Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Discussion on Growth

So a few weeks ago the US Census Bureau released their most current county population estimates. Armed with that information it only took about 5 minutes to tabulate the population growth of the Louisville Metropolitan Statistical Area between 2000 and July 1, 2006. Since 2000, the Louisville MSA has grown about 5.1% to around 1,222,000 people - or so they say. That is the addition of something like 60,000 people in 6 years. That ain't too bad I suppose, especially when you look at the absolute stagnation of the Louisville area just within my lifetime during the 1980's.

But when you look other regional cities, Louisville's growth looks pretty meager. Columbus grew by 7.0%, Indianapolis by 9.2%, Nashville grew by 10.9% , and Raleigh by an amazing 24.8%. Heck, the US grew by over 6% in the 6 year time period, and Louisville couldn't even match that!

So around this time of year is when the high growth cities all pound their chests about how great they're doing, while the slow growth cities hang their heads in shame and bemoan all their mistakes and lost opportunities. Nearly every major newspaper in the South and Midwest have carried stories about their cities growth - or lack thereof - and why they think it's happening.

There is a lot of self-congratulation by cities that are experiencing huge booms in population. I mean, if your city has grown by 25% in only 6 years, this must be an amazing place to live! One example of this is Raleigh. I had the pleasure of visiting Raleigh in summer 2005 - and the place was BOOMING. Every highway interchange had a new mall popping up complete with upscale chain restaurants and midrise condos. Raleigh has things that Louisville - a markedly larger city - doesn't even have. I went to Raleigh wanting to hate the place - I left not personally wanting to live there, but at least understanding the draw of the city. It is incredibly lush and green, it has amazing universities, tons of high paying job opportunities, and low crime and traffic. This perfect storm of ingredients has created a city as desirable and hot as Raleigh right now - and who knows when that will cool. But I look at a population gain of nearly 200,000 people in such a short time and I cannot help but wonder when Raleigh will hit the tipping point of being too big, crowded, et cetera, and will not be the "in vogue" city of the era. I always think that when you grow at such a fast pace you lose many of the qualities that drew people to you in the first place.

Raleigh is an extreme example of growth, so lets take a place that is a little bit more down to earth and that I know almost as well as I do my hometown - Indianapolis. I lived in Central Indiana for the better part of decade - and much of that time was spent working and playing in Indianapolis. (I lived in West Lafayette, Bloomington, and Franklin and I worked on East Washington Street in Indianapolis)

Indianapolis clocked in with an impressive growth rate of 9.2%. As is expected with those sorts of growth numbers, many residents of Indianapolis pointed to that as a badge of honor in showing how much better they're doing than the rest of the Midwestern US. And rightfully so. Indianapolis really is doing a heck of a better job in population growth and economic development than nearly all other Midwestern competitor cities. There is, however, a fallacy that nearly all high-growth cities fall prey to: and that is that they're genuinely better cities than the places around them that are growing at a more modest pace.

I have no quantifiable data to back up anything beyond this point, so you can take it with a grain of salt and I won't care in the least. After spending years of my life in Central Indiana I really saw a population of people that felt honestly superior to it's neighbors based largely on a growth rate. I saw and heard it continuously in nearly every form of media in Indianapolis, and in the people I would meet. If I wasn't in the car listening to radio stations that played, "world-class rock for a world-class city" I was watching WTHR do a story extolling the virtues of Hamilton County for passing a new benchmark in suburban growth or reading a Star story about how much better Indianapolis was than Columbus, Ohio - and population growth is always a central issue to that. It is as if Indianapolis, and other high growth metros, believe they are better simply because they're building more suburbs.

On the flip side, Louisville has as definite chip on it's shoulder about it's seeming lack of population growth in compared to others. Growth comes slow, and jobs don't seem as plentiful. Despite the size of Louisville, people don't hear much positive about the city's growth, and hence, they have less esteem in the direction of the city. To Americans today, the greatness of your city is measured in how far up the interstate you can get your suburbs to sprawl, and less in how solid you can build your central city. When you ask a Louisvillian which city is doing better, Louisville or Indianapolis, I would bet 4 out of 5 would pick the city 100 miles north on I-65. And their two reasons would be sports teams and a faster growth rate.

