Who's Your City?, by Richard Florida
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Archive for July, 2009

Family Passings

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

I moved to Tucson upon the passing of my beloved mother and also to to take care of an aging father who was in the dispassionate clutches of the medical and care-taking industry because of his dementia in Surprise, AZ. I had spent almost a decade in the East valley of the Sun in the greater Phoenix area but due to a job change found myself weathering many more difficulties in the Hudson Valley of upper NY state. With the tragic family issues falling upon me, the only child, I also found the saving grace to escape an eastern environment that was literally doing me in. So with the struggle of my own life-threatening illness, I returned to the Southwest region I had come to know and love but stressing between saving myself and saving my father from his own issues.

Although I had never before become familiar with Tucson, I found that the fast growing city had simple roots going back 10,000 years on the banks of the Santa Cruz river. With a million people it still seems like a quaint western town in many ways with a definite Spanish decor. The foothills region has no fences, sideways or lawns using the natural desert as landscaping. Nestled at an elevation of about 2500 ft between three main mountains, the Catalinas, Rincon and Tucson mountains the climate In Tucson seems to be slightly cooler and less stagnant than the greater Phoenix area with consistent winds to keep any noticeable air pollution in check. Not typical of most Arizona cities, there are few big dust storms in Tucson but the heat can stick at triple digits for days at a time. Usually this pattern will break with a quick refreshing rain storm. The monsoon times in July and August transform the area into an almost desert tropical paradise that rivals any other rainier region. The smell of rain from the Sonoran desert is like no scent more uplifting or more tantalizing. The flowering of the different varieties of cactus will memorize your eye balls on nature’s diversity of bright colors and shapes. Yes, it has its sticker and thorns but the delight is to see not touch to enjoy.

For myself, I started with the desert going to school many years back in New Mexico and although my life has taken me from California to Hawaii to Arizona to New York and back, my better memories are with my time in the Southwest. Alas, like the twists and turns of life I will have to pack away all my experiences of Arizona into memories as I laid my father to rest next to my mother last year. I look now to resettle in the colder regions of central Oregon and begin another hopefully fulfilling legacy of the last of the golden years.

Sent by David from Tucson, Arizona

A University Town in Central Philippines

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Dumaguete, a university town in central Philippines, is an interesting blend of old and new. While it boasts of a robust fiber optics network enabling the flourishing of outsourcing industry bannered by services such as call centers, animation, publishing, etc., it has many preserved old buildings, some of which are more than a century old. These buildings exist beneath the shade of doting century old acacia trees.Silliman University, founded by American missionaries, is the first Protestant university in Asia. For a small sized city of just over a hundred thousand inhabitants, it has three other universities and several colleges. Its culturally inclined young population makes a very interesting and dynamic life. Also known as the cultural center in Central Philippines, it is a retirement haven in Southeast Asia. It has a nice seaside promenade dotted with bars, nightspots and art galleries. Nearby are world class dive spots and other ecotourism sites.

Know more about Dumaguete through the following sites:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dumaguete_City

http://www.philippinebusiness.com.ph/archives/magazine/vol11-2004/11-6/geographics.htm

http://www.dumagueteinfo.com/

http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=886112

More pictures: http://www.dumaguetegallery.com

Sent by Helios from Dumaguete, Philippines

Birmingham: The Schizoid City

Monday, July 20th, 2009

I live in a converted pre-war (WWII) department store. Birmingham is an absolutely stunning, beautiful city, and is very much a part of the Appalachian foothills. We have amazing architecture from the 1910’s, 1920’s & 1930’s, and some impressive postmodern and contemporary structures, too. We’ve converted bottling plants and steel mills into museums and design centers, and “industrial chic” stands side-by-side with Tudor & Colonial styles. Several neighborhoods have whole districts of classic Ranches & Mediterranean houses to rival any in Hollywood or Bel Air (coal, steel & rail used to buy fanciness).

The topography here is rugged and craggy, and it’s green 9 months out of the year due to lots of rain (more than Seattle) and high humidity. Winter is limited to about 5 weeks in late January and early February. Snow is a mystifying air phenomenon. The University of Alabama at Birmingham is the city, region & state largest single employer outside of official government, and the Medical Center is constantly expanding. Recently, it was announced UAB is establishing a National Center for Stem Cell Research, and a few years ago consolidated its Biomedical Research departments into one tower. We lead the country in AIDS research, and also in Diabetes & Arthritis research as well. Children’s Hospital of Alabama is located here, and is embarking on a million expansion program.

Housing prices are stable, appreciating at a comfortable pace, and there are many outdoor activities to participate in. The only Porsche training/driving facility in North America is here, the city is converting a huge swath of abandoned land in the city center into a major park (the Railroad Reservation Park- along the railroad tracks that split the city in half), Mercedes & Honda both manufacture automobiles in the metro, and our suburbs rank nationally in education, low crime, quality of life, beauty and comfort. The area enjoys one of the top libraries and library systems in the U.S. by every measure, the arts and especially theatre & foodie culture are booming and becoming nationally ranked, and the creative community is trying to forge an identity and work together. We have the largest urban nature preserve in the U.S., and the largest urban state park, too. Southside continues to be the counter-culture epicenter of Alabama, Mississippi and portions of surrounding states, and we have a fairly large and open GTBL community.

