The war on suburbs? Huh?

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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.  

 

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