Joel on the Move to the City Center: Fred Siegel’s Review of “The Great Inversion”


Fred Siegel


New York Times

In a recent New York Times review of Alan Erenhalt’s The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City, Fred Siegel discusses Joel’s work on the phenomenon of migration to the city center. Here’s an excerpt:

Ehrenhalt has a hard time explaining what the successes of the new urbanism add up to, though he refers to the writings of Joel Kotkin, whom he describes as “perhaps the most prominent of the downtown debunkers.” Kotkin has claimed, on the basis of census data, that the downtown revival Ehrenhalt applauds is merely a niche phenomenon. It is confined, Kotkin says, largely to singles, childless couples, wealthy empty nesters and recently graduated students transitioning to a delayed adulthood.

This argument shadows Ehrenhalt throughout his book. With Kotkin seemingly in mind, he repeatedly qualifies his conclusions.

“It is true,” Ehrenhalt acknowledges, “that the return to the urban center has up to now been modest in absolute numbers.” In recent years, he goes on, “more people still moved to the suburbs than moved downtown.” But “more,” he insists, doesn’t capture what is happening. It may be true that over the last decade, 91 percent of metro area population growth has been in the suburbs, but Ehrenhalt is making a qualitative case, not a quantitative one. “The importance of the movement” into downtowns, he asserts, “rests on the character of the new population group rather than on its size.” But with that statement, he gets to the heart of what has actually been going on.