Chicago Tribune: President Obama should name Pullman a national park to jumpstart economic development

The Chicago Tribune editorializes that economic development in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood would get a huge boost from being designated as a national park:

Pullman needs swift, decisive action via executive order to jump-start economic development. Damaged by the death of manufacturing, Chicago’s Southeast Side and Pullman need exactly this type of federal nudge. The local residents can’t do it. The city can’t do it. The state can’t do it. You can do it.

The dainty row houses of Pullman remain a testament to the one-of-a-kind development George Pullman brought to Chicago. From the wisps of a prairie, he built and then owned one of the country’s first factory towns. The workers who built his upscale passenger rail cars lived in housing on the property. Most of that housing remains in its original dollhouse state.

Designating Pullman a national park would make the Pullman campus a tourist and train enthusiasts’ destination and spur entrepreneurs to open businesses in the surrounding area.

Mr. President, show us another neighborhood like Pullman. Show us another community with its rich history — the site of a major labor strike and the birthplace of the first recognized black labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

If you won’t award it national park status, then show us another way to save Pullman. Tell us you plan to build your presidential library there, one of many locations courting you.

This is an interesting appeal for economic development: only making a historic site within a downtrodden urban neighborhood a national park can help. Tourism and history can be big business today. Additionally, this park would be close to the 9 million plus people in the Chicago metropolitan region who don’t have many other nearby choices in national parks.

Still, it strikes me as a bit of an odd appeal. A national park should be designated as such because of the site’s merit or because of the surrounding neighborhood which needs some help?

Trying to craft a singular business message in a multicultural Chicago neighborhood

The Argyle section of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood has residents from many different countries but wants to craft a coherent message to attract businesses:

Now, the two men and their neighbors have embraced a city-sponsored plan to promote the area with a broader name: Asia on Argyle.

“It really gives us a chance to showcase Argyle Street … and bring people to a very unique cultural destination within the city,” said Ald. Harry Osterman, whose 48th Ward represents the neighborhood.

The campaign is the city’s latest effort to brand neighborhoods beyond the downtown business district as commercial destinations for tourists and Chicagoans. The effort includes sprucing up Argyle’s appearance and opening a night farmers market that eventually would include Asian businesses.

Such branding strategies have worked for some neighborhoods like Greektown, Andersonville and Boystown. But others have spawned clashes as people of different cultural backgrounds disagree about how the neighborhood should be promoted. What’s more, if a neighborhood becomes too popular, gentrification can dislodge immigrant settlers…

Argyle’s greatest asset, its diversity, has also presented some of its biggest challenges. Chinese immigrants were among the first newcomers to try to brand the neighborhood.

There are several things going on here:

1. The neighborhood may look to outsiders to have Asian residents but this is a broad category that comprises a number of different cultures and backgrounds. For example, immigrants from certain countries have different levels of education and income as well as unique social and religious practices.

2. Creating a singular pro-business approach is not just about internal coherence within a neighborhood but also appealing to a wider audience in Chicago and the region. It would be fascinating to get down to some numbers and see how many people might visit such a neighborhood and how it stacks up to other ethnically and socially known neighborhoods profiled in this article like Pilsen, Chinatown, and Boystown. Do you need a slogan? A logo? How unique does the neighborhood have to be?

3. One academic quoted in this story notes that we should ask who will benefit from new economic development and business in Argyle. The city of Chicago? Local residents? Real estate moguls? There are development and businesses choices to be made that move more towards the people of the neighborhood. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a zero-sum game where only one party can come out ahead but it is easy in such situations for people with power and investments to come out even better.

Conference on colleges and universities as critical part of regional development

A recent conference suggested that colleges and communities could cooperate more closely in order to foster economic development:

Colleges must play a greater, and more deliberate, role in helping regions innovate and thrive in an increasingly competitive and globalized economy, speakers urged this week at a conference on higher education and economic development.

Economic development is “no longer about attracting businesses,” said Sam M. Cordes, co-director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development. “It’s about attracting people, about attracting talent.”

Participants in the two-day conference, “Providing a Uniquely American Solution to Global Innovation Challenges: Unleashing Universities in Regions,” delved into the various ways colleges can help build stronger local economies, including acting as conveners for conversations about regional development, aligning their curricula with local elementary and secondary schools, and producing and retaining well-educated workers.

This is a popular topic these days, particularly in difficult economic times. People like Richard Florida have linked the presence of research universities and their graduates with cities that have a larger concentration of the “creative class,” which then leads to more development. There are a lot of cities and communities that hope they can tap the local college in order to boost the local economy. It looks easy: the local university has a bunch of PhDs and eager students.

But how exactly this is supposed to happen is less clear.  I remember the battle that took place in South Bend in the last five years. The University of Notre Dame wanted to expand and partner with the community to construct an “innovation center” that would blend the university and businesses. However, this became controversial as it involved bulldozing a number of houses, bringing up some of the old issues between the wealthy school and less wealthy city.

It sounds like this conference offered more specific ideas of how the university can partner with local communities and businesses in order to prompt growth. Since each school and community offers unique advantages (and disadvantages), such partnerships are likely to take a good amount of work. Both the school and community need to feel that they will benefit from the time and hard work that is necessary to put something together.