An Inside Organizer: Brian Smith

At Living Cities, we’ve been interrogating what it means to organize for racial equity and how we and others can leverage that strategy to close racial wealth and income gaps. Lucky for us, we have a wealth of folks in our network that we can learn from – like Brian Smith, Director of Performance & Innovation for the City of Minneapolis which serves as an in-house consulting team focused on helping city leaders drive bold innovation, change culture, and create an ongoing ability to tackle big problems and deliver better results for residents. In this role and broadly in his life, Brian has been able to leverage the power he holds as a public servant to help bridge information across communities in service of closing the gaps in racial disparities that he, his team and community are confronted with, daily.

We sat down with Brian to learn more about how he bridges his roles as a member within his community and as someone sitting within city government. We were proud of what Brian has been able to accomplish.

How would you describe yourself?

On any given day it could be different. I’m a father, big brother and uncle in the community and at work. I care about people. I think that care was developed in me because I was raised by a mother who was affiliated with the Black Panther Party and a step-father who was a Black Hebrew Israelite. I was raised to be this way; it’s in my DNA to be a servant to my community and to find a way to help people.

Would you consider yourself a community member, public servant or both? And Why?

I would say I’m both. There’s an inextricable link there. I don’t think I can be the public servant I want to be and need to be, without understanding what the needs and the desires are in the community and not just from afar. I have the same wants, needs and desires around justice and equity that the community that I live in and am from have. I wouldn’t be able to be an effective public servant without that understanding and experience.

As a child, I grew up poor and witnessed extreme violence regularly. My story is not very different from many of my brothers and sisters in my community. However, I recognized at a very young age that factors like colorism gave me different opportunities than those afforded to my own brothers and sisters. My mother, step-father and grandmother helped me understand that I had to fight for my liberation and that of my people regardless of the slight advantages that colorism afforded me then, and would also afford me later in life in some ways.

I was given access to opportunities to see how people were making an impact on different levels; whether it was big or small. That made me think, what can I do? After college I worked in several industries including the public sector. Across those different roles, I began to understand who got to shape how resources were being used and the policies that shaped people’s daily lives, that they weren’t even aware of. I quickly realized that it was not some great and powerful OZ that were dictating how our lives worked through policy and practice; instead , it was people like me but with different experiences and hue for the most part. I, then, wanted to be the person that made the rules, gathered resources and decided how those resources would get distributed. I wanted to get an opportunity to be able to shape things for the benefit of my people and other marginalized people in this country. Fortunately, I’ve been able to get into those spaces, learn enough about how they work and get as much as I can out of those spaces to improve the lives of the communities I love so much; before being found out and dismissed of course. (More about that inevitable consequence later perhaps.)

Talk to us a little bit more about what it has looked like to organize in your community.

Organizing has been my life. It’s taught me to apply pressure, not be afraid to push. It taught me behind the scenes making resource and policy moves. You have to be and do both to win. I’m not a person who believes that you change a system just by being in it. You need to be ready to take risks because if you just go along to get along, it’s not enough. I need to know about what the community wants, to know what needs to change. For the community to be successful, they must be armed with the norms that are written and unwritten. I equip the community with the tactics they need to push for the change they want.

I did a lot of work as a consultant around juvenile justice reform in my area. Within a 5-year period of working across the community, government system, and our county– were able to decrease the number of children in the juvenile detention system by 2/3. Over that time, we were able to put millions of dollars that were being used to hold children in detention centers, into community alternatives to have our own community members work with our kids, which created jobs and produced much better outcomes for our kids, families and communities.. I’m proud of this work that not only saves the system money that can be used in more equitable ways but also keeps our communities safer. Quick shout out to the Annie E. Casey Foundation for supporting and being at the forefront of this work nationally for well over 20 years.

How have you leveraged your activism/organizing to move policy?

My number one priority is always Black, brown, and native folks. Here in Minneapolis, Black, Brown, and Native folks suffer from disparate treatment and disproportionate outcomes in EVERY measurable quality of life measure that we can think of. Yet Minneapolis is also regarded as one of the best cities to live in and raise a family in the United States. Ponder that.

