Dan Gilmartin, of EconomicsofPlace.com, usually pops up on my feeds as a good source talking about the emerging and vibrant new economies developing in Michigan cities and towns. But when this “rant” hit today (thank God someone other than me rants), I knew many of you would also find it interesting. I don’t have any knowledge of the legislation Dan notes, and I have no opinion on that – for all I know, it’s written in Swedish. OK, probably not.
I say in the book, and in every talk I give it seems like, “That which makes you unique makes you valuable.” In oversaturated markets, including an oversaturated market of places that have “great work ethic” or “highway access” or “low taxes,” we should have learned by now that the only alternative to competing on meaningfully unique value is to compete on cheap costs. And we’ve seen what that does to products, to workers, to buildings, to local economies. If your town or neighborhood isn’t differentiating in a meaningful fashion, you’re consigning yourself and your businesses and your residents to the clearance bin of communities.
*I write this post in the midst of battling state legislation that would curtail local decision making on economic issues in favor of a single statewide standard.
Indulge me, please.
In an age when people, jobs and entire industries are mobile city leaders must make great efforts to distinguish their communities from the crowd. Creating and nurturing authentic experiences for people are vital tools for improving economic opportunities. That’s a fact.
The “one size fits all” argument clings to a flawed premiss that it increases efficiency, which leads to growth. This concept is at least outdated.
If the goal of a city or state is to attract low skilled, low paying production jobs then a single set of rules may eradicate barriers to entry. Many emerging countries favor this strategy. I, however, am under the impression that we’re aiming higher in Michigan.
Think of all the great places you like to visit (or live) and ask yourself, “what if they all looked and felt alike?” Where would Portland be without its emphasis on the environment? How would Austin differ without neighborhood based live music? Is Miami Beach still extraordinary without Art Deco?
Celebrating human diversity is a worthy and generally accepted goal today. We must do the same when it comes to our cities. Unique rules that buoy local culture and honor the distinct attributes of people and places are good things. Wiping them out is shortsighted and ill-advised.