By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Cities
The boom in city living in the U.S. won't really happen until younger generations -- Generations X and Y -- occupy offices in which policy can be set. Right?
It will take a generation for U.S. cities to truly experience a boom.
That's according to Angie Schmitt, who writes at Streetsblog that despite all the attention given to a coming boom in urban areas, it won't really happen until younger generations -- Generations X and Y -- occupy offices in which policy can be set.
Alex Ihnen at NextSTL articulated this generational tension last month in a blog post after Census figures showed the St. Louis had experienced yet another precipitous population decline: “When will the ‘old guard’ who have overseen this exodus stop cutting ribbons and turning dirt with a smile and silver shovel and simply get out of the way?”
Schmitt adds her own take:
I don’t see any signs of the older generations getting through the grieving process and moving on. This makes me think that for us to fully embrace a true urban policy, even in city government itself, it is going to take generational turnover.
The baby boomers are already starting to age, but they’ll be with us a lot longer. Alas, they have historically been the most suburban generation, and not shy about imposing their values, so I suspect we’ll be dealing with that legacy for a while.
Still, as time goes on, we’ll have more and more people seeing the city with fresh eyes, and only knowing it when there’s reason for hope and optimism. That by itself will be a building force for change and new directions over time, until the true changing of the guard arrives.
It's an interesting take, albeit colored by her own generational leanings. (After all, I'm sure the Baby Boomers don't take too kindly to their legacy referred to with an "alas.")
But read between the lines, and it's clear that in many ways, it's not Gen-X or Millennials that are building the future city, but in fact...Boomers. The impetus remains justifiably credited to the younger generations, sure, but it's the older ones that are helping respond to it.
Simply, there's plenty of business opportunity in the growth of a city, and Boomers would be remiss if they weren't the ones signing off on high-speed rail schemes, mixed-use development plans, new LEED-certified corporate skyscrapers and digital payment systems.
So it appears to this editor that it won't take a generation for cities to return -- it's already happening now. But it's happening through the cooperation of multiple generations eyeing mutual benefit: Generations X and Y demonstrate a viable market, and the Boomers demonstrate a response to it.
Is there truth in the trend? Absolutely -- younger generations are indeed inhabiting cities once more, shaping them as they shift their disposable income and move their feet. But this peculiar arrangement means a different generation, one weaned on suburban living as the epitome of the American Dream, is the one signing off on tomorrow's metropolises.
It takes a generation, sure. But then it takes another.
Photo: Baltimore skyline. (Ash Crowe/Flickr)
Mar 17, 2011
Suburbs are just part of cities. Big cities are ghettos where we keep our surplus world population. People work most of the year so they can get out of the city for a few weeks? vacation. One of the most precious, scarce human commodities is privacy, which is hard to preserve in the city. Virtually every moment after you exit your dwelling in the city, the dollar meter is ticking. City people need lots of rules to keep from killing each other. The closer people have to live next to each other, the more anonymous strangers surround you. City people need or demand lots of regulations so the neighbour isn?t allowed to do something you find distasteful. NIMBY political power of cities siphons off the wealth created in more rural areas, like food and energy. No political party encourages independence, which is a more typical hallmark of country living, because if you aren?t needy, government can?t do anything for you.
Comment number 15 is spot on. Alas, Schmitt seems to have mistaken one fact for another, both of which are correlated with propensity for urban living. Yes the younger X and Y gens today populate the cities proportionately more, but only because they are young and single and still attached to the caffees and bars, more concentrated in cities centers, and more conducive to the single life. When they marry and settle to that more sedate and boring family life (often with children as more common to boomers until recently) it will be "Gen-next" that will liven the cities. In my younger years in Europe, Montreal, Toronto and Seattle I too was smitten with the city, then something changed. I suggest that it is not a "Gen" but a stage of life that determines relative propensity to urban living (stress on relative). By the time X and Y get to the board room their priorities will have changes like ours did. Yet urbanization will increase as stated in comment 15. Sorry Ms. Schmitt, by then the bistros will have adapted to the new urban dwellers (i.e more wheelchair ramps, bigger print menus, more tolerance for slow movers, etc.). It will happen because of the demographic bulge, not despite of it.