Personally, I would be that 1 in 5 person who would say Louisville is doing better than Indianapolis. And it is because I value reviving the central core more than building more suburbs. I would pick Louisville for things like Museum Plaza and RiverPark Place. Museum Plaza would never, not ever, get anywhere in Indianapolis. Louisville will build it starting this Fall. RiverPark Place is a whole master planned community of riverfront condo towers that is currently under construction. Add that to smaller projects like the Glassworks Tower, the Iron Quarter, and the soon to be announced expansion of Fourth Street Live into the parking lot behind the Marriott. In a few short years downtown Louisville will be a real rival to downtown Indianapolis.

Louisville is also continuing to stabilize the neighborhoods directly south and east of downtown. The neighborhoods of central Indianapolis seem to be either stagnant or regressing - with few exceptions, and all of which are very, very near to downtown. The dreaded "east side" isn't getting better, but only getting worse. Crime is escalating to record levels in many parts of the city, and the citizens of Marion County have to deal with a public school system that rivals the worst in the Midwest. Compare that to Louisville where the "west end" crime problem is definitely a drag on the city, but not near the levels of inner city Indianapolis. Jefferson County Public Schools are lauded for excellence in urban education, and affluent families choose public schools for the great magnet programs that are provided.

In terms of suburban growth, Indianapolis wins, hands down. And if that is what you want (which most Americans do) then Indianapolis will seems like a better fit. Personally, I find the urban developments in Louisville of higher quality, and hence, it is a better match for me.

I didn't mean for this to turn into a versus comparison, but to use the two cities as two examples on opposite sides of the growth coin - Indianapolis with a high growth rate, and huge booms in suburban development and a declining urban county and Louisville, with a slow growth rate, modest suburban growth, and a stabilizing urban county.

Many times perception is reality, so the fact that Indianapolis (or insert almost any city here) is growing faster than Louisville will make people think that place is inherently better, despite the fact that I would argue that Jefferson County is doing generally better than Marion County.

In a long, roundabout way, I wanted to simply make the point that higher growth rates do not imply a better city or standard of living. For some people, a high-growth city may seem more exciting and better for them, but give me an old, slow growth city like Louisville any day of the week.


Brendan Crain said...

Indianapolis' claim to "world-class" status is pretty laughable--just ask anyone who actually lives in a world class city.

One of the most unfortunate things about the arrogance of fast-growing smaller cities like Indy (because lord knows it's not the only city prematurely trumpeting it's greatness) is that by insisting that they have already reached such a lofty status, they set their sights lower. Indianapolitans look around, see their surroundings as "world class," and use their own hubris to justify the continued suburbanization of their surroundings. Meanwhile, cities like Louisville, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and other regional metros with slower growth rates (not to mention more to actually brag about) continue to challenge themselves through allowing for some pretty daring architecture and urban planning--like Museum Plaza.

For the record, I loathe Museum Plaza. But I think that it says a lot about Louisvillians that they are willing to take a chance on such an unconventional building. If the architecture doesn't stand the test of time, perhaps the sentiment behind it will.

The Urbanophile said...

Louisville certainly has more urban and in many respects better inner city neighborhoods than Indianapolis. The root cause of that is less the two cities' approaches to development than the fact that Louisville is a product of the late 19th century and Indianapolis is really a city of the second half of the 20th century. Very different.

I would agree that Indy suffers from a bad case of reading its own press, but then again, so do lots of places, including Louisville. Louisville is not, for example, anywhere near the arts mecca it claims to be.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Indy, being larger, is about 25 years ahead of the Louisville curve. It won't be long before the growth story is over in Jefferson County. When there is a Carmel sitting across the border in Oldham County, the dynamic will be very different.

I believe Indy is mostly coasting on its past success, and that there are serious cracks in the facade of its story. That doesn't mean that the city is going to head into a downward spiral, but it wouldn't surprise me if it did.

Who knows what the future will hold there. While the city itself struggles a bit, suburbs like Carmel are really coming into their own. What's more, Indy probably actually has more downtown housing under construction than Louisville and whatever one might think of some of the downtown development, it is difficult to argue with the crowds they are packing in at night. Indy also has a vastly larger life sciences community and is light years ahead of Louisville in this regard. It is also better educated as a whole.

Part of it depends on what you want. For the person coming from, say, a Chicago suburb who has been reassigned or is taking a new job, Indy probably makes a more appealing choice. Hamilton County would be very familiar territory. Louisville, no matter where you go, has a more down home feel so to speak. If you are the Logan Square guy, on the other hand, you'll probably like Louisville better. Though it is worth noting there aren't a lot of those people moving to Louisville either.

