Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Urban Frontier Geography

Aaron Renn (The Urbanophile) wrote an exciting post about the urban frontier and its application in Detroit. Approximating greenfield economic development in Rust Belt cities is vital to their future. You might think of the Sun Belt as America's urban frontier during the 1980s. Migration to this part of the country was like a gold rush. But it isn't economic opportunity that defines an urban frontier. It is political opportunity, the obliteration of established power hierarchies and money circles:

Sarabeth Berman, a 2006 graduate of Barnard College with a major in urban studies, initially arrived in Beijing at the age of 23 to take a job that would have been difficult for a person her age to land in the United States: program director at BeijingDance/LDTX, the first modern dance company in China to be founded independently of the government.

Ms. Berman said she was hired for her familiarity with Western modern dance rather than a knowledge of China. “Despite my lack of language skills and the fact that I had no experience working in China, I was given the opportunity to manage the touring, international projects, and produce and program our annual Beijing Dance Festival.”

Ever toiled as an intern in the big city? In an urban frontier, you get to skip this step and move right into making your mark. You "bypass some of the dues-paying that is common to first jobs in the United States."

Of course, that is China. What about America? The best example is New Orleans. (hat tip Brewed Fresh Daily) The New York Times recently ran a great article about the urban frontier in the Big Easy:

Jon Guidroz, 27, is one of the entrepreneurs who was persuaded to move to the city. He grew up in New Orleans but was living in Massachusetts and working for Free Flow Power, a renewable energy company, after Katrina hit. “I wanted to return to help,” he said. But he said he did not see a strong business reason to move.

Then, last year, Sean Cummings, a real estate developer and entrepreneur in New Orleans, randomly found Free Flow’s Web site and noticed that the company had a Mississippi River project in the works. Mr. Cummings, 44, a co-founder of a group called Startup New Orleans, invited Mr. Guidroz to visit his offices in New Orleans at 220 Camp Street, a loft building called Entrepreneur’s Row. As an extra incentive, Mr. Cummings even offered to give him six months free rent.

“He helped me fulfill my dream of bringing this business to New Orleans,” said Mr. Guidroz, who moved back in January. “Until these guys rolled out the red carpet for me — immediate access to a substantial network in the city and state for getting things done, finding local investors — I don’t think we would have done it.”

On a smaller scale, the above is exactly what is going on right now in Youngstown. The Jim Traficant way of doing business is dead. Ideas, not deep connections and deep pockets, rule the day along with "immediate access to a substantial network in the city and state." I should know because I'm getting that treatment this Friday in Youngstown. Welcome to the urban frontier.

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