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Amentities Aren't Everything

The Urbanophile has a very good post up about the implications for Cleveland in its post-Lebron state of being. The post is only minimally about James and actually more about the problems that Cleveland has attracting any new people to the city.

(from Flickr user dchrisoh)

Renn's premise is that Cleveland has pinned it's hopes on "big things" that have generally been a failure in attracting new blood to the city.
Conversely, a real migration problem is that too few people are moving in. As [Cleveland] attorney Richard Herman noted, “New York City and Chicago, like most major cities, see significant out-migration of their existing residents each year. What is atypical is that Cleveland does not enjoy the energy of new people moving in[...]

Cities need new blood. Cleveland isn't getting it. Its circulatory system is shut down. Cleveland needs more natives to leave and more newcomers to arrive. Both sides win. Those Cleveland departees will move on to be part of the new energy other cities so desperately need.
In a sense, Renn is absolutely right. Why don't people come? Does Cleveland have nothing to offer? If you asked a typical Clevelander, they'd probably name off a few great things about the city, including: great universities, word-class hospitals, amazing metroparks, a world-renowned orchestra, and professional sports teams. It's wrong to suggest that Cleveland lacks amenities. The reality is quite the opposite - it has great amenities.

This misses the point. All big cities have amenities. They all have universities. They all have hospitals. They all have bars and 'hip neighborhoods'. Most have multiple sports teams and concert venues. Many have great parks. These amenities are great once you're settled in a city. But they aren't necessarily the things that draw people there in the first place.

Now, ask someone who is transplanting themself to a city like New York or Chicago and there is a decent chance they will say the things they find appealing include: the vibrancy, the energy, the freshness, the opportunity, the culture. These are abstract ideas, not individual amenities, but they are strong enough to draw in new people, even if amentities alone could not.

These abstract qualities aren't assigned only to the biggest big cities. Transplants use similar language to describe Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon. These are cities roughly the same size as Cleveland, but perceived in a very different light. Even if they're far-from perfect, these cities are growing and new people are excited about going to them. Something is going right.

Of course, the question of the day is how a city can elevate itself to point where people see it as valuable abstract qualities. I do not know the answer to this question. But the evidence is pretty conclusive that trying to sell a city on amenities alone isn't going to do the trick.

Comments

PJ Kehres said…
I think, in general, if you can't see "the vibrancy, the energy, the freshness, the opportunity, the culture" in Cleveland, then you're not looking hard enough (not you specifically Rob, just people in general). I think a large part of Cleveland's problems is not that these things don't exist but that we don't market them well enough and, in some cases, they aren't accessible enough.
John Morris said…
I think carefuly rereading and thinking about your post about short term hotels will help you.

Obviously, the real historic amenity of a city, is convenience value.

Why is a dive on West 42nd St. more valuable to rent than a nice place in say Park Slope Brooklyn (a very nice area)And why is that so much valuable than a place further out.

The key value and function of cities has always come down fact they are the easiest, most convenient way to see, touch, experience and meet with the most people or stuff in the shortest time.

How has this become so hard for people to understand?

The more possible options/connections available in a given place, the greater that value.

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