As a baby boomer, I can inform readers here that the spouse and I and several of our boomer friends are among those selling our suburban houses and downsizing into urban condos. Yes, we're already doing it. As we get older, we don't want to cut lawns, prune trees, clean pools, clean empty rooms in empty nest houses, or drive when we want to go out. As a matter of fact, the older we get, the likelier we are to also shed our cars. The simplified life of an urban condo makes it possible to fulfill our dreams for travel later in life (not having to tend to all the house stuff). Rehabbing older urban properties works very well for those of us who are recent retirees with plenty of time and energy to do it. Some among us boomers have also picked up getaway places in second world countries where our retirement incomes stretch much further and where we further enjoy this very same urban living, i.e. "cafe society." So you younger folks reading this: when you spot someone who looks older in an urban grocery, cafe, bar, or bistro, start up a conversation. It could spark an interesting exchange about what has been done, what would be done better if there was a chance to do-over, and what's being kicked around for the future.
Studies have shown that, throughout history, cities have failed to reproduce their populations. Just as today, the populations of cities have always been supported by immigration from their surrounding hinterlands. A number of factors militate against reproduction in the city, including susceptibility to occasional waves of plagues and reliance on external supplies that makes them most vulnerable in cases of war and famine, but the most significant and persistent factor is the lack of economic incentive for raising a large family in a city. In the city environment children are almost always purely economic burdens, whereas in the countryside they usually provide support to the family. Today, the economic disincentives to reproduction apply to suburban dwellers also, but not necessarily to rural dwellers. As one developed nation after another reaches and passes peak population and begins population decline, as has already begun in Germany, Italy, Japan, and most of Eastern Europe, city populations will inevitably decline, and will do so faster than the rural population. Developing nations will follow this trend when and to the extent that they develop. Get used to it.
I hope people are still not looking to Obama as a savior. Personally I am still deciding if Obama is corrupt, a puppet figurehead or just inept? I can say he is doing on a national scale what I have seen mayors do for decades. And my hometown is in a shambles because of it.
In third world countries the cities are growing rapidly. Apparently the desire of many on this blog is for the US to become a third world country. The discussion seems to be based on how to force people to like city living.
I grew up and spent half of my life in the suburbs. I moved to a large city that is lively and active. The advantage to living in the city is that public transportation here runs 24/7 and it is easy and safe to walk to many places. Living in the suburbs means driving everywhere because things are spread out. The policy makers are not so much as entrenched as they are stuck in a rut. The new replacements learn the ruts and stay in them. I think Maslow's expression "If the only tool you have is a hammer, then you tend to see problems as nails" can be applied to the policy makers. Most of them are elected by slogans and promises that can not be kept once in office. The electorate keep falling for the slogans and empty promises because it is the only thing they understand. #9 is correct about people needing to become more politically engaged and build a real vision of what they want and not what they will tolerate. People have become so cynical of government that they expect only burdens and not real progress; we have elected people who have declared that government is the problem and after being elected went on to prove it.
Will it take a generation for cities to truly boom? By Andrew Nusca | Mar 17, 2011 | http://www.smartplanet.com/business/blog/smart-takes/will-it-take-a-generation-for-cities-to-truly-boom/14925/ MY TAKE Dbaker007@stx.rr.com You said ?The baby boomers are already starting to age, but they?ll be with us a lot longer. Alas, they have historically been the most suburban generation, and not shy about imposing their values, so I suspect we?ll be dealing with that legacy for a while? I submit that it is not our generation that has imposed values on others there is a few that has done so that were blindly led along a path of now faded promises. Like many of us and many of you that voted for Obama. Yet the core of our baby boomers tried our best to stay in between the lines. Allowance for age gap is common it was for us and it will be for you, but in the end forget about age gaps and focus on history. At sixty-seven I am learning everyday that what we were taught was nothing more than lies. And the raw hard facts about that are many my age are still trying to juggle their ways around the monstrous causes they are hit with daily. Last---If your age group thinks and believes that all will be sane and sound and be a leader for your age group not to be influenced by the Cannibalistic Predator Beast then you are fools. The Beast buys who they want and that is that.
HI, I agree with everything you said there. Most politicians care more about their moneyed backers than the people that elected them. The only real answer is for enough people to get politically engaged to overcome the effects of money but when things are going along okay people tend to tune out politics. I even see that in myself at times.
