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Small Cities Weekly | 09.01.2023
Save them, Start them, or Both?
As part of the work we are doing on the Small City Segment, we send out a brief weekly post of thoughts, links, and research in progress that reflect the week’s work. I’d love to hear from you if you have any thoughts, questions, disagreements, or things to add. Please forward this on to people you think might enjoy reading it.
I’ve been asking myself a weird question this week - when I say I care about small cities, do I only mean existing ones?
As you’ll see in the links below, there were pieces in the NYTimes this week about both thinking about reviving smaller existing cities and the prospect of building a new one. I have an instinct to defend investing time and resources into the existing ones. But at the same time, all the existing ones were a new one at some point - and as I dive deeper into those founding stories, I walk away inspired and with many lessons that seem applicable today.
I haven’t answered the question for myself yet, not sure that I ever will, and not sure that it’s an either/or proposition. But it is worth posing anyway. And even if I do really just mean existing ones, it pushes me to define the advantage in doing so versus starting from scratch - and I think that’s useful.
Reviving America’s Fading Cities Isn’t Impossible, Peter Coy | NYTimes
Is the shrinkage of some American cities, towns and villages an inevitable consequence of economic change or something to be vigorously resisted? And if you do want the government to help rejuvenate places that have fallen behind, what’s your argument? Is it a simple matter of mercy, a political calculation or an economic case that bringing opportunity to people is more effective than bringing people to opportunity?
Multi-Part Series on Potential New City in California, NYTimes:
A rural corner of the county eventually became the centerpiece of a plan hatched by Mr. Sramek to build a city from scratch. He created a company called Flannery Associates, and has spent the last few years using money from some of the wealthiest people in Silicon Valley to make his audacious idea come true, said two people with knowledge of his work who were not authorized to speak publicly.
The story of how Mr. Sramek got some of the richest people in the world to buy $900 million in farms and undeveloped land with the dream of a new city seems destined to become a Silicon Valley legend that mixes idealism — or hubris — with old-fashioned capitalism.
Move to Miami. If you’re not in New York, you’re missing out. It doesn’t count unless it happens in Los Angeles.
I revisited the Twitter (X?) debate around where the startup action lives this week after a few local reporters called asking about their hometowns. I wondered: if we split the data by vertical, do we get more intriguing answers than “Bay Area wins”?
Turns out, not really. Bay Area took the top spot for capital invested so far in 2023 (across Seed, Series A, and Series B rounds) in 8 of the 11 listed verticals. It may be that Carta’s client base is weighted more heavily towards Silicon Valley than startups as a whole - but overall I think the data is fairly indicative of the continued primacy of SV.
What I’m Working On
Healthcare Access: Most of my research time is being spent on this currently. My biggest questions/requests at the moment are:
MSA-level data on both insurance and provider dynamics - I have this resource from the American Medical Association, but looking for more
Any resources or people who understand the economic and reimbursement dynamics between specialty services and general services
Small City Industry Niches: After writing the More of Different post, I started to get interested in what weird industry niches exist in small cities and how they came to be. I’ve already looked into the ones mentioned in the post (speciality insurance in Fort Wayne, orthopedics in Warsaw, and RVs in Elkhart) and the stories are fascinating and worth sharing. If you have any other suggestions, I’d love to hear about them.
Small City Climate Change & Resilience Data: There’s been a lot in the news lately about climate issues, disasters, and the environment (including this wild piece by the NYTimes on groundwater usage in the US). One of the most interesting parts of the piece are the lengths the reporters had to go to to even get good data on what was happening with groundwater. I’m interested in learning more behind the data being used to define climate change and resiliency and how that shows up in smaller cities.
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