In 2011, for the first time in more than 90 years, America’s largest cities registered higher population growth than their combined suburbs, according to William Frey, a leading demographer. The signs are this will continue. While the cities are gentrifying, many of America’s suburbs are heading downmarket. It is the invisible side of the same coin. Frey writes: “This puts the brakes on a longstanding staple of American life ”“ the pervasive suburbanisation of its population which began with widespread automobile use in the 1920s, to the present day, where more than half the US population lives in suburbs.”
Students of the “new urbanism”, such as Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, which argues that cities are the best Petri dishes for new ideas and innovation, say their revival is assisted by a generational shift in US culture as well as deeper economic trends. Florida, who now lives in Toronto, just 250 miles north of Detroit (but still a million miles in terms of its vibrancy), grew up in suburban New Jersey in a second-generation Italian-American family. Like so many other immigrants, his parents fled the claustrophobia of Newark for the freedom of the suburbs. “To them the city was a ghetto ”“ it was stifling and crowded and dangerous,” says Florida. “But to my generation, the suburbs represent a kind of poverty of living and it is the cities, rather than the suburbs, where you can breathe freely.”
In despair over City Hall’s standard revival package ”“ often little more than tax breaks for new sports stadiums and Vegas casinos ”“ the new urbanists believe the only worthwhile goal is to attract talent. Good jobs will follow. As Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, told the FT last year: “Talent attracts capital, not the other way round.”
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