Looking Forward: A New Agenda

In their essay, “Looking Forward: A New Agenda,” Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox lay out five key principles for inclusive urban growth. Their piece is part of a new report by the Center for Opportunity Urbanism, Beyond Gentrification: Towards More Equitable Growth, which explores how unbalanced urban growth has exacerbated class divisions, particularly in the urban centers of our largest metropolitan areas. To read or download the full report click here.

Read an excerpt of their piece below.

Life may have improved for many in our urban centers, but, as we have seen, many others are being left behind. Gentrification strategies, often focused on the downtown core, have done little for either the remaining middle or the largely impoverished working class, who together comprise the majority of urbanites. A recent Brookings analysis found that from 2010 to 2015, of the 30 US metros that increased their productivity, average wages, and standard of living, only 11 metros achieved inclusive economic outcomes.

Still, some urban writers embrace the idea of keeping poor neighborhoods as they are, with their low consumption rates and lack of cars, in part to reduce the area’s carbon foot-print. This seems a cruel and misplaced view. Rather than treating inner city residents as environmental lab rats, we should embrace the idea that cities, first and foremost, be places of opportunity, not only for the well-heeled and well-educated, but for all residents. The current approaches, as we have shown, lead to negative consequences in terms of higher rents and house prices, and even in reduced economic opportunity.

We believe it is time to move beyond the focus on gentrification led by the “creative class,” as Richard Florida, the term’s own author suggests. Overall, according to two recent Oregon studies, lower-income people in cities now experience less upward mobility than people from rural areas. The poorer people left in the urban core suffer from lack of opportunity, and seem to carry with them cultural and economic burdens that keep them from ascending to the middle class.

This situation is not sustainable. History shows us repeatedly that huge income gaps and a sense of diminished opportunity can lead to disorder, alienation and a breakdown of the civic order, as evidenced by the growth of moves for rent control, greater housing subsidies and low levels of labor participation.6 Ancient Rome, industrial-era London, Manchester, St. Petersburg and Shanghai, for example, all experienced revolts, and in some cases revolutions, led by the neglected classes. Substantial unemployment and economic insecurity can undermine social stability.

How do we meet this challenge? The current resources for this report were not sufficient to lay out a specific strategy. Instead, we provided a set of new principles that should shape urban policy. We do not oppose gentrification that occurs naturally, as people seek out the urban core. However, the massive funds that are spent to attract more of the creative class and appeal to the hyper-affluent have not, and will not, improve life for most urbanites. For many, this approach can only mean further impoverishment, largely due to higher rents, or lead to mass migration out of the cities that, for some, have been home for generations.

Read the full report here (PDF).

Joel Kotkin is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. He authored The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, published in 2016 by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He is executive director of NewGeography.com and lives in Orange County, CA.

Wendell Cox is a senior fellow at the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Canada. He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, served on the Amtrak Reform Council and served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a Paris university.

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