New Urbanists Take It on the Chin

In his column on Sunday, Ross Douthat offers a series of “implausible” proposals to break up cities and spread the benefits they have accrued to the rest of America:

We should treat liberal cities the way liberals treat corporate monopolies — not as growth-enhancing assets, but as trusts that concentrate wealth and power and conspire against the public good. And instead of trying to make them a little more egalitarian with looser zoning rules and more affordable housing, we should make like Teddy Roosevelt and try to break them up.

It’s a smart and provocative piece; read the whole thing.

But it may not take any radical redistribution of economic assets to weaken America’s big blue cities. As FiveThirtyEight reported last week, many of those places are already losing out:

The suburbanization of America marches on. Population growth in big cities slowed for the fifth-straight year in 2016, according to new census data, while population growth accelerated in the more sprawling counties that surround them.

The Census Bureau on Thursday released population estimates for every one of the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. I grouped those counties into six categories: urban centers of large metropolitan areas; their densely populated suburbs; their lightly populated suburbs; midsize metros; smaller metro areas; and rural counties, which are outside metro areas entirely.

The fastest growth was in those lower-density suburbs. Those counties grew by 1.3 percent in 2016, the fastest rate since 2008, when the housing bust put an end to rapid homebuilding in these areas. In the South and West, growth in large-metro lower-density suburbs topped 2 percent in 2016, led by counties such as Kendall and Comal north of San Antonio; Hays near Austin; and Forsyth, north of Atlanta.

As we’ve written, major American cities may soon see the establishment of a third ring of suburbs as millennials swim upstream to spawn. Driverless cars, telework, restrictive zoning in urban centers—all of these developments could make suburbs more attractive in the years and decades to come.

“Urban renewal” is a phenomenon disproportionately enjoyed by the wealthy and the well-educated. The New York Times’ culture sections reflect a lifestyle that is inaccessible to most Americans. Most people can’t afford $2400-per-month 320 sq. ft. studios, paying $16 for cocktails or $12 for a jar of homemade jam. While young often parent-subsidized graduates of top colleges can survive and even thrive in such places, most everyone else has to move elsewhere.

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