Why Can’t American Cities Create and Maintain a Middle Class?

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  1. Avatar KatherineMW
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    My suspicion would be that, as one factor, people with families just like to have space. And space is often very, very expensive in major cities, and more affordable in suburbs. So if you want to raise your kids in a house rather than in an apartment, if you want everyone in the family to have a bit more privacy and more rooms dedicated to their specific needs and wants (playroom for the kids; room with the TV being separate from the living room), if you want to have a yard, you move to the suburbs.

    Though I’m Canadian, and maybe cities/urban issues are different here. I’ve noticed that when people in the US say “urban”, it often connotes “black”, whereas here “urban policy” refers to things like having more bike lanes, walkable neighbourhoods, etc.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to KatherineMW
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      That said, I do think that a fair portion of people with kids do live in cities in Canada. I haven’t found stats on it, but that’s my general impression.

      Also, I’d peg cost as a big issue – it seems like it’s not rich people moving to the suburbs, it’s middle-class people (probably not ones who can afford a nearly-$1-million house, unlike the ones you describe) who simply can’t afford to live in the city centre. Cities are comparatively more affordable if you’re single or a couple without kids – again, due to space reasons. The bigger the city, the worse this tends to be – Toronto and Vancouver are especially costly.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to KatherineMW
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      Houses should not be unaffordable (or at least flats of sizes large enough to be houselike.)

      They certainly aren’t unaffordable around here, and I know people in Austin managing to make a living and afford a house on less than I make here…

      People’s values on privacy have changed radically in the past 100 years. Time was, a 400 sq. ft. apartment might have five people living in it (Seven if you’re Marxist, *ducks*) — and that was with everyone sleeping in the same room.Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Kim
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        Hey, relevant article just out today: http://bc.ctvnews.ca/home-ownership-costs-down-in-vancouver-toronto-but-far-from-steady-1.1170694

        In [Vancouver], the cost of mortgage payments, utilities and property taxes for a benchmark detached bungalow would eat up 82.2 per cent of a typical household’s pre-tax income. That’s down 2.6 percentage points from the previous quarter but still indicates the cost of basic home expenses in Vancouver is beyond the reach of many people.

        The RBC Housing Trends and Affordability report, compiled four times a year by the group that owns RBC Royal Bank, estimates it would take $147,700 of annual income to qualify for a benchmark mortgage on a Vancouver detached bungalow.

        In Toronto, the second-most expensive market tracked, the qualifying income in the fourth quarter was $111,400, resulting in an affordability measure of 52.8 per cent — down four-tenths of a point from the third quarter.

        When the median household income is a little under $50,000, that leaves the big cities pretty unaffordable.Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Kim
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        says:

        Further info – the “bungalow” the article is referring to has an area of 1,200 square feet [they’re Canadian, what are they doing using feet?!]. A standard condo (900 sq feet) in Vancouver could be afforded by a family earning $75,000 or more; in Toronto, a family earning $70,000 or more.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to KatherineMW
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      says:

      These are good observations including just wanting more space. I had a friend who grew up middle-class in Manhattan. He lived with his parents and sister in a two-bedroom apartment. His parents put up a wall so he and his sister could have a room of their own. I thought this was insane but he loved growing up in New York and was a complete snob against the suburbs.

      Many US cities are still reeling from the unfortunate and tragic white flight that occurred for most of post-WWII 20th century United States history.

      I think the urban policy thing you noted is an attempt to woo suburbanites back into the city and get them to stay. The big concern among many urban planners is more environmental than anything else it seems. They dislike suburban sprawl and commuter-car culture because such things hurt the environment seriously. They want people to live in the city and be able to walk to get groceries and other shopping done and also bike or take mass transit to work.

      So far the success is limited. One of my friend’s from undergrad is getting a master’s in urban planning and he is cynical that this type of stuff would work. He thinks that cities need to be for everyone but took this article as proof that the current policy is failing and just raising prices and pushing more people out.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to NewDealer
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        I think the problem with some of these urban planners are that they are planning based upon their ideals, not their customers as revealed with the environmental comment. Parents want space and security and green barriers. If the dog doesn’t eat the dog food….Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger
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          says:

          Now you’re suggesting something just as stupid. Competitive advantage, my friend, is generally not found by trying to be your competition, except BETTER!

          Yup, we tried EXACTLY what you’re suggesting (greenfield). It Stunk.
          And now it’s housing stock that Nobody Wants, because the people who want to live in the city don’t want it (compare to Squirrel Hill, which works out a ton better, because… walkable!)Report

        • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to Roger
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          Given that urban areas tend to have much higher costs per square foot than suburbs or rural areas, it seems odd to me to say that the problem is lack of demand.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to Dan Miller
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            Well when you put it like that!

            Obviously there is a high demand for some neighborhoods by some people. I wouldn’t chalk this up to the brilliance of city planners though.

            ND’s question specifically is why this value proposition is not appealing to the middle class. My answer below is a combination of affordability, safety, schools, space needs, privacy needs and desire for greenery. I never once chose my neighborhood based upon “suburban sprawl is bad for aesthetics and global warming.” Goes to show how shallow I am.

            The larger answer is that I don’t ever have the assumption that cities need to be intentionally designed from the top down to be appealing to middle class families. I have more faith in decentralized planning by thousands of communities and developers. If they choose the suburbs, so be it. I respect this choice.Report

            • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to Roger
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              How on earth do you not consider global warming the largest externality in human history?Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Dan Miller
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                says:

                Probably using similar logic as smokers who resisted the idea that their little habit was why they had such high, high risks for lung cancer.

                Although watching the funding webs come to light on the “anti” side of Global Warming, it’s getting really, really hard to swallow the idea that the conspiracy is on the pro side.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Dan Miller
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                I certainly see climate change as a significant externality. I think a three degree C increase in temperature, possibly more, is something we should concern ourselves with. I am not sure if it is a net positive or negative externality, clearly it is a bit of both depending upon who, what, where or when.

                The related question of course is how we go about monitoring and if necessary influencing the system. This too can have positive and negative externalities.

                If your personal solution to global warming is to buy a house in the City and use reusable grocery bags and drive a Prius, I am OK with that. Maybe you are a better person than me. Personally I see it as the equivalent of turning our hair dryers at a hurricane. Posturing, not problem solving.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Roger
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                says:

                Ahh, the old conservative “what I do doesn’t matter because I’m just one person so I’ll pollute all I want” argument.

                This from the same site that espouses libertarianism, the bizarre notion that “free markets” will necessarily result in net-positive actions through collective self-interest.

                Except when the conservatives of the world are around and self-interest turns out to not do so, I guess.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to M.A.
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                What you or I decide on our personal consumption doesn’t matter. Though I could pretend it did, and feel better about myself.

                If warmer temps are indeed a net negative, then we will need to address it, as I explained in my comment. We need to address it a way which is both effective (which weighs against empty posturing) and which doesn’t create more problems than it solves.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to M.A.
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                M.A.,

                That’s an issue that’s been really thoroughly studied in the context of collective action problems generally, and the tragedy of the commons in particular. The unfortunate reality is that very often no one person’s actions do matter to any significant degree. That means whether everyone else continues polluting or everyone else stops polluting, the incentive of that one individual does not change.

                That’s an empirical statement, not a normative one. Normatively maybe we can call that person bad (but I’m hesitant, since I’m a consequentalist, and I’m talking specifically here about a person’s whose actions don’t have significant consequences). But I’m not sure what is gained from talking about how bad they are.

                My take is that if we accept that empirical reality, regardless of how much we may dislike it, then we are able to understand the real underlying problem and resolve it. Yes, in these types of situations it requires governance, binding rules on users. But they key is to find the rules that most effectively create compliance. Damning people for their wickedness doesn’t have a place in that kind of rules structures.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                I call that person lazy and untalented myself.
                But then again, I’m pro-gondolas.
                http://gondolaproject.com/2010/08/16/a-pittsburgh-gondola/Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger
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                says:

                Well, I don’t know about you. But I believe in trying to make money, where possible. And, where not possible, to not lose money.

