The Citistates Group presents

Thank you for reading Citiwire.net. This website is no longer being updated, as of October 2013. We invite you to visit our new site at Citiscope.org.

1,900 Columns Later: Time for a Pause

Neal Peirce / Oct 03 2013

For Release Sunday, October 6, 2013
© 2013 Washington Post Writers Group

Neal PeirceThirty-eight years ago I began a newspaper column focused on the states and cities of America.

The first of the weekly articles appeared in February 1975. Next week, close to 1,900 columns later, I’ll write the last.

A new project awaits me (more about that below). But it’s also time for a change. The journalistic world of 1975 was markedly different from today’s. Newspapers were in their heyday, featuring scores of columns on every topic from national politics to advice for the lovelorn.

But no national column had ever focused on America’s 50 states and their cities, analyzing the issues, the politics, the conditions they faced.

I decided the timing was right. I had just traveled to all 50 states, interviewing in each the governors, mayors, industrialists, labor leaders, citizen activists and more in preparation for a book series that concluded with The Book of America: Inside Fifty States Today. Everywhere I had asked: What makes this state or city distinctive? What’s the politics like, the tone and temper of public life, the economy, culture, living conditions?

But even if I was convinced the time was ripe for a column focused on state-local issues, the syndicates were skeptical. So I stepped out on the plank and took a gamble. I wrote to the editors I had met across the country, promising a column a week and asking for a check for any they printed. My kids grumbled but agreed to collate, staple, fold, stuff envelopes, attach address stickers and stamps.

Slowly editors started to respond (and I was on the phone pushing reticent ones.) Checks began to filter in. Two years later, the Washington Post Writers Group was ready to syndicate the column for me – and has ever since.

Looking back, I ask myself: What have been the major, prevailing themes of the columns?

The first is that bottoms-up democracy – local, regional, state – is incredibly important for citizen engagement and meaningful change. National government is important, but what’s local is often far more vital for people’s lives.

That said, an eagle eye has to be kept out for the opportunities – and dangers – in state and local policy. I’ve tried to think and write ahead on several key fronts.

A top example: Well before someone coined the term “smart growth,” I was focusing on the ways sprawl spells waste, undermines sound planning and a sense of community. I used my column to celebrate and spread word of pioneering state land use laws like those of Oregon, Washington and Maryland.

Cities were fast losing population and wealth to suburbs in the ’70s and ’80s. We Americans were forsaking the places of our history, culture and diversity. So I made it my business to look for early and successful recovery efforts bubbling up from Boston to Denver, Chicago to Seattle, bringing fresh spirit, confidence, economic vitality.

Gutsy neighborhood rebuilding efforts were multiplying, so it was only natural to celebrate the flowering of community development corporations and the national associations (Enterprise and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation) that courageously backed them. And it was natural to welcome federal housing policy’s rejection, under HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, of sterile high-rises for the poor, as the agency looked instead toward mixed-income recovery zones.

Regional governance in America seemed haphazard and weak, despite the deep economic and environmental interdependence of cities and suburbs. So with colleagues I co-authored a book (Citistates), following up with columns asserting how vital it was that metropolitan regions, to survive and prosper in an intensely interconnected 21st-century world, put aside city-suburban differences and coalesce on economic strategy, restraining sprawl and upgrading troubled neighborhoods and communities.

An array of deep social failings in our states and communities led me to use the editorialist’s pen in alarm, pressing for reform. Topping the list were columns on:

Prisons – The dangers of packing more people behind bars than any other nation on Earth.

Drugs – Our states’ (and federal government’s) misguided “war on drugs,” serving to pack the prisons, ruin lives, neglect sane rules and treatment for abuse.

Giveaways – Big state and local payments to snare or hold footloose plants or corporate offices, a waste of public resources and a zero-sum game for the American economy.

Taxes – State policies favoring corporations and the affluent over struggling low-income workers.

Guns – Tolerating increased injuries, murders and suicides triggered (literally) by lack of reasonable limits on ownership and use.

Voting – State laws advertised as fraud blockers, in reality designed with the cynical intent to limit voting by the poor and racial minorities.

Pensions – States and cities failing to fund the massive pension and retiree health benefits they’ve promised.

But there’s good news, too.

