‘So, why did most people want to move to the city? It seems like the same lure as today: freedom from a set life pattern and higher urban wages.’
Now if we focus on immigrants, economic opportunity and political stability tend to be the biggest draws. Immigrants are usually risking a lot to get here, and they’re usually getting away from something: dire poverty and political/religious oppression. Life is hard, and people tend to move in migratory patterns, following the trail left by friends and family, and in some cases, free stuff, if you hand it out to them.
For Americans moving from small towns to big cities, the reasons tend to also include education and ambition, wanderlust and love:
‘People moving to the city have been illogical risk takers from the beginning. and the key is probably they like the sexual or mating opportunities inherent in large groups. Playing to that angle would bring in hipsters and gays. As to whether that’s the key to the health of cities or our nation, I doubt it, but it won’t hurt, especially because one of the best ways of making a city fun to go out in is that it’s safe for young women.’
Richard Florida suggested this trend, of hipster and gay migration, attached to a ‘knowledge’ class, is the way forward for American cities. I suspect there is a pretty Left-Of-Center political philosophy under there with a lot of ‘class’ analysis and obsession with income inequality.
I’d been wondering about the cultural angle: The hipsters were a third round of generally youthful rebellion (post-beat, post-hippie), fueled by a counter-culture ethos heavily invested in the Arts, individualism to the point of semi-nihilism, and harboring some collectivist tendencies. There is a natural desire to break with the more traditional and religious models of organization typically found in small towns and rural areas, and also to follow the ‘Zeitgeist’ towards racial and ethnic diversity in meritocratic and multicultural harmony (coming with serious downsides).
The New York Times seems hyperbolically invested in this model (overlooking trade and economic opportunity as I believe Wall Street sets the pace, Park Slope and Williamsburg follow). This is to say nothing of the political corruption for which big cities like New York and Chicago are typically known. Big-city political machines were the way to a better life for most of those immigrant groups thrown into the pot, but they are also notoriously corrupt, full of clientalism and machine pols.
This leaves cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburg still floating out there, unable to live off the fat of trade and finance, immigration and cheap labor, museums and tourism. The lost industrial base, along with the lack of a strong knowledge-based economy leaves them with a brain-drain and difficult prospects.
Are energy, agriculture, low taxes and a strong private sector enough? What about the cultural shifts going on?
Interesting reads: Predictions are hard, especially about the future.
Virginia Postrel here:
‘As I have argued elsewhere, there are two competing models of successful American cities. One encourages a growing population, fosters a middle-class, family-centered lifestyle, and liberally permits new housing. It used to be the norm nationally, and it still predominates in the South and Southwest. The other favors long-term residents, attracts highly productive, work-driven people, focuses on aesthetic amenities, and makes it difficult to build. It prevails on the West Coast, in the Northeast and in picturesque cities such as Boulder, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The first model spurs income convergence, the second spurs economic segregation. Both create cities that people find desirable to live in, but they attract different sorts of residents.’
Joel Kotkin. Omaha vs. San Francisco?:
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
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’
Related On This Site: Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar Man…From 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’