The New Shame of Our Cities

A metropolitan economy, if it is working well, is constantly transforming many poor people into middle-class people, many illiterates into skilled people, many greenhorns into competent citizens. . . . Cities don’t lure the middle class. They create it.
  —Jane Jacobs

Perhaps no song has been belted out more often than the one that claims that America is moving “back to the city.” Newspapers, notably the New York Times, devote enormous space to this notion. It gained even more currency when the Obama administration sec­retary of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Do­novan, pro­claimed that the suburbs were “over” as people were “voting with their feet” and moving to dense, transit-oriented urban centers.

This celebration perhaps reached its crescendo when Amazon initially announced its move to Crystal City, Virginia, and Queens, New York. “Big cities won Amazon and everything else,” Neil Ir­win of the Times predictably enthused. “We’re living in a world where a small number of superstar companies choose to locate in a handful of superstar cities where they have the best chance of re­cruiting superstar employees.”

In fact, however, these views are more aspirational, or even delusional, than reflective of reality. Overall, data suggests that we are not seeing a great “return to the city” but, with few exceptions, a continued movement out to the suburbs and less dense cities, nota­bly in the sunbelt. The spurt of urban core growth that occurred immediately after the housing bust turned out to be remarkably short lived, with the preponderance of metropolitan growth—roughly 80 percent—returning, as has been the case since at least the late 1940s, to the suburbs and exurbs. Indeed, at no point did Census Bureau estimates show net domestic migration from suburbs to core cities, only a reduced rate of migration in the opposite direction.

Even the country’s most influential urbanist, scholar Richard Florida, now suggests that the great urban revival is “over.” Rather than the usual belief that density leads to productivity and innovation, a new Harvard study demonstrates that, between 1970 and 2010, suburban areas have overall steadily increased their economic advantages: the share of suburbs making up the top ranks of all urban and suburban neighborhoods (measured as the top quartile) went from roughly two-thirds in 1970 to almost three-quarters by 2010.

Shifting Demographics: Exaggerating the Urban Renaissance

Even at the peak of the urban “renaissance,” most of the population and job growth continued to occur in the suburban periphery. Cities achieved some parity in growth rates in the period between 2009 and 2011, as presidents Bush and Obama provided “a covert bailout”  to banks, universities, and government bureaucracies concentrated heavily in and around urban cores.

Yet as the rest of the economy improved, and urban land prices rose, population movement again shifted away from the dense inner city to less compact, more affordable locales. Analysis of census data by demographer Wendell Cox found that the core counties of the metropolitan areas with populations of more than one mil­lion, after losing only ten thousand net domestic migrants in 2012, experienced an outflow of nearly 440,000 by 2017.

Read the entire article on American Affairs.

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.

The Twilight of America’s Mega-Media

It’s far too early to predict which party will win next year’s election, but not too early to announce the national media as a clear loser in terms of national influence and prestige.

Pew reports that millennials have become as negative about major media as older generations, with their rate of approval dropping from 40% in 2010 to 27% today. Gallup tracks a similar pattern, finding 70% losing trust in the media, including nearly half of Democrats.

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Chinese Sci-Fi Writers Give Us A Glimpse Into China’s Dystopian Present And Future

A thoroughly scientific dictatorship will never be overthrown — Aldous Huxley

In contemporary China, it’s hard to know what people outside the party dictatorship think about the future. As in the former Soviet Union, often the best guide may be not in the controlled media or cowed academia, but in the speculative wanderings of writers.

Chinese science fiction began back in the last days of the Qing dynasty, and, as author Liu Cixin suggests, became identified with a science-based optimism that fit well with the Communist vision. This has now “almost completely vanished,” he notes, replaced by a far grimmer vision.

These writers implicitly reject the notion of inevitable social progress now celebrated by President Xi Jinping and Communist-controlled media. They reflect not party orthodoxy but the most likely future, much as novels such as Yevgeny Zamaytin’s “We,” or the works of the Polish Stanislaw Lem, which identified the underlying realities of the old Soviet Empire.