Increasingly, city centers are booming. Sprawl has been tamed, city (and suburban town) planning has improved. Youth are flowing into downtowns. Bicycles are staging a welcome comeback on our city streets (a special joy to an urban cyclist like myself).

And the news media picture has changed. In contrast to 1975, critical state and local issues are now well covered by Governing Magazine, the Pew Charitable Trust’s Stateline service, and an array of websites, blogs and tweets.

And I have a personal challenge: I need more time to devote to a vital international media project my colleagues and I will soon launch – “Citiscope Global News.” We’ll commission journalists worldwide to write stories on significant innovations in their cities, and then we’ll distribute their reports to news media outlets and city policy makers.

Next week, in my final syndicated column, I’ll tell more about this new adventure.


Neal Peirce’s e-mail is npeirce@citistates.com.

For reprints of Neal Peirce’s column, please contact Washington Post Permissions, c/o PARS International Corp., WPPermissions@parsintl.com, fax 212-221-9195. For newspaper syndication sales, Washington Post Writers Group, 202-334-5375, wpwgsales@washpost.com. (c) 2013, The Washington Post Writers Group

56 Comments

  1. Claudia Pharis
    Posted October 3, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations, Neal! Can’t wait to hear the rest of the story!!

  2. David S. Boyd, FAICP
    Posted October 3, 2013 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Neal – I want to thank you for your friendship and mentorship these past years. Serving as an “associate” to the Citistates Group has been one of the highlights of my career. I enjoyed every minute – even the “old school” editing sessions! I thank you for what you have helped all of us to see in cities and regions. And I eagerly anticipate reading about the next chapter in your life!

  3. Frank Beal
    Posted October 3, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Neal:

    Your columns will be missed. i have always looked forward to seeing them and almost always have agreed with your perspective.

    Good luck with the new venture.

  4. Fred Pelzman Sr.
    Posted October 3, 2013 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Neal: Mazel Tov! Thirty eight years and still in their pitching.
    Am looking forward to next column and all those exotic cities you’ll be visiting/covering/reporting on. Best of luck…
    Fred Sr.

  5. Posted October 3, 2013 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    Wow! This will create quite a vacuum Neal, but being close to the development of Citiscope, I know this will soon be more than filled with this exciting new venture with huge global value. Congratulations!

  6. Posted October 3, 2013 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    Neal, for years you’ve been a role model for many of us. We’ll miss your column, but expect you to continue to model. Thanks, Neal, for those 1900 columns. They made a real difference for the country, for the world, for us.

  7. Ron Kilcoyne
    Posted October 3, 2013 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Neal,

    Back in the pre-internet days I was really upset when my local paper stopped running your column. I complained and the op-ed editor blamed your syndicator. It was always a thrill when I traveled and found your column. Good luck in your new venture. Will these citiwire weekly e-mails continue under Mary Newsome’s guidance with one or two columns a week?

  8. Posted October 3, 2013 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    You have been an inspiration to me as a writer. Best wishes on your next chapter.

  9. Posted October 3, 2013 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Yet again a brilliant initiative Neal.

    Just yesterday during a lecture in my Urban Ecology course, I was reminding students of the role journalism plays in convening community dialog. I explained how the dramatic shift in the way newspapers are no longer local in many cities deprives citizens in understanding the complexities of how their cities work, and the choices we should have in shaping them.

    For citizens to find inspiration through your new adventure could be an antidote to this malady. Thank you once again for your leadership and vision.

  10. Dion O. Miller
    Posted October 3, 2013 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Pierce:
    I remember hearing you speak at a Texas Municipal League Annual conference either in Dallas or San Antonio back in the 1980′s. I had read your columns in the TML magazine. I hope you will continue writing on city issues.
    I hope you write a book too.

  11. Posted October 3, 2013 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    This is great news! Just what we have been dreaming and talking about for so long! And now you are doing it!! Hooray! I see this as a great way to streamline and improve upon the innovation search and transfers that the Mega-Cities Project was doing in each city by finding on-site journalist scouts — inspired by your wonderful work– to compile the “good news” for your selection, write-ups, and transmission. Finally, now, all these years post Bellagio, you are making this a reality. I LOVE IT!!