Two cities, different, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the day it comes down to personal preference.

Jacob said...


You make a few points I want to expand on -

You comment about Chicago suburbanites liking Indy more and Chicago urbanites liking Louisville more - and as a general rule, I would agree. You then say that no one from Chicago chooses Louisville though, anyway. Just wanted to say that about six months ago the city's convention bureau did a study about domestic in-migration to Louisville. Strangely enough, Chicago was the second most common city that people were moving to Louisville from. Only Lexington sent more people to Louisville. I realize that Indianapolis also has a net in-migration from Chicago, but Louisville has recently had a huge influx of Chicagoans.

You also constantly say that Louisville doesn't have the arts scene that it seems to think. That may be true, but art in Louisville is a much more important part of the civic life than in Indianapolis. Things such as the Humana Festival of New American Plays, the St James Art Fair, being the smallest city to have 5 professional performing arts companies, and donating more per capita to the arts than any other city in America makes it seem like the arts have a higher profile in Louisville than the average city. You have even pointed out certain artists, the Humana Festival, and our embrace of new architecture - yet continue to downplay the importance of art in Louisville. Can you expand why you feel the way you do?

The Urbanophile said...

Other than Actor's Theater, how many local people can name a single theater company in Louisville? My brother was an actor in Indianapolis before he moved to Chicago and I was shocked at how many theater companies were active there, and the quality of production. Do they have an Actor's? No. But then again, beyond Actor's Louisville doesn't have a lot either. My sister worked in Louisville's theater community for many years so I'm well acquainted with its lack of depth.

The Louisville Orchestra just about went bankrupt and plays a part time schedule. It's reputation is a relic of a bygone era when it was an important recorder of newly commssioned works. Cincinnati and Indianapolis have internationally respected full time orchestras with 5x and 4x times the budget of the Louisville Orchestra respectively. Cincinnati has just embarked on yet another European tour.

Both Cincinnati and Indianapolis have better art museums than Louisville.

There is little distinctive about the Kentucky Opera and nothing I'm aware of that would indicate it has any regional or national prominence.

The idea that Louisville is the only city that supports "all five" major performing arts groups is the type of quantity over quality measure that locals love to use to bolster their case. It includes some type of children's theater that few people care about. Reduce it to "all four" and I think lots of cities would qualify. I should note that the Indianapolis ballet group closed shop a while back, but there is still a very active modern dance community there. Odd.

There have been various well known artists that have lived in Louisville, such as Will Oldham, but they are not known for work that was what you might call Louisvillian in nature. I suspect most of the indie rockers had a hard time finding a place to play a gig in town.

The level of quality and importance of the arts in Louisville is primarily a matter of local self-image. I see nothing to indicate that Louisville has a substantially better, deeper, or more nationally important arts community than any other similarly established metro area.

The Urbanophile said...

Chicago is a gigantic city and naturally is therefore both a large source and destination of people. I wasn't aware it was the second largest source after Lexington though, so I stand corrected.

Jacob said...


I had written a whole long response to you, but it was bulky and didn't explain my thoughts as well as I had intended - so I think I'll write a post about it sometime this week.

The Urbanophile said...

BTW: I took the liberty of linking to this post on the SSC Indy forum - hadn't had a good arguing session over whose city is better there in a while.

Dave said...

So - Indy has better jobs, a more highly-educated population, and is growing faster. How can anybody argue that Louisville is "better"? When comparing two cities, you have to boil it down to a simple metric. If you talk about a thousand different categories, you can't try to come to one conclusion. Population growth is the bottom line. Support of the arts, types of neighborhoods, availability of jobs - whatever - will all be reflected in population growth. Indianapolis is more attractive than Louisville by a factor of 9.2 to 5.1, all things considered.

That difference should not be a reason for Louisville to hang its head, or for Indy to pound its chest. It should be motivation for Louisville to figure out what it's going to take to keep up with the rest of the country and go after it aggressively.

Anonymous said...

