Archive for the ‘Vision and Management’ Category

Spawning a $290M industry in Trenton

With one act of enlightened self interest, Trentonians can spawn a new industry

It’s an industry without the risk of the car business. It attracts sought after  middle class workers. And, it’s inherently good for the community.

What’s this wonder industry? And more importantly what do we need to do to attract it?

Education can be Trenton’s next great economic engine, all we have to do is break the monopoly government has on it. Read the rest of this entry »

Revitalization is a dirty job

Of the five major ways to foster urban revitalization;

  1. Facilitating high end real estate development,
  2. Supporting the arts and culture,
  3. Cleaning up the joint,
  4. Squashing the gangs, and
  5. Creating a reason for Trenton to be here,

Only “Cleaning up the joint” can be done inexpensively.

Visitors to Trenton often comment that the city looks “run down” and dirty. Residents agree. Read the rest of this entry »

Community spirit as an economic engine

It’s useful to honestly measure the things that make a city attractive to its current and future residents. Clean streets, low crime rate, diverse retail options, value for the housing dollar and jobs are obvious elements of attractiveness. A thoughtful city planner or economist would measure these things, understand their impact on revitalization and then target spending to get the biggest bang for the buck. Read the rest of this entry »

Urban Revitalization is harder than Rocket Science

It is rare in America that an inner city is truly revitalized. Sometimes, cities bounce back like Cleveland, New York, Washington and now maybe Newark.

But with the possible exception of New York no inner city has turned itself into a “shining city on a hill”. No inner city, and Trenton is an example, has turned squalor into enlightened civilization. Read the rest of this entry »

Trenton as a Turnaround Opportunity

Trenton has the feeling of a business on the skids

The following is an excerpt from “Leading a Turnaround” by Harvard Business School professor, Rosabeth Moss Kantor:

In organizations in decline, a kind of learned helplessness sets in. Secrecy, blame, isolation, avoidance, passivity, and feelings of helplessness combine to perpetuate the poor performance.

This “death spiral” typically starts when a company begins to neglect the fundamentals—for example, letting communication deteriorate, starting to pull decision making back into the hands of smaller and smaller groups that make decisions behind closed doors. This undermines the organization’s problem-solving capability.

If you didn’t know this was from a study of poorly performing businesses, you’d think it was Trenton. Read the rest of this entry »

Embrace bad data, don’t shoot the messenger

Since 2006, Trenton has been included in the new American Communities Survey (ACS) which updates important census data yearly rather than every 10 years. The ACS is a boon for economist and policy planners as it provides neutral and consistent data about cities in America.

One of the most important things an organization can do to improve its operations is to measure its success. Yet, measuring city population and income would be prohibitively expensive for any local government, not to mention inherently inconsistent with other localities. Therefore, it is fortunate that the Federal government fills this role for us.

Yet the first words about Trenton’s most recent ACS Census results from Mayor Palmer were to call the results incorrect. Read the rest of this entry »

Capital Park isn’t revitalizaiton and that’s fantastic

If you’re paying attention to this blog, you’ll know that yesterday wrote an article about the best way to spend government revitalization dollars. Many projects are pitched as revitalization but if they don’t have even the punch of my little hypothetical test project then they shouldn’t be called revitalization.

To be honest, I hurried up to get this test written in advance of a review of of Capital Park Master Plan.

Happily the Capital Park plan does not claim to be revitalization but instead is just a very nice state park.

Having not yet read the Master Plan, I expected to read all sorts of claims about how the park was key to Trenton’s economic development. As it turns out, the opposite is true.

Capital Park - theater

There are next to no claims about revitalization.

Read the rest of this entry »

A better way to spend $100M on revitalization

Over the last several years I’ve compared large urban revitalization project to a hypothetical program I call the down-payment grant.

Government folks hate comparing their revitalization projects to my hypothetical suggestion. They like to point out that the funds they propose to spend are restricted in nature and aren’t available for my crazy scheme. OK, I never said they were, but they shouldn’t argue that those funds are for the purpose of revitalization unless they can be shown to at least approach the simple benefit of the down-payment grant.

Let’s remind ourselves what revitalization means

Revitalization is somewhat in the eye of the beholder. In fact, that’s one of the problems. Our government officials shy away from specifying what they mean by the term.

I propose increased per capita income as a single clear and measurable standard for revitalization.

Economists and sociologist consistently link improved per capita income to better housing and education and to lower crime. Furthermore, it’s a statistic that the Census Bureau measures for us. A city with a high per capita income is better able to afford schools, the arts, charity for the poor and lower tax rates. It will also spend proportionately less on police and fire protection.

The down-payment grant is a good hypothetical way to spend $100M

Read the rest of this entry »

Modeling Trenton Dynamics: A scientific approach to revitalization

Trenton is far from average

Trenton’s median income is in the bottom 9% of communities in New Jersey. Our schools are in the bottom 2% and our crime is in the bottom 1%. Real median income (adjusted for inflation) in Trenton actually declined 6.7% during the ‘90s while New Jersey’s median income rose 4%.

Because our income level and resulting tax base is so low we receive subsidies from the rest of the state most notably Abbott funding. To be a sustainable community we need to pay our own way which means our income must be in the 50th percentile, roughly that of Hamilton.

One can argue though that an urban city in New Jersey with “average” income would be a great place to live.

Making revitalization decisions isn’t easy

Trenton has been trying to revitalize for many years but with little success, therefore its time to realize that if revitalization were easy everybody could do it. Read the rest of this entry »

A Vision and Plan for Trenton

Unlike other industrial towns that have re-invigorated themselves (Pittsburgh, Jersey City and even Newark) Trenton has been left behind. Trenton’s Mayor Palmer is a nice guy and seems to mean well but just hasn’t been able to steer the city towards any meaningful revitalization. For the past 17 years during the Palmer administration, we’ve been treated like a welfare state chasing every government handout available and with predictable results. We’ve chased away high income residents and attracted poverty.

The facts speak for themselves.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 1999 to 2006 New Jersey’s per capita income has risen 18% while Newark’s has risen 24% and Jersey City a whopping 29%. Meanwhile, Trenton has lost ground with a meager 9% gain in the same seven years moving from $14,621 to $15,933. In 2006, while Trenton was busy electing the mayor that delivered these sad results, the city’s per capita income actually shrunk by 0.4% while New Jersey, as a state, grew 1.3%, Newark gained a respectable 4.8% and Jersey City grew an astounding 14.6% and

Given Trenton’s abysmal record it’s clear that the current administration either doesn’t really want to fix the problem or just doesn’t know how. Furthermore, it pains Trentonians to see the US Conference of Mayors being led to believe that Trenton is a model of economic revitalization. It clearly is not!

As a long time Trenton activist, real estate investor and student of urban economic issues I’m offering this paper as an alternative approach to Trenton’s revitalization.

Read the rest of this entry »