Tag Archives: Las Vegas

Fastest growing cities in America

Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox have an analysis in Forbes of new Census data about where Americans are living. They look at metro regions not only central cities. Las Vegas and Raleigh, N.C. were two of the fastest growing regions this decade due in part to job growth. Several regions in Texas are growing and are attracting people from California. Housing prices help to explain the migration of people from the northeast (Boston and New York) to Raleigh.

And Washington D.C. has “defied all market logic” as a relatively expensive area with growth. The authors suggest this is due to the “ever-expanding scope of federal government and its…growing legions of parasitic private corporations.”

For more on why other areas have lost population check out the article.

Battling Bankruptcy in America’s Cities

Business Insider ranks America’s most bankrupt cities. Many in the list of 16 are wrestling with the same problems including unions that refuse to concede on salaries and benefits.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is showing particular resolve in trying to close the city’s $325 million deficit. He is pushing to reolcate residents from sparsely populated neighborhoods to shrink the city’s footprint. And he may privatize some city services. Last month he accused AFSCM, the city’s largest union, for stalling on contract negotiations, “Either they can’t read, they can’t add, or they can’t comprehend.” Mayor Bing would also like to transfer control of the city’s pension system to a non-profit.

Other cities making the list include Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City.

Local Governments Taxing Online Travel Services?

A new study from the Tax Foundation looks at how local governments are attempting to change the way they calculate hotel occupancy taxes, from the amount paid to the hotel to the amount paid by the consumer to online travel services like Expedia and Priceline:

Local governments’ efforts to collect discriminatory taxes from online travel services amount to a revenue grab from out-of-staters and ultimately harm interstate commerce, according to a new Tax Foundation report.

City officials in 22 states have, with limited success, sought to reinterpret hotel occupancy taxes to apply to amounts paid by consumers for online travel booking services (such as Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline).

“Hotel taxes are attractive to local politicians because they are a way to shift the tax burden to ‘outsiders,'” said Joseph Henchman, the Tax Foundation’s Tax Counsel and Director of State Projects, who authored the report. “But because every U.S. city has a hotel tax, we’re all somebody else’s ‘outsider.’ And that means everyone is paying high hotel taxes everywhere.” Continue reading

Spam Artists, Electronic Pickpockets and Online Jobs

Hard Times can lead to acts of desperation. During the Great Depression rural areas saw increased petty property crimes – illegal fishing and crop picking, as well as a violent crime wave by notorious and newly-minted public enemies.

The current recession has produced its own wave of burglaries, robberies, and scam artists. Neighborhood Watches have intensified in Las Vegas and Miami as residents contend with a sudden up-tick in break-ins, car-thefts and other “crime of opportunity.” Copper, (which has been steadily rising in value), is increasingly being pilfered, everywhere from foreclosed homes, to Bangor Hydro Electric Co. in Maine, to Pennsylvania’s mines.

Perhaps more fitting with these times is  the increase in financial and online fraud. According to NPR, the  poor economy is also leading to increases in “data breaching”: identity theft, credit card fraud, and insurance schemes. Reports of online crimes are up one-third from last year to 350,000 complaints.

But not all of the fraudsters are professional criminals, or big-time Ponzi scheme masterminds. In fact, many often come from the ranks of disgruntled employees. Risk managers are most worried about embezzlement plots and organized data theft by insiders: “administrative staff, back-office employees, traders and tellers.”

According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners the number of embezzlement crimes are likely to continue increasing. Times are rough and layoffs are leaving holes in companies’ internal fraud controls.

It’s not just Wall Street that should worry. Employee embezzlement happens in other sectors too. Last week, the ex-Chief Financial Officer of Michigan Public Health Institute, was charged with embezzling $120,000 from the non-profit.

Overplanning in Dubai

In an  LA Times article, architecture critic Christopher Hawkin writes about his trip to study Dubai:

Like many first-time visitors, I expected to find in Dubai a messy, vital hybrid of architectural and urban strategies, reflecting the city’s history as a regional crossroads and trading center. I could hardly have been more wrong. Dubai is not some Middle Eastern Venice, a polyglot city where the combination of construction workers from Pakistan, bankers from London and Hong Kong and tourists from around the world creates a mash-up of contemporary urbanism.

[. . .]

One major reason that the city has been divided up this way is that the emirate’s ruling family, led by Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, controls all the major real estate companies operating here. In Dubai, the urban planners and the developers are essentially one and the same. Market ambition and civic ambition are similarly intertwined: Sheik Mohammed has often been called Dubai’s chief executive. Instead of building a monumental city hall or war memorial, Dubai builds shopping centers and office towers at a monumental scale.

In the heart of most cities, the biggest piece of land that a single developer is typically able to control is one square block. (In a dense, layered city, of course, the average parcel is far smaller.) In Dubai, whole districts of the city, many covering dozens of square blocks and hundreds of acres, have been given over to single developments. Seeing architectural diversity within any project as a threat to the bottom line, their creators usually hire a single firm to design them around a recognizable theme: the golf community, the office park, the vaguely souk-like waterfront combination of retail outlets and condominiums.

Currently, the relationship between builders and policy makers in Dubai has led to a strange pattern of development and has resulted a compartmentalized city rather than a conglomeration of neighborhoods. If the city does not recover its position as a tourist destination, it will be difficult for it to diversify its economy because current land use is not suitable for typical residential or business uses.

The unnatural development that a lack of competition has created in Dubai shares similarities with ideas promoted by garden city planners of the early 20th century. Garden city planners believed an organized, planned utopia would be preferable to the apparent chaos of cities that grow organically. Although the idea of a highly stylized and planned city may theoretically seem  this sort of development does not lead to livable cities.

If Dubai seeks to be merely a tourist attraction rather than a vibrant city, this glitzy but impractical development model may succeed provided that global economic prosperity returns quickly.  However, such an undiversified economy means that the city would remain in a position to be particularly hard hit by downturns in the business cycle, as Las Vegas is in the United States.

In order to develop cities that function as more than amusement parks, competition between developers at the street level is necessary to facilitate the diverse needs of residents, rather than exclusively the desires of wealthy tourists.  As a British businessman in Dubai explained in The Sunday Times:

Dubai has brilliantly exploited the boom years to build itself on to the map and into people’s minds. But Plan A is over now. The model only works in the good times. We need Plan B and we need it fast.

More on Dubai’s economy from the Economist, and on the city’s future prospects from Tyler Cowen (who has written on Dubai over 100 times).