Thursday, February 01, 2007

Planes, Cranes, and Hotels


Has anyone noticed an uptick in air traffic at Cleveland's airport in the past year or so? Looking out my east-facing lakefront window at night, I see planes lined up for at least three miles on the approach path to Hopkins. I see the same thing driving northeast on I-71 at night: tons of planes inbound to Cleveland. There certainly seem to be a lot of people flying in to Cleveland these days!

It struck me that the volume of air traffic is an interesting way to measure the economic vitality of a city (and region, for that matter). If we accept the premise that we operate in a global economy, then one indicator of economic activity is the physical inflow and outflow of people and goods. Otherwise put, if a city brings in a lot of stuff, then maybe it's because the city is a hub of commerce and therefore economically successful.

Air traffic is a good place to start. Hopkins certainly seems to be fairly busy these days. Many first tier cities, however, have two major airports. Generally speaking, one is for domestic flights and the other is for international flights. Consider D.C., New York, London, Paris, Berlin, and so on. Second- and third-tier cities generally only have one airport. What is considered ordinary air traffic? Can a runway handle a takeoff / landing every minute? If so, how many flights (and people) can an airport handle?

Besides air traffic, what about cargo cranes? I'm talking about those gigantic cranes at ports that lift shipping containers off of boats and plunk them down on rail lines (and trucking distribution centers). Cleveland had a few ore loaders once upon a time. Boston and Seattle have a whole fleet of such cranes. San Diego, I'm told, is festooned with them. More cranes = more economic activity.

Lastly, I'll mention hotels. Remember how Cleveland tried to win the 2008 GOP convention by claiming there were enough hotels to house 44,000 attendees? Remember how everyone thought that was a ridiculous claim, given that some of the hotels in the proposed package were out in Sandusky? Well, in my last visit to Minneapolis (the city that won the convention, by the way) I was amazed to see row upon row of hotels flanking I-494, the beltway that connects directly to the airport. Clearly, Minneapolis is equipped to handle a heavy load of business travelers. It was really amazing! The lesson to be learned, here, is that cities with lots of hotels are cities with lots of visitors. And visitors come, more often than not, for business activity (and yes, tourism counts as business--as long as you're spending money in a city, I consider that business).

Obviously there are tons of visible (and invisible) economic indicators. I do find it an interesting intellectual exercise to visit a city and keep on the lookout for planes, cranes, and hotels. It tells you a lot about the city's economy.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Pangloss said...

A Beautiful Picture

Cash advance services, shuttered store fronts, and corner beverage stores: these are the tell-tale signs of blight and decline. I am saddened when I see more predatory lending operations now creeping up in once stable blue-collar neigborhoods such as in Wickliffe, Fairview Park and other outer ring burbs. It says to me that the poverty is spreading across the region. Stores and businesses are closing and everyone is drinking to numb the pain. (Not even to mention the appearance of Meth labs in place like Eastlake!)

Problems, problems. What are our leaders doing about it? Well, I read a lot of rhetoric in Crains (the business publication) about development, but I see few cranes building up the city. Ah, but all is for the best... We all know that “troubles are just the shadows in a beautiful picture.”

3:22 PM  
Anonymous Deva said...

Good words.

6:50 AM  

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