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Its image further enhanced by the recent IPO of Twitter, Silicon Valley now stands in many minds as the cutting edge of the American future. Some, on both right and left, believe that the Valley's geeks should reform the nation, and the government, in their image.
The imminent departure of New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and his replacement by leftist Bill DeBlasio, represents an urban uprising against the Bloombergian “luxury city” and the growing income inequality it represents. Bloomberg epitomized an approach that sought to cater to the rich—most prominently Wall Street—as a means to both finance development growth and collect enough shekels to pay for services needed by the poor.
In his classic 1893 essay, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” historian Frederick Jackson Turner spoke of “the expansive character of American life.” Even though the frontier was closing, Turner argued, the fundamental nature of Americans was still defined by their incessant probing for “a new field of opportunity.” Turner’s claim held true for at least a century—during that time, the American spirit generated relentless technological improvement, the gradual creation of a mass middle class, and the integration of ever more diverse immigrants into the national narrative.
Perhaps no urban legend has played as long and loudly as the notion that “empty nesters” are abandoning their dull lives in the suburbs for the excitement of inner city living. This meme has been most recently celebrated in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.
Both stories, citing research by the real estate brokerage Redfin, maintained that over the last decade a net 1 million boomers (born born between 1945 and 1964) have moved into the city core from the surrounding area. “Aging boomers,” the Post gushed, now “opt for the city life.” It’s enough to warm the cockles of a downtown real-estate speculator’s heart, and perhaps nudge some subsidies from city officials anxious to secure their downtown dreams.
Michael Bloomberg's passing from New York City Hall, and his likely replacement as mayor by a fire-breathing populist Democrat, Bill de Blasio, marks a historic shift, not just in urban politics but, potentially, also national politics. For 20 years, under first Rudy Giuliani and then Bloomberg, New Yorkers accepted a form of “trickle down economics” where Wall Street riches flowed into city coffers and kept Gotham, at least on the surface, humming and solvent.
For nearly a half century, the death of suburbs and exurbs has been prophesied by pundits, urban real-estate interests and their media allies, and they ratcheted up the volume after the housing crash of 2007. The urban periphery was destined to become “the next slums,” Christopher Leinberger wrote in The Atlantic in 2008, while a recent book by Fortune’s Leigh Gallagher, The End of Suburbs, claimed that suburbs and exurbs were on the verge of extinction as people flocked back to dense cities such as New York.
To many in the transit business – that is, people who seek to profit from the development and growth of buses, trains and streetcars – Southern California is often seen as a paradise lost, a former bastion of streetcar lines that crossed the region and sparked much of its early development. Today, billions are being spent to revive the region’s transit legacy.
Urban boosters are rightly proud of the progress American cities have made since their nadir in the 1970s; Harvard economist Ed Glaeser has gone so far as to proclaim “the triumph of the city.” Yet recent events — notably Detroit’s bankruptcy and the victory of left-wing populist Bill de Blasio in the Democratic primary of the New York mayoral election — suggest that the urban future may prove far more problematic than commonly acknowledged.
People care deeply about where they live. If you ever doubt that, remember this: they staged massive protests over a park in Istanbul. Gezi Park near Taksim Square is one of that ancient city’s most beloved spots.
Over four decades, the Great Lakes states have been the sad sack of American geography. This perception has been reinforced by Detroit’s bankruptcy filing and the descent of Chicago, the region’s poster child for gentrification, toward insolvency.
Among university professors, government planners and mainstream pundits there is little doubt that the best city is the densest one. This notion is also supported by a wide number of politically connected developers, who see in the cramming of Americans into ever smaller spaces an opportunity for vast, often taxpayer-subsidized, profiteering.
Over the past half century, the tiny city-state of Singapore has developed arguably the most successful formula for growth and social uplift on the planet. Like the famous Singapore sling — a tropical cocktail blending gin, grenadine, sweet and sour mix, cherry brandy and club soda — the city’s mandarins created the perfect recipe for rapid economic growth by combining its strategic location and hard-driving, largely Chinese population, with first-class infrastructure, a relentlessly improved local workforce and an opportunistic immigration policy designed to fill gaps in the labor pool.
From the earliest times, cities have revolved around three basic concepts – security, the marketplace and what I call "the sacred space." In contemporary America, everyone wants safe streets and a thriving economy, but what about the ethereal side, the places that makes us take note of a place and feel, in some way, a connection with its history?
One hundred and fifty years after twin defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg destroyed the South’s quest for independence, the region is again on the rise. People and jobs are flowing there, and Northerners are perplexed by the resurgence of America’s home of the ignorant, the obese, the prejudiced and exploited, the religious and the undereducated.