Joel Kotkin is continually stimulating. In his own calm, factual way, he challenges numberless common assumptions about American society. He sees that the future of America lies not in the old-line cities but in suburbs, exurbs, and small, growing cities (especially in Florida, Texas, and the West). He values suburbia for its endless flexibility (although he recognizes that suburbs need to include more amenities and become the mini-cities they already are in many ways). He resists the siren song of the urban planners by valuing cars over trains (here's a question for the train lovers and anti-urban-sprawlists: would you still complain about the American love affair with the automobile if all cars were electrically-powered?). And his conclusions are driven not by ideology but by serious, on-the-ground economic and demographic research into why and how certain American cities are booming and others are not (in fact he extends his analysis to places like Australia and Japan, as well). Not for Kotkin the elitist jeremiads about urban sprawl, the suburb as cultural wasteland, and so on. Instead, he recognizes that America is continually reinventing itself through the relentless movement of its people in search of better jobs, improved quality of life, an enjoyable environment, scenic surroundings, cultural and educational opportunities, and a hundred other values. And because Americans so deeply value equality of opportunity, the towns and cities that thrive tend to be those that afford great space to the aspirations of the average American, also known as the middle class (I resist the latter term because I don't think America has much class consciousness in the first place). The average American doesn't care much about convenient public transportation, hip downtowns, avant-garde art galleries, or trendy restaurants, but does care a lot about good schools, low taxes, plentiful jobs, short commutes, a safe neighborhood, and a single-family home with a yard. The towns and cities that deliver those things are growing like crazy -- places like Yuma, Arizona; Reno, Nevada; and Coral City, Florida. The elites may not like it, but the facts speak for themselves. And Joel Kotkin deserves our gratitude for directing our attention to those inconvenient facts.
Peter Saint-Andre > Journal