The Avenue

Housebound

So it looks like the housing sector will soon start contributing--a little, in some places--to the economic recovery after contributing mightily to national breakdown. According to the Census Bureau, privately owned housing starts in August rose 1.5 percent above July levels to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 589,000, which represents the fastest building pace since last November.

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Some of us here at The Avenue are always poking our heads into each other’s offices and referencing great “metro” songs, ranging from the obligatory anti-sprawl anthem “My City Was Gone” by the Pretenders to PJ Harvey’s romantic “You Said Something” to Art Brut’s witty defense of public transportation in “The Passenger.” Always choice, despite their vintage, are songs by Talking Heads.  David Byrne, the band’s lead songwriter, embraced space and geography in many songs with scales ranging from neighborhood, to municipal, to metropolitan, to the super-regional and national.

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All Over the Map

“First Fridays” these days find Wall Street investors and Washington policymakers and pundits holding their collective breath. At around 8:30 AM, on the first Friday of each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the latest round of job and unemployment figures.

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Is Down the New Up?

Judging from the mostly upbeat tone of some news reports, you would think that the jobs picture is brightening. The nation lost 216,000 jobs in August, compared to losses of 276,000 jobs in July and 463,000 in June. At the metropolitan level, Brookings’ latest MetroMonitor shows (but without the celebratory tone) that 60 of the 100 largest metropolitan areas lost fewer jobs between March and June than between January and March.

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Lost in the hubbub about health care last week were some remarkable comments from U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood. While certainly not as weighty as many of the issues Washington is wrestling with now that Congress is back in session, they represent a sea-change in rhetoric about national transportation policy. “[We] want to allow counties and cities to work together to develop regional plans reflecting both regional and national priorities. Then we'd fund them directly. The fact is, metro areas hold over 80 percent of the U.S. population. They're major centers of economic activity.

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With speeches by White House economic advisor Larry Summers on Friday and President Obama today on Wall Street, the Obama administration is moving from triage as the chief aim of economic policy to recovery.  Which is good: The job picture remains dismal, and many economists now assume any recovery will feature weak hiring and strong productivity growth as it did from 2001 to 2003. No wonder a lot of people are asking: From where will the next round of high-quality growth come? Which brings me to my answer: The next round of high-wage growth will come from metropolitan areas.

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Governing Memphis

The latest cover of Governing features Mayor AC Wharton of Shelby County, TN--one of the more regionally-minded leaders in the South. Wharton has long been a passionate voice for greater collaboration in his hometown of Memphis and its surrounding metro area, which spans three states (TN, AR, and MS).

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Today’s census numbers (as noted previously)--showing a sharp rise in the nation’s poverty rate from 12.5 percent to 13.2 percent--are not all that surprising in light of the dismal economy which emerged last year. What caught my attention is just how greatly new American minorities bore the brunt of this increase.

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The Census Bureau released new numbers today on poverty in the U.S.

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The Federal Reserve’s latest Beige Book, released yesterday, painted a cautiously optimistic portrait of the state of the nation’s economy. The New York Times, reporting on the Beige Book, heralded a “slow and still fragile recovery” that is “taking hold across the country.” But even if the data bear out this anecdotal assessment, don’t think that a robust recovery is going to appear in your metro area anytime soon. Here’s why: In many parts of the country there are few signs of recovery. Of the 12 Federal Reserve districts, only Dallas (covering Texas and parts of Louisiana and New Mexico) re

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