For anyone who takes offense to my priorities, you must understand that by improving the lives of the most marginalized, we improve the lives of everyone. Unfortunately, this is a difficult concept for many white people in any and every sector of our society to comprehend, because they’ve often been socialized to believe that “others” are only deserving of what they have in words but not practice. We’ve been doing work to get the city to take economic development more seriously, so that Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises (MBEs or WBEs) can have more access to help start, sustain and grow their businesses. We were able to develop a tech solution for city processes that were previously cumbersome and hard to get through. It was difficult for small businesses to do this process while simultaneously wearing the many hats required to run their business. In response, we helped to create a small business team which now has a team of 5 people dedicated to helping small business owners manage the city process. Now that we’ve established this small business team, we’ve been able to address some of the other concerns that we know this population of our city is concerned with.

We’ve also been able to expand access to capital which took about two years. We worked tirelessly to change policies related to how people in the community are able to access capital. The city had a program that offered 2% rate interest loans for small businesses, but to qualify, MBEs must first be able to qualify for a loan from a “traditional lender,” which we know is a barrier for many people. We couldn’t change the system in the city, so we, Jim Terrell and myself, decided to create our own financial institution Fortis Capital, to meet the needs of the community that we had worked with for so long and promised to help. I approached the Living Cities Blended Catalyst Fund about establishing a loan fund that could circumvent this barrier. The idea was conceived to blend public and private capacities for this purpose, and we even partnered with banks because by pushing funding through our loan fund as equity equivalent (EQ2) investors, it would fulfill investment and lending tests required to receive Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) tax credits. So now, we can act as traditional lenders and extend small business owners the loans they need, while also helping them qualify for the city’s 2% loan program which has been very hard to access for small business owners that are minorities.

What advice would you have for other public servants/community organizers in this work?

The following is a quote from the Great James Baldwin “Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it”. Be a doer otherwise you have no right to call yourselves public servants or an organizer of any sort.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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Inside Bloomberg’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire media mogul and former New York City mayor who is running for U.S. president, released his campaign plan for infrastructure on Wednesday, which proposes to invest more than a trillion dollars in roads, railways, pipes, and telecommunication lines.

“The plan I’m releasing today will transform the way we build in America, allowing projects to be built faster, and with more accountability for completing them on-time,” he said at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Wednesday.

He continued: “President Trump has done nothing on infrastructure, except break promises.”

The plan contains echoes of Bloomberg’s 2002 to 2013 tenure as New York City mayor, including an emphasis on data and the value of city leadership. Several marquee elements focus on the meat-and-potatoes of all federal infrastructure promises: roads, highways, and bridges. He proposes fixing 240,000 miles of roads and 16,000 bridges in disrepair by 2025, spending $850 billion over 10 years on capital projects, and setting up a $1 billion annual “pothole” fund for emergency repairs. He also calls for closing gaps in broadband access, deploying electric-vehicle charging infrastructure on highways across the country.

(Disclosure: CityLab was recently acquired by Bloomberg LP. Michael Bloomberg is the company’s founder and majority owner.)

But there are also some less-conventional aspects to Bloomberg’s infrastructure agenda. As president, his administration would establish a set of goals for what the nation’s infrastructure ought to achieve, including benchmarks for job creation, social equity, and accessibility. A national map of all transportation routes would highlight missing links in road, rail, transit, air, and freight networks, and data from both public and private sectors would help drive investment decisions and shape policy.

This would be something of a national version of Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, a 2007 strategic plan that identified challenges and trends related to New York City’s mid-aughts growth and established infrastructure goals accordingly.

According to Janette Sadik-Khan, the Bloomberg campaign’s lead transportation adviser and his former New York City transportation commissioner, this dimension distinguishes Bloomberg’s thinking from other Democratic candidates, some of whom have proposed higher-dollar infrastructure plans. “If money alone could solve our problems, we wouldn’t be in the crisis we’re in,” she said “Setting goals will be a game-changer.”

Earlier this month, Pete Buttigieg released his own $1 trillion infrastructure investment plan; Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar also have proposals in that price ballpark. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have wrapped their respective $16 and $10 trillion climate plans into broad-based infrastructure strategies. All six have endorsed the Green New Deal, though Bloomberg has also said that this congressional package of climate programs “stands no chance” of passing the Republican Senate.

