Who says there ain't no love in the heart of the city?
Whereas upwardly mobile Americans have for decades fled inner cities for a suburban paradise replete with spacious homes, large vehicles and big-box consumer troughs, a post-recession urban revival is today making the suburbs the home of the down and out.
So goes the storyline of an epic June 7 article in the Financial Times that tracks the slow re-emergence of downtown Detroit, civic enlightenment among the retiring U.S. "baby boom" generation, and the spectacle of street life only virbant cities can offer.
"America’s growing love affair with a more European-style city is also boosted by the retirement of the US baby boom generation, many of whom are as bored of the suburbs as their children," writes Edward Luce. "Like their offspring, many also wrestle with their inner Kurt Cobains. If you combine the steady rise in urbane 'empty nesters' with the growing acceptance of gay culture and the mushrooming of independent charter schools that give families the option of staying on when their children reach school age, shifting US demography is a friend to the reviving downtown."
More than 75 percent of people are expected to live in cities by 2050, according to the Rockefeller Foundation.
At the intersection of design, technology and engineering, a number of sustainability innovations are thriving solely in the urban context: climate resiliency, urban agriculture, water efficiency, electric vehicles, "smart grid" technology, the Access Economy, and unprecedented neighborhood-scale green building projects. The economic and environmental toll of the suburban lifestyle – where a resident must drive a few miles simply to procure a gallon of milk – appears to be losing its luster in leaner times, especially in neighborhoods where recessionary home foreclosures were most abundant. And in more rural settings, once-resilient economies centered around farming and natural resource extraction have given way to larger agribusiness consolidation and global imports. Left in its wake are rural U.S. communities with problems previously commonplace in inner-cities: a lack of economic opportunity, increased crime and illicit drug production (particularly methamphetamine).
And while in the United States this trend is propelled by recent economic and social shifts, the global phenomenon of urban migration is old hat in Europe and developing nations. In China, the government is pushing ahead with a sweeping plan to move 250 million rural residents into newly constructed towns and cities over the next dozen years. According to a June 15 article in the New York Times, this massive social engineering project is "a transformative event that could set off a new wave of growth or saddle the country with problems for generations to come."
The country’s new prime minister, Li Keqiang, stated in his inaugural news conference in March that urbanization was one of his biggest priorities.