I was planning to write about something else today, but then I saw Fred Wilson’s post on revitalizing urban cores and I had to switch topics, because I think he makes a great point about turning around declining cities:
I’ve been asked by civic leaders from places like Newark, Cleveland, Buffalo, and a number of other upstate NYC cities that have suffered a similar fate how they can do the same thing. They all talk about tax incentives, connecting with local research universities, and providing startup capital. And I tell them that they are focusing on the wrong thing.
You have to lead with lifestyle. If you can’t make your city a place where the young mobile talent leaving college or grad school wants to go to start their career, meet someone, and build a life, all that other stuff doesn’t matter.
It’s exactly the same point I made in my post entrepreneurship as economic development strategy. You can throw as much money as you’d like at startups, but if young people don’t want to live in your city then you have a serious problem.
When Tony moved Zappos from the suburbs to the former City Hall in downtown Vegas a few years ago, he decided to invest $350mm in a massive urban revitalization project. He set aside $200mm to purchase land at bargain prices and the other $150mm to invest in three areas, arts and culture, small businesses (restaurants, cafes, bars, markets, boutiques, etc), and tech startups. $50mm is going into each area.
It’s an example of leading with lifestyle, urbanism and city building, rather than purely economics. And I think it’s the way to go. But to be clear, I’m not suggesting that the focus should be on large capital projects, such as stadiums and infrastructure. I’m not convinced those are the most effective catalysts. There’s no silver bullet here.
Instead, I think the answer is in building, from the ground up, a real sense of community and place. People need to love your city. That’s easier said than done though.