Blog Archives

Viewpoint: The urban future isn’t all about population booms

[Source: Froma Harrop, Providence Journal] — Sunbelt-and-sprawl advocate Joel Kotkin wrote two years ago that the future of American urbanism wasn’t in the “elite cities,” such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, but in “younger, more affordable and less self-regarding places.”  He named (his order) Houston, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas and Riverside, Calif.

Boom-city boosters like Kotkin play a numbers game, where the place with the biggest population explosion wins.  This is also a kind of Blue America-versus-Red America urbanology, which includes an element of liberal-bashing: Any place that refuses to be steamrolled by developers is called “elite.”

In the aftermath of the real-estate bust, areas overly dependent on building houses, selling houses and financing houses are in the worst shape.  Economies need non-bubble jobs.  Unemployment rates in the recent hyper-growth centers, Riverside and Las Vegas, are now well above those in the aforementioned “elite cities.”  And Boston’s 9 percent unemployment is only a point above that of the more economically diverse Sunbelt powerhouses: Houston, Dallas, and Phoenix.

There’s little point in pitting cities, regions and states against one another.  This is a big country.  One can like San Francisco for some things and Las Vegas for others.  By the way, what gave anyone the idea that Houston, Dallas and Phoenix are not “self-regarding”?  They are, as well they should be.  [Note: Read the full article at The urban future isn’t all about population booms.]

Viewpoint: Slow-growth achievements best route for urban renaissance

[Source: Joel Kotkin, Special to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review] — The current recession provides a new opportunity for Pittsburgh’s elite to feel good about itself.  With other boom economies from Phoenix to Miami on the skids — and other old Rust Belt cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo even more down on their luck — the slow-growth achievements of the Pittsburgh region may seem rather impressive.  Yet at the same time, the downturn also poses longer-term challenges for which the local leadership is likely to have no answers.

In large part, Pittsburgh’s “success,” such as it is, has been based on what may be called a “legacy economy,” essentially funded by the residues of its rich entrepreneurial past.  This includes the hospitals, universities, and nonprofits whose endowments have underwritten the expansion of medical services and education, which have emerged as among the region’s few growth sectors.  [Note: To read the full article, read here.]

Viewpoint: Turns out there’s good news on Main Street

[Source: Joel Kotkin, reprinted in Arizona Republic] — As the financial crisis takes down Wall Street, the regular folks on Main Street are biting their nails, watching the toxic tsunami head their way.  But for all our nightmares of drowning in a sea of bad mortgages, foreclosed homes, and shrunken retirement plans, the truth is that the effects of this meltdown won’t be all bad in the long run.  In one regard, it could offer our society a net positive: Forced into belt-tightening, Americans are likely to strengthen our family and community ties and to center our lives more closely on the places where we live.

This trend toward what I call “the new localism” has been underway for some years, driven by changing demographics, new technologies, and rising energy prices.  But the economic downturn will probably accelerate it as individuals and corporations look not to the global stage but closer to home, concentrating and congregating on the Main Streets where we choose to live -– in the suburbs, in urban neighborhoods, or in small towns.

In his 1972 bestseller, “A Nation of Strangers,” social critic Vance Packard depicted the United States as “a society coming apart at the seams.”  He was only one in a long cavalcade of futurists who have envisioned an America of ever-increasing “spatial mobility” that would give rise to weaker families, childlessness, and anonymous communities.  Packard and others may not have been far off for their time: In 1970, nearly 20% of Americans changed their place of residence every year.  But by 2004, that figure had dropped to 14%, the lowest level since 1950.  Americans born today are actually more likely to reside near their place of birth than those who lived in the 19th century.  Part of this is due to our aging population, because older people are far less likely to move than those under 30.  But more limited economic options may intensify this phenomenon while bringing a host of social, economic, and environmental benefits in their wake.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]