Morning Fizz

Morning Fizz: "A New Geography of Innovation in America" Starring South Lake Union

Caffeinated News & Gossip featuring demonization, tree canopy data, and innovation districts.

By Morning Fizz July 3, 2014

1. Union-backed Working Washington is leading a boycott of several businesses that are supporting an initiative to undo Seattle's new $15 minimum wage law.

Martha Fletcher, owner of one of the targeted businesses, the Blarney Stone pub in downtown Seattle (which has contributed $150 to Forward Seattle, the group that's attempting to undo the $15 law, and replace it with a phased-in $12.50 minimum), explained her opposition to $15 yesterday, telling us:

[Under the $15 proposal], tips are going to be phased out over several years. That's the part we mostly object to.  ... 15Now and Working Washington put me on their boycott list simply because I have a different opinion from theirs, so they are demonizing me. If I have to pay my servers $15 an hour I will go under. The little businesses can’t afford this. I don’t have a problem paying my cooks $15, but if I have to pay my servers and bartenders $15 I will go out of business. They're going around saying that we are endorsing a poverty wage that’s not true, and we want to clear that up. That's not true. 

2. Be warned, if you go to any sort of city planning or neighborhood meeting (such as a Department of Planning and Development meeting about the 2035 comp plan), an activist may hand you a flyer advocating measures to save and grow Seattle's tree canopy.

There's nothing wrong with that—we like the cause. However, the attention-grabbing factoid at the top of the flyer—that Seattle's tree canopy has decreased from 40 percent of the city's land area in the 1980s to 23 percent today—is way off base.

When Fizz was handed the flyer, we fact-checked the stat and at first, the city signed off on it, showing us a 2007 city report, the Urban Forest Management Plan, that said the canopy fans had their facts right (since the '70s, actually.)

However, when we pushed the city for sourcing on the claim, there was no direct citation for it, and the numbers turned out to be wrong. One staffer guessed that the 40 percent number was a misinterpretation based on an American Forests study from the late 90s that called for 40 percent tree cover.

What the city then turned up for us were numbers based on a few different studies that, while erratic and using incompatible science from study to study, indicate that the canopy has actually increased over the years from 15 percent in the early 1970s, down to 10 percent in the mid-90s, and back up to 18 percent in the early 2000s, to nearly 23 percent in the late 2000s.

The city has a goal of getting tree canopy cover to 30 percent by 2037.

3. Even casual readers of Fizz must have noticed by now that we're fans of the 2013 book The Metropolitan Revolution by Brookings Institute vice president Bruce Katz and fellow Jennifer Bradley; the book posits that cities and metro regions are displacing the feds and state governments as the most important drivers of national policy and the global economy. 

While the book relies on a lot of urbanist mumbo-jumbo about "open innovation," "networking assets," and "creation nets," it's jam-packed with compelling anecdotes, facts, and concepts that spell out exactly why cities are the solution to our economic malaise.

The most riveting chapter in the book is chapter six, "The Rise of Innovation Districts," which explains that the traditional ivory tower campus model for business success (think Microsoft on its isolated, idyllic corporate campus) needs to be displaced by creative clusters of businesses plunked down in the heart of the city, mashed up with housing, transit, restaurants, and shops (think South Lake Union).

And well, Katz's latest Brookings paper—published this spring as a clear hyperlink follow-up to chapter six ("The Rise of Innovation Districts: A New Geography of Innovation in America")—spends plenty of time in South Lake Union, portraying it as an exemplar.  

Here's the whole report, but if you don't want to read the whole thing, here are some Cliff's Notes starring South Lake Union: 

The “re-imagined urban areas” model: old industrial areas near waterfronts are prime locations for the growth of innovation districts. This is fueled by their proximity to the downtown core, which is supplemented with advanced research companies and large, anchor businesses. SLU is a prime example of this on all accounts. (Page 3)

The groups and individuals who are driving innovation district growth across the country varies widely; SLU is one of two innovation districts listed that’s being driven by a major developer and land owner (Vulcan); Amazon, as a large anchor company, has also played a major role in the growth of SLU as an innovation district. (Page 3)

Mayors are playing a major role in facilitating the growth of innovation districts; Former Mayor Greg Nickels is sited as a key influence on SLU. (Page 15)

 There’s a growing trend of leading-edge tech and pharmaceutical companies, universities, and even medical campuses to move advanced research and other critical assets to locations that generate the largest ROI for the firm/institution; UW is mentioned for locating it’s research facilities in SLU. (Page 16, 23)

 Attracting, retaining, and growing a highly skilled talent pool are heightening priorities; Amazon is included as one of SLU’s most successful strategies to achieving this. (Page 18)

A Fizz footnote, though: No mention of how the "highly skilled talent pool" is "heightening" rents!    

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