The Platform

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Cities like New York and Chicago face a myriad of problems.

As we peer into the next decade, an urgent inquiry emerges: what destinies await the likes of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Austin, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle? These cities, pulsing with potential, now teeter on the precipice of their future—yet many seem to be adrift, captivated by pet projects and insubstantial policy measures that risk perpetuating a downward spiral rather than reversing it.

For these metropolises to navigate a course toward resurgence, they must first and foremost confront the specter of crime. The eradication of this scourge is paramount to their ability to draw and retain corporate establishments and to reinvigorate a tourism industry languishing since the pandemic—a malaise that has cleaved billions from their sales tax revenues.

Visible too is a demographic realignment: a steady exodus from cities like Los Angeles and New York to states offering the triple allure of lower taxes, diminished crime, and abundant employment. Absent a reversal of these trends and an awakening to the severity of their plight, these urban giants risk a continued erosion of their prominence and tax base.

Emerging cities are poised to claim the mantle of regional importance from their faltering counterparts. For instance, Chicago’s trajectory seems to point downward, potentially ceding its status to a city like Nashville in the Midwest. Seemingly outlandish at first glance, yet when one considers the potential relocation of the Chicago White Sox to Nashville, the prospect becomes tangibly possible.

The Chicago Bears, too, are contemplating a move—whether within Illinois or out of state—signaling yet another potential blow to Chicago’s prestige and a boon for another city vying for professional sports acclaim.

New York City
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The focal point of Chicago’s efforts should be its battle against crime, to reclaim the safety of its streets, both downtown and in its neighborhoods. Instead, the city’s leaders are preoccupied with lofty global peace declarations and the controversial proposal of funneling a billion dollars they scarcely have into a new stadium for the White Sox—a misallocation of resources and priorities in a city increasingly defined by its weekly tallies of shootings rather than its sports teams’ triumphs.

San Francisco contends with its own set of issues, plagued by chronic retail crime and the degradation of its public spaces. This has led to widespread store closures and streets marred by the unsightly presence of tents, needles, and refuse, repelling tourists and denizens alike. One wonders if the city’s government is fully cognizant of the tourism dollars slipping through their fingers due to their hesitance to decisively address crime.

The situation in New York is marked by its struggle to render its mass transit system secure for passengers. The city’s commuters, once the lifeblood of its bustling downtown, now balk at the prospect of returning to work in Manhattan, unconvinced of their safety on the subway. This disconnect is most acute among the city’s executives who, cushioned by their private vehicles, are insulated from the dangers that lurk in the subterranean commute.

The critique may rankle with some New Yorkers, yet before taking umbrage, they must consider the plight of those who have suffered violence on the subway platforms, such as the cellist who has been assaulted twice in less than a year while performing. Such incidents underscore a palpable sense of insecurity that undermines the transit system’s credibility, deterring both commuters and tourists alike, and contributing to a staggering loss of over ten billion dollars in sales tax revenue.

Furthermore, New York’s aggressive stance on regulation and litigation has painted a hostile visage to large-scale investors. Prominent figures like Kevin O’Leary have gone so far as to publicly eschew investing in New York, pointing to a climate that is increasingly adversarial to business interests and noting that other cities are swiftly rising as viable alternatives for investment.

The narrative of these overtaxed urban centers losing their populace compels a frank confrontation with the reality of this exodus. As their residents and businesses migrate to locales promising affordability and security, these once-grand cities—renowned for their towering architecture and cultural heft—are now at risk of trailing behind in the urban race.

They face the dual challenge of declining populations and the failure to provide a secure environment, to say nothing of the urgent need to chart strategic directions that embrace innovation and technological advancement. These strategies are essential for attracting and sustaining new corporations and jobs, and for underpinning their long-term economic vitality.

In the landscape of modern industry, where corporations operate on the backbone of mission-critical applications, the robustness of infrastructure is not just a preference—it’s imperative. Mission-critical implies resilience, a system designed without a single point of failure. This translates into an undeniable requirement for redundant connections to power and network facilities. Yet, a staggering 97% of buildings in downtown precincts are relics of an era before such redundancy was conceived, tethered to a singular route to a central office and one power station.

As corporations evaluate potential downtown tenancies, their mission-critical operations necessitate multiple points of connection. No enterprise vested in the future can afford to be hamstrung by a single point of failure. Buildings that fail to meet this modern criterion are destined to witness their vacancies swell, with their market values in inexorable decline.

With companies condensing their corporate footprint by a dramatic 50%-80%, the selection of available spaces burgeons for prospective tenants. In this environment, one out of every three corporate applications is mission-critical, a ratio swiftly escalating. Cities must confront the reality: leasing in a building with high failure potential for mission-critical applications is untenable.

These questions, while previously marginal, are now central to the viability of urban real estate. The volume of cabling, the extent of spare capacity, the adequacy of internal wiring, and the assurance of diverse routing are now pivotal considerations.

Ignorance of these fundamental inquiries compromises a building’s appeal, depreciating its value in the eyes of discerning corporate tenants. Inadequate or singular cabling solutions can deter lease finalization. Property management firms and city economic commissions oblivious to these truths will encounter their repercussions as they vie for tenants.

The quest for amenities is increasingly grounded in the solidity of infrastructure. Buildings, and by extension cities, lacking such a foundation will find themselves bypassed in favor of locales that understand and have invested in these necessities for modern business.

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.