                That’s why I try to invest well, when choosing where to live.

                there’s good money on water being a very important consideration in the next fifteen years. Ditto $12 gasoline in ten years ($24 gasoline per gallon in fifteen).Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Kim
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                says:

                Yeah, I am worried about the cost of water. Especially in the Southwest. I see little reason for energy costs to go up, especially considering fracking and shale gas. I suspect energy is as likely to cost less as more, and that energy efficiency will continue to improve.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger
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                fracking and shale gas are indicative of us starting to need to work harder to feed our energy habit.

                But the point isn’t about energy costs. It’s about -easily portable- energy costs.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to NewDealer
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        I had a friend who grew up middle-class in Manhattan. He lived with his parents and sister in a two-bedroom apartment. His parents put up a wall so he and his sister could have a room of their own. …he loved growing up in New York and was a complete snob against the suburbs.

        One of the questions I’d love to know the answer to was how much did his parents sacrifice while the kids were young. When my kids were four and 18 months respectively, I could take them out in the back yard on short notice and we could do all kinds of things (swings, sandbox, hunt for bugs, etc). Even though the park was within walking distance, going there took considerably more planning — stroller, changing stuff, water, snack, time to and from. The people I’ve known who loved growing up in the city loved being in high school in the city. And it’s terrific at that time in their lives — lots of cool stuff within walking or mass-transit range, don’t have to mess with cars. But I suspect that it’s not nearly as much fun for a four-year-old.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
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        “His parents put up a wall so he and his sister could have a room of their own.”

        This is VERY common… they’re called “flexible” apartments. It is how many people in mid-town Manhattan live. Seemed crazy to me, too. I believe they recently passed a law intending to crack down on the practice for whatever reason, which would suddenly make vast swaths of the city unaffordable to the folks that normally inhabit them. Few 20-somethings can afford a $2700/month 1BR apartment in Murray Hill. But throw up a fake wall, pick up a roommate, and split it $1500/$1200 and it is doable. Remove that option and thinks change drastically. And that isn’t an area that people who CAN afford it are necessarily eager to be in… it is a very “young” area.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kazzy
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          My favorite part about Murray Hill is how it sounds like it is named after an old Jewish uncle.

          Largely I agree. People are not wanting to be Burt and Ernie. Though it is the young area for a certain kind of person. My friend’s would say that Murray Hill was too frat house and bro-dudey to be desirable.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to KatherineMW
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      says:

      Interesting comment about the word “urban”. I think it has three meanings: racial, cultural, and geographic. “Urban” can be used to mean black, especially at times where color reference would be insulting. Urban culture broadly refers to the culture among low-educated, low-opportunity city dwellers of all colors. The geographic meaning of “urban” is straightforward.

      Damon was right to bring up the subject of crime, below. It’s hard to overstate the difference between urban and mainstream American culture with regards to crime. Urban culture doesn’t recognize legitimate authority, and looks upon crime as acceptable, even laudable.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        :/

        I don’t think urban culture necessarily refers to the culture among low-educated, low-opportunity city dwellers. Museums, Art House Cinemas, Art Galleries, Michellen-star restaurants, the dance, symphony, and opera are all part of urban culture because most of that stuff is still located in major cities.

        The crime story is different but I think your comments on crime being laudable in the cities is on the cliff of racism. There is plenty of non-urban music that equally praises lawlessness and crime and a general reaction against what is seen as “proper” behavior. Much of country can be a big FU to the NPR-liberal set. There is also just as much crime in suburbs as in urban areas but the private nature of detatched homes makes it harder to detect. You hear domestic disturbances when living in the city or other incidents of violence. You don’t hear it in the suburbs. You smell the pot being smoked or the guy strung out on the streets. It still happens in suburbs.Report

        • Avatar Pinky in reply to NewDealer
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          I disagree. I don’t think that most people think of opera houses when they hear the phrase “urban culture”. If you’d prefer, you could split urban culture into urban highbrow and urban lowbrow. That might even be more accurate. But we were talking about the meaning(s) of the word “urban”, and high culture is high culture.

          As for crime, I’m not just talking about music. Marion Berry’s popularity was based on his sticking it to the establishment. Ditto Bill Clinton. There’s an element of insubordination in the American personality across the board, but it’s stronger in the urban culture.Report

          • Avatar DRS in reply to Pinky
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            says:

            I don’t think that most people think of opera houses when they hear the phrase “urban culture”.

            They do if you live in Toronto. Also: museums and art galleries and live theatre.

            I wish people would just be honest and say “People who live in poor parts of the city scare me. They might hurt me because their music talks about violent things. I need lots of space between me and them because they might riot in the streets. I don’t think of them of them as neighbors.”

            Then we could get down to the real issue in many American cities: fear of the other. (And don’t think the poor aren’t afraid of the non-poor. The non-poor have a tremendous impact on the lives of the poor.) We could probably get further past the racism thing, for starters. It’s poverty most are afraid of, because the poor have cooties.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DRS
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              So that’s the difference between Toronto and Baltimore, is it? Canadians have more gumption and willingness to go to downtown Toronto while Americans are scared away from downtown Baltimore by fiction like The Wire?Report

              • Avatar DRS in reply to Jaybird
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                The main difference between Baltimore and Toronto is that Toronto has way more Canadians, a colder climate overall and sits beside one of the Great Lakes – or as we call it, the World’s Largest Puddle. We have different histories and different societies and different fears.

                Gumption? I would say more like common sense and a strong refusal to be panicked by fearmongering municipal politicians like the idiot who is currently our mayor. Torontonians have a strong sense of ownership of the entire city, and they expect to walk safely down any major street they want at any time they please. They don’t take unnecessary risks: walking through a park at 2:30 a.m. won’t get you many good results.

                But on the whole they are not passive spectators of things like crime or urban disorder. They expect their politicians to solve problems, not add to them. The worst thing any Torontonian can say about a public figure is that they are a trouble-maker, someone who gets in the way of solutions and doesn’t help any situation.Report

              • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Jaybird
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                The surface difference is that Toronto and Vancouver don’t really have ghettos. (I don’t consider Vancouver’s downtown east side a ghetto. It’s terribly poor and has a lot of homeless and addicted people, but ‘ghetto’ seems to have a connotation of violence and danger – the kind of place where you wouldn’t be surprised to hear gunshots. I’ve been in the DTES and didn’t find it a particularly scary place.) There’s also almost no geographical distance between rich and poor areas (some of the highest-priced areas of Vancouver are only several blocks from the DTES).

                I don’t have a deep knowledge of the history of US urban policy, but what I have heard suggests to me that both racist policies and racist attitudes had a role in creating the current situation in many US cities. If people and the government aren’t interested in funding services to black areas, and businesses and neighbourhood groups systematically restrict black people from buying homes in any of the nicer areas of town, if middle-class white people and businesses move out of neighbourhoods when black people move in, then you’re going to have concentrated areas of black poverty. And a fair number of the people in those areas, recognizing that this has been systematically done, are reasonably likely to build up some resentment of society for creating that situation.

                I’m sure there’s people with a much more in-depth knowledge of this than me, but that’s my partial understanding of contributing factors to American urban geography. It’s not something that can be understood outside of its historical context.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to KatherineMW
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                KatherineMW – not to gainsay what you have said here, because certainly racism has played a role; but in my understanding many other historical factors both statistical/race-neutral (such as the collapse of postwar manufacturing in those US cities where many blacks had moved to get jobs, said collapse rendering the poorest of them unable to leave, unlike the wealthier ones) and facially race-positive (like the large-scale inner-city housing projects which were intended to help poor minorities, but instead had the effect of “concentrating” many of the problems they were facing, such as crime, poverty etc.) also contributed to the situation.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Glyph
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                those “facially race positive” things were actively racist around here. as in white folks got FHA loans, and black folks got public housing.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Kim
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                says:

                Kim, my understanding is that we are discussing large cities’ inner ghettos – IIRC you are located in a more suburban or even rural area.

