Jul 31, 2019

Axios Cities

By Kim Hart
Kim Hart

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  • Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,579 words (<6 minutes)

Situational awareness: Verizon today announced 5G in four more cities: Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Detroit and Indianapolis.

1 big thing: Baltimore wrestles with aerial surveillance

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With a surge of violent crime plaguing the streets of Baltimore, some residents whose lives have been upended by murder are pushing for a drastic measure: citywide surveillance.

Why it matters: Americans have historically valued privacy over security and generally reject the idea of being monitored by anyone, especially law enforcement.

  • But record-setting homicide rates in Baltimore — not to mention national attention on the city's problems following President Trump's recent Twitter insults — may test that mindset.

Baltimore's surveillance saga began in 2016, when a company called Persistent Surveillance Systems (PSS) embarked on a quiet pilot project with the city's police force to test the firm's wide-area surveillance technology.

How it works: From a plane flying overhead, powerful cameras capture aerial images of the entire city. Photos are snapped every second, and the plane can be circling the city for up to 10 hours a day.

  • "It's like Google Earth Live meets TiVo," said Ross McNutt, the company's CEO, via Skype when Axios asked for a demonstration of the technology.

The problem: The police department kept the project secret, and it ended abruptly when it was revealed by media reports.

  • The ACLU of Maryland called it "the technological equivalent of putting an ankle GPS monitor on every person in Baltimore" and a "cynical attempt to profit off the city's trauma."

Violent crime has continued to soar. In 2018, there were 342 homicides, a record per capita rate for the city. Through June of this year, more than 150 people have been killed — a 17% increase over the same period last year, per the Baltimore Sun.

  • Two of those losses devastated the family of Archie Williams, whose 15-year-old nephew and 24-year-old cousin were killed recently.
  • Williams, 39, is among those pushing to bring PSS back to the city. Sacrificing privacy to save lives, he said, is a "no-brainer."

The big picture: Finding the balance between privacy and law enforcement comes down to community conversations, said Kelsey Finch, senior policy counsel at the Future of Privacy Forum.

And while some people may generally be comfortable with sensors on cars or streetlights, seeing planes or drones flying overhead can feel much more threatening.

  • "That sense that you can see it and it's watching you can evoke much more visceral privacy concerns than other technologies that might actually have the same impacts," Finch said.

That visceral reaction is exactly what will help deter crime, McNutt said.

"We want to be public and visible in what we're doing. We want someone who's thinking about breaking the law to look up and see that airplane and decide not to do it."

Go deeper:

2. The disappearance of working-age adults
Expand chart
Data: Economic Innovation Group; Chart: Axios Visuals

About 80% of U.S. counties lost prime working-age adults between 2007 and 2017, and 65% will lose more over the next decade.

Why it matters: While population decline is affecting parts of every state, the loss of the working-age population is being felt most acutely in places that are already struggling economically, according to an analysis by the Economic Innovation Group and Moody's Analytics.

  • The shrinking worker population makes it tough for hard-hit regions to bounce back. Companies are less likely to invest in places that don't have solid pools of workers. Likewise, it's hard to lure more young, educated workers to a place without many employers.
  • EIG has pitched the idea of place-based visas, or "heartland visas," allowing communities with chronic depopulation to opt-in to hosting visa-holding immigrants to address labor shortages.

What's happening: Some cities in the Midwest with dwindling labor forces are open to having immigrants fill empty jobs, as they are more likely to be of working age — between 25 and 64 — than the native-born population.

Driving the news: The U.S. Conference of Mayors this month adopted a resolution supporting heartland visas, noting "mayors around the country are in fact already making welcoming immigrants and refugees centerpieces of their economic development strategies."

The bottom line: Immigration may be the difference between population loss and growth. And as seen in several metros, such as Detroit, Memphis, Dayton and St. Louis, foreign-born migration helped reverse population decline, according to a recent study by New American Economy.

3. Canton's big bet on pro football

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Museum at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. Photo: Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This week, about 250,000 people will descend on Canton, Ohio — home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame — to watch the NFL season kickoff game, writes Axios' Marisa Fernandez, a Canton native.

Why it matters: Looming over the festivities is a nearly $1 billion, slow-moving project to build the Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village.

  • An economic impact study says the "NFL theme park" will attract football fans year-round and give this Rust Belt city a much-needed economic boost estimated to be worth $15 billion over the next 25 years.

