New urbanist boosters — pointing to “the great inversion” — the myth that most Americans are moving back to cities from the suburbs, like to illustrate the supposed trend, that cities are growing faster than suburbia, and that the “creative class” are flocking to downtown condo high rises en mass.
Consider the latest piece by Richard Florida, writing in The Atlantic City Lab in an article titled “Where Cities Are Growing Faster Than Their Suburbs.” Florida begins the suburban hit piece with a fair question: “Where is growth happening in America: cities or suburbs?”
Florida concedes that for the last half century suburban growth has outpaced urban expansion. But over the last 10 years, he argues, a “great inversion” has transpired, referring to Alan Ehrenhalt’s 2012 book “The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City.”
To defend his thesis he cites data from other new urbanist preachers, including Brookings Institution demographer William H. Frey. Citing Frey’s analysis of Census data, Florida enlightens readers by stating that: “Frey found that 19 of the 51 largest metropolitan areas in the country saw their cities grow faster than their suburbs between 2012 and 2013.”
Did you get that?
Let’s do the math real quick.
If 19 of the 51 largest metropolitan areas saw urban grow, that means 37 percent, or about one third of largest cities grew faster than suburbs between 2012 and 2013. In other words, two thirds of suburbs — 63 percent — grew faster than the urban core. Now why wasn’t that the story?
One of the most prominent downtown debunkers — Joel Kotkin — believes that the back-to-the-city movement is a niche phenomenon confined to a small group of singles, childless couples, wealthy empty nesters and recent college graduates. To read Kotkin’s work go to his New Geography website. Consider “The Geography of Aging: Why Millennials are Headed to the Suburbs” or this article by Christopher Sellers “Suburban End Games.”
Richard Florida’s math just doesn’t add up. Rather than a trend toward new urbanism, the numbers Florida cites point to the opposite: a movement towards a new suburbanism. Granted, I understand new urbanist theory. This writer has stayed at Seaside, Florida, the Mecca of new urbanist planning. But communities like Seaside are for a select set of buyers. Homes there sell for more than $1,000,000. But most Americans aren’t millionaires; they can afford these gold-plated, beachfront communities. Therefore, the high-density planning theories they worship are destined to fail.
What are your thoughts?
Are Americans moving back to cities?
Are the suburbs the “next slum” of the future, as one urbanist predicted?
Write your comments below.