                Still, whatever the motives – good or bad – for low-cost public housing: clustering poor people closely together appears to worsen, not ameliorate, the issues they often face already.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim
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                says:

                Glyph,
                My bad. I was discussing a specific incident involving the demolition of the Lower Hill District to install the Pittsburgh Light Opera facility (last used as a major venue for the Penguins, before it got demolished).

                I live smack dab in a major US city, albeit one that does have working farms in it’s 25 sq. mile footprint. I do not live in suburbs or rural areas.

                Where I live is quite walkable, by the way.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Kim
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                says:

                Huh, you have mentioned Pittsburgh, repeatedly. Why was I thinking West Virginia? Sorry, my bad.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim
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                says:

                Glyph,
                *points upward* maybe because I just mentioned WV, as in “where our rioters come from” 😉Report

            • Avatar Pinky in reply to DRS
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              says:

              DRS – Don’t straw-man me. People aren’t afraid of poverty, and young parents don’t move to the suburbs because they’re afraid of the other. They move because the crime problem is real. As someone else said on this thread, parents look for low-risk environments.

              You do raise an interesting point by using the word “neighbors”. In rental areas, there really isn’t such a thing as a neighbor. In suburbia, the concept doesn’t fare much better. People in suburbs are looking for a neighborhood where they can drive to the things they want; as for where they live, they just care about property values and safety (and how safety affects property values). If you want to find neighborhoods, you have to go to smaller towns or urban areas with high home ownership.Report

              • Avatar DRS in reply to Pinky
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                People aren’t afraid of poverty, and young parents don’t move to the suburbs because they’re afraid of the other. They move because the crime problem is real. As someone else said on this thread, parents look for low-risk environments.

                Yes, and they feel that poverty is one of the major causes of crime. Is that so hard to believe? Don’t you think crime exists in the suburbs too? It may be a different kind of crime – drugs being done in the family rec room or shooting up in the schoolyard after hours (have you ever gone to the far end of a suburban schoolyard – the farthest part away from the parking lot – and counted the needles on the ground?), small time burglery and vandalism – but it’s still crime.

                But it’s crime they can relate to: they think it’s kids with too much time on their hands or with bad parents, first-offender-type stuff. It’s not scary crime like worrying about riots or getting mugged by teen gangs with low-hanging trousers. Personally I think of suburban crime as Facebook crime: letting your friends know you’re going to “wild” someone’s house because they’re having a small party or are away on holiday for a week or so. But they brag about it on Facebook afterwards and police departments spend time examining social media afterwards to identify suspects.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer in reply to DRS
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                The last rioting in San Francisco was caused by a 22 year old bro-dude from somewhere in the suburbs. Marin I believe. He smashed up a bus after the Giants won the world seriesReport

              • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer
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                Our rioters tend to come from WV. (No offense Sam! If I wanted to make fun of Morgantown, I’d make fun of the rockthrowers!)Report

              • Avatar Pinky in reply to DRS
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                Forbes recently released its 2013 list of most miserable cities in the US. #1 was Detroit. Their violent crime rate – violent crime rate – was over 1000 per 100,000 people. A quick look on Wikipedia shows Toronto with 1/10 the murder rate. You can’t talk about middle-class flight from American cities without talking about crime.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Pinky
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                Or jobs. Espeically in Detroit.Report

              • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Pinky
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                Why is there more crime in American cities?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to KatherineMW
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                This is a minefield.

                There are answers that involve policy, culture, and economics. I, personally, think that the “culture” answers are the most interesting. I would, however.

                There’s not only a post in your question, there’s a symposium. (Don’t worry. I’m not threatening one.) It’s a very, very interesting question indeed.

                If there are answers to that question that are true, I’ve no doubt that they are answers that, at this point in our cultural development, we cannot yet discuss without immediately wanting to dump the conversation and talk about something, anything!, else.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to KatherineMW
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                JB – I started to write a much longer response to Katherine above that touched on some of these things there; but realized there was no way I would have time to follow all the threads that would inevitably spin out.

                Suffice to say that American inner-city crime/ghettos are one of those phenomena that seems to indict nearly the total range of American society – left/right, white/black, rich/poor, government/citizens, all are responsible for varying ingredients both intentional and unintentional (plus universal things like statistics, and human nature) to help deliver up the specific flavor of screwed-up we have.Report

              • Avatar Pinky in reply to KatherineMW
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                says:

                I had sort of the same reaction. I didn’t even start to anwer the question – it seemed too intense to put into a paragraph or two in the sixth indentation on a thread – but I was periodically checking back to see if anyone had the guts to try.

                A symposium wouldn’t be a bad idea, actually.Report

              • Avatar DRS in reply to Pinky
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                says:

                You can’t talk about middle-class flight from American cities without talking about crime.

                Well, I think it’s short-sighted to only talk about crime when you’re taking about middle-class flight from American cities. Crime is not the weather, it happens in places for reasons and people try to determine whether an area is high-crime or not before they move there. And I submit that one of the things people associate with crime is how many poor people live in an area.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to DRS
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                It’s not “being poor” that’s the problem, it’s “staying poor”.Report

              • Avatar Pinky in reply to DRS
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                says:

                DRS – In that last comment, you were talking about poverty as a proxy for crime. Did you intend to? That’s different than talking about poverty as a cause of crime. My thinking is that it might be meaningful to talk about the causes of crime under this general topic, but talking about the mislabelling of areas as high- or low-crime probably won’t have much payoff for us. People who are moving out of the cities by definition are people who lived in the cities, and they probably have a good feel for the crime rates.Report

              • Avatar DRS in reply to DRS
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                Pinky: I am not talking about poverty as a proxy of crime. I think I was pretty clear in both my lengthier comments about what I meant. I’m not quite sure how I’m supposed to explain it differently so you’ll understand. *shrugs*Report

              • Avatar Pinky in reply to DRS
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                DRS – I didn’t think you were talking about poverty as a proxy measure, at least initially; I just wanted to make sure. Thanks.

                For my part, I didn’t intend to say that crime is the only consideration in middle-class flight from the cities. I do think it’s an important one, though. And the rates of violent crime are much higher in poor urban areas than in poor rural areas. So I don’t think that poverty is the decisive factor – unless we are to speculate that urban poverty is different from rural poverty.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Pinky
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            I think it depends on who you talk to. People who live in urban areas and interact with those other elements will think differently of it than people who don’t and gather most of what they know about cities from television, movies, or the news.

            “Urban” depending on the context can conjure up images of yuppies or gangbangers.Report

            • Avatar dhex in reply to Kazzy
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              says:

              i tend to think of npr types myself. or someone who does radio programming.

              “There is also just as much crime in suburbs as in urban areas but the private nature of detatched homes makes it harder to detect.”

              i don’t think the above is particularly true, but within nyc proper there’s an awful lot of land and an awful lot of differences between crime on the uws and crime in east new york. overall, though, nyc is a very safe place to live.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to dhex
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                Suburbs versus Urban areas have the problem that 1/1000 people die per year means someone died in your city (NYC), versus someone died in hoboken, which is not where you live.

                I don’t think most people have much clue about crime. I’ve known investigators, and you’d be surprised…Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kim
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                I don’t think most people have much clue about crime.

                I will wager, right now, that if you offered 20 random people in your neighborhood $10 if they could accurately guess the murder rate, the property crime rate, and the violent crime rate in their own neighborhood, not one of the 20 would get all three correct.

                I will further wager that in almost all cases (non-rural), they over-report crime rates. If there’s a skew it will be in a predictable demographic.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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                We’ve had two or three highly visible murders in the past five years, two of which were out in front of our local supermarket (which now gets police supervision at night).

                Our paper does a damn good job of sinking stories about crime in “nice” neighborhoods.