But, but, but: It's running way behind schedule. Construction has been at a standstill for more than a year, the Plain Dealer reports, and it won’t be ready for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the NFL planned for 2020.

  • The project is seeking $300 million for more construction, and the goal is "very close," Canton Deputy Mayor Fonda Williams tells Axios. The city also established tax incentives to promote investment.

Reality check: Estimates of economic impact of sports stadiums are often exaggerated because projects fail to recognize opportunity costs — "dollars spent at a new stadium would not be new spending but rather diverted spending," according to research by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

And some Canton residents lost faith in the project when construction paused.

  • Others are skeptical the project will deliver year-round business.
  • There's also discontent with developers for gobbling up neighborhood land to make room.

Read Marisa's story.

4. Ford dives into urban transit

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Ford wants to be an orchestrator of urban transit, helping cities move people efficiently from A to B, Axios' Joann Muller reports from Detroit.

Why it matters: Today, cities are cobbling together a potpourri of transportation solutions — parking, microtransit, ride-sharing, buses, subways — with no idea how effective they are or how they can work together.

  • Ford aims to provide city planners with easy-to-visualize dashboards so they can make better transit decisions.

What's happening: Ford has been slowly assembling the pieces of that transportation technology puzzle.

  • This week its subsidiary Ford Smart Mobility acquired Journey Holding, a software company that specializes in intelligent transportation systems for municipalities, universities, airports, hospitals and corporate fleets.
  • Journey will combine with Ford-owned TransLoc, which helps public and private transit providers optimize their on-demand and fixed route systems.
  • The plan is to tie them together with other Ford-owned mobility services like Spin scooters and GoRide Health nonemergency medical transportation — and someday, robotaxis, too — for an all-in-one, connected transportation platform.
5. Local leaders forge ties with China amid trade war

Feeling the effects of the Trump administration's trade war with China, some states and cities are stepping in to build their own relationships.

Why it matters: Mayors and governors are hearing directly from farmers and business owners concerned that the trade war will permanently cut off access to the Chinese market.

  • "People are scared about their livelihoods and job opportunities going somewhere else," said Bob Holden, CEO of the U.S. Heartland China Association and former governor of Missouri.

In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown said China is the state's biggest trading partner and both farmers and businesses have been hurt by tariffs.

  • Brown is encouraging Oregon's universities to continue to open doors to Chinese students, and for programs to let American students travel to China — so each country can have a better understanding of the other. Public schools offer Mandarin immersion programs.
  • She acknowledged those efforts won't address tariffs. "But if I can't impact that, I'm going to focus on long-term investments," she said.

Chinese trade accounts for 60% of business at the Port of Los Angeles, and the city is the most visited U.S. destination for Chinese tourists. Both areas have seen declines in the past year, said Nina Hachigian, LA's deputy mayor of international affairs.

  • LA is one of the country's most diverse cities and has more resources than most to forge its own global relationships.
"The trade situation is forcing partners to look for someone to talk to the way they used to talk to Washington. If you want to create jobs in your city, you need to be internationally engaged."
— Hachigian, speaking at Brookings Institution event this week
6. Urban files

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democratic state AGs are leading the Resistance (Stef Kight, Sara Fischer — Axios)

U.S. merger boom has hit a key swing state's biggest city, St. Louis (Leslie Picker — CNBC)

How Baltimore is saving urban forests — and its city (Stephanie Hanes — CS Monitor)

How 'developer' became such a dirty word (Emily Badger — New York Times)

Trump plants racial explosives in the urban-rural divide (Axios)

Ireland elects its first black mayor (Francie Grace — CBS News)

7. 1 🏖 thing: An Airbnb for pools

Just in time for late-summer heat waves, a new on-demand pool service lets you rent strangers' private pools by the hour.

Swimply, which calls itself the "first online marketplace for pool sharing," was created when its founder was looking for ways to put his under-used backyard pool to better use, according to Thrillest.

  • The site has pool listings in 20 states and pool access goes for $50–$75 an hour. Pools with amenities like grills or hot tubs can go for $100–$200 an hour, per Business Insider.

My thought bubble: I grew up in Florida where it seems like every house is required to come with a pool, so I get that pool owners would want to maximize pool use while also making a few bucks. But this strikes me as a potential insurance liability nightmare.

Kim Hart