James Vesely / Times editorial page editor
Living Cities compared to "boomburbs"
Reese W. Fayde, chief executive officer of Living Cities, an investment and philanthropic outfit based in New York City, said...
Reese W. Fayde, chief executive officer of Living Cities, an investment and philanthropic outfit based in New York City, said she saw a lot of things working well in Seattle, the viewpoint of many infrequent visitors who see the charm of the place and not the warts that keep popping up.
But the issue here is not Seattle, rather the fate of the American city. That broad sweep is disingenuous — no city exactly parallels another, not even Portland and Seattle — but it is the similarities that pull Seattle and the surrounding cities around Puget Sound into a locus of both optimism and concern. Fayde is one of those executives so energized by her mission that she pulls you along for the ride.
Living Cities is about investment, she said to The Times editorial board last week, and that means affordable housing, energizing neighborhoods. Fayde repeatedly used the word "balance" in trying to explain the necessity to somehow bring affordability to desirable city neighborhoods.
Living Cities wants a new, national urban policy. It calls for an assessment of the impact of federal money on cities and to "impose performance measurements on grantees," with some conditions.
I take Fayde and her organization as agents trying to make some sense of siloed, conflicting federal policies toward cities. Living Cities includes donors, such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation, that are asking for a new federal law, the National Urban Enterprise Act of 2007, which sets goals for federal investment in American cities. You can read this as an additional boost for local housing plans, such as those by Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. Its Seattle office includes David Bley, vice president of strategic programs, and work on New Holly.
It also means not judging too quickly how cities work. Fayde describes a moment in Biloxi, Miss., after the hurricane when she thought the return of the casinos could be replaced by something else. "But what's going to replace 17,000 jobs?" she asked. The answer was nothing.
That suggests niche marketing and niche profiles for many American cities, which brings us to the rise of "boomburbs," the unique renaissance of outer-ring cities.
Boomburbs are places such as Lakewood, Colo., and Mesa, Ariz., as well as Federal Way, Bellevue and Hialeah, Fla. They are communities, not necessarily with neighborhoods, that function as job and growth centers and add population along the way. "Boomburbs" authors Robert Lang and Jennifer LeFurgy make the case that boomburbs may be at an apex and no longer emerging as fast as they did in the 1990s, but around here, all I see are boomburbs competing with the core cities of Seattle, Everett and Tacoma to form a different Puget Sound.
These are the new "urban realms" that spread across counties and political boundaries and work — or don't work — to form competitive regions.
From New Holly to North Bend, the trick is to give communities identities and roles in the economies of work or living.
Boomburbs are described as technology driven, or incorporating technology in their identities. From Lang and LeFurgy: "The new technology also includes biotechnology (Gaithersburg, Maryland), telecommunications, (Lakewood, Colorado), broadband communications (Eden Prairie, Minnesota), avionics, (Renton, Washington) and information technology (Bellevue, Washington)."
Every city leader has to ask the question how their community fits into the future urban and boomburb realms. As the television commercial asks, "What is your score?"
• Living Cities, Inc., www.living-cities.org;
• Enterprise Community Partners, Inc., www.enterprisecommunity.org;
• "Boomburbs: The Rise of America's Accidental Cities," by Robert E. Lang and Jennifer B. LeFurgy (Brookings).
James F. Vesely's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
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