                I’d wager you a pizza (homemade, cause I’m poor AND cheap), that 5 out of ten random people from my neighborhood could get the property crime rate right. We’ve got a nebby city watch, and old people have nothing better to do.Report

              • Avatar trumwill mobile in reply to Kim
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                Looking at Neighborhood Scout, I can’t find a single suburb witha crime rate as bad as tthe principal city’s. There are some really crime-ridde suburbs out there like East St Louis, but they’re not what we think of when we talk about suburbs and certainly aren’t the “nice” sort of place where you say the media is spiking stories.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim
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                says:

                Will,
                sorry, I meant to say that it’s sinking stories about MY NEIGHBORHOOD.

                Where I live, it’s far more dangerous to be a white guy out in the “suburbs” than it is to be a white guy in the city.

                In the city, people don’t throw down spiked boards to pop cars tires on main city streets (and then assault the folks inside, one presumes. didn’t stick around long enough to find out). Like this place: http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/pa/jeannette/crime/

                Which is still getting LESS on that neighborhood scout. I figure something’s wrong with the reporting, because that place is FAR worse than Pittsburgh (and not just my neighborhood).

                No surprise that something’s “wrong” with the reporting. I’m certain we’re all familiar with colleges whitewashing rape stories. Suburbs do the same thing, when they can get away with it.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer in reply to dhex
                Ignored
                says:

                I was speaking to urban areas v. suburbs over all. Merely trying to refute the idea that suburbs are crime free utopias.

                NYC was not in my mind with that comment.Report

              • Avatar dhex in reply to NewDealer
                Ignored
                says:

                “NYC was not in my mind with that comment.”

                which is the nit i’d pick with your op – filled with good questions as it is.

                this joint is a crazy anomaly in so many ways, not the least of which is the incredible expenses one can incur living here compared to other places only a few miles. it has a vast distorting effect on so many facets of life here.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to dhex
                Ignored
                says:

                yeah, but it’s not bottom of the barrel like philly is. ;-PReport

              • Avatar trumwill mobile in reply to NewDealer
                Ignored
                says:

                Suburbs aren’t crime-free utopias, but I am pretty sure the crime rates aren’t generally at the same rates as cities generally are. I’d need to see that backed up, anyway. It’s going to vary from place to place, though, for both cities and suburbs. A lot of suburbs are worse than a lot of citiesbut I don’t think that carries into the aggregate.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to trumwill mobile
                Ignored
                says:

                Depends. How much do you count elder care abuse? I’d wager that it doesn’t get counted the same way domestic violence does, because when a “suburban” nursing home gets caught, it gets shut the hell down.

                Still, these things can go on for years… (and this is even in places with GOOD enforcement. someplaces the investigators get bribed or otherwise incentivized against it).Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    One thing that I wonder is about the difference between DINKs and People With Kids. Wouldn’t DINKs be able to price out PWKs, all other things being equal? More discretionary income, more free time, more tolerance for risk, more ability to up and move at a moment’s notice, and so on? On top of that, how different is the list of stuff that DINKs and PWKs would want to do with their free time… and how likely is The City to cater to one but not the other? (Or to one a lot more than the other?)

    We see people living in the place where they have the best (whatever). When they start and want a new (whatever), they up and move to the new place that has the best (whatever).

    It’s not terribly surprising to me that the places with the best lifestyle options for young hipsters without kids aren’t the most hospitable places for young professionals who are now spending their evenings singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      The City has tons of museums, parks, and other things that PWKs want. It’s a central location, and often where people chose to plunk their cultural dollars anyhow.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kim
        Ignored
        says:

        Yes, but Museums aren’t “go there every month” kinda things (well, not in *MY* circle, anyway). They’re “go there every year or so” kinda things (unless you’re a grad student). Parks are able to be provided by suburbs and certain parts of parks are recreatable in one’s own back yard (e.g., grass suitable for a summersault).Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Jaybird
          Ignored
          says:

          if you’ve got kids, museums are a cheap form of “daycare and entertainment”Report

        • Avatar DRS in reply to Jaybird
          Ignored
          says:

          Seriously? You’re missing out on a lot of weekly museum activities – or your museums are run by unimaginitive people. Amateur Dino-hunter Clubs, Saturday morning activities, Summer Camps for Children/Teen Artists, etc. Lots of things to do – and one of the real advantages of taking out a family membership is that you get a discount on program registrations.

          If I had kids, I’d make a bee-line for the Royal Ontario Museum or Art Gallery of Ontario every week.Report

          • Avatar dhex in reply to DRS
            Ignored
            says:

            we get a lot of mileage out of the museum of natural history and the central park zoo’s kids programs, despite living in queens – especially in the summer.Report

          • Avatar George Turner in reply to DRS
            Ignored
            says:

            But that’s part of the problem. You take your kids to the museums to see dinosaur bones and then one day they turn around and say, “Mom, we’re moving to Bozeman Montana to work with Jack Horner.” You take your kids to the park and one day they turn around and say, “Mom, we’re moving to Jackson Hole Wyoming to work in Yellowstone.” You take your kids to the art museums and then one day they turn around and say, “Mom, we’re moving to Keystone South Dakota to add Joe Biden’s face to Mount Rushmore,” and you reply “Why the hell are they adding Joe Biden’s face to Mount Rushmore?”Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to DRS
            Ignored
            says:

            This reminds me that I was once Tyrone Tyrannosaurus at the Natural History Museum in Denver. I got to wear a Dino outfit and dance and entertain kids on the weekends. I haven’t thought about that in a decade.Report

        • Avatar Pinky in reply to Jaybird
          Ignored
          says:

          Good point. And if a museum is a once-a-year destination, it doesn’t matter if it takes 1.5 hours to get there from the small town / suburb.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      Possibly I can probably price out a lot of people with kids as well and I’m single. There are also a lot of people who can out price me. San Francisco is going through another mini tech-boom for two reasons:

      1. Some companies are choosing to move to or stay in SF instead of moving to Silicon Valley.

      2. Tech companies started offering their own commuter buses to their campuses. This allows people to live in SF and get to work instead of living down there.

      All of this has raised rents considerably in the 4.5 years that I have lived here. You have a lot of 23 year olds with a lot of money doing things like offering to pay a year rent in one chunk and upbidding on very small studio apartments.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        When I was single, I needed much, much less space than I do now and that’s not just a fat joke. I also needed to spend much, much less time within my space than I do now.Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Well, part of the problem is that San Francisco doesn’t allow a surburban area to develop because the mountains are off limits, creating an induced real-estate shortage. Since their tech sector and other factors keeps demand high, and the supply is artificially constrained, prices necessarily skyrocket.

        Some other odd things about SF are that the 25-34 age group makes up over 28% of the population (it should be around 13%), and the 25-44 age group makes up 40% instead of 26%. Demographically, the city has also priced blacks out of the market. They made up 13.4% of the population in 1970 (out of a total population of 715,000) versus 6.1% in 2010 (out of a population of 805,000), meaning their absolute numbers were cut in half. But SF’s demographic shifts are so dramatic that it might was well be like a crowd at a football stadium where half the stands are filled with regulars and half seem to be passing through.Report

      • Avatar Aidian in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        SF has become in many ways a bedroom community for Silicon Valley. Baghdad by the bay is dead. It’s still a very pretty, very livable city. But the sort of counterculture ethos that made it unique, and uniquely awesome, feels dead.

        I think the last gasp was the late 1990s, when Nestor Makhno and the Yuppie Eradication Project fought their doomed battle to save the Mission District from the gentrification caused by dot com bubble 1.0.

        And if you wonder what it was I feel was lost, consider that last sentence. A respected community leader was a pseudonym-ed anarchist activist who headed something called the Yuppie Eradication Project. That’s what’s lost in today’s SF…. now excuse me why I go sulk and listen to my old Dead Kennedy’s 7-inch 🙂Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Aidian
          Ignored
          says:

          Is this true?

          Because in my day, nobody who lived in The City came south of Palo Alto for work.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Patrick Cahalan
            Ignored
            says:

            A bit but probably not as much as Aidan is letting on.

            A lot of the big Silicon Valley companies have their own bus fleet to take employees from SF to their various campuses. I see them line up when I am on my way to work. There is a big issue of the Silicon Valley buses using MUNI bus stops. Many SFers resent it.

