Web’s mention the other day of our rail system reminded me of two pet peeves of mine. The first is arrangements that get to rotate between profitability and public good whenever it’s convenient for them. The second is the absurd lengths that some places will go in order to be considered “World Class”.

It is by far the most ambiguous, empty goal that a city can have. Colosse has it, as did Santomas and I’ve read many articles in other cities talking about it. It’s essentially a blank check. It’s saying that we have to spend all of this money on stuff until we’re New York. And since Colosse will never be New York, the spending need never end! When you can’t justify something on the merits, you simply say it’s necessary to become World Class and suddenly all of the big pockets will spend money on campaigns to make people vote for a bond to make it happen.

There are honestly some drives that have been undertaken under the rubric of World Class that I liked and supported. Colosse’s temporary (and since lost) success at cleaning up downtown and making it a place to go was pretty cool. Mixed feelings about the sports stadia and smoking banss. Not so much on the light rail or some of the public park initiatives or so-called “Smart Growth”. Doesn’t matter, though. I support or oppose things things on the basis of whether or not they are good for the city. Others disagree with me and that’s fine. But any time you make any sort of headway opposing any initiative or that, you’re told that if you love the city you have to support it because if we do this the we can sit at the cool kids table with New York City and London.

Except that first it’s futile. Cities like Colosse will never sit at the cool kids table. Santomas gets to sit there on the basis of charisma and not stature and definitely not because of the light rail system that it doesn’t even have. The only way Colosse gets taken seriously is by being its best self. Taking what makes it successful and expounding upon it. Taking what is unsuccessful and correcting it. Bringing in business thus jobs thus people. Good government. Livability. Clean air.

Available jobs will bring in ten times as many people as will a little toy train that runs from one place most people can’t afford to live to another place that most people can’t afford to live. Pollution and crime will drive far more people away than the absence of that fourth greenbelt around the downtown area. The “World Class Cities” are barely even growing (if they are at all). Colosse is. Santomas is. Phoenix is. Boise is. The cool kids will only take the Colosses of the world seriously when they have to. Bike trails (while nice!) won’t do that. People and money will.


Category: Statehouse

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10 Responses to World Class Pretentions

  1. Peter says:

    Light rail systems can help spur economic development along their route corridors. That has happened in Denver and Portland, to name two non-pseudonymed cities. Whether Colosse and Phoenix, I suppose Minneapolis too, will experience similar effects is yet to be seen, their systems still being new.

    You are right, “World Class” is an overused and largely meaningless term.

  2. Webmaster says:

    I disagree slightly on what Colosse should have, but part of that is the metroplex idea.

    Taking things in turn:
    1 – Public parks are a good thing. Colosse needs more of them; the main city park, while “nice”, is inaccessible for most people. Melleorki (and its suburbs) is positively covered in public parks, and Melleorki isn’t one of the “cool kids” cities either.

    I’m not saying Colosse should be Melleorki, but there is definitely room for improvement on this front.

    2 – Sports stadia… gyargh. “Buy us a new stadium” stuff ought to deserve a kick in the knee.

    3 – Trying to clean up Downtown? Good thought. I would love to see more effort go into cleaning up the two ghetto-ish neighborhoods on the south side of Downtown, which would help bleed into removing a lot of the crime problems Downtown faces.

    4 – Pollution and crime will drive far more people away than the absence of that fourth greenbelt around the downtown area.

    But if you do it right (and are willing to be a tad ruthless) you can take that ghetto and replace it with a greenbelt, which will do wonders for making the city more attractive at the same time as you reduce pollution and crime.

    To Peter:
    Light rail systems can help spur economic development along their route corridors.

    The problem for Colosse’s light rail is that it travels only a few miles, and connects up two of the most already-heavily-developed areas of the city while at the same time making the businesses along its path nearly inaccessible.

    Now, had they run light rail out to some of the nearby suburbs to replace our forever-breaking-down “freeway flyer” buses, it’d be a different story.

  3. trumwill says:

    The point is not whether or not Colosse should have more parks or light rail. The point is that the motivation will be about meeting civic needs and not being about “world class”.

  4. Peter says:

    Speaking of sports facilities, here is a report about Beijing’s wildly elaborate Olympics facilities and the current status of some of them.

  5. David Alexander says:

    The second is the absurd lengths that some places will go in order to be considered “World Class”.

    I suspect part of the reason Colosse wants to be “world class” is for tourism and marketing towards getting rich people to move to the city. Plus, in the United States, there’s a greater insistence on being “world class” since US cities tend to heavily compete against each other unlike other nations where a primal city dominates over the rest of the country and it’s provincial cities. Remember, once upon a time, Philadelphia was our “world class city”, and New York was a backwater…

    Interestingly, one could make an argument based on the number of Fortune 500 companies based in the city along with its size, Colosse is somewhat world class or capable of it.

    BTW, IIRC, my stereotype of Colosse has been that it’s a city of {things not-so World Class}. Despite having a light rail system and a large freeway network, as a roadgeek and railfan, the city just doesn’t have the stereotype of being somewhere that I’d like to visit. It’s lacking in the urban feel that some other “real” cities have.

    The “World Class Cities” are barely even growing (if they are at all).

    The World Class cities tend be expensive because they’re world class. In other words, big rich people with money tend to bid up prices for things, and in the case of some world class cities, the cities have large populations which means more people competing for limited resources. Plus, one must take regional factors into play. As an example, New York Metro has limited space due to the fact that a huge chunk of the area is basically taken up by bodies of water which also restricts traffic to limited points.