Drawing further on his experience running New York and years of philanthropy and consulting in cities around the world, Bloomberg would vest greater power with local leaders to guide the country’s infrastructure future. The plan would make states distribute 100 percent of federal funding intended for cities directly to cities, for example, rather than withholding or drawing upon those resources for alternative purposes. “I will give mayors and other local leaders the authority and resources to take on the most important projects—and complete them, on-time and on-budget,” Bloomberg said.

And Bloomberg’s plan seeks to replicate aspects of New York City’s transportation networks across the country. It calls to triple federal funding for both public transit, including a $12 billion program to improve service and attract new users, and for “alternative transportation projects,” such as bike lanes. A set of national “complete streets” design principles would seek to reduce traffic fatalities through Vision Zero-inspired ideas. (Among Sadik-Khan’s signature accomplishments under Bloomberg’s city administration was a dramatic expansion of the city’s cycling network; New York is also the only major city to have significantly reduced pedestrian fatalities in recent years.)

Bloomberg also proposes to invest $100 billion over 10 years to repair drinking water systems for 100 cities with the greatest needs—places such as Flint, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey, which are dealing with ongoing lead contamination crises. He advocates setting up a $100 billion “Climate Resilience Finance Corporation” to provide loans and grants to states, cities, and the private sector to harden and expand climate-resilient infrastructure. And he calls to expand high-speed rail, with a pledge to build the nation’s first segment by 2025.

Numerous mayors, many of them the recipients of grants and support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, have endorsed Bloomberg as a candidate. “Mike knows what it takes to help cities expand infrastructure,” said Steve Benjamin, the three-term mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, on a Bloomberg campaign press call on Tuesday. “He’s been an ally and an advocate.” And transportation advocates have extolled his infrastructure plan’s focus on public transit.

Bloomberg cracked fourth place in a national poll this week, having already spent $248 million on TV campaign advertising. But his candidacy has drawn critical attention to his past policies as New York mayor, particularly the controversial stop-and-frisk program and his heavily technocratic approach to municipal governance. When it comes to infrastructure, the biggest question about Bloomberg’s approach might be whether translating methods that worked in New York City to communities across the country is as simple as data and dollars. Most places in the U.S. bear little resemblance to high-density New York, and sprawling development patterns have long been a challenge to the viability of car-free transportation. Although the Bloomberg campaign’s housing platform seeks to encourage housing construction around transportation and jobs, his transportation proposals do not address this.

Sadik-Khan said that the Bloomberg White House would be cognizant of such issues. “We are prioritizing transit-oriented land use plans in approving all new transit and rail projects,” she wrote in an email. “[We will] site new federal facilities in metro areas that have transit accessibility.”

Such a cities-first approach stands in marked contrast to the efforts of President Donald Trump, whose administration has consistently sought to direct resources and political power away from urban America. Despite repeated pledges for a $1 trillion infrastructure package on the 2016 campaign trail, President Trump has not signed such legislation during his administration. So far, the White House’s signature accomplishments on infrastructure and transportation include expanding drilling access in public lands, rolling back the fuel standards of the Obama era, overturning environmental review requirements for federal infrastructure projects and building a border wall costing $11 billion so far, or about $20 million per mile. America’s transportation sector contributes about 30 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gases and has made little progress in cutting planet-warming fossil fuel emissions.

As part of their infrastructure and climate plans, many presidential contenders have offered ideas for radically expanding electric vehicle subsidies and charging infrastructure, and some have put forth ideas for reducing the rising tide of traffic fatalities. Bloomberg’s infrastructure proposal comes a few days after his campaign released an exceptionally detailed pitch for decarbonizing the transportation sector specifically, with calls to electrify all new cars by 2035, expand fuel-efficiency standards and electric vehicle subsidies, and build out bus, rail, walking, and biking options.

“We haven’t had a coherent vision for our national transportation goals since we built the interstate highway system,” Sadik-Khan said. “Check, we did that. It’s time for a new plan.”

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CityLab Daily: Inside the Virginia Bill to Allow Denser Housing

Keep up with the most pressing, interesting, and important city stories of the day. Sign up for the CityLab Daily newsletter here.


