You gave a valuable thumbs-up on the U.S. natural gas phenomenon for which I am grateful.

    1. Undoubtedly, Lee, not all jobs are created equal. That is a simple fact. Banking and finance are not “capitalistic” or “free market,” but are in many ways subsidized by the government for maximum profitability. I’m not against these businesses, but I am against government support and bailouts for them.

      In terms of the other, somewhat lesser paid professions (medicine used to be a top-paid until government took it over and that’s not just Obama), the problem is largely one of government involvement in regulating and managing these industries. Engineering is well-paid overall still in part because of the oil and gas industries.

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