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California’s Message: You Built That, Now Get Out!

The people who build our homes increasingly can no longer afford them. As the state elite and their academic cheering crew celebrate our progressive boom, even the most skilled, unionized construction workers, notes an upcoming study, cannot afford to live anywhere close to the state’s major job centers.

In fact, notes the study, soon to be published by Chapman University, not a single unionized construction worker can afford a median-priced house in any of the major coastal counties, including Orange, Los Angeles, San Mateo, San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Diego, Alameda, Sonoma and Napa. Even with incomes averaging over $73,000 annually, notes author and economist Dr. John Husing, most can afford median-priced homes only in the further reaches of the Central Valley or the Inland Empire, requiring huge commutes.

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Why Social Justice is Killing Synagogues and Churches

“If it turns out that there is a God … the worst that you can say about him is that basically he’s an underachiever.” —Woody Allen

If you go into a Reform or Conservative temple, it’s likely that you will notice two things: The congregation is becoming smaller and older. Across the United States and Europe, Jewish congregations are aging at a rapid rate, a phenomenon increasingly common for mainstream religions across the high-income world.

Overall, the American Jewish population—unlike that of demographically robust Israel—is on the decline, with a loss of 300,000 members over the past decade, a number expected to drop further by 2050. The median age of members of Reform congregations is 54, and only 17 percent of members say they attend religious services even once a month. Four-fifths of the movement’s youth are gone by the time they graduate high school. The conservative movement is, if anything, in even worse shape: At its height, in 1965, the Conservative movement had 800 affiliated synagogues throughout the United States and Canada; by 2015 that number had fallen to 594.

But Jews, and their religious institutions, should not feel singled out. The share of Americans who belong to the Catholic Church has declined from 24 percent in 2007 to 21 percent in 2014, a more rapid decline according to Pew, then any other religious organization in memory. There are 6.5 former Catholics in the U.S. for every new convert to the faith, not a number suggesting a very sunny future. Read more

Where Millennials Really Go For Jobs

This article first appeared on City Journal.

Contrary to media hype, tech firms and young workers aren’t flocking to “superstar” cities.

When Amazon decided to locate its second headquarters in New York, it cited the supposed advantages of the city’s talent base. Now that progressive politicians have chased Amazon out of town, the tech booster chorus has been working overtime to prove that Gotham, and other big, dense, expensive cities, are destined to become “tech towns” anyway, because of their young, motivated labor pools. That argument may sound great to New York Times readers or on local talk shows, but it is increasingly untrue. Read more

Twilight of the Oligarchs?

Amazon’s decision to abandon New York City—leaving a $3 billion goodie bag of incentives on the table—represents a break in the progressive alliance between an increasingly radicalized Left and the new technocratic elite. Read more

Technological Progress and the Global Sex Recession

We may live amidst what seems a libidinous culture, but oddly also an increasingly sexless time. Of course, the drop in early teen sex – and even more so, teen pregnancies – represents positive developments, but when lack of social interaction leads to celibacy in the twenties, thirties and beyond, the implications are less than wholesome.

The Atlantic recently described a “sex recession” in the United States and most western countries, with fewer people dating and even those in relationships getting intimate less often than in the past, while fewer enjoy regular bonds of any kind. Even ogling seems out of fashion, as the decline of Hooters suggests. The family may have been stressed by the “sexual revolution,” but the “sex recession” could ultimately erode the very existence of familialism in our time.

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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.

Gentrification is Failing in Los Angeles

If Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti runs for president, he will no doubt point to the high-rises that have transformed downtown L.A. into something of a hipster haven. He could also point to fevered dense development, both planned and already in process, spreading across the Los Angeles basin, particularly near transit stops, as well as an increasingly notable art scene.

Yet for all the changes in the city, have things improved for most Angelenos? Sadly, the answer is no. For all the speculative capital pouring into the city from China and elsewhere, the L.A. area suffers the highest levels of crowding, the greatest levels of poverty, the least affordable housing, the lowest homeownership rates and the second-largest concentration of homeless in the nation.

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