Where Are You Going To Live?-Joel Kotkin: ‘The Triumph Of Suburbia’

Full piece here.

Perhaps, as Charles Murray noted in Coming Apart, we can’t go back to 1963, nor should we invest too heavily in the nostalgia that compels us to do so.


‘Today’s suburban families, it should be stressed, are hardly replicas of 1950s normality; as Stephanie Coontz has noted, that period was itself an anomaly.’

Perhaps, at least economically we can’t return to 1950’s or 60’s America.  However, there has been a rise of the Crunchy Cons, and a return-to-roots conservatism lately.  The glue of tradition and custom that can hold small-town life together is enjoying a bit of a revival.  This might include churches, civic clubs and a concept of home and place as a response to other forces at work in our society.

Good money is still on the suburbs.

Kotkin again:

‘So, rather than the “back to the cities” movement that’s been heralded for decades but never arrived, we’ve gone “back to the future,” as people age and arrive in America and opt for updated versions of the same lifestyle that have drawn previous generations to the much detested yet still-thriving peripheries of the metropolis.’

Why do people move to the suburbs?

In my experience, it’s because they want the best for their children, and the most bang for their buck in quality of schools, life, property taxes, safety and community.  Cities generally have higher crime rates, higher costs of living, corrupt politics and aren’t usually the best places to raise children. Many parents also seek the kinds of ‘community’ (the non-collectivist models) to be found outside of urban cores.   They want a safe street for their kids to play on.


Urbanists love to hate Joel Kotkin as he has offered them much in the way of criticism.  At the New Urbanist website, I found the following quote:

“Only when humans are again permitted to build authentic urbanism — those cities, towns, and villages that nurture us by their comforts and delights — will we cease the despoiling of Nature by escaping to sprawl.”

Notice the kind of ‘community’ here is of the collectivist variety, vaguely in harmony with a conception of nature.  It also contains troubled relations betweeen the individual and the collective.

Bob Zubrin pointed out the problems of environmentalism, and the authoritarian impulses behind many environmentalist goals and methods, which I’ve applied to the urbanists in parentheses below:

1.  There isn’t enough to go around (suburbs waste resources like gas, electricity, and materials in addition to lost productivity and time)

2Human nature needs to be constrained as a result (Trains, buses and bikes are the preferred method of transportation instead of cars…while apartments, co-ops and living units instead of houses in the suburbs are the places to live)

3Someone needs to be in charge (Someone like Bloomberg, or a similarly paternalistic leaders are ok as long as they line up with the message and enforce the right laws from the top down)

4We volunteer ourselves for the job (Someone’s got to build a vision of the future, and the vision of the artist or architect, or city planners for example, may be enough for the rest of us to live in much like occurs in modernist architecture).

If you’ve been following current cultural trends, there’s been some native New Yorker pushback against the hipsters in Williamsburg.  These urban dwellers often arrive from the suburbs, moving to urban centers in search of identity, group meaning, and membership with a kind of collectivist, artistic, modernist to postmodernist impulse that lines up with urbanism.   They are changing our culture in many ways.


I know I keep posting Roger Scruton here, the conservative, fox-hunting Briton.  In this case, he’s thought a lot about environmentalism in Great Britain.  Regardless of where you fall on climate change, (I maintain a garden of doubt and skepticism), he’s at least tried to get the motives and methods of the environmentalists back to being responsive to actual people making their own decisions about the problems the climate may pose.  In other words, he’s addressing the collectivist and authoritiarian impulses which seek top-down solutions on the way to utopia or some unreachable ideal.

In the interview below with Steve Hayward, he’s discussing the difference between European and American cities, and our conception of nature and space, along with his new book.

Food for thought.

Addition:  Of course we need economic growth, and jobs.

Related On This Site:  Why Do People Move To Cities? From Falkenblog: ‘The Perennial Urban Allure’

Walter Russell Mead takes a look at the blue model (the old progressive model) from the ground up in NYC to argue that it’s simply not working.  Check out his series at The American Interest.  Technology is changing things rapidly, and maybe, as Charles Murray points out, it’s skewing the field toward high IQ positions while simultaneously getting rid of industrial, managerial, clerical, labor intensive office jobs.  Even so,  we can’t cling to the past.  This is quite a progressive vision but one that embraces change boldly.  Repost-Via Youtube: Conversations With History – Walter Russell Mead

The Hoover Institution Via Youtube: Charles Murray On ‘Coming Apart’

Once you take apart the old structure, you have to criticize the meritocracy you’ve helped create: David Brooks At The NY Times: ‘Why Our Elites Stink’

Monday Quotation From Charles Kesler And A Few Thoughts on Conservatism

Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar ManFrom Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

Joel Kotkin Via Youtube: ‘Illinois Is In A Competition’

2 thoughts on “Where Are You Going To Live?-Joel Kotkin: ‘The Triumph Of Suburbia’

  1. Thanks for the video clip, quite interesting. I spent a week in your beautiful city back in 2003. It was August and the weather was perfect.

  2. Thanks for stopping by.

    That’s the time to do it, from around July 4th to September 20th or so, it’s about 70-80 or so and sunny.

    Great weather, and everyone goes nuts and gets outside.

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