Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Different Measure of a City's Success

Petro gets all of this one and then some with the part about increasing cities' appeal to middle class families:
What if we didn’t measure the success of a city and its metropolitan region purely in terms of growth? Demographers use growth because it indicates an area’s attractiveness. But wouldn’t higher home prices, something that Kotkin condemns, also indicate an area’s attractiveness? New York and San Francisco are expensive because people want to live there. Austin and Houston are inexpensive because there is lots of undeveloped woodland available to pave over.

I agree that there is much that New York and San Francisco can do to increase its appeal to middle class families. New housing construction must accommodate families, meaning the construction of apartments with 2 and 3 bedrooms, not just studios. Housing costs should be much closer to the cost of construction. School performance must improve.

But I do not accept the assumption that cities should be more like the suburbs. Suburban style development, and its attendant parking lots and its wide roads filled with speeding traffic, kills the very elements that make urban neighborhoods livable and attractive. And I do not accept the assumption that cities should aspire to becoming playgrounds for the white picket fence crowd. While cities need to address their shortcomings, they also need to play up their strengths: dynamic and diverse neighborhoods; proximity to cultural institutions and magnificent parks; healthier, more active lifestyles; lively streetscapes; and the concentration of good jobs and skilled workers.

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