  12. joan baratz snowden
    Posted October 3, 2013 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for all your thoughtful insights.
    I wish you well in your next endeavors

    Joan

  13. Margie Caust
    Posted October 3, 2013 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Neil, I’ve been a silent but committed follower since the late 1990′s when I admired your city reports and your work on ‘boundary crossing’. That was incredibly useful for me when I started working on and thinking about cities. So thank you. I look forward to finding out about your next project.

  14. Posted October 3, 2013 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Gutsy and timely! Will stay tuned.

  15. Ted Miller
    Posted October 3, 2013 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    Neal
    I will miss your weekly nuggets of eloquent insight. Best of luck with the new venture. May it prove more fun and more fulfilling than you expect. :-)

  16. Brian Hamilton
    Posted October 3, 2013 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations on this milestone of great work. Your writing has always been well-focused and insightful. Best to you on the next phase of your work. You’re a great credit to your profession and your local neighborhood!

  17. Posted October 3, 2013 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Neal, your incomparable eye and perceptive comments on the state of America’s cities have been a yardstick since 1975 for understanding what makes cities healthy and livable. The end of your syndicated column will be a great loss, but, thank goodness, this is only to broaden your perspective to cities worldwide. “Citiscope Global News” will be a great resource!

  18. Posted October 3, 2013 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    It’s sad to see the end of your essential column ending, but good to see your new venture beginning. Best of luck with it and thank you for providing my entire adulthood with great reading about our nation’s cities.

  19. Posted October 3, 2013 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    1900 thank yous, Neal — and then double that! So many people have counted on and taken hope from the information and inspiration in your columns that it’s no exaggeration to say that cities have come back because you kept reporting year after year that this would happen and was already happening and told us all the things we could be doing that we hadn’t thought of. And what a great writer you are, too! Clean, clear, and full of cheer. So glad to know you. And now I can look forward to reading the global good news you’ll be sending our way.

  20. Peter Katz
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 1:22 am | Permalink

    Wow! Neal, for years I have marveled at your productivity and persistence, getting that weekly column out without fail (and under the tight word count you’ve set), wondering what this day would look like. And yet, here it is, being followed by an even more ambitious, but very much needed journalistic venture. Bravo to you for your great contribution to our appreciation of place, and places. You truly have been “thinking globally, and writing locally (but for a national readership)” for decades; I am truly humbled by your past accomplishments and am eagerly awaiting the next chapter.

  21. Jerry Kolasinski
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 3:22 am | Permalink

    Dear Neal, You first caught my attention when you were hired as a consultant to the City of St. Paul, MN “way back when”. Since then I’ve been privileged to receive your column on line and I never skip over it. Mostly I learn a lot from your writings and at times I disagree with what is presented, but not often. Your work and these columns have provided a lot of guidance to cities and I have seen some wonderful changes as a result of the sharing of the word. Thank you and all the best for your future work.

  22. Steve Moddemeyer
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    Neal:
    You changed my world view forever with your prescient book Citistates. The insights you shared in that book have only grown more appropriate as the decades have unfolded. Your continuous stream of columns have informed and inspired me and thousands of other practitioners for decades. Thank you so much. Best of luck with your next amazing adventure!

  23. Phil Kushlan
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    Neal,

    I just wanted to add my voice to those expressing gratitude for your perspective and energy in expressing it as you have done over the years. Cities are a better place in large part to your highlighting issues and giving well thought out opinions.

    I will miss your contributions in this form, but look forward to watching your new venture unfold.

  24. Eugene Yeates
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Congratulations, old friend, on a career well spent. I have valued your wisdom and friendship ever since we first met in 1961.

  25. Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Neal, From the first time I met you at a Governors’ meeting in New Orleans I knew you were a special asset to all American citizens who value effective governance and government for the common good. Thank you. And best wishes as expand your reach to embrace the world of ideas beyond our shores. Jeff Smoller, Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources

  26. Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    If you could package your curiosity and enthusiasm, and share it as you have, many would want to own it. Hopefully your new endeavor will convey some of the same energy and expectation on these important and interesting subjects.

  27. Posted October 4, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    In 1991, and then 20 years later, a small city on the Ohio River benefited from the experience and perspective of Neal and his associates. Community assessments such as those conducted in Owensboro, Kentucky demonstrate the creative ways in which the Peirce Group has inspired and challenged leaders to improve our cities.

