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Mega-Regions

Richard Florida, in this weekend’s WSJ, discusses the Rise of the Mega-Region. Florida argues that nation-states and cities are somewhat passé, and that the relevant quantity that should be considered is the mega-region. A mega-region is an area “that hosts business and economic activity on a massive scale, generating a large share of the world’s economic activity and an even larger share of its scientific discoveries and technological innovation.”

I think the most important part of this concept is that these mega-regions need not be in a single country, and that therefore freedom of movement and trade is vital (see Florida’s suggestions at the end of the piece). For long-time readers of this blog, you will remember that the Buffalo-Toronto region is one of Florida’s mega-regions, and can be significantly helped by these freedoms.

The People’s Bills

Update: as noted in the comments and elsewhere, it is currently in violation of NFL rules for a team to be shareholder-owned. However, this could be changing. A congressman from Buffalo is petitioning the head of the league to get it changed!

As frequent readers of this blog might know, I grew up in Buffalo. And one of the reasons I like Buffalo is the Buffalo Bills. Yes, they never fail to disappoint, but it’s my team and you’ve got to have city pride. With that said, it appears that the Bills might leave Buffalo in the near future. Ralph Wilson has stated that once he dies the team will go up for sale with the likely ending being that it will move to Toronto.

I don’t want the Bills to leave. However, it is difficult for a small-market city to sustain an NFL team. But there is a possible solution. Taking a page from Green Bay’s shareholder approach and the British MyFootballClub’s mass-ownership, one possibility is to sell the team to its fans. This would mean the fans own the team, but also, they get to vote on draft picks, starting lineups, and so forth.

A friend of mine, Joe Brownstein (a science journalist) and I have begun a website The People’s Bills, devoted to exploring this issue. While we think the Bills should be owned by the fans, there are many details that need to be worked out (how to vote, what can be voted on, how many shares each person can buy, and so forth). So, we need your help. If you have any ideas, please read the site’s blog, and contact us as well. Thanks for your help!

Where to next, Buffalo?

Buffalo, my hometown, has been receiving a lot of press lately. And somewhat surprisingly, not all of it bad. Here’s a brief rundown of the articles I have seen lately:

  • Buffalo’s Field of Dreams (WSJ), in which Jake Halpern discusses a British businessman’s plan to build a tall skyscraper in Buffalo and Buffalo’s residents pinning their hopes of urban reinvigoration on this construction project. Halpern says this is passing the buck on fixing the city and avoiding real changes such as improving the schools.
  • Wake Up Toronto—You’re Bigger than You Think (Globe and Mail: Word document file), in which Richard Florida attempts to demonstrate that Toronto is great because it is part of a greater metropolitan area that includes Buffalo and other cities. Florida argues that if the border can get its act together, these cities can act as a single unit and Toronto can be great, and Buffalo can ride Toronto’s coattails to its former glory.
  • Can Buffalo Ever Come Back? (City Journal), in which Edward Glaeser argues that Buffalo should not try to reclaim its place as a captain of industry and as a large city; this was a one-time thing. (A nice summary of Buffalo’s rise and fall over time is included.) Instead, Buffalo should concentrate on being a great small city, which is well within its capacity to do.
  • More Buffalo Blogging (Economist), where the Economist bloggers mention some of these articles and discuss them. There is a focus here on the international border issue.

So, what’s my take? Buffalo is clearly not the city it once was, that much is clear. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As Glaeser mentions, not trying to sustain a large city can be beneficial. This is similar to the concept discussed in last year’s NYT Year in Ideas called Creative Shrinkage, where a city can get better by becoming smaller. If Buffalo first concentrates on being a really good and efficient small city, then it can be rewarded with growth. People will not be attracted to a city simply because it used to have more people.

Another way to make the city more efficient (and which can be done in tandem with the above), is incorporating large portions of Erie County into the city of Buffalo. By making the Buffalo metropolitan area a single entity (a consolidated city-county), a number of effects will be achieved. First, people will realize the true size of Buffalo (and no, I am not attempting to return Buffalo to its glory—this would simply allow people to recognize that Buffalo is more than just a dying inner core). Second, the government will become much more efficient, and things will get done, as the entire Buffalo area suddenly realizes that they are in this together. Unfortunately, due to political short-sightedness this is unlikely to happen, but it sure is a nice pipe dream.

In terms of industry, Buffalo is beginning to take advantage of the great state university it has there. It’s going for a biotech jackpot, which might be unreasonable, but if Buffalo can increase its white-collar companies, it will certainly have immigrants something to offer, as well as its neighbor Toronto (if the border crossings become smoother). These things, coupled with an ability to attract people who want to actually stay to raise their families (which Joel Kotkin contends is the recipe for a great economy), could be the way towards a renaissance.

And of course, Buffalo has the image problem to contend with. In truth, it has a lot to offer (architecture, great airport, good cost of living), but let’s focus on the weather. Frankly, it is time that Buffalonians (yes, that improbable title is what we call ourselves) go on the offensive. Buffalo has great weather. If you simply want some sort of neutered weather patterns, go somewhere south or west. But if you crave four distinct seasons, there is no better place than Buffalo. The summer is warm but not humid. The fall is crisp without much rain. Spring is pleasant and mild. And winter: Buffalo has a bona fide winter. It is snowy without being too cold. So if you love the beauty of snowfall without the piercing chill of other northern cities, Buffalo provides that. So, make fun of Buffalo’s weather if you want. But really, you’re just wrong.

Okay, so what does all this mean for Buffalo? Well, Buffalo will never become a first-tier city. But Buffalo should become more efficient and play to its strengths. By doing that, and taking advantage of university spinoffs, it could become something of a technology/service center up in the Rust Belt, similar to Pittsburgh. Is that aiming low? Maybe, but first Buffalo needs to tighten up and get its act together before it begins to aim high. It can happen, it might just take some time.

Indoor Foliage Capital of the World, and Other City Nicknames

I was recently in Scranton (home of, among other things, Dunder-Mifflin), and saw the large sign proclaiming Scranton as the Electric City. It is called this due to being one of the first electrified cities. Buffalo, also one of the first cities to have electric lighting, has the nickname the City of Light.

This all got me thinking: what are the nicknames of other cities? Here are Wikipedia’s list of city nicknames and list of American city nicknames. Both of these are large collections, although curiously, neither contains the nicknames I just mentioned (although presumably, being Wikipedia, this can be easily rectified). The list of city nicknames does have a great subset of agricultural and industrial capital nicknames though. For example, the Collar City (Troy, NY), Indoor Foliage Capital of the World (Apopka, FL), Horseradish Capital of the World (Tulelake, CA).