Pierce's column is particularly thought provoking this week. I was asked to post it:
"BACK TO THE CITY" -- IS THIS THE MOMENT? August 24, 2008
by Neal Pierce
City or suburb? For decades that's been the choice for most Americans. Suburbs have been the hands-down winners -- by the millions, we've rushed to the urban edge.
But could we be on the cusp of an historic "back to the city" shift? The case is building.
Alan Ehrenhalt, executive editor of Governing magazine, says we're in the midst of a "demographic inversion."
Check such cities as Atlanta and Washington, he suggests -- they're beginning to resemble historic Vienna or Paris, the centuries-old pattern in which the people of means chose to live near the vital city centers, while the poor were left to live in the less expensive outskirts.
Atlanta, for example, is seeing so many better-off whites move in that its decades-old status as a predominantly black and low-income city may soon be reversed. Conversely, suburban Clayton and DeKalb counties are already registering black majorities while simultaneously serving as immigrant gateways.
A parallel switch has been under way in Washington, D.C., for several years as young professionals have poured into neighborhoods such as the 14th and U Street corridors that were an epicenter of the 1968 riots. Chicago has registered sensational gains in downtown living. The same phenomenon is being registered continentwide -- strong on the West Coast, even cropping up in such Sun Belt cities as Charlotte and Houston.
Why this shift, now? Industries, with their smokestacks, noise and pollutants, have largely disappeared from city centers. Random urban street violence, the scourge of urban life in the 1970s and '80s, has subsided dramatically.
And, writes Ehrenhalt in a recent New Republic article, today's youth, bored by the cul-de-sac world they grew up in, are the cutting edge of the new population move: "It is striking how pervasive the pro-city sensibility is within this generation, particularly among its elite."
The cities' revival is even broader -- not just young singles and married couples but "mingles" (unmarried and gay couples) and "jingles" (ex-suburban empty-nesters), notes William Hudnut, former Indianapolis mayor and Urban Land Institute senior fellow.
There's a big cautionary note here -- we're not about to witness abandonment of the suburbs, or rapid movement back to all our city cores. "But we are living," Ehrenhalt notes, "at a moment in which the massive outward migration of the affluent that characterized the second half of the 20th century is coming to an end."
So what are the affluent and their middle-class friends seeking? "Walkable urbanism" -- places with convenient
Read the rest of the column here.