What We’re Following

Up on the housetop: All they want for Christmas is zoning reform. With a new majority in the statehouse, Virginia Democrats are eyeing a wish list of housing bills. The proposed new measures would legalize duplexes and accessory dwelling units, and give local governments more leeway to build affordable housing, ahead of the arrival of Amazon’s second headquarters in Arlington. But rents are also rising in cities such as Richmond and Charlottesville. See how Virginia’s ideas compare to recent upzoning legislation in Minneapolis, Austin, and Seattle. Kriston Capps has the story: With New Democratic Majority, Virginia Sees a Push for Denser Housing

Programming note: The newsletter will be taking a holiday hiatus on Tuesday and Wednesday. See you Thursday.

Andrew Small

More on CityLab

The Downtown Highway That Could Drive Hartford’s Comeback

The Connecticut capital has been using zoning and transit reforms to stage a downtown recovery. But there’s one big thing in the way: an aging interstate.

Anthony Flint

Why Some Hawaiians Are Fighting a Massive Flood-Control Project

A flood could devastate the tourist zone of Waikīkī in Honolulu, but a federal plan to fortify the Ala Wai Canal has met with strong local resistance.

Timothy A. Schuler

The Book That Captured Mid-’70s Paris

Georges Perec’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris documented the tumult, traffic, and street life of the French capital over three days in 1974.

Ian Klaus and Daniel Levin Becker

How Ride-Hail Companies Can Help, Not Hurt, Cities

A veteran of municipal transportation regulation advises ride-hail companies on how to make cities into friends, not foes.

Dawn Miller

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

(Seth Wenig/AP)

This weekend, Eddie Murphy reprised his classic Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood sketch on Saturday Night Live. It’s been 35 years since we’ve seen Murphy’s character, a satire of Mr. Rogers’ neighborly schtick. In this version, he sang about how New York City has changed since we last saw him: “I was gone for a bit but now I’m alright / My neighbors were all black but now they white.”After the song, Robinson gives a particularly blunt definition of “gentrification.” But we won’t spoil the joke, you can watch the full sketch here.

CityLab context: The gentrification of Gotham and how Mr. Rogers shaped the way a generation thinks about neighborhoods

What We’re Reading

The French cities trying to ban public advertisements (The Guardian)

One-day deliveries are breaking our cities (Fast Company)

Science explains why we should all work shorter hours in winter (Wired)

Verizon hits goal of launching 5G in more than 30 cities (The Verge)

Black, homeless, and burdened by L.A.’s legacy of racism (New York Times)

Tell your friends about the CityLab Daily! Forward this newsletter to someone who loves cities and encourage them to subscribe. Send your own comments, feedback, and tips to

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CityLab Daily: Inside the Green New Deal for Public Housing

What We’re Following

Here’s the deal: On Thursday, New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a bill that would dedicate billions of dollars to energy retrofits for America’s public housing. The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act would commit up to $180 billion over 10 years to upgrading 1.2 million federally owned homes.

That might sound like a lot of green, but it’s actually a two-in-one deal: The bill would address the federal government’s dilapidated buildings that already have very costly deferred maintenance backlogs, while also reducing those buildings’ energy consumption. Another easy-to-overlook feature: It would repeal a law that currently caps the number of public housing units at the level it was at in 1999. CityLab’s Kriston Capps has the story: Inside the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act

Andrew Small

More on CityLab

What’s Behind the Wave of Urban Protests?

The slums of the world’s growing cities have become staging grounds for demonstrations against corruption, inequality, and municipal dysfunction.

Henry F. (Chip) Carey

How the Disappearing Towns of Japan Struggle to Survive

Facing declining birthrates and rural depopulation, hundreds of “marginal villages” could vanish in a few decades. But some small towns are fighting back.

Allan Richarz

19th-Century London’s Extreme Wealth and Poverty, Mapped

A new edition of Charles Booth’s famous 19th-century maps offers a chance to reflect on how London has changed—and how it hasn’t.

Feargus O’Sullivan

Want Immigration Reform? Look to Cities

While fear, anger, and misinformation dominate the federal-level debate, local leaders are making policies that work.  

