Ed Driscoll

My City Was Gone

Andrew Ferguson writes that “in the great struggle between cities and suburbs, raging now for a century or more, the verdict is finally in: Cities lost. The vast majority of people prefer the “burbs.” The long-predicted comeback of the traditional city isn’t in the cards”:

There are lots of obvious reasons for the cities’ decline — the decentralizing effects of telecommunications, the loss of manufacturing jobs, the inconveniences of public transit — but Kotkin is more appalled by the steps urban planners take in hopes of reversing the decline.

“They think they can revive their cities if they make them `hip and cool,”’ he says, referring to the street festivals, cafes, arts fairs, high-end boutiques and other yuppie delights that attract the young and single, the childless and rich.

“But that’s not how cities last,” he says. “You can’t build a long-term civic culture around transient populations.”

What any healthy city requires is a stable base of middle- class families. But the conditions necessary for attracting and keeping families are precisely what city planners ignore.

“They’ve forgotten the basics,” Kotkin says. “Are the schools good? Are the streets clean and safe? It’s a lot easier to satisfy the yuppies with no kids than to fix the schools.”

And so city life, once the backbone of civilized social arrangements, devolves into just another “niche lifestyle.”

Back in the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan once quipped that New York City would eventually become a shopping and Disneyland-style destination. That’s already started to happen–and in San Jose, which is far more suburban sprawl that downtown city, there’s already one outdoor shopping mall that simulates a few blocks of urban streets–but with 7/8ths less homeless people and drugs.

Much as I love Manhattan, I’d much rather get my dose of city living in small controlled doses, than live in an environment like that all the time.