A vitally needed new concept on what makes a great urban area in a time in America when the leading urban areas—San Francisco, New York & Boston—are virtually unlivable for any but the wealthy; is reported on in this story from New Geography.
Over the past decade, we have witnessed the emergence of a new urban paradigm that both maximizes growth and provides greater upward mobility. We call this opportunity urbanism, an approach that focuses largely on providing the best policy environment for both businesses and individuals to pursue their aspirations.
Although contrary to much of the conventional wisdom about cities and regions, this is not a break with traditional urbanism, but instead a reinforcement of old traditions. Long ago, Aristotle reminded us that the city was a place where people came to live, and they remained there in order to live better. “A city comes into being for the sake of life, but exists for the sake of living well.” In the end, opportunity urbanism rests on the notion that cities serve, first and foremost, as engines to create better lives for its residents.
The Houston and Luxury Models
We have focused on the Houston metropolitan area because in many ways it reflects the idea of opportunity urbanism more closely than any major metropolitan area. Across a broad spectrum—income growth, new jobs, housing starts, population growth and migration—no other major metropolitan region in the country has performed as well over the past decade. This was among the first major metropolitan regions to replace the jobs lost in the recession, and has experienced by far the largest percentage job growth since, with Dallas-Ft. Worth second.
In many ways, opportunity urbanism contrasts with the prevailing urban planning paradigm—variously called new urbanism or smart growth—which seeks to replicate the dense, highly concentrated mono-centric city of the past. At the core of this approach is the notion that policies of forced density, through regulatory mandates and often subsidies, are critical to attracting both young, educated people and the global business elite.4 This approach describes the successful city, in the words of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as “a luxury product.”
This notion of the “luxury city” can be seen to have worked, at least for some, in well-appointed older cities such as New York, San Francisco and Boston. Unlike most American cities, these boast long-established dense cores and transit-oriented commuter sheds. They possess great amenities tied to their past, from world class art museums and universities, to charming historic districts, parks and public structures.
But this model of urbanism does not fit the profile of most American metropolitan regions, which tend to be far more recent in their development, more dispersed and overwhelmingly auto-dominated in terms of commuting. Indeed, most of the fastest growing regions in this country—Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Oklahoma City or Atlanta—function in a highly multi-polar model, that contrasts sharply with that of cities like New York, Boston or Chicago.
Prospects for Upward Mobility
The luxury paradigm has worked for some in some cities, but has failed, to a large extent, in providing ample opportunities for the middle and working classes, much less the poor. Indeed, many of the cities most closely identified with luxury urbanism tend to suffer the most extreme disparities of both class and race.
If Manhattan were a country, it would rank sixth highest in income inequality in the world out of more than 130 countries for which the World Bank reports data. New York’s wealthiest one percent earn a third of the entire municipality’s personal income-almost twice the proportion for the rest of the country.
Indeed, increasingly, New York, as well as San Francisco, London, Paris and other cities where cost of living has skyrocketed—are no longer places of opportunity for those who lack financial resources. Instead they thrive largely by attracting people who are already successful or living on inherited largesse.
They are becoming, as journalist Simon Kuper puts it, “the vast gated communities where the one percent reproduces itself.”
Retrieved October 11, 2014 from http://www.newgeography.com/content/004562-opportunity-urbanism-creating-cities-upward-mobility