    Colosse is. Santomas is. Phoenix is. Boise is.

    Dirt cheap housing, some of it occupied by refugees of world class cities. Your $250K homes are $500K here in New York.

    -{This comment was modified by Trumwill}-

  6. David Alexander says:

    The problem for Colosse’s light rail is that it travels only a few miles

    At under 10 miles, it’s only the minimum operating segment. It took twenty years for WMATA to go from a small 4 mile stretch to the second largest subway in the United States.

    had they run light rail out to some of the nearby suburbs to replace our forever-breaking-down “freeway flyer” buses

    Since I can’t link to it here for obvious reasons, if you’re creative, you’ll find the real life wikipedia page for the transit agency describing the plans for extending the light rail.

    I must note that my railfan, transit planner friend preferred that Colosse go for an Australian solution. Instead of the light rail, aim for two downtown tunnels that host a commuter railway network that radiates outward in various directions to the suburbs and “neighbouring coastal cities”, and a streetcar network for downtown and heavily used bus routes.

    The downside is that such a system is super expensive compared to the light rail, and it’s de facto illegal in the United States.

    E-mail me for more info. 🙂

    at the same time making the businesses along its path nearly inaccessible

    A cursory google street view shows a “street | track track | street” alignment. I fail to see how that makes the businesses inaccessible. Hell, Shasta has a transit mall in their downtown, and it’s not the end of the world for their businesses.

    Admittedly, as an interesting option, I’m amazed that they didn’t aim for a one way in each direction in this lay out:
    one-way lane one-way lane | track one way
    as a compromise. That’s the method in used in San Jose…

    -{This comment was modified by Trumwill}-

    Crap, I said something stupid. 🙁

  7. trumwill says:

    I suspect part of the reason Colosse wants to be “world class” is for tourism and marketing towards getting rich people to move to the city.

    As you point out, Colosse is not a tourist destination (for the most part). There are sites to see, but only a day or two’s worth, racking up a couple hundred miles at least driving back and forth. There’s no tourist hub.

    Ironically, one of the big things that used to make it popular (for conventions and the like) is something that they cracked down on. It wasn’t a “world class” thing, but it was an image thing.

    Dirt cheap housing, some of it occupied by refugees of world class cities. Your $250K homes are $500K here in New York.

    I think you are greatly underestimating the difference. Or else housing in New York is a lot less expensive than I have been led to believe.

  8. David Alexander says:

    As a side point to my rambling comments, while I live in suburb of a world class city, my cousins happen to live in Ottawa, the capital of Canada which suffers from being a small city of 812,000 residents and a metro area of 1,168,000. Since the city is only two hours by bus, train, and car from Montreal, the city suffers from it’s image as being boring and stuffy, especially when the cultural capital of Francophone Canada is nearby. They routinely complain about the city being boring with nothing “special” to do beyond the mundane. If they could secure employment in Montreal or Toronto (5 hrs away), they would seriously consider moving away. Interestingly, they have visited New York, but have found the city a bit too busy and crowded for their tastes.

    I bring up the anecdote to point out why some may want their cities to become world class. The fear of losing the best and brightest to the big world class city especially when they’re young and tax paying.

  9. David Alexander says:

    I think you are greatly underestimating the difference. Or else housing in New York is a lot less expensive than I have been led to believe.

    It’s hard to compare since our real estate markets inflated during the peak of the housing boom, and prices vary easily from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. Mind you, after the peak, we sold our 80 year 950 sq ft home that was fifteen miles outside of Manhattan in a mostly black working class area for nearly $400K. We purchased a 50 year old 1800 sq ft home in a high prole white area for $500K, and that was because it wasn’t renovated in nearly twenty years. A similar-sized matching home around the corner in my cul-de-sac sold for $650K a year after we purchased.

    For sample purposes, we saw fifty year old 1200 sq ft homes ten miles away from NYC selling for $800K, two family homes for $900k, and 2000-3000 sq ft homes 50 miles away from New York selling for $500K to $600k depending on luxury features.

    BTW, I must add that our “extreme commuter zone” stretches from New London, Connecticut to Wilmington, Delaware and Scranton, PA to Montauk, NY. Mind you, in such areas, only a small, but hardy contingent commutes that far everyday, and mostly by train.

  10. Peter says:

    BTW, I must add that our “extreme commuter zone” stretches from New London, Connecticut to Wilmington, Delaware and Scranton, PA to Montauk, NY. Mind you, in such areas, only a small, but hardy contingent commutes that far everyday, and mostly by train.

    The Shore Line East runs as far as New London, but I really doubt that anyone uses it with Metro North for commuting to the city on a regular basis. Perhaps a few people who mostly work out of their houses or in the field, but come into the office a day or two a week. Some people from New London also might commute to Boston or at least to the Boston suburbs.

    Based on the rider numbers I’ve seen heading east of Patchogue on the LIRR, the number of people who commute from Montauk is probably not even in the double digits. Of course there are many more people who commute on Friday evening and Monday mornings in the summer.

    Of all the fringe commuter areas, the Poconos and Scranton almost certainly has the biggest number. From what I hear there’s a regular schedule of express buses and they are quite crowded. If NJT ever extended to Philipsburg the trains would be packed too.

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