Publications by Jon Davis

Jon Davis is a writer with HiredPen which offers social media services to research institutes and nonprofits. A freelance journalist in Chicago, he has covered municipal government, transportation and development for 21 years. He also worked with the Congress for the New Urbanism on its Emergency Response & Street Design Initiative. His stories have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, New Urban News, and Planning Magazine.

On the Uncertain Future of “Legacy” Cities

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

12.10.2013 | As the recovery from the Great Recession limps along, regional resilience is both on display and being tested in “legacy” cities across the so-called Rust Belt of the United States.

Allan Mallach and Lavea Brachman, authors of “Regenerating America’s Legacy Cities,” define legacy cities as “older industrial cities that have experienced sustained job and population loss over the past few decades.” Several recent articles and reports chronicle these cities’ efforts to rebound. Their report, published in May 2013 by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, offers a broad overview of the situation in 18 cities chosen because their populations as of 2010 were at least 50,000 and they had lost at least 20 percent off their peak populations. (more…)

New App to Help Landlords, Tenants Communicate

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

11.21.2013 | Given the onslaught of smartphones and the now-ubiquitous app, it was only a matter of time before enterprising organizations adapted 21st Century technology to help solve age-old problems.

We’ve noted this development vis-à-vis local government services (particularly in Boston) and Code for America’s effort to match app developers with local governments. Now comes “Squared Away Chicago”—the Metropolitan Tenant Organization’s new app to ease tenant/landlord relations with better communication. (more…)

Why Reducing Air Pollution is Good for the Economy

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

11.19.2013 | A main argument from the deregulation crowd these last four decades or so has been that environmental laws must be loosened to lessen the regulatory burden on business and industry.

But even accepting that premise for the sake of argument runs afoul of reality.

A spate of papers reveal myriad economic reasons to reduce air pollution, from improving infants’ health and lowering children’s health care costs (which should reduce long-term health care costs), to improving worker productivity. (more…)

How to Bring Recovery to Inner Cities: ICIC IDs Some Possibilities

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

11.12.2013 | Inner cities seem especially resistant to the current economic recovery (such as that is anyway), but the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City floated a blueprint recently at its Inner City Economic Summit, held October 23-24 in Cleveland, Ohio:

“City vitality depends not only on the success of industries but also on the ecosystem connecting its residents, workers, businesses and policymakers. Industry cluster growth drives broader economic growth; but clusters cannot grow without the right business environment, and individual businesses cannot grow without access to the right resources. Complementary efforts to support all three—clusters, business environments and individual firms—are necessary to ensure a vibrant and resilient city.” (more…)

Infrastructure Overview: Are Regions the Adults in This Room?

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

11.6.2013 | Cities and regions may finally be digging out from the recession and seeing light at the end of the fiscal tunnel. But before you expect your municipality to deliver all that and a sparkly pony, don’t forget: This good news means that cities and regions can finally begin addressing the backlog of infrastructure problems.

Bang goes the sparkly pony.

Of course, that pony was practically in the glue factory anyway—the 2013 U.S. infrastructure grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers is a dismal D+, and this Congress is all but guaranteed to do nothing about it. (more…)

Burnham 2.0: Crowd-Sourcing Solutions to Chicago’s Problems

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

10.31.2013 | The Chicago Tribune recently launched a challenge to its readers: Help create a new Plan of Chicago (in this case, form follows function; let’s call it “Burnham 2.0”).

The series of editorials began on October 4th with a direct evocation of Burnham 1.0—an early 20th century plan for the city written by architect and urban designer Daniel Burnham—and a list of Chicago’s past crises, from the abrupt—the Great Fire of 1871—to the slowly unfolding—the mass migration of African Americans during the 20th century to “a city that will spend many decades welcoming their labor while paradoxically resisting their geographical advance.” (more…)

What’s Gone Terribly Wrong in San Francisco

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

10.29.2013 | So your city is constantly listed as among the most expensive in the country, if not the most expensive. What are you going to do about it?

Gabriel Metcalf of SPUR, a Bay Area planning think tank, created a kerfuffule with his article earlier this month at Atlantic Cities on gentrification and housing prices in San Francisco, noting that his friends are moving to Oakland because San Francisco is becoming unaffordable to all but the very rich. “Their move signals that something has gone terribly wrong in this most progressive of American cities,” he begins. (more…)

Research Finds Slowdown in the Economic Assimilation of New Immigrants

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

10.24.2013 | A new study by George J. Borjas finds that immigrants since the 1990s are not “economically assimilating” as fast as prior waves of newcomers to the United States.

Immigrants arriving in the United States—save for those brainiacs who go straight to Silicon Valley—have typically earned less than native-born Americans, at least at first. Eventually, with time in the country, a better grasp on the language, and education, immigrants’ earnings have started to match those of the native-born. But not lately. (more…)

A History of the High Rise, For Today’s Readers

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

10.22.2013 | How do you take a complex, complicated notion like “the history of the high-rise and vertical living” and encapsulate it for a modern mass audience? Like this.

Along with providing a comprehensive, informative overview, this New York Times documentary is just plain cool (although I would have preferred prose to the cutesy rhyming scheme). It tells the story of the building form from ancient times to ours, touching on cultural imperatives and technological advances. It’s accompanied by occasionally animated photo images (click to “flip” them for captions) along with periodic opportunities to jump from the main story to “sidebars” exploring specific themes in greater detail. (more…)

Good News About Detroit? How Can That Be?!

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

10.15.2013 | How, indeed, but lo and behold—here are two posts with some good news for the city and, perhaps, its regional resilience.

Bill Dodge at offers a rundown of regional initiatives aimed at restoring the city to better days. He calls particular attention to the work of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments in launching many of them, including creating a regional convention facility and transit authorities. The council also passed 10-year tax levies to keep the Detroit Zoo and the Detroit Institute of the Arts open during the city’s state-imposed bankruptcy. (more…)