            So now a lot of silicon valley people especially younger ones live in SF and commute to Silicon Valley because of the buses. It is not just the new companies that run buses. Older ones like Intuit also have them.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Aidian
          Ignored
          says:

          Heh, I lived in SF from ’88-92, so I guess I left just before all that. Even as short a time as I lived there, it’s still a bit hard to fathom.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Aidian
          Ignored
          says:

          I am of two mind’s about this. Note, I moved to San Francisco in 2008.

          I am not a neo-liberal and don’t have the build build build condo mentality. I think San Francisco should be more than a bedroom community for Silicon Valley and keep some of what made San Francisco itself.

          Still, it is no longer 1967. I know a lot of non-Silicon Valley people in SF who feel harassed by the pandhandlers who still think it is 1967. And stuff like the Yuppie Eradication Brigade makes me want to facepalm as a liberal. I don’t see why that kind of stuff is cool on the left.

          For a disclaimer I consider myself more of a democratic socialist and am certainly not an anarchist. Far from it. Anarchy is Somalia. I’m not part of the pastoral-communal left.Report

  3. Avatar Murali
    Ignored
    says:

    Noise from traffic can be psychologically stressful, so it is not merely aesthetic. There are ways to build apartment blocks that reduce the noise:

    1. Greenery. Putting very tall hedges between the apartment creates a barrier that creates a sense of privacy and breaks up and muffles traffic noise. (Coniferous trees planted side by side to create a continuous barrier may work wonders in the US)

    2. Don’t build low-medium rise buildings right at the side of busy roads. Build them in such a way that you intersperse them with parking lots. Traffic flow in parking lots is slower and quieter.

    3. Keeping about 30 feet away from a main road can do wonders for noise levels.Report

  4. Avatar Kim
    Ignored
    says:

    “Good Public Schools”
    … okay, there’s a few things that I can say here.
    1) If your kid is getting beat up every week, and the teachers aren’t doing jack, then yeah, I can see why you want your kid to move.
    2) If it’s just that Johnny can’t ever go to State Science Olympiad… dude, suck it up.
    3) I think that many people overrate what schools teach…

    4) around here, free college tuition sounds awful nice… ;-PReport

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Kim
      Ignored
      says:

      If it’s just that Johnny can’t ever go to State Science Olympiad… dude, suck it up.

      Hey I went to the maths and physics olympiads in my day. Of course, that was partly because I was good, but also because my teachers recognised that I was good and offered to send me and conducted additional lessons. If Johnny is never going to be able to develop his potential fully, that is going to kinda suck. I don’t think that suck it up is the kind of thing we can tell young adolescents when such opportunities are denied simply because teachers are overworked or can’t be bothered to identify and train such talent. A schooling system should at least do a good job of identifying talent and interest in the various subjects and developing those who have it. Of course, it is not as important as bullying, but it is not unreasonable to expect this out of the school system as a whole.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Murali
        Ignored
        says:

        Murali,
        State means you’re doing /well/ as a TEAM at Science Olympiad.
        Yes, kids ought to be encouraged… but I don’t mind “you go to Regional Science Olympiad, but because the rest of the kids suck, you don’t go to State/National” (particularly if not every competition is like that. For Sure westinghouse science fair isn’t a team activity).Report

  5. Avatar Stillwater
    Ignored
    says:

    “Nobody lives in cities anymore, they’re too crowded.”Report

  6. Avatar TXG1112
    Ignored
    says:

    I think this essay lacks a bit of perspective. With a population of over 8 million there are literally millions of middle class people living in NYC. They just don’t live in trendy neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Look in Queens or the Bronx if you want to find them. That these neighborhoods don’t meet the aesthetic considerations of the well off 30-ish set says something, but probably not what you had in mind.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 in reply to TXG1112
      Ignored
      says:

      I was coming here to make that exact comment.

      Someone’s definition of “middle class” is pretty, um, special.

      I can’t seem to wrap my head around the idea that New York is comprised entirely of the poor and ultra-rich. 🙂Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Morat20
        Ignored
        says:

        I do think that middle class means something to different people in the United States. Unless we are being very mechanical and just talking about income.

        When I lived in Brooklyn, I was the middle class of my neighborhood. My block was largely classic brownstones. Many were still single family homes worth a few million dollars. Others were subdivided into apartments. I rented from a family who lived in the triplex above. One cross street was a large project. The other cross street was filled with fairly to very expensive restaurants and stores that sold casual shirts for 300 retail.

        I could afford to live in this neighborhood because I was single and childfree.

        And yes I realize that any city including NYC is going to have a middle class.

        I was worried about this coming off as concern trolling.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
          Ignored
          says:

          So what DO you mean by middle-class? If we are talking about something more than just income, I wonder if you’ve set up an impossible standard.

          When we tend to think of “middle class” from a cultural standpoint, we THINK of the suburbs. White picket fences… lawns… two car garages… etc. If we are bemoaning the fact that cities can’t offer THAT, well… no duh.Report

        • Avatar TXG1112 in reply to NewDealer
          Ignored
          says:

          This is the thing. It comes down to space/amenities/cost. My step mother grew up in the Bronx in the 1950’s in a rented 1 bedroom apartment for 3 people and this was considered normal and middle class for the time.

          If you want a big apartment in a trendy neighborhood, of course it will be expensive. So does everyone else and some of those people make more money than you do. If you’re willing to live with your spouse and young child in a 1 bedroom, then perhaps you can afford it. Whether this is worth it or OK, is entirely a matter of perspective.

          The issue brought up in the Times article is mostly that some of the cultural ephemera associated with hipster Brooklyn was making it’s way to Westchester county. Things like fancy coffee shops and organic grocery stores all in a walkable downtown area make for an easy transition to suburban life where you don’t need to drive everywhere. Tarrytown and Hastings on Hudson are good examples, and Peekskill is very nice if a bit farther north. My town in Northern NJ is similarly walkable and I really like it, but don’t confuse the first world problems of upper middle class hipsters with real life.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 in reply to NewDealer
          Ignored
          says:

          The middle class DOES live in the cities. They just don’t live like suburban middle class people do, which seems to be the problem with this article.

          American cities have a big middle class. Asking “Why don’t they” is like asking “Why isn’t water wet?”. Your premise is…flawed..or you have a different definition of water or wet.

          How are the, to be blunt, teeming hordes of people whose income makes them “middle class” living in the cities not “middle class” for the purpose of this article? What definition of “middle class” are we using that pushes them out?Report

  7. Avatar Chris
    Ignored
    says:

    On noise control, I just want to note that the most annoying people in the world are those who move into an entertainment district because it’s fun, then age a bit, maybe have a kid or two, and decide that the entertainment district is too loud and start lobbying for noise ordinances.Report

  8. Avatar zic
    Ignored
    says:

    I think much of this has to do with The American Dream; a Norman Rockwell vision of the white picket fence and a neighborhood where the kids can run in packs unsupervised and safe, roaming from yard to yard.

