We live in an era of the heady drumbeat of urban triumphalism. In a world that is now, by some measures, predominately urban, observers like historian Peter Hall envision a “coming golden age” of great cities. It is time to look at such claims more closely, replacing celebratory urban legends with careful analysis. Although the percentage of people living in cities is certain to grow, much of this growth will be in smaller cities, suburbs and towns.
These may be far from the best of times, but they are no longer the worst. Last year’s annual “Best Cities for Jobs” list was by far the most dismal since we began compiling our rankings almost five years ago. Between 2009 and 2010, only 13 of 397 metropolitan areas experienced any growth at all. For this year’s list, which measured job growth in the period between January 2010 and January 2011, most of the best-performing areas experienced actual employment increases — even if they were modest.
Over the past decade urbanists, journalists and politicians have hotly debated where Americans were settling and what places were growing the fastest. With the final results in from the 2010 Census, we can now answer those questions, with at least some clarity.
Not only does the Census tell us where people are moving, it also gives us clues as to why. It also helps explain where they might continue to go in the years ahead. This information is invaluable to companies that are considering where to expand, or contract, their operations.
For many mayors across the country, including New York City’s Michael Bloomberg, the recently announced results of the 2010 census were a downer. In a host of cities, the population turned out to be substantially lower than the U.S. Census Bureau had estimated for 2010—in New York’s case, by some 250,000 people. Bloomberg immediately called the decade’s meager 2.1 percent growth, less than one-quarter the national average, an “undercount.” Senator Charles Schumer blamed extraterrestrials, accusing the Census Bureau of “living on another planet.”
The triumphalism surrounding the slums and megacities frankly disturbs me. It is, of course, right to celebrate the amazing resilience of residents living in these cities’ massive slums. But many of the megacity boosters miss a more important point: that the proliferation of these sorts of communities may not be desirable or even necessary.
As the American economy struggles to recover, its greatest advantage lies with its diverse population. The U.S.’ major European competitors — Germany, Scandinavia, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Italy — have admittedly failed at integrating racial outsiders. Its primary Asian rivals, with the exception of Singapore, are almost genetically resistant to permanent migration from those outside the dominant ethnic strain.
Along the pitted elegance of Pho Ngo Quyen, a bustling street in Hanoi, Vietnam, you will, predictably, find uniformed men in Soviet-style uniforms, banners with Communist Party slogans, and grandfatherly pictures of Ho Chi Minh. Yet, capitalism thrives everywhere else in this community — in the tiny food stalls, countless mobile phone stores and clothing shops offering everything from faux European fashion to reduced-price children’s wear, sandals and sneakers.
The two largest crises today — the Japanese nuclear disaster and the widening unrest in the Middle East — prove it’s time to de-fetishize energy policy. These serious problems also demonstrate why we must expand the nation’s ample oil and gas supplies — urgently.
The worsening Japanese nuclear crisis means, for all intents and purposes, that atomic power is, if not dead, certainly on a respirator.
Some experts may still make the case that nuclear power remains relatively safe. Some green advocates still tout its virtues for emitting virtually no greenhouse gases.
Living on the harsh, wind-swept northern Great Plains, North Dakotans lean towards the practical in economic development. Finding themselves sitting on prodigious pools of oil—estimated by the state's Department of Mineral Resources at least 4.3 billion barrels—they are out drilling like mad. And the state is booming.
The newly released Census reports reveal that California faces a profound gap between the cities where people are moving to and the cities that hold all the political power. It is a tale that divides the state between its coastal metropolitan regions that dominate the state’s politics — particularly the San Francisco Bay Area, but also Los Angeles — and its still-growing, largely powerless interior regions.
The ongoing Census reveals the continuing evolution of America’s cities from small urban cores to dispersed, multi-polar regions that includes the city’s surrounding areas and suburbs. This is not exactly what most urban pundits, and journalists covering cities, would like to see, but the reality is there for anyone who reads the numbers.
With the release of results for over 20 states, the 2010 Census has provided some strong indicators as to the real evolution of the country’s demography. In short, they reveal that Americans are continuing to disperse, becoming more ethnically diverse and leaning toward to what might be called “opportunity” regions.
Below is a summary of the most significant findings to date, followed by an assessment of what this all might mean for the coming decade.
Point One: America is becoming more suburban.
Perhaps nothing so illustrates President Obama’s occasional disconnect with reality than his fervent advocacy of high-speed rail. Amid mounting pressure for budget cuts that affect existing programs, including those for the inner city, the president has made his $53 billion proposal to create a national high-speed rail network as among his top priorities.
Throughout much of history, cities have served as incubators for upward mobility. A great city, wrote René Descartes in the 17th century, was “an inventory of the possible,” a place where people could lift their families out of poverty and create new futures. In his time, Amsterdam was that city, not just for ambitious Dutch peasants and artisans but for people from all over Europe. Today, many of the world’s largest cities, in both the developed and the developing world, are failing to serve this aspirational function.
For a decade now U.S. city planners have obsessively pursued college graduates, adopting policies to make their cities more like dense hot spots such as New York, to which the "brains" allegedly flock.
But in the past 10 years "hip and cool" places like New York have suffered high levels of domestic outmigration. Some boosters rationalize this by saying the U.S. is undergoing a "bipolar migration"--an argument recently laid out by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic.