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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.
This is the executive summary from a new report, America’s Emerging Housing Crisis, published by National Community Renaissance, and authored by Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox. Download the report and the supplement report below.
From the earliest settlement of the country, Americans have looked at their homes and apartments as critical elements of their own aspirations for a better life. In good times, when construction is strong, the opportunities for better, more spacious and congenial housing—whether for buyers or renters—tends to increase. But in harsher conditions, when there has been less new construction, people have been forced to accept overcrowded, overpriced and less desirable accommodations.
As the recovery from the Great Recession stretches into its fifth year, the locus of economic momentum has shifted. In the early years of the recession, the cities that created the most jobs — sometimes the only ones — were either government- or military-dominated (Washington, D.C.; Kileen-Temple-Fort Hood, Texas), or were powered by the energy boom in Texas, Oklahoma and the northern Great Plains.
Given the quality of leadership in Washington, it’s not surprising that many pundits are shifting focus to locally based solutions to pressing problems. This increasingly includes many progressives, who historically have embraced an ever-more expansive federal government.
In many ways, this constitutes an extraordinarily positive development. Political decentralization is built into the very framework of American democracy, as Alexis de Tocqueville, among others, recognized.
Brainpower rankings usually identify the usual suspects: college towns like Boston, Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Bay area. And to be sure, these places generally have the highest per capita education levels. However, it’s worthwhile to look at the metro areas that are gaining college graduates most rapidly; this is an indicator of momentum that is likely to carry over into the future.
Perhaps no issue looms over American politics more than worsening inequality and the stunting of the road to upward mobility. However, inequality varies widely across America.
Los Angeles is unique among the big, world-class American cities. Unlike New York, Boston, or Chicago, L.A. lacks a clearly defined core. It is instead a sprawling region made up of numerous poly-ethnic neighborhoods, few exhibiting the style and grace of a Paris arrondissement, Greenwich Village, or southwest London. In the 1920s, the region’s huge dispersion was contemptuously described—in a quotation alternately attributed to Dorothy Parker, Aldous Huxley, or H. L. Mencken—as “72 suburbs in search of a city.” Los Angeles’s lack of urbane charm led William Faulkner to dub it “the plastic asshole of the world.” But to those of us who inhabit this expansive and varied place, the lack of conventional urbanity is exactly what makes Los Angeles so interesting.
Ever since the Great Recession ripped through the economies of the Sunbelt, America’s coastal pundit class has been giddily predicting its demise. Strangled by high-energy prices, cooked by global warming, rejected by a new generation of urban-centric millennials, this vast southern region was doomed to become, in the words of the Atlantic, where the “American dream” has gone to die. If the doomsayers are right, Americans must be the ultimate masochists. After a brief hiatus, people seem to, once again, be streaming towards the expanse of warm-weather states extending from the southeastern seaboard to Phoenix.
In an era of high unemployment and limited opportunity, more Americans are taking matters into their own hands and going to work for themselves out of their homes.