The Future of Cities Series: Conclusion

Over five millennia, cities have demonstrated their essential resiliency. They now are transforming to a pattern based on digital commuting.

The Future of Cities: Next Generation Suburbs

Next generation suburbs can be designed to preserve the environment, and advantage that urban core cities could never achieve.

Fred Siegel’s Legacy

Fred Siegel’s passing this weekend represented a huge loss not just for me personally but, more importantly, for all those concerned with the future of the United States, and particularly its cities. Fred was fearless, willing to take on conventional wisdom but always tethered to history in a way that is increasingly rare.

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The Future of Cities: Utah and Salt Lake City Policy Innovations in Homelessness, Poverty, and Healt …

The size of government matters, but so does the nature of what government does — and what people do about homelessness, poverty, and health.

What Really Divides America

For almost a decade, the West has been engaged in a deepening conflict. Sometimes it flares up as a political debate; sometimes as a culture war. But whatever form it takes, it is inevitably framed as a disagreement between classes, races or ideologies.

This is a mistake. Demography may be destiny, but it is geography that determines its political shape. The greatest division today is to do with place: in particular, three basic terroirs — urban, suburban and rural — which reflect a divergence in economic interest, family structure and basic values, particularly between big city economies and those on the periphery.

This fracture is widening at a time when the demographic balance between these regions is shifting. For much of the past two centuries, the overwhelming inclination was towards urbanisation, with dense cores serving as the prime engines of economic, cultural and social change. Today, however, that pattern is shifting, particularly since the pandemic, which saw two million citizens move out of big US cities. Even in urban-oriented Europe, 63% of cities experienced a population decline during the pandemic.

Does this mean “the era of urban supremacy is over”, as the New York Times put it? Quite possibly. But don’t expect the urban leadership to acknowledge it. Even as they desperately attempt (and largely fail) to lure workers back downtown, urban political interests continue to dominate the national conversation — even amid high levels of crime, street-level disorder and the resulting shuttering of businesses.

Largely ignored by the city-dominated media, the world’s urban core has been losing this battle for generations. This is not only evident in the United States, but also across Europe and Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, little more than 5% of growth from 1966 to 2021 was in the core cities. In Europe, barely 37% of people live in cities, with the rest in fast-growing suburbs, small towns and rural areas.

Of course, many cities have experienced some revival over the past decade, but that “boom” has largely benefited educated newcomers and their wealthy employers. Urban regions became both richer and poorer; according to Pew research, the greatest inequality in America now exists in “superstar cities”, such as San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and San Jose.

These shifts have, unsurprisingly, shaped urban politics. As middle-class families have left, the urban terroir has been gutted of the old urban bulwark of solid middle and working-class families; as Fred Siegel has observed, it is dominated by an “upstairs/downstairs” coalition of the affluent and dependent.

This demographic reality has driven a shift towards a more progressive politics. In 1984, for example, Ronald Reagan won 31% of the vote in San Francisco and 27.4% in Manhattan. In 2016, Donald Trump won only 10% of the vote in each. Between 1998 and 2018, urban counties — which sometimes includes suburbs — went from 55% to 62% Democratic. Today, there is not a single Republican Mayor of a city of more than one million people. Recent victories of progressives in Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, New York and Minneapolis, despite widespread social disorder and economic decline, suggest this pattern may well be inexorable.

Read the rest of this piece at UnHerd.

Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo: David Clow Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

The Future of Cities: A New Path for Black Urban Voters?

For decades, a large majority of black Americans have aligned with the Democratic Party, but the modern-day Democratic Party’s leftward shift may cause a reevaluation of that relationship. The welfare of black people has not been made better from their support of the Democratic Party.

The Future of Cities: False Dawn – The Future of Work and Cities After the Illusions of Globalizat …

The disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of remote work, and partial de-globalization have shattered neoliberal narratives about the future of work and cities. A consensus about what will replace it has yet to emerge.

Savior of the City of Angels

The death last week of former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan is a reminder of both how low the city’s political culture has sunk and how strong leaders can help turn around a seemingly hopeless situation.

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The Future of Cities: Housing Unaffordability – How We Got There and What To Do About It

Until 1970, owner-occupied housing was broadly affordable in the U.S.A., at a price-to-income ratio of 2.6. The higher ratios today are evidence that supply has not kept up with demand.

Things Are Different Downtown

We are entering a new urban epoch, with the potential to disrupt city life in ways not unlike that created in the shift from an industrial to what Jean Gottman described in 1983 as the “transactional city.” Based on finance, high-end business services and information technology, transactional cities were defined not by production and trade in physical goods, but by intangible products concocted in soaring office towers.

For years, academic researchers, both on the Left and Right, envisioned a high-tech economic future dominated by dense urban areas. Yet when viewed through the lens of migration and employment, London, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles have all been suffering relative declines for at least the last decade. The ultra-tall towers that once symbolized urban greatness are now as anachronistic as the Cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Office occupancy has been declining since the turn of the century, while construction of new space has also fallen. In 2019, before the pandemic, construction was one-third the rate of 1985 and half that of 2000.

More serious still has been the movement of people. Migration to dense cities, already a small share of all moves, started to decline as early as 2015.  But it accelerated during the pandemic. Dense centers — what historian William McNeil described as the “confluence of the civilized disease pools” — have historically suffered the worst during pandemics. Ancient Rome did, as did the great cities of the Renaissance, the Islamic Caliphate, and China. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the dense urban centers of today met the same fate, suffering generally the worst fatality rates.

Migration to dense cities, already a small share of all moves, started to decline as early as 2015. But it accelerated during the pandemic.

The pandemic clearly accelerated a devastating rise in crime and lawlessness, perhaps most notably in London, Paris, Washington, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Chicago. In some parts of Chicago and Philadelphia, young men now have a greater chance of being killed by firearms than the American soldiers who served during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Yet it is misleading to blame this on the pandemic alone. Indeed, despite the pre-COVID talk of people moving “back-to-the-city,” suburbs have accounted for about 90% of all metropolitan growth in the United States since 2010, gaining 2 million net domestic migrants, while the urban core counties lost 2.7 million. This process is likely to be impacted over the long term as more workers choose to work at home, at least two to three days a week. Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom has suggested that even after the pandemic, remote workers will constitute at least 20 percent of the workforce, more than three times the pre-pandemic rate.

All this accentuates a mounting crisis for urban governance. Even before the pandemic the transactional city had undermined the middle and working class as costs rose, schools deteriorated, and regulation flourished. Cities like New York, London, and Paris may continue to attract the ultra-rich who buy properties there, even if they live there only intermittently. But they are steadily losing the middle class.

Read the rest of this piece at The Ripon Forum.

Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Homepage photo: Sean Pollock, via Unsplash