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. read more »
A couple weeks ago the Economist ran a leader and an article on the plight of smaller post-industrial cities, noting that these days the worst urban decay is found not in big cities but in small ones. They observe: read more »
“The heresy of heresies was common sense”—George Orwell
The stories we tell affect the lives we lead. I do not mean to be abstract here. I mean, literally, the stories that are told make up a kind of meta-reality that soaks in us to form a “truth”. This “truth” affects policy, which affects investment, which affects bricks and mortar, pocketbooks, and power. Eventually, the “truth” trickles down into a more real reality that defines the lives of the powerless. read more »
For centuries, explorers searched for the legendary golden city of El Dorado, seeking instant wealth in the jungles of South America. But today’s treasure trove may be found much closer to home; cities like El Dorado, Arkansas, for example, that have successfully linked their economic development strategy to improving the educational attainment of their residents. read more »
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. read more »
[Book Review] The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy, by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley. 2013, Brookings Focus Book
It's now decades after deindustrialization, and several years since the Great Recession supposedly ended. Yet too many American cities are still struggling to recover from the losses of jobs, population, taxes, and identities. Detroit’s declaration of bankruptcy in July drew new attention to the problem, and it helped fuel the extensive marketing campaign read more »
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. read more »
Suburbia has been a favorite whipping boy of urbane intellectuals, who have foretold its decline for decades. Leigh Gallagher's "The End of the Suburbs" is the latest addition to this tired but tireless genre. The book lacks the sparkling prose and original insights one could find in the works of, say, Jane Jacobs or Lewis Mumford. Indeed, Ms. Gallagher's book is little more than a distillation of the conventional wisdom that prevails at Sunday brunch in Manhattan.
The author restages many of the old anti-suburban claims, and her introduction's section headings easily give away the gist of the argument: "Millennials hate the burbs"; "Our households are shrinking"; "We are eco-obsessed"; "The suburbs are poorly designed to begin with"; and so on. read more »
Sure, suburbs have big problems. Their designs force their inhabitants to drive in cars, instead of walking and bicycling. This diminishes face-to-face interactions, physical health, and the quality of the environment. Aesthetically, many of them, particularly those dreaded “planned communities,” are quite boring. People who live there tend not to have much contact with people who aren’t like them, so suburbs reinforce racial, religious, and class segregation. read more »
We recently explored the post-recession tsunami of online retail and discovered that e-shopping’s future is anything if not bright. According to a report by Forrester Research, by 2016, not only are 192 million U.S. consumers projected to be be clicking “checkout” (up 15% since 2012), but those 192 million will also be spending an average of 44% more. read more »