We have 4 major interstates and half of a beltway, and Norfolk/Southern just announced they’re building a massive cargo container facility here. Steel and cast iron products are manufactured here (unlike Pittsburgh), and manufacturing accounts for about 14-16% of the total workforce. Now that’s not creative class, but it IS stable jobs for unskilled & skilled laborers. We’re still a major banking & insurance center (we were 4th in the nation just a few years ago), and we recently had 6 Fortune 500 companies (that’s both good & bad). There’s a whole list of truly positive attributes about our community.

However…The city of Birmingham itself is another story. The most charitable way to Describe Birmingham is as a cross between South Central L.A., Detroit & Flint. While the downtown is coming along with upscale restaurants, upscale condos, upscale office towers and upscale boutique shopping, the neighborhoods continue to bloodlet population. We have the highest commute times in the South- equal to Atlanta and second only to L.A.- and the exurbs continue to gr! ow unimp eded. Our mayor faces 97 Federal indictment charges, our city council is more interested in giving shout outs to neighborhood bake sales and making grand birthday proclamations to centenarians than they are to addressing the complete loss of retail & two major medical centers to outlying areas. The county faces a 3 BILLION dollar default/collapse (brought on by the cronyism and graft of past commssioners, ponzi schemes using tax proceeds & complicated junk bond swaps), and the rural-oriented county commissioners are refusing to address the catastrophe they’ve created & inherited. Recently, two county commissioners refused to grant Wal-Mart a permit to build a supercenter in a tragically distressed “South Bronx”-style neighborhood, because they felt is was an insult to the community, and started actively courting Neiman-Marcus to locate there instead. …. What is there to say?

Also, cities in Alabama don’t have home rule, and county home rule is very limited. Everything is governed from the state capitol in Montgomery. Seriously, if Jefferson County (home to Birmingham) needed a new dog catcher, that vote would HAVE to go before the ENTIRE state (constitutional requirement), and, since the vast majority of Alabamians loathe Birmingham and Jefferson County, you can see where not much gets accomplished in short order. Birmingham has 70% or more of the medical/research jobs in Alabama (we have 20 hospitals in the 1.1 million metro, but those medical centers serve the whole state)- yet the state placed the biotechnology center in Huntsville- which has two working hospitals on a good day. The Thyssen Krupp steel center went to Mobile (no history of industrial might there) and the Retirement System of Alabama built a 745 ft. tall speculative office tower (the state’s tallest) there, too- even though metropolitan Mobile has 400,000 people and a plantation mentality business elite that would make Mississippi envious. Our mayor has decided that Birmingham’s salvation is going to be a 0 million dom! ed stadi um/convention center expansion, and is trying to get that pushed through before he goes to court. Funny thing is: THE COMMUNITY OVERWHELMINGLY DOESN’T WANT IT. Everybody agrees the convention complex needs expansion and upgrade, but most folks want to see something appropriate for Alabama, i.e. a place state high school championships & college tournaments can be played. We don’t have the means to support professional teams of any stripe, nor is there the interest. We like Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville & Dallas teams, and we’re extremely parochial when it comes to enthusiastic support for athletics.

I am an artist in my early fourties. In the last 3 years I’ve experienced just about every loss & major life event upheaval one can imagine. This past Fall, we lost four of the best, most cutting-edge galleries, and yet the ones exclusively featuring banal landscapes of Provence’ & Tuscany by dilitante’ wealthy housewives continue to thrive. Serious artists trying to make a living typically resort to teaching at the elementary school level (with no budgeted resources), stay perpetual college students or switch their style to “whimsical”. Most of us just work in restaurants or retail.So, I’m ready for a total change of venue. I’m tired of being a pioneer here, even though I know for a fact I give hope and inspiration to dozens and dozens of like-minded individuals. But, it’s too taxing and nerve-wracking for me. I’m approaching burn-out, ennui, skepticism and jadedness. Now that I no longer have ties, or roots, I hear the siren call of the Great Sorting.

Sent by Todd from Birmingham, Alabama

My Hamilton

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

I moved to Hamilton in 2004, from Toronto. Born and raised in the east end of Toronto; but after 50 years, I saw the destruction of its history and grand structures, for the sake of profit. We know if there is no trace of where we came from, we cannot truly move forward. It could have been much more than what it is.

Hamilton is rather hidden from those that pass it, by the thousands, on the nearby Burlington Skyway bridge. From the Skyway, it seems dominated only the chimneys of the steel industries. The city beyond is a vast lush, green area, populated by fabulous older, solid, well-designed brick houses, from the turn of the last century. It has over 100 documented waterfalls. In the first months of shopping at the local super markets, I noticed many over-flowing containers for local food banks; a similar generosity, I never witnessed in Toronto. Apparently Hamilton does not have an affluent reputation, but it is obvious to me that generosity is very much a part of Hamiltonians. My small two-story brick house is near a very large, beautiful public park. It is very similar in street-scape and house styles to the Beaches in Toronto, but one third the price. It seems to me, Hamilton still has a visible architectural heritage that Toronto lost over the past forty years. This town is great, and I foresee a varied, strong and diverse community, rising from what used to be only a steel town.

Sent by Doug from Hamilton