    I don’t think that happens much anymore, our kids are too scheduled and supervised for such free time. But I think the notion of it happening drives much of this flight to a .25 acre house 1.5 hours from work.Report

  9. Avatar Michael Cain
    Ignored
    says:

    It seems reasonable to suggest that “city” as used here probably doesn’t apply to most of the cities in the US that are west of the Mississippi and not San Francisco. Or at the least, most of the area of the “city” is indistinguishable from suburbia. Certainly if you go to a Des Moines or Kansas City or Omaha or Oklahoma City or Denver or Salt Lake City, the core is pretty small and the surrounding area of standalone houses is quite large, before you get to the suburbs. The assertion upstream somewhere about PWK’s desire for museums and such applies equally to large parts of western cities. In Denver, to choose the example that I’m most familiar with, there are parts of some of the suburbs that are closer to the Natural Science Museum, the zoo, and the major league stadiums than some parts of Denver itself.Report

  10. Avatar DRS
    Ignored
    says:

    Ever heard of pocket neighborhoods? Turning suburbs into clusters of villlages:

    http://www.pocket-neighborhoods.net/Report

  11. Avatar Matty
    Ignored
    says:

    Maybe with ever improving communications and transport the idea of cities will disappear in a few centuries or at least be pared back to a few entertainment and commercial districts. The rest where everyone lives would be suburbs even if they started just a few steps from the city centre and that might not be so bad.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Matty
      Ignored
      says:

      While telecommuting is getting more common, it is not possible for all jobs and I think a lot of companies are wary of it in general.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Matty
      Ignored
      says:

      The better and faster we make personal transportation, the less we’ll live in cities. Taking this to extremes, if we had underground mag-lev evacuated tubes that could move us anywhere in the CONUS in about 30 minutes, or Star Trek transporters that could beam us anywhere, we’d all live in the mountains, the forests, or by a lake. We’d zip into LA to work, New York for lunch, and San Francisco for dinner, then catch a show on Broadway and maybe a few drinks in Miami before returning to our ranch in Montana or Arizona. That would become the nation’s new lifestyle, and the housing market near cities would collapse and the housing market in the boonies would surge.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to George Turner
        Ignored
        says:

        and the slower and more expensive we make personal transportation, the more we’ll live in cities.

        My bets are transportation costs doubling every five years for a while.Report

      • Avatar Lyle in reply to George Turner
        Ignored
        says:

        Exactly! Reading a history of Chicago, it says that suburbs first developed at outlying rail stations around the outside of the city. You could then ride a train into the center of the city. Then the horse drawn street car arrived and the city got a big larger. Then came the electric street car in the 1890s and development tended to occur along and within walking distance of the streetcar lines. So you had linear suburbs along these lines. So every improvement in transport resulted in cities expanding as the desire for space has been present for a long time. (Even before transit, the rich had country houses). If for example soon we get to the point where enough cars have self drive that dedicated roadways could increase the capacity for commuting)Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to George Turner
        Ignored
        says:

        1. I am not sure this is true. I’d probably still choose an urban loft

        2. The boonies would cease being the boonies in your system.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to NewDealer
          Ignored
          says:

          Not to mention the fact that if you put a million people in N square miles, the infrastructure cost for water, sewage, and power is considerably less than if you put a million people in N X 1000 square miles.

          Until you get decentralized power generation, on-site water collection and reuse, and on-site waste processing down to a reasonable cost, you’re not going to get this sort of spread.Report

  12. Avatar Damon
    Ignored
    says:

    My Ex (but when she was still my wife) and I move out to suburbia or exurbia (not sure what’s the definition) and I’ll share some of my thinking. FYI: In my area, there are two major cities, Baltimore and Wash DC.

    First off, we wanted more space. It was just the two of us, but we really wanted about 250-500 sq more. A slightly bigger bathroom, wider shower, more kitchen space, etc. We looked in our local area and could not afford/were unwilling to pay the prices. We had a monthly amount we could afford and were unwilling to go beyond it.

    Noise. We were tired of the Korean grandparents, who ran an in home daycare center for their extended family, having arguments with their kids/customers at 11:30 AM on a week night.

    Crime. We were at the decision point, wavering between deciding to more or not, when we found at a kid in the neighborhood had fallen in with a bad element and someone fired off a 9MM round that lodged in one of our neighbor’s floor. It penetrated the front of the house first. We decided to move. Additionally, there were several property crimes in the area. Cars broken into and stuff stolen, etc., and an “element” less than a mile away that hung out on street corners at all hours of the night selling drugs.

    So we left the area, got a bigger place for a lot less money than we would have paid staying where we were, got distance between the neighbors, got more quiet, got NO crime, cheaper taxes, etc.
    Living either in B-more or DC would have meant more taxes, less quality schools (or paying for private education), crappier public services, crappier roads, MUCH higher housing costs, etc. It wasn’t a difficult choiceReport

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon
      Ignored
      says:

      I wonder how many of these folks can recognize a crystal meth plant by driving by it??
      (I can’t, but I know people who can).

      “No Crime” indeed!

      Note: what most people mean by “no crime” is that people are civilized enough to just rob their own grandparents blind rather than steal from strangers.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kim
        Ignored
        says:

        I wonder how many of these folks can recognize a crystal meth plant by driving by it??
        (I can’t, but I know people who can).

        Your friends with x-ray vision?Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Kim
        Ignored
        says:

        Well, let’s see. Since I was on the Board of Directors for my community’s HOA, we got informed of any crime in our development. Baring 2 incidents, there was none. One was some teenagers that set fire to our gazebo-the parents made the kids help fix it, and a “halloween crime spree” where some folks went up the street checking for unlocked cars, and took when they found. This was all over 7-10 years.

        Maybe I should have said “major”. There was no meth labs, no shootings, no violence, no (obvious) drug sales, very little property crime, etc. When it did happen, it was a BIG deal in the local newspaper.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Damon
          Ignored
          says:

          This is crime that gets reported which is different than all crime that occurs.

          How much domestic abuse occurs behind closed doors in suburbs and never gets reported? How much child abuse? How much drug use? Home visits from escorts to widowed businessmen?Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer
            Ignored
            says:

            I’m pretty sure he would have noticed a treehouse (this is a ref to one in Manhattan).Report

          • Avatar Damon in reply to NewDealer
            Ignored
            says:

            I don’t consider consentual agreements (prostitution, drug use, etc.) crimes, so if some widowed businessman was banging an escort, I don’t care, nor do I care if he’s smoking weed.

            As to “domestic abuse”, maybe there was some, no one will know, and frankly, it has little impact to others and their quality of life, so really, how relevant is it to the points I was making?Report

            • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon
              Ignored
              says:

              plenty. elder abuse is likely to lead to people not maintaining their houses.Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to Kim
                Ignored
                says:

                Given there were zero “elders” in my development, so that’s wasn’t a factor, and how, exactly, is elder abuse likely to lead to people not maintaining their houses, and how is that going to impact my, or the rest of the neighborhood’s quality of life. Also note, when answering, that HOA could step in and “maintain” the exterior of the property if it was not kept up.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon
                Ignored
                says:

                If kids steal all their parents (Boomer-generation’s) money, then they don’t have enough to pay rent/mortgage/taxes… or if they do, they often dont’ have enough to spend on basic maintenance.Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to Kim
                Ignored
                says:

                and so the HOA maintains the property, attaching a lean on the title and is paid when the house is eventually sold…

                You still haven’t explained how this impacts the rest of the community. In your situation, these elderly (of which there were NONE) would be forced to sell their house and move away.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon
                Ignored
                says:

                or let their house fall down around their ears, via termites or whatever.
                Yes, in a functioning HOA, this is eventually noticed. You’ll tell me if that’s likely to occur after the west nile or before it, I’m sure.Report

  13. Avatar Kazzy
    Ignored
    says:

    Some scattered thoughts…

    1.) Cities indeed need teachers. And high-priced private schools need high-quality teachers, though often spend less on salary than do public schools, neither of which tend to pay enough for teachers to live in the more desirable areas of the city. Some private schools have addressed this by offering faculty housing. They take advantage of unused building/campus space and/or invest endowments in buildings and rent them out to teachers at below-market rates. It is a huge recruiting tool for some.
    2.) Personally, I wouldn’t want to raise a child in the city because I really value outdoor place, which is harder to come by in the city. Unfortunately, it is also becoming increasingly harder to come by in suburbs, given that many municipalities have all but outlawed unsupervised outdoor play.
    3.) I think we need to consider our definitions of “cities”. As I often point out, much of America would consider Westchester to be urban, or at least many of its towns to be “cities”. White Plains would qualify, Yonkers would, and many more. But those places are a far cry from the urban core of Manhattan. Many of them are more urban than sections of the outer-boroughs, but because they are physically outside the boundaries of New York City, they don’t qualify as the city.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Kazzy
      Ignored
      says:

      My definition of “city” has within it the concept of “walkable” and neighborhood, and a certain population density.