  28. Ralph Woodward
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Neal: I doubt that you have many readers who date back to South Kent School and The Pigtail…but I have been a faithful reader then and ever since. I look forward to the global perspective and early reports on Bejing and Shanghai. Woody

  29. Posted October 4, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Neal: Looking back at your 1900 columns, you’re not a columnist — you’re a civic institution! RPA salutes you! You’ve shaped my career from the beginning (somewhere half way along that trajectory), and continue to do so. And looking at the issues that you highlighted, I’m thinking — can I vote for you for public office? We need more thinkers like you in the public sphere.

  30. James O. Gibson
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Neal, thanks for all the years of bountiful insight, your keen eye for what matters – thusly expanding my horizons – and for your generous friendship. May the next stage be as enlightening and warm hearted as those that preceded it. Jim Gibson

  31. Peter Harkness
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Come on Neal! Now is no time to slack off. Just because the federal government stops doesn’t mean you need to. You gotta launch your new international urban reporting service, organize a few more confabs, give a few dozen more speeches, swim more miles in Newfound Lake and write columns 1,9oo through 2,000. No big deal!
    Best, Peter

  32. Posted October 4, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Neal, you’ve been an inspiration to me. I thank you for the years of insights and for paving the way for other journalists who believe that cities hold — and are, in and of themselves — some of our most fascinating stories.

  33. Jeffrey Finkle
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Neal,

    I am reminded of the quote from the baseball scandal of the Chicago White Sox in 1919 “Say It Ain’t So, Joe”!

    Neal, you have influenced urban policy, urban thinking, the design and implementation of economic development programs for all of the years of your column.

    Without you – who?

    Good luck

    Jeff

  34. Chris White
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Hey Neal,
    I’m impressed that you are planning new challenges. Mine are pretty much keeping the body going in retirement, and I was in the same class as you in Westtown School so long ago. All the best and keep peddling.
    Chris White

  35. Mary DeWolf
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Your brilliant mind with insights based on wide research and knowledge have been outstanding since you were but a boy describing World Federalsim to the men of the
    Bristol Rotary Club! Soon after that you were interviewing John Foster Dulles, and how many more have you done since then? I read your “The Pigtail” and your first book, “The People’s President,”with as much interest as your recent columns. NOW YOU’RE GOING GLOBAL.
    BRAVO FOR NEAL PEIRCE!!

  36. Posted October 4, 2013 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Neal, you are a true role model and hero. I’ve learned much from you and thank you.

  37. Posted October 5, 2013 at 5:00 am | Permalink

    At first I was so afraid the opening line, 1900 columns, meant you were retiring! Thank goodness, no. Thank you Neal for your persistent perceptive emphasis on the most significant issues of our times and also highlighting projects and places of creativity and change. You have encouraged my spirit and stimulated new ideas. I can’t wait to learn about such initiatives world wide. I know we are going to be challenged and amazed. Terry Flood

  38. Ralph Widner
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    You were the plough that broke the plains when it came to covering state, regional, and local affairs. I wish I was as high on others who took up your lead. But you’re right on. The world should be our focus and there’s nobody better to help us track what’s going on in cities around the globe. It’s time to educate a lot of our folks about some of the exciting innovations out there. So go at it and lots of luck.

  39. Posted October 6, 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    As your neighbor living in the shadows of the HUD HQ, it is a shame the easy access to the policy makers has not produced sound national policy regarding housing and the cities. What can we expect in our neighborhood ,also in the shadow of the US Capitol building! Regardless, the global city environment is even more acute…Best wishes in looking at the world’s problems!!