I heard the exact same words being spoken when manufacturers ran from northern cities like my hometown in the 1970s. It never happened. The same was said in the 1980s and 90s. We saw a brief revival between in the late 1990s and early 2000s under one particular mayor, but since then nothing. Generational corruption is to blame. Corrupt mayors and city councilors teach younger followers the tricks of the trade and the corrupt machines roll on. In the mid 1990s we had a mayor who pushed the limits on corruption. I have no idea how she is not in jail, but she is still walking the streets. Voters were so mad they finally kicked her out and voted in someone competent. He decided not to run for reelection a few years ago because he got sick of the politics. The current mayor laid off 40 police officers last summer, but found the money to hire 3 additional advisors. He recently blamed a spike in car thefts and drug violence on the entire police force being lazy. They have less than 80 officers on the entire force to cover a city of 80,000 people 24/7 and he called them lazy. But stupid voters keep putting these corrupt people in office.
I think many responders are missing the point. Cities are an alternative to suburbs for certain people, but that isn't the issue. The issue is that due to population growth and peak oil societies will not be able to afford to subsidize suburban expansion. Furthermore, we can't consume all of our farm land without starving. It takes vastly less energy/resources to provide basic service to a city block that houses hundreds than a suburban block that house 60-70. The automobile will become an expensive luxury in the coming generations. All policies should insure that the true cost of any action is paid for by the person who is performing the action. Suburban living should cost more than city living, since the amount of resources needed to allow people to live there if far greater than those needed for city living. If you want to live in suburban and rural areas then you should pay the true cost of living there; which isn't the case today. You have the right to personal choice, but you don't have the right to expect others to finacially support that choice.
As a leading edge boomer who lived in Manhattan for 25 years before moving to very rural New Hampshire for 12 (and am now comfortably suburban). I find cities passe, obsolete even. I find policy wonks who try to force people to live in larger agglomeration miss several important points. People (from a biological perspective) were never evolved to live cheek by jowl. Quite simply we don't like it: too many rules. The highway boom and the personal auto has been so popular precisely because of the personal autonomy it grants -- no amount of policy tinkering is going to change that. High speed rail means having to live on someone else's schedule. Congestion pricing will nibble at the margins, but at the end of the day it will just speed up the exodus to less cluttered living styles. After all one of the internet's greatest successes (IMO) is the way it enables a spread-out living style, which even might (at the end of the day) mitigate the impact of our overpopulation upon the environment. The one policy we need to get serious about is population control. This is the 800 pound gorilla that no one wants to talk about.
Keeping "moneyed interests from buying our elections and/or our elected" is totally unrealistic. The intimate connection between money & political power is global & as old as civilization. Developing suburbs has been a route to fortune for lots of people pretty much since the construction of the freeway network after WW2. People will continue to push government to support the construction of suburbs so long as the opportunities to make lots of money are still there. I don't see things going the other way until there's a paradigm for equivalent opportunities in urban development, combined with a collective decision for government to stop supporting suburban development. That will likely have to occur at the state or even federal level because local politicians are usually all too susceptible to pressure from wealthy developers.
Cities died as an unintended consequence of personal vehicles, suburban development, and shopping malls. A generational change in leadership won't revitalize cities as long as they are dirty, dangerous, and expensive.
Generalizations are dangerous, but we all do it. I have found that my parent's generation still view cities as dangerous, dirty and decaying. My father refused to come into Philadelphia, even though I lived in a great neighborhood. The term we are always planning for the last wars couldn't be more aprapo (sic). Even though most people in history were born in cities, American Boomers till see the burbs as the only place to raise kids. On the other side, cities have done a poor job at making city living more enjoyable. Crime, noise, and lack of regard for private property make it difficult to fully embrace city living, though I live in the Center City Philadelphia. It may indeed take a full generation for cities to come into their own right, but today's policy will have a direct effect on the speed of this transition.
Dead on. No puns implied or intended. We really need a change in government at all levels - but for this to occur, we need new people. To get new people, we need someone besides all the friends, relatives, business associates, etc. of the current people. However, it's going to take a little more than merely a generational shift. A change in generations will be a huge help. BUT if it moves from one generation of the current gang in control to the next generation of the same gang - we'll keep many of the same policies or at least get similar ones. We won't get change from that. We need a larger shift than that. We need to get the power out of ALL the entrenched - that includes not just the aged interests but the money interests too. Moving Gen X (who I'm starting to think will be largely passed over in favor of going directly to Gen Y if Boomers don't start letting go soon even for everything from government to employment) into power won't move out the money. So at least one question remains: how do we keep the moneyed interests from buying our elections and/or our elected? If we can't answer this question, things won't change...
If we really want a boom in city living, we've got to figure out how to keep folks from moving out of it when they get married and have children. I know a ton of folks who lived in the city in their 20's but left for suburbia as soon as they started their families.