Juliana Kerr

Everywhere a Sign

Toru Hanai/Reuters

Whether you like it or not, advertising signage has always been part of urban life. Fly-by shots of cities may present the “blank facades of skyscrapers,” but at the street level, “cities are a riot of lettering and symbols,” Darran Anderson writes. These images and symbols—the hanging signs of London, the neon lights of Las Vegas and Hong Kong, and even ads projected on the side of the Eiffel Tower—have aroused both curiosity and irritation. Even if we try to shut it out, advertising can become part of a city’s identity, as brands fade into our urban past. On CityLab: The Irresistible Visual Power of Urban Advertising

What We’re Reading

New Jersey fined Uber $649 million for saying drivers aren’t employees (New York Times)

Will Kansas City become the first major U.S. city with free bus service? (Kansas City Star)

Cities and states take up the battle for the open internet (Next City)

Venice got hit by a massive flood, again (Reuters)

Why street vendors make cities feel safer (Curbed)

Tell your friends about the CityLab Daily! Forward this newsletter to someone who loves cities and encourage them to subscribe. Send your own comments, feedback, and tips to

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Inside the Controversy Over Rebuilding an Iconic Berlin Store

For city-watchers, there’s something very familiar about the current development debate going on around Berlin’s Hermannplatz. The square, a busy shopping and transit hub in a fast-gentrifying working-class neighborhood, has caught the eye of developers. The Austrian real-estate group Signa Holdings—which also co-bought New York’s Chrysler Building earlier this year—wants to expand a long-established department store it owns there into a shopping mall, creating the usual burst of jobs and economic activity. Many locals are skeptical about the project, fearing it will increase already-rocketing residential rents nearby and cause congestion.

These conditions may ring a bell from other development fights, but the one currently taking place in Hermannplatz has a unique twist. The mall would not be, strictly speaking, an entirely new building. It would in fact be a recreation of a lost building—a Modernist icon of interwar Berlin, last seen intact in 1945.

That lost building was a branch of the (still-trading) Karstadt department-store chain. One of the most unusual and striking retail buildings constructed in early-20th-century Europe, the store might now be resurrected to a new design by David Chipperfield Architects that very closely resembles the original.

Berlin is no stranger to major historic-reconstruction projects. Right now, it is midway through a rebuilding of its vast, war-damaged City Palace, the former seat of Germany’s Kaisers. Karstadt Hermannplatz nonetheless stands out because it is not some old baroque pile, but a less-than-100-year-old work of Modernism. An ostentatious, unapologetically commercial Modernism at that.

Currently, the plan is in deadlock, albeit far from dead. The local  borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, controlled by a left-leaning coalition headed by the Green Party, has said no to the initial proposal, but the developer is going on a charm offensive, promising to adapt the project to better suit official advice and to deliver not just the usual retail chains, but a genuine mixed-use space with local social assets. And with millions of euros to invest, Signa may ultimately prove difficult for the borough to resist. But is the plan a good idea?

Aesthetically, the building would certainly be a reminder of the forward-looking glamour of Weimar-era Berlin, a period that features heavily in the city’s self-mythology but whose landmarks were largely swept away by the war. Completed in 1929 to a design by Philipp Schaefer, the original Karstadt Hermannplatz was a wonderfully ornate building. Capped by stepped, bunny-ear towers and grooved with proportion-stretching vertical limestone ribs, the store was less reminiscent of Bauhaus influence than of the glossy American Art Deco stylings of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon. Uniquely for Berlin at the time, the store had a direct entry from the subway (something the current building on the site retains), plus 21 escalators and 20 elevators to whisk customers up to its panoramic roof garden.

Looming above an area of grimy proletarian tenements, this condensed skyscraper must have seemed dazzling, almost hallucinatory, when it first appeared. When the SS dynamited the building’s cellar in April 1945, to prevent its supplies falling to the swiftly approaching Red Army, Berlin lost something unique. After this destruction, just one façade of the gutted hulk remained. It was substantially rebuilt on fewer floors, but still as a Karstadt store, in the 1950s and 1970s, and became essentially unrecognizable.

