30 November 2007

Joel Kotkin Promotes Suburbs

A reader of this blog sent me a copy of Joel Kotkin's piece in the Wall Street Journal. I have read many articles and one full book by Mr. Kotkin and in my modest opinion, he has a way of seeing cities that is self-supporting and circular in thought. His thinking is overly simplistic in a libertarian sort of way. Specifically he against smart growth, new urbanism and the creative class mania. He really has nothing good to say about any cities, except sprawling new southern cities like Atlanta and Houston, which to him are like Gardens of Eden. He is very pro suburban sprawl, although many times, as for example in this article, he tries to disguise his pro-sprawl stance with words like "neighborhoods which surround center cities".

Only 14% of Center City residents have children, Mr. Levy says, and roughly half its young people depart once they enter their mid-30s. "If you want to sustain the revival you have to deal with the fact that people with six year olds keep moving to the suburbs," Mr. Levy suggests. "Empty nesters and singles are not enough."

Boosters such as Mr. Levy look increasing towards reviving the traditional family neighborhoods which surround Center City. His organization has worked closely with local public and private schools, church and civic organizations to build up the support structures that might convince today's youthful inner city urbanites to remain as they start families. "Our agenda," Mr. Levy says, "has to change. We have to look at the parks, the playgrounds and the schools."

I disagree with him on many of his fundamentals, but definitely agree with him that more attention needs to be paid to attracting families. He has spent much ink the past several years disparaging "cool cities" and Richard Florida in particular. But I really don't think Richard Florida was as anti-family as Kotkin portrays him.

Below is a response to Kotkin posted at the CEO for Cities blog that I thought was very good:

In his opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, The Rise of Family-Friendly Cities, Joel Kotkin sets up an either/or set of economic development and lifestyle choices that simply doesn't exist.

Where, exactly, does Kotkin think these married couples he extols come from?

Hint: The median age of first marriage among all U.S. women is now 26, older for college-educated women. A typical young women today spends at least five years after college, usually pursuing a career, before a first marriage. By the time she's in her late 20s or early 30s she -- and her partner--have typically put down roots in a particular metropolitan area.

The reason Raleigh and Charlotte score so well in gaining families is that they are the biggest gainers of younger, well-educated adults, particularly singles.
It is plainly a lot easier to hang on to the young adults who live in your city rather than recruiting them from other places. That's why cities should pay particular attention to young singles when they are at their most mobile and also build on their family friendliness as a way of retaining these talented and energetic people.

But does being family friendly require a fundamentally different set of urban attributes? Not really.

Schools certainly move up on the priority list. But in a national survey of college-educated 25 to 34 year-olds for CEOs for Cities, we found that the top five attributes they seek in cities are these: clean and attractive; opportunity to live the life I want to lead; safe; green; and availability of the type of housing I want at an affordable price. That sounds pretty family-friendly to me.

And does anyone really believe that one loses one's taste for latte when one starts pushing a stroller?

We can do a lot more to advance the discussion about the kind of community attributes that we all value ˜ singles and married couples alike ˜ without creating phony and divisive distinctions.

Family-friendly cities are not terribly different from other cities. Ask business and civic leaders around the nation what‚s driving their concern about whether their city appeals to young people, and they will first tell you they are needed for the labor force. But what really worries many of them hits much closer to home. They worry their own kids won't return after college. Being family-friendly has a lot of surprising dimensions.

3 comments:

dave said...

"They worry their own kids won't return after college."

It is interesting to contrast this parental concern (an established person in a community) with their adult child perceptions (not yet established).

Consider the "magnets", the forces of attraction and repulsion, these adult children consciously or unconsciously contemplate as they balance their goals with emerging and tumultuous economic systems.

Anonymous said...

I don't know. I think Cincinnati has done a poor job of preserving green space downtown. Even New York has Central Park with it's monster playground and Boston has it's Commons.

I think you misunderstand him. I think what he's describing is an urban area with all the "conveniences" of the suburbs. You certainly can't claim Cincinnati has those. Folks with money are too afraid to shop at the one Kroger downtown. But like New York or a larger city, there's no grocery delivery or even an a single upscale shop. Several, but not a one-stop. So people commute to the nearest suburbs to shop which kind of defeats the purpose of living downtown if you're sending your dollars outside where you live.

Our City Council and County Commission are very short-sighted. They have this trickle down theory that if they build for the rich, the poor will automatically get jobs as their maids or something. The need to focus on fostering all sorts of business, not just big business so that people at all income levels feel welcome, safe and productive.

Mike said...

I agree with both of the above comments.

BTW, I was re-reading my post, and I realized a lot of my comments wer about Joel Kotkin in general, and not about this current opinion piece he wrote. I was in a hurry Friday afternoon when I wrote it, so my response wasn't very coherent.

Generally I agree with Kotkin on this particular issue, which is that cities should strive to attract more families. However, if you read if you read him often, as I have, you will find that all of his examples of successful cities follow a more suburban model, such as newer southern cities and midwestern cities such as Indianapolis.

Anyway, I would like to discuss in more depth the things cities need to do to attract families. Maybe tommorow