      Certainly Pittsburgh proper has areas that would appear rural (it has farms inside the city limits. Big ones too, not just an acre or two).Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Kim
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        says:

        With absolutely no disrespect, define “walkable”. For me, it would have to include grocery (or its multi-store equivalent), pharmacy, laundromat, a bar, a park, a couple of places to eat, and mass transit to work/school. I’ll leave out fencing club since that’s peculiar [1]. Walk a loop that goes past all of them in less than 45 minutes. The only times I’ve lived in such a situation was when I was living in student ghettos, and I had to be a bit picky about location in order to meet those requirements. In the more city-like settings where I lived when I was younger, the grocery was actually the hardest thing. For example, in the residential fringes of downtown Denver, finding a place where you can buy fresh ingredients that’s within walking distance can be painful. Too many places that have been billed as “walkable” to me seem to only mean “somewhat fewer car trips per week.”

        [1] As best I can recall, most of my adult life I have been involved in some sort of activity a couple times per week that involved lugging some amount of “stuff” back and forth. The alternative was to have a sufficiently high income that I could rent space at the facility to store my stuff, which always seemed to end up with storage costing more than the activity.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Michael Cain
          Ignored
          says:

          You described every neighborhood I lived in since post-College. This includes

          1. Tokyo

          2. The Upper East Side

          3. Boreum Hillm Brooklyn

          4. My current neighborhood in San Francisco.

          Many places in NYC and San Francisco are like this. Other cities on the East Coast like Boston/Cambridge/Sommerville, Philly, Washington D.C. can be like this. From what I heard Portland, Seattle, Berekley can be walkable as you describe ot/Report

          • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to NewDealer
            Ignored
            says:

            Aha! Tokyo, BosWash, San Francisco, and select areas in other places. Now let’s consider that type of place from the perspective of their competitiveness in creating middle-class jobs over the last few decades. What are the defining characteristics? Very high land prices, high office-space prices, high utility prices, limited freight transport capacity, relatively heavy regulation of what can be done, and how.

            The biggest ones lost manufacturing a century ago, when electric motors and assembly lines made the ability to do the entire job on a single level extremely valuable. What would it cost to acquire 30 acres of undeveloped land in any of them (or worse, developed land and clear it)? At some point after production left, the designers and engineers followed — Andy Grove is predicting that if IC manufacturing all goes to China, the designers and engineers left in the US will be at an enormous disadvantage relative to their counterparts in China, and will disappear.

            New York and San Francisco used to be enormous ports. Today, they come pretty far down on the list of US ports by both tonnage and value. Not because their harbors have declined in quality — but because the build-up of the urban area makes it extremely difficult to move the stuff out of the port using truck or rail. The high population density also precludes certain work. I worked for a telecom research firm; high-paying white-color jobs, who wouldn’t want them? Aside from those tanks of highly toxic gases up on the roof needed for IC test work, of course.

            Middle-class back-office jobs? Unless there is some specific reason to put them in the the urban core, space and utility costs dictate they go to the suburbs or to another part of the country. What kinds of things are left? Finance. Legal. Top executive staff. Specific performing arts. Very specific jobs like sewing for the big runway shows (production has gone far, far away) — again, performing arts. Educational jobs at established institutions that have large capital investments and don’t pay taxes. Almost independent of workers’ personal choices about the urban environment, you have to be competitive about producing middle-class jobs.Report

            • Avatar trumwill mobile in reply to Michael Cain
              Ignored
              says:

              This is a solid comment.Report

            • Avatar zic in reply to Michael Cain
              Ignored
              says:

              t some point after production left, the designers and engineers followed — Andy Grove is predicting that if IC manufacturing all goes to China, the designers and engineers left in the US will be at an enormous disadvantage relative to their counterparts in China, and will disappear.

              This is already happening in the production of manufacturing equipment; or so I know from the wood-products industry. First, they imported the equipment to make, say, the feet for couches. Then they began making their own, only it didn’t work to well. Then they refined it, in part by importing the skilled engineers to do so and also by learning to train their own engineers, and stopped importing the manufacturing equipment. Then they began exporting the equipment.

              Tool makers, the guys who make the tools to make equipment, are becoming rare on the ground here in the US. You will be hard-put to find a major furniture manufacturer that actually cuts their pieces here in the US, that’s now a niche industry.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Cain
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              says:

              So… what’s the future of the urban core, then? And why do real estate prices there seem to maintain a premium related to just that location? Do the few kinds of jobs and industries you describe really support the kind of price premiums seen in the major business districts of cities? What you’re describing seems to suggest countervailing trends that ought to keep things more in balance (though maybe that’s what we actually are seeing). Maybe I’m just confused about what questions we’re trying to answer here. If it’s why major industry (shipping in Brooklyn; steel, machinery, or auto production on the South Side, etc.) moved out of the parts of cities they formerly dominated, well, I don’t think thats all that mysterious. But if it’s why middle-class office jobs aren’t being created in the business districts of cities, I’m not sure I even acknowledge the phenomenon. It seems to me that those jobs are being created in the burbs and in the city roughly in balance, as there are reasons to keeps staff at the central offices and there are also reasons to send them to cheaper sites. Of course, in general, a lot fewer of those jobs are being created since 2008, and the general downturn may be affecting the balance over the short term (and, to be sure, that may have longer-term ramifications). But it’s not at all clear to me that the days of the central-city middle-class office worker are somehow a thing of the past. There certainly seem to be a lot of those folks around when I go downtown in whatever city I happen to be in.

              So yeah, I guess I’m a little unclear what question we’re answering here. Maybe that’s more a question for New Dealer than anyone else.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Michael Cain
              Ignored
              says:

              Most major US Law Firms are still located in urban areas. This is true for all levels and types of law from Plaintiff stuff to big Corporate firms. Most major banking and investment stuff is still done in urban areas. Some of tech industry is being lured back into San Francisco.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer
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                says:

                Please bear in mind that there are tons of lawyers in podunk little towns. (it’s why lawyers have a lower average salary than physicists). [yes, this is me backhanding in a different conversation entirely]Report

            • Avatar Kim in reply to Michael Cain
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              says:

              Pittsburgh’s creating tons of jobs in the past 10 years. Hell, we’re actually increasing in population.
              And we have manufacturing nearby (not in the city, necessarily, though I’m in Seagate’s building, and they do still operate clean rooms a few floors beneath me).

              Pittsburgh does medicine, it does schools. It also does finance decently well.Report

              • Avatar Wasil ibn Ata in reply to Kim
                Ignored
                says:

                Pittsburgh has had a declining population for every decade since 1950. And with a population of ~300K and a density of ~3,000/sq. mi. (1/4 of the density of my suburb of Chicago), it barely counts as a city.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Wasil ibn Ata
                Ignored
                says:

                get your stats right: 5,540/sq mi (Just pulling from wikipedia).

                If you want to count it as “barely a city” dat’s fine.

                Oh, and our pop is heading up again (like last decade).Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Michael Cain
              Ignored
              says:

              One note about this otherwise solid comment:

              The Port of Long Beach moves more freight than any other port in the world (IIRC… if not, it’s certainly top 2 in the U.S.) Not only is it in Los Angeles, it’s buried on one side of the city, meaning that all of the rail and truck traffic that comes out of the port on its way to the rest of the U.S. (and this is most manufactured goods that come from China, again IIRC) needs to go through the entire urban sprawl of Los Angeles – which is quite a bit more than San Francisco, Oakland, and even New York, in pure square area.

              This hasn’t slowed incoming port traffic at PoLB much.

              I’m absolutely certain that there’s something interesting to be found if you dig into the logistics of port traffic and major ports in the U.S., but there’s more to it than urban area. I will go out on a limb and guess that ocean currents and loaded vs. unloaded travel bunker fuel rates are one factor, and rail is another, and price density per foot is one, and there are a number of others. But it’s not just “man, there’s a big city in the way of transporting the goods”.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                Depends if you’re looking at cargo tonnage or # of containers, but either way LB is actually a lot farther down the list (PDF). But that’s a quibble, because the exact placement on the list doesn’t detract from the (good) substance of your comment.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Ah, pure tonnage, Tejas/Louisana has all that incoming crude. I’m surprised that New York is still so high.

