The Metropolitan Revolution

The Metropolitan Revolution has come out at the same time as The End of the Suburbs, Walkable City, and Cities are Good For You. We’re in a season where I bet we’ll see a lot of books on this topic, where a city-loving philosopher will try to convince us of what we’ve already accepted; city-living is great for your health.

There used to be three kinds of community in the USA, and they were as follows; the city, the small town, and the farm. The town of Macomb, Alabama (from To Kill a Mockingbird) is a good example; the center of town has all the stores and the courthouse, and the houses radiate from it, followed by the farms. As for cities, we had the center of town, surrounded by the residential area. But there were no suburbs in the 1930’s, because people didn’t all own cars, and banks weren’t giving loans en masse. What’s the use of building a bedroom community if there’s no money to buy the houses and no way to get there?

Today it’s the reverse. The suburbs are there, but nobody wants to live there. In The End of the Suburbs the author blames it on four things; delayed marriage, less desire for cars, higher gas prices, and inability to get a mortgage. But if this is true, why are New York, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco doing so well while others, like Youngstown, are not? The answer is both in the economics and the city’s government. The Metropolitan Revolution blames Youngstown’s trouble on “elites” who used to run them. When the “elites” left, no strong leader came in to fill the vacuum, and the cities were left politically fractured. The various districts or wards can’t agree on what to do.

The only light at the end of the tunnel appears to be non-profits and tech entrepreneurs. Dallas has lot of non-profit health clinics and daycare (so far so good) while in Detroit, farmers are taking over empty land. Ohio’s “Rust Belt” towns have technology startups moving into empty buildings. It’s ironic, given that a lot of empty suburbs were once built around technology; the IBM plant in New York State used to be an anchor business, and the GE plant on Pittsfield provided employment for the community. When the plants closed, the communities got lousy. As for Detroit, it’s been going on for over 20 years.

In Walkable City, the author cites Atlanta as a city in need of bikes (another urban issue.) It has terrible health, terrible car fumes, and every obesity-related disease in America. There are massive eight-lane roads lined with low-income apartments, but with no sidewalks, and a two-mile distance between traffic lights. Now how do you expect people to live when they can’t walk to the store? The answer is simple; reduce the road by one lane, replace it with a sidewalk and bike lane, and put in more traffic lights. But that’s not going to happen until the city’s “bosses” get their act together.

As the authors make clear, fractured cities don’t get much done.

Perhaps Atlanta will become the next city to reduce car traffic?

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