Eleven Signs a City Will Succeed, Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Many more newspaper columnists have joined the ranks of other Atlantic readers—in Dayton, Detroit, Bloomington, Greensboro, Pittsburgh, and Rochester—evaluating their cities based on Jim’s list of 11. From the Salisbury Post in Rowan County, North Carolina:

11. They have craft breweries — perhaps the most reliable marker, according to Fallows. This seems like an odd common denominator, but Fallows explains: “A town that has craft breweries also has a certain kind of entrepreneur, and a critical mass of mainly young … customers.” Salisbury can check that off the list too. Two craft breweries are set to open soon, New Sarum and Morgan Ridge.

If there’s one city that doesn’t have to worry about Question 11, it’s Portland, Oregon, which has the largest number of breweries in the world—58. Portlander Douglas Perry of The Oregonian broached the 11 questions with his readers and got this solid reply:

I won’t give all credit to city leaders, but for starters, there is the terminal expansion at PDX, new buildings going up from downtown to the Pearl District to the Inner Eastside to the Lloyd District, etc. The proposed “Goodman Growth” project (as I like to call it). Old Town Chinatown will be transformed eventually as there isn’t any more prime growth space left after the West End revitalization. Trimet recently adding the Orange line and not long before that, the Green line. Tourism is up. Getting the NCAA Basketball Tournament and Indoor Track and Field Championships (by eliminating a certain lottery game) should continue to bold well for future national sporting events (maybe NBA All Star game?).  I don't think we are trying to get the Olympics by any means.

And I’m not saying Portland is “there” yet, and it does have a lot more work to do, but I believe it is heading in the right direction.

On the other hand, Portland’s neighbor to the north, Seattle, gets dismal marks from Danny Westneat of The Seattle Times:

By my grading, soaring Seattle scores six out of 11, at best. At my kid’s middle school, this would prompt an after-school retake. […] Fallows’ list points to a hard-to-pin-down feeling I’ve had for a while, of Seattle slippage. We chronicle it daily with the homelessness crisis, soaring rents or botched civic projects. Whether it’s poor leadership, misplaced priorities or just a temporary struggle with too much runaway success, something’s not quite right. You don’t hear “Seattle’s such a great city” as much as you used to.

The blogger Durango Texas read that Times column and asks his readers:

Can you picture an article headline in the Star-Telegram asking Is Fort Worth still a great city? Checklist reflects doubts? The Star-Telegram is not known for doing any sort of civic self reflection of the open and honest sort.

So he proceeds to do it for them. As do the editors of the Appeal-Democrat for their California counties of Sutter and Yuba. Winthrop Quigley of the Albuquerque Journal begins his assessment of Jim’s list with an anecdote:

A reader wrote a letter to the editor in 2004 taking me to task for a column I had written expressing skepticism about what some geologists then believed was the looming exhaustion of the planet’s oil supplies and the inevitable end to civilization as we know it.

The column concluded, “The planet contains many resources, and, more important than oil, tungsten or tin is the human resource. As long as there is an economic incentive – and there is always an economic incentive – bright people will find ways to wring more oil out of every field, find oil in fields no one thought possible and, when it’s time, find a wholly unexpected way to propel cars and heat homes.”

John Derrig replied, “As an engineer, I know better. We have much work to do and we are 30 years late in starting.” And he asked, “Does Mr. Quigley also believe in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy?” I didn’t respond, but if I had I would have said, “No, Mr. Derrig, I don’t believe in Santa Claus. I believe in you and people like you.”

For the Rust Belt city of Akron, Ohio, Michael Douglas of the Beacon-Journal details a “sobering assessment from the Greater Ohio Policy Center, supported by funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation”:

The 62.4 Report (the number refers to the square miles of the city) offers a profile of Akron. Once viewed as a model for aging industrial cities making the rough transition to a new economy, the city has fallen off the pace, even dramatically. The report notes one observer describing the recent trajectory as “the smoothest downward escalator.” Many may not have noticed the persistently high jobless rate, or the marked decline in full-time workers or the sharp rise in the poverty rate. Add a drop in median household and per-capita income, plus a steep loss in population and a jarring increase in housing vacancies. [...]

The report does carry a reassuring element. It points to “a number of promising programs” in motion here to address “these challenges over the long term.” That is evident, for example, in the arts community coalescing to make a greater impact, the efforts of the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority and partners in the Summit Lake area and the work of the Downtown Akron Partnership.

Turning to Jim’s list of 11:

Akron has the makings to check the boxes. That is partly the legacy of what once won the city applause. It also goes to the emergence of new leaders. Then, as Akron surely learned, there is the big challenge of making better happen, returning, say, to model status the next 10 years. Will the city do what it takes to get off that downward escalator?

Having a blimp helps, as noted by Akron native David Graham:

On any given day, you might hear a strange buzzing over your head, look up, and see the Goodyear blimp drifting lazily overhead. It’s the kind of city where people at bars talk idly about starting blimp airlines. And for a city that’s often a punchline for jokes, the blimp is also a source of pride. CD Truth, a stalwart Rubber City punk bank, eloquently captured the way Akronites feel in the 1998 song “We Got the Blimp”:

You think your town is cool
’Cause you got all the good schools
Well, we got the blimp!

You think your city’s better, just because you get art
Maybe a Picasso
We got the blimp!

Nowadays, Goodyear’s Akron-based Wingfoot 1 isn’t actually a blimp—it’s a semi-rigid airship. The very good Akron Art Museum actually has a Picasso, too. I bet your city doesn’t have all that.