If someone is to resurrect this old monument, then Britain’s David Chipperfield might be the best person to do so. His practice has made a specialty out of the skillful rethinking of historic landmarks, including the new James Simon Gallery, which provides an austerely beautiful entrance for Berlin’s neoclassical Museum Island without any hint of architectural cosplay. Sure enough, Chipperfield’s preliminary renderings of the new Karstadt Hermannplatz look both faithful to the original and rather delightful.

There is, however, a major “but.” The new store’s site isn’t just anywhere in Berlin. It is in the neighborhood at the heart of the most intense gentrification spurt in the city, whose influence has spread to pretty much everything. Lying on the boundary of the boroughs of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and Neukölln, Hermannplatz’s backyard is an ultra-dense district of pre-World War One tenements that was a former stronghold of Berlin’s working class. Now highly desirable, its rents have been galloping ever higher, making it the site of numerous public fights over displacement, both of people and of businesses.

How Karstadt Hermannplatz’s roof terrace might appear after construction. (Courtesy of David Chipperfield Architects)

Much of the pushback has come from the borough itself (Berlin is divided into 12 boroughs). To maintain some level of affordability in the area, the borough is employing discretionary powers to cool the market down and keep existing residents in place, buying up buildings at risk of steep rent increases to become public housing and making new landlords sign no-rent-hike agreements on many other tenements.

This backdrop is relevant to the Karstadt project because the borough worries it will spur further displacement. This is, after all, the same neighborhood where Google withdrew plans for a campus after a local backlash. In an area heavily marketed to international real-estate investors, any major plans are eyed with justified suspicion.

The Chipperfield-designed building might be spectacular, but since renovation costs would be high, the rents for the commercial units inside would be as well, fear borough leaders. Not only does that imply the development would be of limited use to lower-income locals, it also risks making the building a honeypot for businesses catering to wealthy incomers. This would perhaps give them more reason than before to move to the area, adding pressure to rents the borough is striving to keep under control. Add to that the added congestion caused by a retail cluster the size of which the area hasn’t seen for over 75 years, and some of the shine comes off it.

Given the project’s support from Berlin Mayor Michael Müller, and the developer’s promises to be flexible, the reconstruction may well see the light of day in some altered form. Turning down this level of investment might seem insane when viewed from the outside, but the borough may be right to block the plan now, if only to get something with more obvious social utility. Cities aren’t just backdrops for arresting architectural set pieces. They are living, breathing organisms whose balance needs to be maintained if residents’ needs are going to be met. For now, it’s understandable that the borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg doesn’t see this magnificent but potentially disbalancing development as the kind of oxygen its citizens need.

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Inside the College Football Game-Day Housing Boom

Earlier this month, more than 59,000 college football fans descended on Mississippi State University’s campus in Starkville, Mississippi, to watch the Louisiana State Tigers take on the home team. The visitors dealt the Bulldogs a harsh defeat, 36-13. It’s been a tough season so far for MSU’s program.

But game-day weekends are still good business for short-term rentals in a college football town like in Starkville. In a city of just over 25,000 souls, hundreds of places to stay are available to book across Airbnb, VRBO, Homeaway, and other online booking platforms. During the 2018 football season, Airbnb alone brought in more than 1,700 visitors, a local newspaper reported earlier this year.

The vast majority of rentals units are single-family homes in residential neighborhoods near campus. Many of them run upwards of $400 to $500 per night—great cash for property owners who can vacate in order to hawk their pads for the weekend, or have second properties to do so.

A sample game-day listing from Starkville, Mississippi. (Airbnb)

Starkville isn’t alone in experiencing the autumnal onslaught of overnighters. Numerous college towns with serious football fanbases receive waves of alumni and road warriors on the Friday nights before the game, often traveling as family packs or roommate reunions. With the growing popularity of Airbnb (and in some cases, the football teams themselves), game-day housing is a big enough industry that some rental platforms are solely devoted to accommodating those travelers. It’s just one of many outgrowths from the massive money-making machine that is American college football: The University of Alabama’s team, for example, brought in $108 million in revenue last year alone.

