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The Great Downtown Migration is Happening

I just read an article that hit on so many real-life issues affecting so many of us, that I had to put up a blog post about it. Journalist and new urbanist, Alan Ehrenhalt published an article that every rural resident, suburban and city dweller should read. The rising cost of fuel, changing demographics, our focus on the environment and our changing life and work priorities are making the old suburban/downtown model outdated and ineffective.

If you care about those factors in our lives that can make a real difference in our businesses, the education of our children, community safety and the quality of our life we seek I think you’ll enjoy Ehrenhalt’s article. Here is an excerpt:

For several decades now, cities in the United States have wished for a “24/7” downtown, a place where people live as well as work and keep the streets busy, interesting and safe at all times of day. This is what urbanist Jane Jacobs preached in the 1960s, and it has long since become the accepted goal of urban planners. Only when significant numbers of people lived downtown, planners believed, could central cities regain their historic role as magnets for culture and as a source of identity and pride for the metropolitan areas they served.

Now that’s starting to happen, fueled by the changing mores of the young and by soaring gasoline prices. In many of its urbanized regions, an America that seemed destined for ever-increasing individualization and sprawl is experimenting with new versions of community and sociability.

Why has demographic inversion begun? For one thing, the deindustrialization of the central city, for all the tragic human dislocations it caused, has eliminated many of the things that made affluent people want to move away from it. Nothing much is manufactured downtown anymore (or anywhere near it), and that means the noise and grime that prevailed for most of the 20th century have gone away.

Urban historian Robert Bruegmann goes so far as to claim that deindustrialization has, on the whole, been good for downtowns because it has permitted so many opportunities for creative reuse of the buildings.

I wouldn’t go quite that far, and, given the massive job losses of recent years, I doubt most residents of Detroit would, either. But it is true that the environmental factors that made middle-class people leave the central city for streetcar suburbs in the 1900s and for station-wagon suburbs in the 1950s do not apply anymore.

Read the whole article here.

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