A few days after reading your blog comparing Indy and Louisville and their growth, I read an article prepared by the Brookings Institute relating to "ex-urban" areas around metropolitan areas. These are the outlying areas that were previously rural that now have at least 20% of their population commuting into the primary urban area of the metro area. The report listed the 100 largest metro areas ranked by the percentage of their metro population that lived in these exurban areas. Louisville was 11th on the list, with about 22 percent of its metro population in these outlying regions of the metro area. Indy was 60th with only about 10% of its metro population living in the outlying ex-urban area. It looks like the Louisville area is much more sprawling than you think. I also think you would be surprised to see all of the central city neighborhoods around downtown Indy that are improving and not declining like you stated. Sure there are pleny of rough areas and crime is a problem in some parts of Center Township - but if you were to drive around some of the neighborhoods surrounding downtown like Herron Morton, Cottage Home, Fall Creek Place I and II, Concord, Highland Park, Martindale on the Monon, Woodruff Place, Mid-town Meridian Street and others - you'd see an amazing amount of rehabilitation and new homes being built. I also know there is significantly more new housing, office, and other development currently under construction and planned in downtown Indy than in downtown Louisville. Louisville is doing a lot now - but Indy has been on a run for twenty five plus years with downtown projects. The last list I saw showed approximately 1,900 housing units under currently under construction or approved for construction in downtown Indy. There are also about 1,300 hotel rooms under construction or announced. Much more development of all types is also underway or in discussion. I agree that there is much room for improvement with the architectural design of many of these projects. Hopefully things will improve with some of the future projects. Anyway - I like Louisville a lot and wish it the best. Hopefully I'll be able to get there again in the not too distant future. I'm in Tampa now - but could be back in Indy soon.

Jacob said...

Well, first - I used to live in Indianapolis, so I do actually already know about their projects and neighborhoods.

Second, I would highly doubt you know about all the projects underway in dt Louisville. As a whole, the Louisville projects are of a higher profile and quality - so I'll take them over Indy's. But thanks!

Third, you brought up some article about exurban drivers, and Louisville ranking highly - meaning you think that means there is a lot of exurban sprawl. Personally, I do not consider Crawford County, Indiana or County, Kentucky to be a part of Louisville - and neither is Louisville sprawling into them. It is simply small town people driving to the nearest large city for jobs, and deciding to not move. Have you been to Leavenworth, Indiana? Would you consider that a Louisville exurb? I certainly would not. When I read the article I felt it was generally pretty asinine and proves nothing. I would chalk it up to those counties having no economic opportunities, as American urban centers continue to consolidate all the economic power, and instead of moving to Louisville, they made the choice to stay put and commute.

Anonymous said...

I am from Jackson, TN. I moved to Louisville, KY eight years ago. I like living in Louisville. I have read comments on this site. Louisville is different in many ways from other cities. First, the people are different. The people are more country. We like a small town environment. Second, we don't wish to compare our town places like Indianapolis. Third, we will always be a smaller city. We have vote to limit urban development. The time I have been here, there has been dozens of planned projects (new subdivisions, malls, bridges, hotels, roads, and factories). I can remember at least 60 projects. Residents here go to court over such projects. The courts here have placed zoning limits on many areas.
Finally, these are the things outsiders do not realize.

I do not wish to moved to faster growing cities: Indianapolis, Memphis, Nashville, and Raleigh. Those places have major problems. Louisville do have problems.

Tom of Indy said...

Its interesting to read this thread two plus years after it was originally posted. Jacob, the author, was boasting about how great downtown Lousville is -- because it has all of these great projects happening. Specifically he names: Museum Plaza, RiverPark Place, Glassworks Tower, Iron Quarter, and the proposed expansion of Fourth Street Live. Because all of these great projects, he claims, "in a feew short years, downtown Louisville will be a real rival to downtown Indianapolis". Wow -- exactly NONE of those five projects has gotten started, two years and four months later. How embarrassing for the writer of this blog - who actually thought Louisville might actually get to see some downtown project start happening. (Meanwhile, downtown Indianapolis in the past two years and four months has seen its $750 million Lucas Oil Stadium open - and land the 2012 Super Bowl for downtown Indy, is well over half way done with its 1,626 room Marriott Plaza hotel complex, and is about half done with its 280,000 sq. foot expansion of its downtown convention center. It has also seen hundreds of condos and apartments open downtown during that time and has hundreds more currently under construction. Oh well, at least for a few months back in 2006, Louisvillians had a moment to get excited about something big happening -- too bad it hasn't actually happened though. Finally got the arena started at least - congrats on that by the way. But next time -- don't count your chickens before they hatch. When you get those five projects completed that you were bragging about, feel free to come back on this thread to tell me off. (I doubt that will ever happen though.)