Reasons for Urbanism and Its Future

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a proponent of government and business investment in urban cores as a strategy for healthy regional growth and economic recovery.  Obviously, the best kind of investment is private because it is sustainable and not politically-charged.  But because of past government policies (Interstate Highway Act, freezing of gas taxes at 1980s levels, incentives to purchase newly constructed homes, etc.) that have steered investments away from urban areas, private companies have generally has not had enough advantages to investing in center cities until recently (when governments began incentivizing this type of development).  This is not to say that private businesses have not also engaged in practices that have stacked the deck against urban areas (redlining, check cashing stores, etc.), but government policies generally set the tone for where businesses choose to invest.

In my opinion, there are several very good reasons to invest in urban areas as opposed to suburban and rural areas.  First, urban areas have an inherent efficiency about them.  These are places where people can live and work, with a greater ability to utilize forms of transportation other than automobiles.  This cuts down on energy usage (less need for foreign energy supplies, less impacts on environment), provides an infrastructure for increased physical activity for its residents (less obesity and hypertension, saving billions of dollars per year in health costs), and provides a built-in customer base and demand for businesses.  Second, developing on the fringes of metropolitan areas not only requires the construction of new sewage, roads, and other infrastructure, but it also eats up farmland, a rapidly-disappearing resource that can provide less energy-intensive local food that is quite a bit healthier than most of the junk we ship all over the country.  Plus, the further away from the urban centers family farmers are, the less likely they are to survive as farmers since they have little chance to developing direct relationships with consumers who will pay them fairer wages for their produce than large conglomerates or the government will.  Ironically, the ultimate survival of the small farm largely depends on the survival of urban centers.

Third, the less the market invests in urban cores, the worse they will get.  Many suburbanites think that this is a zero-sum game in which things will be better if we just abandon the cities.  Of course, this is ridiculous and extremely short-sighted.  The worse urban areas get, the worse the suburbs will eventually get.  Those that can afford to move out of the cores will move to the inner suburbs, which will cause those that can afford to leave the inner suburbs to go to the outer suburbs, and so on.  Pretty soon, no one wants to live in the region because the problems of the inner city has spread outward.  By the way, this is not a liberal, hair-brained theory.  Point me to a decaying city, and I’ll show you its decaying suburbs.  On the other hand, point me to a thriving city, and I’ll show you its healthy suburbs.  In other words, if you like living in the suburbs, you should do yourself a favor and support urban businesses and vote for government that will encourage urban investment.

Which brings me to my idea for a series of blogs that I hope will be informative to all (three?  four?) of you readers.  Since this is my main interest and may be of interest to some of you, and since I am not confident that President Obama (also an urbanist, though fleetingly) will be re-elected in 2012, I thought I would do a little research into the potential Republican (and Independent, if they come out of the woodwork) presidential candidates regarding their records on voting and speaking for or against investing in cities.  I’ll look at their votes on investment in public transportation, stances toward Smart Growth policies, and attitudes about urban areas in general.  I probably won’t do this in consecutive posts, but hope to have documented a large amount of information about each potential candidate before the primaries occur.  I may even do the same for local andUtahstate candidates of all parties.  The goal is to gather enough information over time to give people an idea which candidates have the potential to continue the recent urban investment gains, which candidates would complete destroy the cities (and the suburbs), and which ones it doesn’t matter for because they have no chance in hell of being elected.

So, look for these in future posts.  However, don’t expect anything on Donald Trump or Sarah Palin.  I refuse to waste any more web space giving them exactly what they want: self-absorption-feeding attention.  They are not serious candidates and, therefore, will not get one more word of my serious analysis.

5 thoughts on “Reasons for Urbanism and Its Future

  1. Yes, I’m one of the “three or four” followers of yours, of course. I wouldn’t miss it. I will look forward to your future posts on the candidates running for Presidency. But, what? No reports on “the Donald” or Ms. Palin? Aaww! You’re no fun!!!

  2. Mrs. Champlin is right. Don’t ” just say no Joe ” just because they may be a non-significant. Is that a word? “Well it is in Alaska Joe, just come on up and we’ll show ya!” “In fact, if you yell it loud enough the Ruskies can hear you. We have our eye on them.”
    And the Donald, well, in todays WSJ, NBC news poll showed him tied with Huck and only 4 points behind Mitt. CNN was very kind, and FOX not so.
    So who ya gonna believe Joe? Or do polls give any clues at all, only shape or form opinions and give fodder to the networks?
    There is one good reason that I would vote for the Big D. and that’s to get him in there so that he could gather a bunch of our Senators, Congresman,and Representatives around a great big table and tell them all……….I can’t say it.

    1. Sorry Champlins… I know Mr. Bigheaded is polling well right now, but it’s early and he really has no chance. I don’t even think he’ll run when it comes down to it, and Tina Fey look-alike won’t run either. They would both stand to lose a lot of money by doing so, and money is really all they want. If I had to, I’d vote Palin over Trump because at least she has some governmental experience. But that is a ridiculous choice that I hope I never have to make.

  3. Hey Ryan,

    Gentrification is the word that comes to mind when I think of investing in urban cores, and with gentrification comes the displacement of lower income people. As you advocate for urbanism how do you deal with this tension, i.e., developing the urban core without marginalizing folks who currently live there?

    1. Wes, thanks for your comment. Gentrification is a complicated issue when it comes to urban reinvestment. On the one hand, you want to make sure that people of higher incomes want to live downtown, but you also want to make sure that people of lower-incomes aren’t pushed out. In reality, there is a certain amount of that pushing out that will happen. It is sad, but it is the consequence of the “White flight” that has happened over the past 50 years. The wealthy were encouraged to move outward, which pushed the lower-income inward. To reintegrate, some have to be pushed out.
      I hate the greater good argument because it can really be taken too far, but if the planning is done right, it can be done with the fewest displacements possible. Eventually, the goal is for people of all income levels to be living in all areas. It relieves crime, boosts school districts, lowers taxes, and actually stimulates the economy and provides rising wages to lower-income people. At risk of sounding like a soulless jerk, I’m for gentrification if done as sparingly as possible and done intelligently.
      Some programs, such as HOPE VI and Choice Communities have tried to do this without any displacement and have met with some but limited success. It’s a good goal, but the mix of incomes is desperately needed if the effort is to succeed in the short and long-term.
      Great question. Keep them coming.

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