For Cities, It's Not Coolness That Matters

In a piece for New Geography, Bill Fulton says that the cool v. uncool debate asks the wrong question. The issue is whether their economy is based on exports or imports.
December 13, 2010, 10am PST | Tim Halbur
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Sometimes, when a big debate can't be resolved, it's because the wrong question is being asked. Such is the case with the seemingly endless "cool v. uncool" debate about cities. In this excerpt from Romancing The Smokestack, Bill Fulton argues that cities can be prosperous and successful whether they are cool (galleries, lofts, etc.) or uncool (lunchbucket factories). The common factor in all successful cities is -- or at least should be -- that they are based on exporting goods and services, not merely importing money.

A tourist town, retirement community, or bedroom suburb may seem successful on many levels. After all, in every case a lot of people in the city are dropping money locally to keep businesses going -- visitors, retirees, or commuters. But these cities are basically in the business of importing money. Since those spending money are not dependent on the local economy, their affuence is likely to create nothing more than a two-tier economy, with many low-paid workers servicing them.

By contrast, a city that produces goods and services for export is likely to be more consistently prosperous and less likely to be vulnerable to economic ups and downs. The jobs created are likely to be better paying and other companies will spring up as part of the spuply chain. and it doesn't matter what's being exported -- ideas, steel, software, whatever. The common denominator is the export.

Thanks to Bill Fulton

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Published on Thursday, December 9, 2010 in
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