“College football is just really steeped in group traditions,” said Wes Smithe, the co-founder and CEO of Gameday Housing, a niche booking site that launched in 2009 and now lists about 700 active hosts nationwide, the majority of them in college football towns. College basketball isn’t nearly as big of a draw, he’s found. One of the most important market factors for his company are schools with large, resilient fanbases, Smithe said—think Notre Dame, the University of Michigan, and Penn State.

But as in many larger cities grappling with tourism spikes, some college communities are also dealing with the downsides of their seasonal magnetism. Disruptive noise, safety concerns, and scant parking are common refrains among locals besieged by weekend football crowds. Describing a rented house next to hers that had a revolving door of fans last year, Starkville homeowner Julia Baca complained to her board of aldermen earlier this year. “No one would call that a neighbor,” she said, according to a local newspaper. “One would call that a hotel.”

Nor are area hotels pleased with the Airbnb-ization of college football, since short-term rental hosts don’t pay lodging taxes, in the absence of regulations.

Some towns with college sports crowds are pushing back, creating geographic restrictions, requiring licenses, and enforcing annual caps for short-term rentals. But these are often small municipalities located in some of the most conservative parts of the country, so enacting aggressive housing regulations isn’t easy. Auburn, Alabama, a city of 64,000 with about 1,400 short-term listings, has been working towards public consensus on a rental ordinance for the past two years.

“In a strong property-rights state, people like to be left alone,” said Forrest Cotten, the city of Auburn’s planning director. “But after keeping an eye on these listings for about three years, it was getting to a point where we needed some kind of construct to level the playing field.”

There’s another side effect of the hot market for game-day housing, one that offers a small-town variation on a phenomenon often seen in sought-after big cities: a glut of units that sit largely empty outside the football season. Wealthy alumni superfans are buying up game-day retreats in their old college haunts. Others are investor-owned home purchased to rent out on Airbnb. At the most extreme end of this market are game-day homes expressly designed as such—Taj Mahals of gridiron fandom that might feature team logo-embossed barstools, giant flatscreens, and built-in Kegerators.

Taylor Shelton, a MSU geosciences professor, is researching this phenomenon in Starkville. Based on vacant residence counts from the Census Bureau, parcel data from the county assessor, and Airbnb listings, he estimates that game-day homes make up 5 to 10 percent of the town’s total housing stock. That share has grown steadily in the past seven years. Shelton believes it’s linked to a current dearth in affordable housing in Starkville, since home values and rents have also risen significantly. Game-day homebuyers and speculative investors can snag properties at higher prices than locals can afford.

“It’s not New York, San Francisco, or anywhere else with a booming hot housing market that’s experiencing hyper-gentrification and displacement,” he said. “But game-day houses represent the bleeding edge of where that element of the real estate market is going here.”

As part of an ongoing research project, geosciences professor Taylor Shelton has created a preliminary map of probable game-day homes around Starkville, Mississippi. (Courtesy of Taylor Shelton, Mississippi State University)

Apart from their effects on affordability, these secondary homes can fray the community fabric in some of these towns. Visiting fans show up on Friday, make a racket, and then vanish; some locals end up wishing they saw more faces next door throughout the year. It was “nice having neighbors,” Linda Gahan, an emeritus professor at Clemson University, told the Greenville News about her block near campus, where several properties have been snapped up and now sit mostly unoccupied.

Ashley Crites, the planning director in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, sees the same thing happening out her window. A recent study by the city found that about 19 percent of the city’s housing stock is effectively made up of secondary homes, many of them rentals and retreats for Crimson Tide fans. The rise in those occasional-use properties is likely suppressing the availability of affordable housing, the report found. When Tuscaloosa created its 45-night cap on Airbnb-type rentals a few years ago, the city spent a lot of time talking to its peers about to how to better handle the seasonal surge.

“There’s a national trend of affordable homes in close proximity to stadiums getting purchased and converted into rentals,” she said. “That pushes prices out of reach for people who could afford them before.”

On the other hand, the overall economic boost from college football is enormous, she said—one study has found that a single home game brings in $17 million to Tuscaloosa’s coffers, in the form of accommodation bookings, restaurant orders, and other local tourism gains. For better and for worse, game-day weekends are part of life in the NCAA. Said Crites: “Football is a different animal down here.”

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