If you don’t have a robust economy, forget about sustenance or revival

I read a very interesting piece on Cleveland’s potential “comeback”, which should not come as a surprise to anyone as there has been a lot of talk of a comeback for a number of major rust belt cities like Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, etc. What I was not aware of about Cleveland was that there was a brief “comeback” period during the 1990s. The city lured the Cleveland Cavs, built new stadiums, added nightlife options, shops, etc., in the downtown, in an attempt to reinvigorate it. The end goal was to have residents who lived in the suburbs come to the City to spend money. However, this initiative did not pan out as expected because Cleveland was lacking one major ingredient – a robust regional economy. Without that, the money to spend at all these new and exciting venues was limited.

Interestingly, a localized/internal economy will often not be enough to drive a comeback or sustain a (medium or large sized) city. What is required is a “tradable economy”, as the author states, which allows goods or services to be sold outside a region. The “tradable economy” is important because it brings outside money in – something which can rarely be created through a localized/internal economy.

But there is also another crucial element to consider regarding a robust and “tradable economy” – accessibility.

A former Masters professor of mine, Steven Farber produced a fascinating study and several maps that detail the level of opportunity in terms of how easily people can access jobs in the city by different modes of transportation  in the Toronto region. Farber determined that residents with access to a car unsurprisingly have access to the greatest number of jobs. However, he also determined that residents without cars who live along subway lines can access about 30% of the jobs that those with cars can (within 45 minutes). And for residents without a car that live away from subway lines, they can only access 5-10% of the jobs that people with cars can access.

Figure 1 – The ratio of jobs reachable by transit compared to cartransit-axccess-jobs-cars

An important point emerges through Farber’s work – the robust and “tradable economy” can be quite limited if those without a car are able to access only a portion of those jobs.

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