Boutique Cities

I was just introduced to a blog written by Ben Casnocha.  Anyone who lists Burn Rate as suggested reading on their blog is a web friend of mine :)…so nice to meet you Ben.  Also, I grew up in Glendora just to the west of your new college.  Claremont’s downtown will provide you a sliver of the "feel" you probably have in SF without all of the madness (and without all of the digerati…because no matter how far up on the list LA County moves in terms of VC funding and tech start ups…it’s too spread out to have tangible collection spots for these these types).  Try Winston’s if you haven’t already.  It’s a wonderful place to have breakfast on the patio (in December).  If you ever bump into John Tulac downtown, tell him Doug Mitchell says hello.  He’s a fantastic lawyer, educator, and mentor that had a massive influence on my life and my entrepreneurial spirit.

Ben recently posted a piece called The Emergence of Boutique American Cities.  His post along with the quotes he provides from Joel Kotkin do a good job of explaining this phenomenon. 

America now consists of "boutique" cities — Boston, San Francisco, and
New York City — which house educated, elite, and wealthy residents at
the exclusion of most everyone else. In boutique cities the debate is
over where to put the next sushi bar, or if one neighborhood has too
many coffee shops, or how condos should be regulated…not how to solve
the affordable housing problem.

What boutique cities leave behind, however, is the "incubation of
social mobility" that metropolises historically have provided. Houston, Charlotte, Orlando, Phoenix,
Cleveland, Cincinnati,
Baltimore, Detroit, St. Louis: all these cities are now better
"aspirational cities" for middle class people. The problem is they’re
all trying (and failing) to become boutique cities by introducing slick
cultural ammenities.

I have a much greater clarity on this subject since I executed my Geographic Arbitrage to Des Moines, Iowa from Southern California.  Des Moines is attempting to become more "boutique" (albeit at the slower Midwest pace), by renovating many of the old warehouses and complexes downtown…creating flats and condos within walking distance to downtown jobs and restaurants.  We already have the "Court Ave. District" with enough restaurants and coffee shops to support the demand. 

I believe Iowans are realistic about their slim chances to rise up among America’s hot boutique cities.   We have about as much chance to become boutique as finding a cup of coffee in San Francisco for less than $1.  We still have a 3 hour a day show on the number one AM talk radio station here dedicated to AG business (that’s AG for agriculture for my West Coast readers).  Heck, 30 minutes outside of the Des Moines metro you’ll find only corn fields and a bit further east…the I-80 World’s Largest Truck Stop. 

Unlike the boutiques…Des Moines is not full of elites and those who service them.  It contains a rich blend of wealthy folks and common folks and plenty that lie between.  The metro provides the opportunity to "move up" in life’s ranks and progress from modest beginnings to the penthouse flat.  The people here in Des Moines seem comfortable with this reality.  I’ve mentioned before in postings that Des Moines social events often produce a collision of cultures yet all seem to blend quite well.  (The farmers don’t wear overalls to the Embassy Club for the Cigar dinner and the elites don’t wear suits to the state fair). 

I think a key success factor for the smaller metros today is the wide availability of broadband…making  workers "location independent" (read Karlgaard’s Life 2.0 for a primer).  One can find numerous small metros now that have scaled down versions of what the big ones have.  My beautiful metro has enough to keep me and most I know satisfied.  There’s upward mobility for the corporate types…and if you look, you can find the technology/start up culture.  There’s probably not enough choice for true big city metro elite but I can now live in the burbs and get downtown in 15 minutes to eat in the more elite restaurants, giving no concern to traffic or crowds.  Now, if we could just get In-N-Out to come out this way.

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