Analyst and blogger
Aaron Renn is a Chicago-based urban affairs analyst and author of The Urbanophile blog.
Why do American cities fall short in global quality of life surveys?
In our price-dominant culture we build cheap suburbs. They work for about 30 years, but once they get old and need maintenance, we neglect them – look at cities like Cleveland, Detroit or Dallas. Also, if you don’t have high-functioning public transport you build everything around the car. As a result we have very spread-out cities and have never put a premium on preserving the urban core of cities like in Europe.
Which cities in the US are the biggest culprits?
A great example is Chicago. The urban transport here is about getting people to “the loop” (the city’s 2.5 sq km commercial centre). Most people use a car to do everything. Like many American cities, it’s a quasi-suburban environment because the transport is not there.
Is there a model to follow?
The gentrification model is one that has proven to work. But the problem is that there aren’t enough yuppies to go around. Policymakers try to attract this “creative class”, but they represent just 5 to 15 per cent of the population. Only San Francisco and New York have been able to do it. US cities should look at the 85 per cent that nobody is talking about.
What’s the overall answer?
Policymakers need to change their approach. Rather than investing a billion dollars in a giant stadium or show projects in downtown areas, they need to focus on essential everyday fixes like making buses run on time. It’s got to be back-to-basics. Concentrate on delivering high-quality public services: picking up rubbish, policing and rethinking infrastructure.