Seven years after the last housing debacle devastated the world economy, we may be on the verge of another, albeit different, bubble. If the last real estate collapse was created due to insanely easy lending policies aimed at the middle and working classes, the current one has its roots largely in a regime of cheap money married to policies of planners who believe that they can shape the urban future from above.
For the last century, one enduring cliché has been that when America sneezes, the world catches a cold. But now the big power with the sniffles is China.
China’s rise has been the most profound development of the past half century, turning a moribund, rural country into a highly urbanized economic superpower. Hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty, and markets around the world reshaped. China alone accounted for a whopping 24.1% of global economic growth from 2003 to 2013. according to the IMF.
“They don’t know history, but they are making it. But what are they making?”
– Victor Serge, “The Conquered City,” 1932
In contrast to the physical sciences, and even other social sciences, the study of history is, by nature, subjective. There is no real mathematical formula to assess the past. It is more an art, or artifice, than a science.
The massive, ongoing surge of migrants and refugees into Europe has brought up horrendous scenes of deprivation, along with heartwarming instances of generosity. It has also engendered cruel remembrances of the continent’s darkest hours. But viewed over the long term, this crisis may well be the prelude to changes that could dissipate, and even overturn, some of the world’s most-storied and productive cultures.
We all tend to have fond memories of our greatest moments, and for Los Angeles, the 1984 Olympics has served as a high point in the city’s ascendency. The fact that those Summer Games were brilliantly run, required relatively little city expenditure and turned a profit confirmed all those things we Angelenos loved about our city – its flexibility and pragmatism and the power of its civic culture.
For generations the broad swath of America along the Great Lakes has been regarded as something of a backwater. Educated workers and sophisticated industries have tended to gather in the Northeast and on the West Coast, bringing with them strong economic growth.
As its former rivals in Asia and Europe slip into torpor and even decline, America, almost despite itself, is recovering its perch as the world’s bastion and predominant power. This is all the more remarkable given that our government is headed by someone who largely rejects traditional ideas about American exceptionalism, preferring to “lead from behind.”
The election of Barack Obama promised to inaugurate the dawn of a post-racial America. Instead we seem to be stepping ever deeper into a racial quagmire. The past two month saw the violent commemoration of the Ferguson protests, “the celebration” of the 50th anniversary of the Watts riots, new police shootings in places as distant as Cincinnati and Fort Worth, and renewed disorder, tied to a police-related shooting, in St. Louis last week.
The current state of the Republican Party may seem like a demolition derby, but there’s an equally fascinating, if less well-understood, conflict within the Democratic Party. In this case, the disruptive force is largely Silicon Valley, a natural oligarchy that now funds a party teetering toward populism and even socialism.
In the fall of 2005, many saw in postdiluvial New Orleans another example of failed urbanization, a formerly great city that was broken beyond repair.Yet 10 years after a catastrophe that drove hundreds of thousands of its citizens away, the metro area has made an impressive comeback.
Barack Obama has always wanted to be a transformational president, and in this, at least, he has been true to his word. The question is what kind of America is being created, and what future does it offer the next generation.
Public concern about illegal immigration, particularly among older native-born Americans, as well as the the rising voting power of Latinos, all but guarantees that immigration is an issue that will remain at the forefront in the run-up to the 2016 elections. Nor is this merely a right-wing issue, as evidenced in the controversy over “sanctuary cities”; even the progressive Bernie Sanders has expressed concern that massive uncontrolled immigration could “make everybody in America poorer.”
Twenty years ago, America’s cities were making their initial move to regain some of their luster. This was largely due to the work of mayors who were middle-of-the-road pragmatists. Their ranks included Rudy Giuliani in New York, Richard Riordan in Los Angeles, and, perhaps the best of the bunch, Houston’s Bob Lanier. Even liberal San Franciscans elected Frank Jordan, a moderate former police chief who was succeeded by the decidedly pragmatic Willie Brown.
Across the nation, progressives increasingly look at California as a model state. This tendency has increased as climate change has emerged as the Democratic Party’s driving issue. To them, California’s recovery from a very tough recession is proof positive that you can impose ever greater regulation on everything from housing to electricity and still have a thriving economy.
In hip, and even not-so-hip, circles, markets, restaurants and cultural festivals across the country, local is in. Many embrace this ideal as an economic development tool, an environmental win and a form of resistance to ever-greater centralized big business control.
Yet when it comes to areas being able to choose their urban form and for people to cluster naturally – localism is now being constantly undermined by planners and their ideological allies, including some who superficially embrace the notion of localism.