Talking About Cities, with Aaron Renn

“You go to some of these places [Midwestern cities], the question they ask when they meet you is ‘where did you go to high school’?… The fact that where you went to high school is a social marker places you in a community. You go to Washington DC and nobody cares where you went to high school… In New York, they ask ‘where are you from?’ because it is assumed that you are not from here. Some of these places in the Midwest… need more outsiders to come in because outsiders are the natural constituency of the new.” _____Aaron Renn

AaronRennAaron Renn, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, speaks to Sami J. Karam about US cities. What makes the large coastal cities so successful? What are the prospects for mid-sized and smaller cities in the Rust Belt? What is the current state of play for mass transit? What role does immigration play in the development of cities?

Among the cities discussed, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, Seattle, Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Francisco, Charlotte, Minneapolis-St Paul, Nashville, Columbus, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, St Louis, Cleveland, Detroit, Madison, Iowa City, Rochester (MN), Singapore, Paris.

Topics include:

  • 0:00 Introduction of Aaron Renn
  • 1:15 What makes the large coastal cities so successful at creating wealth?
  • 8:30 Can a large city become dominant in a new sector? (e.g., New York in tech)
  • 13:00 How would you categorize non-coastal cities in terms of their prospects?
  • 16:30 Why some cities are struggling while others are restructuring successfully
  • 20:55 Will some smaller cities turn into ghost towns within twenty years?
  • 26:35 What is going on with Detroit’s recovery?
  • 30:40 The role of new immigrants in the development of a city
  • 36:50 Immigration policy in Canada and Australia compared to the US and UK
  • 43:50 What is the future for mass transit?
  • 48:00 The lack of city to city benchmarking in infrastructure costing and execution
  • 53:40 Is there anything going on in high-speed rail, other than in California?
  • 59:40 The decline of trust in institutions and the problem of cronyism.


One thought on “Talking About Cities, with Aaron Renn

  • This podcast remains interesting and most relevant. Of course, it will be interesting to see how the past one year (this podcast is exactly one year old!) influences some of our thinking.

    1) The concentration of certain types of talent / expertise in various individual cities – how much will the cities’ competitive advantages change to advantages more for the broader CMA / Census Metropolitan area (i.e. to the detriment of city cores)? Workers are decamping for suburbs and exurbs amid the boom in remote work and remote learning – and new capital formation may now occur outside the actual city cores.

    2) Current trends in AI, digital labour and automation – how much of this will turn cities into more centres for creativity and the arts vs white collar employment (which will continue as remote and/or get more and more automated)? How much will this influence the “curation” of immigrants to countries like Canada, Australia, Switzerland?

    3) Per Gartner, 40% of global organizations are already adopting Robotic Process Automation in some manner – similarly, AI bots are now employed at nearly 90% of the global orgs… this will fundamentally how and where work and results are fundamentally delivered – could this benefit smaller / midsized cities vs the larger metros – as the labour pool of smaller cities is sufficient?

    4) What will the intersection with current demographic trends mean, esp in the US? With the reduction in household formation, and the reduction in immigration to US cities (due to both COVID and US legal immigration changes since 2016) how do we expect US cities now to evolve in terms of new residents, new development?

    5) Cities located near newer ongoing environmental or health crises – specifically North American West Coast giants like SF, LA, Portland, Vancouver and Seattle are potentially now set up to experience (due to climate change and other environmental changes) major forest fires and air quality issues annually. What will that mean for qualify of life and for all the other ingredients of city formation discussed on this podcast? There’s a case to be made that cities that have adequate natural environment infrastructure – i.e. water, stable land, etc. – including the US Midwest and Northeast – may actually benefit vs cities that evolve to becoming unlivable for portions of the year.

    6) Earthquake-level political changes – this is more particularly applicable to two right now: London (Brexit) and Hong Kong (Security Law). How will they evolve? Are they headed towards a fundamental power-balance changes with other major cities in their region due to these massive political changes?

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