  40. Hajo Grohmann
    Posted October 6, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Lieber Neal,
    als treuer Leser Deiner Colums sage ich “Dankeschoen” aus Berlin (Deutschland).
    Deine Zeilen haben mich Amerika ein wenig besser verstehen gelernt.
    Ich freue mich schon im Voraus auf Deinen
    World-Report. Bleib gesund und mach munter weiter,
    Hajo

  41. Connie Morella
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Neal, congratulations on your visionary and insightful work through the years. We have appreciated your columns; indeed, we have learned from them. Your new venture “Citiscope Global News” sounds like an Innovations Incubator. We look forward to learning more about that next week.
    We wish you continued success and want you to know we are proud of you, dear friend.
    Connie and Tony Morella

  42. Lance Buhl
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Neal, thanks for keeping national attention on the importance of sensible urban programs – especially for in and for low-income communities – and for doing so with a graceful pen and deep understanding. Congratulations , too, for deciding the time was right to move on – and of course, to move toward a new way of understanding and explaining public purposes. Can you also take on and defeat the Tea Party in the process (and quickly)? Be well. Lance

  43. Michael Usdan
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Neal-I join your many admirers in thanking you for your inspiration and visionary columns.your new venture sounds so exciting and timely and all of your numerous fans look forward to another 1,900 columns.
    mike usdan

  44. Michael Godfried
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Neal,

    I am thankful for your columns and your new endeavor. In many ways cities are the most exciting and vulnerable places on our planets and they are so complex! We need people who can translate this complexity and point out concerns and opportunities. Your column has been a beacon of light for that purpose. Best, Michael

  45. Vito Sciscioli
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Neil, thanks for the advice and counsel that you have given the people of the City of Syracuse. We have benefited from your perspective and the depth it has brought to discussions we have had regarding the present and the future of our region.

  46. DON SHEA
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Neal:
    Not sure what we’ll do without you, but certain that you’ll continue to be a major contributor to advancing the regionalism and urban innovation agendas. Looking forward to more on your new adventure. Hope it continues to be satisfying to you.
    Warm regards,
    DON SHEA

  47. Tim Hunter
    Posted October 9, 2013 at 4:19 am | Permalink

    I’ve always looked forward to reading your columns. Thank you and good luck on your new adventure.

  48. Posted October 9, 2013 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the great information and inspiration that you have provided over the years.

  49. Posted October 10, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Neal, what is there to add? I guess I’ve read virtually all of your columns over the past many years and will greatly miss your insights, passion, and style. I still have the autographed copy of the Book of America you gave me so many years ago. Let’s stay in touch. I need to tell you about the new book I’m working on.

  50. arnold Long
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Neil, I may not always agree with you, and quite a bit does not directly apply to me in Australia but I do always enjoy reading your columns. From when I met you on the flight to Washington, and stayed with your family early Feb 1980 your writings have been appreciated greatly.
    You have tirelessly for a better physical world for your fellow man . I am reminded of that great man Wliiam Wilberforce and his work to stop slavery, to care for people to improve society and of course starting what became the RSPCA … success is not immediate but keep trying, striving for a better world here on earth.
    Thank you for your persistence and determination

    Arnold Long
    Brisbane Australia

  51. Gene Pearson, FAICP
    Posted October 15, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Neal,

    Thank you for all of your words. I have a folder in my computer of favorite columns from you going back to 1970s (I scanned a few) and admit I’ve stolen your ideas many times to make a case for an urban policy.

    Your visits to Memphis enlightened many people around here and helped keep city planning alive. Oh, and I finally learned to spell your last name with the e before the i just like my last name.

  52. Michael Pagano
    Posted October 15, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Kudos, Neal! A new chapter is opening and, as always, I’ll be following your ideas and travels. All the best!

  53. Carolyn Lobban
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Congratulations on taking this next step. We hope to continue to have those fascinating conversations about cities and so much more on one or another deck overlooking Newfound Lake.

  54. Tom Cooke
    Posted October 18, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Neal,

    Thank you for your many contributions to urban planning and urban design. Throughout my 55 years of urban planning and urban design work I have found your columns to be always timely and on target. I still have your original American cities series in my research files!

    Thanks

  55. Peter Harkness
    Posted October 25, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Neal,
    You were my very first editor back in the late 1960s at Congressional Quarterly News Service. I knew you had a keen interest in the states and localities even then, but I didn’t really “get it” for a number of years. Now I am retired and you are launching yet another grand plan. I admire your vision and energy enormously. Best of luck.
    Peter

  56. Posted October 25, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Neal,

    How extraordinary after being your associate for 12 years at the beginning of your column to read that you are ending it–and moving on to a new project. The column will be missed, but I look forward to seeing the new project. Remember me if you are doing anything on the food/agriculture rural-urban connection. Jerry