Learning from Sprawl

Learning from Sprawl from P+W Cities+Sites on Vimeo.


This is an interesting video. It is thought provoking. Its weaknesses are that it describes cities without very often investigating what the Rural South, Midwest and Far West were like in America. It is told from the viewpoint of a person who thinks that cities defined the United States. But we have had a rural and agrarian economy for many years. It was this difference that led to the notion of the city and country mice who had very different views of life.

Cities are inefficient for all the reasons that this video says they are vital. Being able to walk everywhere is still possible far outside the city. Most western suburbs allow just that. And our busiest roadways are no more daunting than some of those inside the city limits of Chicago.

Americans have always been used to traveling far distances. We have made railroads the means to get goods from one place to another without having to live near the source of its production. But of far greater importance today is that crime and violence have become the very hallmarks of urban living. This is not sustainable.

Living vertically is no substitute for horizontal living. It is why we travel great distances to visit our National Parks. There you can get a feel for the Earth that is not possible in a city. Cities are where rude and unmanageable people and conditions reside. We know this instinctively without our very cores. When we think about raising children we do not think about asphalt and concrete as their habitats. We think instead about clean air, wild life within easy distances and sunshine.

Cities are the result of the concentrations of refinement. For that reason they contain great restaurants, shopping locations and places to visit that are indoors. But these things are generally not available to the less fortunate, many of whom live their entire lives in the shadow of wealth and never mingle with those who possess it.

When Memorial Day or the Fourth of July roll around it is the home town and its quaintness that draw you. Having to wade knee deep in human excrement and beer bottles to see a few drunks parade down Michigan Avenue or State Street or worse yet to have them standing over your shoulder at barricades is not my idea of how good life can be.

I would far rather live where my bicycle could be kept outside if desired than where everything including me has to be chained down to keep it safe. How on earth do people live in those conditions and call themselves happy? How does done manage to remain sane when hearing gunfire along your street while giving an interview to a newspaper reporter?

Many A Southerner Has Returned Home

When the great migration of African-Americans occurred to the North people came in search of work. But what has happened since is evidence that cities are far too large to be run efficiently. They have in essence become police states. People in cities do not trust one another. And they certainly do not know one another, much beyond the blocks they live on.

You can attempt to romanticize city living (as I believe this video attempts to do) but the facts are there to be plainly seen. Were it not for the run-down conditions that people have encountered much of the real estate in cities would never be affordable. So in essence those who have come to cities are not there due to the squalid conditions other left behind.

City dwellers are adamant about the need to renovate their surroundings. They want their streets narrowed and their public transportation extended and their children to have schools worth attending. But no longer is America the place that can afford the kinds of financial assistance to great cities that it once was able to provide.

Suburbs are where hospitals and schools and corporations are relocating as fast as they can. The wealth of America is largely concentrated in two places. In the city is resides in the penthouses and exclusive neighborhoods where few can travel. The rest is situated in a far more egalitarian way in the suburbs and rural areas.

Suburbs are generally places where the concentration of wealth is not so stark as it is in cities. Social agencies and fire and police departments are seldom facing the kind of daunting misery and hopelessness as are seen in cities.

Young African-American families  today are often seeking places in Kentucky, Tennessee or other Southern States where the pace of life is gentler and less frantic. The days of believing that you could always find assistance when living in poverty are long gone. Cities have struggled to keep up appearances and are turning to gimmicks like trolley cars to restore a quaint appearance to their inner cities. But that will not last for very long.

The tide has turned and people not only want to eat organic foods, they want the land mass behind their homes to be places where that is possible. They want parks where you can go to have a picnic and not duck bullets or worry about rapists interfering with your daily jog. City life has shown itself to be sad enough that all of the mass transit in the world will not overcome your aversion to riding in a bus or train where feces are on the seat.

Life should never have gotten this far out of focus. But it has. No video can sanitize the reality and still be considered rational.

Additional Observations

Between 2000 and 2010 nearly 12,000 children plus their parents left the City of Atlanta, a loss of almost 12.5% of the under 18 population. In Midtown Atlanta and Downtown Atlanta the rate was double with nearly 25% of residents under the age of 18 leaving. Meanwhile, from 2000 to 2012 the number of college graduates between 25 and 34 increased by only 3%, besting only Cleveland and Detroit of the 51 largest metros. This created interesting conversation in blogs, the local newspaper, and other interested parties in Atlanta. In an age where young professionals are flocking to our cities, nearly every major metropolitan region outperformed Atlanta. The response? Questions were raised on livability, transportation, and amenities. And now the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) is forming a task force, a Millennial Advisory committee. Atlanta’s response to losing nearly 25% of its children? Not a thing.

What response can you have when the majority of big cities in this country have a population disproportionately skewed towards the lower end of the economic spectrum? It would not surprise me one whit to learn that cities like Atlanta and Chicago quietly thanked the Good Lord that yet another drain on their economy had been averted.

Urban America is essentially an economic albatross around the necks of the more affluent suburbs that surround them. Money from the Federal Government for education often gets siphoned off to pay for failing schools when it could keep suburban districts with more promising populations afloat.

You hate to sound harsh about all of this but frankly, schools and infrastructure are the sinkholes of economic growth that most accurately represent the failures of large cities. They are failing at educating their students, they have top heavy administrative departments and schools badly in need of repair. The day of the ‘money sponge‘ is over. Municipalities are going to have to sink or swim on the strength of their own ability to pay into their local coffers. Big Brother is broke.