Posted by on Aug 12, 2008 in Palaver |

Intriguing piece by Alan Ehrenhalt in which he explores the ongoing gentrification of cities and argues that it’s more complex than most realize, hence the tag “demographic inversion.” The idea, of course, is that the relatively wealthy (and those who, while not wealthy, are the present and future elite, especially young professionals) are moving back into center cities, pushing the poor, and notably recent immigrants, out to the suburbs. Couple of cool factoids:

  • “Before September 11, 2001,” Ehrenhalt writes, “the number of people living in Manhattan south of the World Trade Center was estimated at about 25,000. Today, it is approaching 50,000.
  • In Vancouver, a city on the leading edge of the trend, he writes that “there are nearly as many people commuting out of the center [city] to jobs in the suburbs as there are commuting in.”

Kudos to Ehrenhalt for a thoughtful and intellectually honest look at the phenomenon. But there are plenty of nits to pick, too:

  • He virtually ignores the Edge City phenomenon (so named by Joel Garreau in his terrific book) that has so changed commuting patterns (today, workers are more likely to live in one suburb and commute to another than to live in a suburb and commute to the city).
  • He presents a few eyebrow-poppers without providing any supporting evidence. One example is this blithe dismissal of rational fear of urban crime: “For the most part, middle-class people of all colors began to feel safe on the streets of urban America in the 1990s, and they still feel that way.” Wow. If research backs this statement, I’d like to see it.
  • He cites informal surveys of his college students who, when asked whether they’d prefer to live downtown or in a suburb in 15 years, overwhelmingly choose the former. Heck, how valid is that – what self-respecting college kid in any era would opt for a quarter-acre in Pleasantville?

Nits aside, it’s a thought-provoking read.