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This is the introduction to a new report commissioned by the Greater Houston Parnership and HRG and authored by Joel Kotkin with help from Tory Gattis, Wendell Cox, and Mark Schill. Download the full report (pdf) here.
Over the past decade, we have witnessed the emergence of a new urban paradigm that both maximizes growth and provides greater upward mobility. We call this opportunity urbanism, an approach that focuses largely on providing the best policy environment for both businesses and individuals to pursue their aspirations.
It’s an idea echoed everywhere from “Friends” to “Girls”: Young people want to live in cities. And, we’re told, a lot of them (at least the cool ones) do.
It’s a common assumption. But it’s also wrong.
Between 2010 and 2013, the number of 20- to 29-year-olds in America grew by 4 percent. But the number living in the nation’s core cities grew 3.2 percent. In other words, the share of 20-somethings living in urban areas actually declined slightly.
This trend has occurred in supposedly hot cities like San Fransisco, Boston, New York and D.C., notes demographer Wendell Cox. Chicago and Portland, Ore., both widely hailed as youth boom-towns, saw their numbers of 20-somethings decline, too.
The recent near breakup of the United Kingdom — something inconceivable just a decade ago — reflects a deep, pervasive problem of identity throughout the EU. The once vaunted European sense of common destiny is decomposing. Other separatist movements are on the march, most notably in Catalonia, Flanders and northern Italy.
Throughout the continent, public support for a united Europe fell sharply last year. Opposition to greater integration has emerged, with anti-EU parties gaining support in countries as diverse as the United Kingdom, Greece, Germany and France.
For generations, politicians of both parties – dating back at least to Republican Herbert Hoover and Democrat Franklin Roosevelt – generally supported the notion of suburban growth and the expansion of homeownership. “A nation of homeowners,” Franklin Roosevelt believed, “of people who own a real share in their land, is unconquerable.”
Support for suburban growth, however, has ebbed dramatically, particularly among those self-styled progressives who claim FDR’s mantle. In California, greens, planners and their allies in the development community have supported legislation that tends to price single-family homes, the preference of some 70 percent of adults, well beyond the capacity of the vast majority of residents.
With the U.S. economy reviving, birth rates may be as well: the number of children born rose in 2013 by 4,700, the first annual increase since 2007. At the same time new household formation, after falling precipitously in the wake of the Great Recession, has begun to recover, up 100,000 this June from a year before.
Coverage of America’s changing urban scene tends to focus heavily on large metropolitan areas and the “megaregions” now often said to dominate the economic future. Often missed has been a slow, but inexorable, shift of migration and economic growth to smaller cities, a geography usually ignored or dismissed, with the exception of college towns, as doomed to lag behind by urban boosters.
For more than a century, Southern Californians have dreamed of their region becoming host to a great global city. At the turn of the 20th century Henry Huntington, who built much of the area’s first mass-transit system, proclaimed that “Los Angeles is destined to become the most important city in the world.”
Of course, builders of other cities – St. Louis, New Orleans, Chicago and even Cincinnati, Ohio – have made similar predictions. But L.A.’s claim, unlike the others, had a significant resonance. Not only was the region growing rapidly throughout the previous century, and now stands as North America’s second-largest population center, but it dominated a host of fields, notably entertainment and aerospace, and was highly influential in energy, fashion and manufacturing.
America’s cognitive elites and many media pundits believe high-density development will dominate the country’s future.
That could be so, but, if it is the case, also expect far fewer Americans — and far more rapid aging of the population.
This is a pattern seen throughout the world. In every major metropolitan area in the high-income world for which we found data — Tokyo, Seoul, London, Paris, Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay area — inner-core total fertility rates are much lower than those in outer areas.
When our urban pundit class speaks of the future of cities, we are offered glittering images of London, New York, Singapore, or Shanghai. In reality, the future for most of the world’s megacities—places with more than 10 million people—may look more like Dhaka, Mumbai, or Kinshasa: dirty, poverty- and disease-ridden, and environmentally disastrous.
The globalization of cities and their elites often comes at the expense of many of the people who live there. Forced to compete with foreign capital and immigrant workers, native-born residents of cities from Los Angeles and London to Singapore often feel displaced, becoming strangers in what they thought was their own place.
When it comes to attracting the hip and cool, Southern California, long a cultural trendsetter, appears to be falling behind – at least in the view of the national media. Articles about where millennials are, or should be, going rarely mention anywhere in this region as a top choice.
Much has been written about the supposed preference of millennials to live in hip urban settings where cars are not necessary. Surveys of best cities for millennials invariably feature places like New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston, cities that often are also favorites of the authors.
Southern California faces a crisis of confidence. A region that once imagined itself as a new model of urbanity – what the early 20th century minister and writer Dana Bartlett called “the better city” – is increasingly being told that, to succeed, it must abandon its old model and become something more akin to dense Eastern cities, or to Portland or San Francisco.
This has touched off a “density craze,” in which developers and regulators work overtime to create a future dramatically different from the region’s past. This kind of social engineering appeals to many pundits, planners and developers, but may scare the dickens out of many residents.
America, seen either from here or from abroad, doesn’t look so good these days. The country that maintained world peace for decades now “leads by behind,” or not at all. You don’t have to have nostalgia for George W. Bush’s foreign policy to wish for someone in the White House who at least belongs in the same room with the likes of Vladimir Putin. Some wags now suggest that President Barack Obama has exceeded Jimmy Carter in foreign policy incompetence – Carter certainly was more effective in the Middle East.