The war on suburbs? Huh?


Joel Kotkin, the author and urban scholar, was on KQED's Forum this morning talking about what he called "the war on the suburbs." He's got a new book out, called The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, and he's arguing, among other things, that the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts signals that the Democratic Party and progressives in America have lost touch with the suburbs and are being mean to the poor suburbanites.

He talked, for example, about Tracy, California, and noted that a suburbanite living in Tracy doesn't want to pay taxes because he doesn't see what he's getting for his money. Kotkin sugggestes that the state ought to go back to the Pat Brown era, and focus on spending money on infrastructure, instead of on "state employee pensions."

Never mind that when Pat Brown was governor, the population of California was less than half what it is today -- and the state was far less diverse, had far fewer immigrants, far fewer residents whose primary language is not English and, frankly, was a lot more tolerant of poverty.

That was also before the passage of Prop. 13, so the state didn't have to spend money on schools and local government; local property taxes covered those things.

In fact, I think what's going on is just the opposite of what Kotkin is talking about. (He, by the way, says that suburbs are going to be more and more sustainable as more jobs relocate and we start using natural gas in our cars.) I realize that suburban voters can easily shift to the Republican party if the Democrats aren't careful, but I also think that what's happening in the United States today is not a war on suburbs but a war on cities.

The state and federal governments have systematically defunded urban America for more than 30 years now, and we're paying the price. The hypothetical suburbanite in Tracy may think he's not getting his money's worth, but the truth is just the opposite; the suburbs -- typically, not always but typically -- have better-funded schools, better maintained streets, better sewage systems, less crime ... and less of an income gap among residents.

Cities are, and will remain, America's future, and we ignore that at our peril.  



Cities are, and will remain, America's future ...

This premise is false. The web allows people to live thousands of miles away from where they work. The best educated people will be drawn to places that are affordable, yet still offer culture and variety. That could be a city, but could also be suburb or smaller city.

Posted by Scott on Feb. 19, 2010 @ 1:05 pm

I don't think technology is going to change the fact that people want to live near other people -- that the cultural crossroads of the world will continue to be cities. That's been the case for more than 2000 years, and I don't see the Internet changing it.


Posted by tim on Feb. 19, 2010 @ 2:49 pm

The affordability of suburbs is related to the affordability of energy. Gas goes up too much and places where you have to drive become expensive.

Posted by Guest antfaber on Feb. 19, 2010 @ 6:34 pm

Don't let Kotkin frame the debate, Tim. The suburbs SHOULD be attacked. They are environmentally destructive merely by existing (destruction of natural land and habitat, consumption and burning of mass amounts of fossil fuels just to exist, etc.) and were started as white flight out of cities due to racism. I'd love to see gasoline cost $10 or $15/gallon, that would change the suburban lifestyle really quickly.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

Well said.

Posted by Zorg on Jan. 07, 2011 @ 3:08 pm

listening to kotkin spew misinformation on kqed without being challenged made me want to bang my head against the wall.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2010 @ 4:24 pm

NPR is corporate propaganda, just more sophisticated than corporate-owned media. NPR is propaganda for educated people. Issues are rarely presented in an even handed manner, which would be fine if NPR held itself out as what it actually is. (KPFA, for example, does not pretend to be even-handed, and presents the left's view of the news.) If NPR were legitimate, it would either present all sides of stories, from the psychotic Tea Baggers to the Communists to the most radical Earth First!ers, or it would hold itself out as an alternative to the corporate media that truly gives you the rest of the stories that the corporate media censors or ignores. Instead, what we get from "public" radio and TV is the same war mongering, pro-corporate BS that we get from directly owned corporate media. I stopped listening to KQED

Posted by Jeff Hoffman on Feb. 21, 2010 @ 10:06 am

Stepping outside of the bubble of San Francisco is seems clear to me that kotkin's ideas are closer to the future than any I have read above.

As he states, even cities that would be the choice of those who like urban living like San Francisco often don't allow growth, people will switch to new fuel sources and highly efficient cars if need be way before they radically change land use, public transit is a massive failure outside of the older dense urban areas.

How can San Francisco be the future when it is so elitist and exclusive? Minorities, like their predecessors will choose the burbs over decaying cities like Cleveland. San Francisco and a few others will continue down its path as a place for some rich. Some lifestyle people and some immigrant servants and some high income services.

It’s so clear. I am not putting a value judgment one way or another. I would love to live in the San Francisco of my parents with my young family but it is increasingly impossible.

Posted by Zig on Feb. 22, 2010 @ 9:26 am

a few comments -

I'm not certain if Kotkin has ever said Cal. or anyone else should go back to the past. He has written that the spending priorities of the current Californian govt are less wise than those made during the time of the elder Brown.

Redmond replies as such: "Never mind that when Pat Brown was governor, the population of California was less than half what it is today...", then goes on to state that the state was more tolerant of poverty and there was more intolerence of minorities...

I'm uncertain as to what this has to do with the argument made. Pat Brown, at least, was strongly against racial discrimination. How does the state's present `intolerance' of poverty count against instructure spending. How does the level of population?

It is a complete non-sequitor.

Someone, the author or a commenter, stated that `suburbs' "are environmentally destructive merely by existing (destruction of natural land and habitat, consumption and burning of mass amounts of fossil fuels just to exist, etc.)"

First, `suburbs' are of course cities. At one time, the residential areas of San Fran or any other city were once suburbs; when the city grew more suburbs, they became part of the city proper.

And cities, had to be founded at some point. Thus SF, LA, NYC or Toronto, were `destructive of land and habitat, and the consumption and burning of fuels', just by the very fact that they were founded in the first...

Last point: Kotkin has argued that core cities, as opposed to the `peripheral' parts of metro areas, are far more environmentally destructive than are suburbs: they use more energy, more fuel fossils, produce more effluents, than any peripheral urban areas of comparable population.

But how can you fight Malvina: `ticky-boxes, tacky-boxes, where people think all the same...'

This is what hatred of the suburbs is all about: they are no sufficiently `cool' enough.

Posted by R.B. Glennie on Feb. 22, 2010 @ 12:14 pm

Just because someone makes a statement doesn't make it worthy of debate. Should I debate the mental guy that lives under the bridge near my office each time he calls me a mother eff'er as I walk by? No, he's nuts and debating him how I'm not a mother eff'er is as crazy as he is.

City vs. suburb is a stupid argument. You're arguing about phases of development and not a development method. Suburbs eventually die off or become cities. Cities like Oakland, SF and SJ were just first.

The a real issue is planning. Let's debate the state of urban planning in the US -cause it needs us!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 22, 2010 @ 3:35 pm

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