The Platform


Cities are going to be facing a dire future.

Many major cities in the United States are facing a vortex of negative issues which will pull them down to a point of being the next Detroit, or worse. This will happen as federal funding from COVID relief funds run out and cities must go back to fending for themselves and believing things will get back to “business-as-usual” when it comes to revenue streams.

Business-as-usual includes having adequate revenues to run city government and that is not going to happen in most major metropolitan areas in 2022.

Some cities may get back on their feet, but it is more likely they will succumb to the rising problems they are confronting and hit rock bottom like Detroit did, before they attempt to rebuild from whatever is left.

Detroit is going through some positive revival right now, but it was a long time coming. They were in a very deep downward spiral, including having to declare bankruptcy in 2013.

Detroit should be viewed as getting a lucky break, rather than being viewed as making a typical recovery from civic and economic disaster. They have gotten some great help from large corporations, like Ford and Quicken Loans, reinvesting into various projects. The coalition of public and private philanthropic organizations helping restructure a lot of the debt the city was faced with, also helped set a positive direction.

The question becomes, will other cities be able to stop their downward spiral like Detroit did? Or, will they fall further into what some people now call the streets of San Francisco, a “trench of stench”?

Who wants to visit a place where you have to walk through a trench of stench to get to a restaurant or a retail shop? San Francisco used to be a great place to visit, but today, it is in a vortex of decline and there does not seem to be any positive ideas coming from its leadership to stop and reverse that decline.

Chicago is another city locked in a downward spiral caused by several events, chronic shootings and other crimes, and underlying poor practices. Some have already renamed it Chitroit because they see the parallel of the downward spiral Detroit went through before hitting rock bottom and getting into their current renaissance.

The looting of downtown Chicago back in 2020 as well as its weekly shooting totals, created a growing resistance in many people to avoid going downtown for any shopping, shows, or other entertainment. Fewer people going downtown for whatever reason, shopping or working, creates a real shortfall in daily revenue streams.

The media tends to look the other way when it comes to spotlighting people not coming downtown, but the resistance is real, whether they report on it or not.

Talk about shortfalls in relying on “taken-for-granted” revenue streams, the Bears just announced they are looking at leaving Chicago for a suburban location for a new stadium. This has the mayor and others scrambling, but as they say, the writing is already on the wall as to the Bears’ intention. They need a domed stadium if they ever want to host a Superbowl and the current Soldier Field cannot provide that. Plus, with the demographics of their season ticket holders, this new location may be more conducive geographically for the vast majority of ticket holders.

This move would not be the first time a professional sports team left one city in order to get a better deal from another city. Just look at the Oakland Raiders. They recently went to Las Vegas to get a domed stadium and a big supportive audience. Plus, I am sure the owner got a good tax incentive from both Las Vegas and Nevada.

There is definitely a “rise in crime” in the cities facing economic implosion. Law-and-order must be restored as it is the basic foundation for cities to begin to address their operational policies and procedures, fix problems, and reverse their downward spirals.

There has been a decline in civic leaders taking a stand. This goes beyond the elected officials, like the mayors, city councils, states attorneys, judges, and governors, and includes those sitting on chamber of commerce boards, downtown retail associations, and other influential, civic-minded groups who were supposedly organized to promote commerce and set a positive strategic direction for the cities and their economic viability. Instead, they sit quietly looking the other way as they see revenues drop and decay grows.

It has gotten so obvious in some cities, there is a clear and growing decline in outside companies wanting to create and maintain a presence within them. Corporate site selection committees have created a huge competition between cities vying for new businesses to locate within them. The issue of job creation is critical to all regions for economic sustainability. Or at least it should be, in order to remain viable.

In some cases, companies have moved out of cities and certain states to find more business-friendly areas where their businesses can flourish, instead of flounder.

This attitude of becoming more selective in what city to locate in has also been adopted by the common wage earner/family. You see an exodus of people coming out of places like New York, New Jersey, Chicago, California, and others. They are tired of being overtaxed and underserved by both city and state governments. Other cities, like Nashville, are growing and attracting a new base of businesses as well as moving up in national stature.

Education is also a key factor in the decline of some cities. Poor school systems reflect a poor future workforce to draw from. There is an emphasis on teaching skill sets which are not in demand by those offering solid-paying jobs requiring well-rounded individual skills in adaptivity, flexibility, creativity, and technology.

The decline in public schools and what they are delivering to the workforce is a full story in itself. We will save this for another article, but suffice it to say, we are not going to be able to compete in the global markets when the emphasis is drifting away from, or in some cases, was never focused on, learning solid math, science, and engineering skills to compete for jobs which are growing in technical complexities. Good-paying jobs will be focused on working with data analytics, artificial intelligence, and creating new building blocks for strategic materials in the electronics and bio-medical sectors, as well as other emerging technologies.

The lack of major media being politically accurate and telling the truth will only contribute to accelerating the downward vortex in cities and societies. People want facts and not fluffy, obtuse euphemisms used so commonly in politically correct stories skirting around tough issues. In order to make tough decisions, you need an accurate assessment of what the problems are and not a fluffy overview painted by journalists, for whatever their reasons are, in giving everyone the information they need to make a decision.

Major areas of concern for insuring better viability all cities’ futures need to address: Crime, better education, financial stability, and overall resilience. If the combined leadership of both government and civic organizations in all these cities do not actively pursue pragmatic solutions today, they will not have much left for tomorrow.

James Carlini is a strategist for mission critical networks, technology, and intelligent infrastructure. Since 1986, he has been president of Carlini and Associates. Besides being an author, keynote speaker, and strategic consultant on large mission critical networks including the planning and design for the Chicago 911 center, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange trading floor networks, and the international network for GLOBEX, he has served as an adjunct faculty member at Northwestern University.