                Los Angeles/Long Beach is number one and two in container traffic in the U.S., tho. And while they’re two distinct entities, they’re right next door to each other and I always think of them as the same place (from a logistics standpoint, they kind of are).Report

              • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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                says:

                Yeah, I been in and out of LB a few times. And the Port at Tacoma. East coast has been Charlotte and Jersey. New York, never.

                Some of that may have something to do with specific contracts my company has, but generally we go everywhere.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Rod Engelsman
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                says:

                Erie Canal’s open and running freight again (not that it ever really stopped, but whenever gas gets high, it runs more). 😉Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                Not only is it in Los Angeles, it’s buried on one side of the city, meaning that all of the rail and truck traffic that comes out of the port on its way to the rest of the U.S. needs to go through the entire urban sprawl of Los Angeles…

                And the Los Angeles region and companies operating there have done (and continue to do) an impressive job of building infrastructure to make that happen. Multiple major intermodal terminals; the Alameda Corridor; the much-maligned but indispensable freeway system, with the 710 (IIRC) terminating directly at the Ports. They didn’t have the easy way out as things expanded — the Bay Area ports on the east side of the Bay handle much more tonnage than the Port of SF, and the vast majority of tonnage handled by the Port of NY/NJ goes through the terminals on the NJ side of the harbor/rivers.

                I think my point would be that SF and Manhattan let the middle-class jobs associated with being a major shipping hub go elsewhere in the area, and expanding the port facilities in those two cities would be incredibly expensive. LA kept its ports and jobs and still grows them, but put in corridors that chopped things up and spread things out.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Michael Cain
                Ignored
                says:

                It’s definitely the case that San Francisco has geographical limitations that neither LA nor Oakland has. They also have a different demographic of citizenry, and they have a much more robust tourism industry than Oakland does, so replacing working freight ports with light commercial and dense residential makes economic sense, for SF.Report

            • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Michael Cain
              Ignored
              says:

              A couple of additional thoughts.

              From time to time Mr. Truman and I discuss kids leaving rural America because there aren’t enough jobs, middle-class or otherwise. Of course, the reasons for the problem in rural areas is different than in the urban cores, but the problem is the same — if you want a thriving middle class, then you have to produce lots of middle-class jobs. And despite all the people who abhor them, you have to admit that for the last 60 years or so, the suburbs have been the engine that produced middle-class jobs in the US. I live in a solidly middle-class neighborhood in an inner-ring suburb, but almost no one in the neighborhood works in Denver’s urban core. Their jobs may be in a different suburb, but they’re not “downtown”.

              Someone smarter than me ought to take a crack at explaining why that’s so — what are the key factors that let the suburbs produce middle-class jobs? And once identified, can the necessary conditions be recreated in either a sparsely-populated rural area or a densely-populated urban core? I have a sneaking suspicion that they can’t; that somehow, at least for the US, the suburbs represent some sort of optimal balance of density, private land ownership, and other factors that’s middle-class “friendly.”Report

        • Avatar Lyle in reply to Michael Cain
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          says:

          Actually one should change from walkable to bicycleable as a defintion. A 2 or 3 wheeled bike could extend that to a couple of miles if the town is reasonably flat. Now major hills change that of course. But taking Houston, which is FLAT, 3 miles would be the range, at which point you probably have all the amenities around.Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to Lyle
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            says:

            3 miles is 45 minutes walking. Bicycleable gives you five miles easy.Report

            • Avatar Roger in reply to Kim
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              says:

              When I lived in The Woodlands, a suburb of Houston, I lived within a bike ride of work, a mall, a grocery store, a gas station*, schools and everything else. There are probably over a hundred thousand people in this suburb now, and a hundred times as many more trees. You don’t need a City to have an extremely livable, and family friendly place. Interestingly until recently, it was not government planned at all.

              * the place has so many trees that I lived there two years before I noticed there was a gas station hidden within the forest a few miles fom my house.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                How many folks live there without a car? Hate to say it, but it REALLY matters.
                Walmart is eating small town cores for lunch. If there’s not enough population pressure to say “stay within 5 miles of This Spot”, then the commercial district doesn’t.

                TONS of folks walk around here. A good deal don’t have cars, at all.Report

        • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Michael Cain
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          says:

          Most of the places I’ve lived have at least had the grocery store, pharmacy, and park within that general radius. Even most suburbs I’ve seen tend to have a broad enough distribution of grocery stores to manage the first requirement – granted, it might be a big store rather than a local one that does organic stuff and the like, but it’ll have fruits/vegetables and all the other necessities. American cities and suburbs must be different from Canada.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer in reply to KatherineMW
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            says:

            There tend to be a few different types of American suburb.

            1. One type is the old bedroom community/commuter suburb. Most of these were villages with long histories but became commuter suburbs after the invention of the train or other easy means of transportation to and from the center. Many of these towns were planned on traditional European styles with a commercial center and then a residential radius outward. I grew up in a town like this and used to be able to walk for ten or so minutes to go into town and get a slice of pizza or see a movie. These towns tend to be more expensive than other suburbs because they are closer to the city (shorter commutes) and because of the old school style.

            2. Post-WWII suburbs and exurbs were designed with very specific distinctions between the residential and commercial. These are the classic Levittown suburbs built on open and unused land. They are farther from the major city usually and generally require a car to get anywhere.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Michael Cain
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          says:

          Laundromat’s only needed if you don’t have some sort of facilities in your home.
          (fencing, or at least some sort of place for community sports recreation, is fine to put in. The SCA practices in my local park).

          I’m willing to walk 3 miles to hit the local Trader Joe’s (that’s 45 minutes, actually.) — and that’s the third grocery store I’d walk by on my way (not counting “corner stores”, which fit a different niche, of which there would be one, plus a “convenience store” of dubious quality).

          A (good) grocery store and public transit, some restaurants/bars and some parks. Yeah, that’s walkable to me.

          MOST of Pittsburgh’s east end qualifies.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kazzy
      Ignored
      says:

      1. I know NYU has faculty housing but never heard of any school lower than the university level offering it except to some fancy boarding schools that needed teacher’s to monitor the dorms.

      2. I’ve heard of suburbs doing this as well. Ironically my friend valued NYC for kids because of the outdoor space but not necessarily green space. The value was a kid being able to leave their apartment and get some pizza or something or walk around the neighborhood without needing a car.

      3. PossiblyReport

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        1. The Collegiate School, on the UWS, owns the apartment building above the school. It is a former hotel so the rooms are all studios that they make available to their teachers. Any excess units are made available to other NYC private school teachers. I know because I lived in one myself, getting a small studio on the UWS with all utilities (save for cable/phone/internet) in a door manned building one block from the subway for $1000/month, about half what it would have cost otherwise at the time. I know others have similar setups, though it is certainly more the exception than the norm.

        2. That is why I really enjoyed where I grew up (Bergen County, NJ). We had a lawn and calm enough streets we could play in them. There were large parks within walking distance plus multiple restaurants, a movie theater, and other shops all within a reasonable walk.

        3. I should note that I didn’t bring this point up to necessarily disagree with anything you’ve said here, only to note that this conversation is very NY/Big Coastal City specific. I doubt this phenomenon is happening in many other places.Report

  14. Avatar Roger
    Ignored
    says:

    Great OP, hope it is the first of many!

    As a previous corporate gypsy, my family and I moved ten times across six different states. Here is how one upper middle class family decided where to live.

    1) within a half our of work. My rule of thumb is that the ideal commute is just long enough to play Coltrane’s “Love Supreme” in it’s entirety on the way to work. A lot of upper middle lass jobs are located in the burbs, so that is where we looked.
    2). We can get two or three times the square footage in the suburbs, that is newer, more modern and requires less maintenance. In other words economics. Families need space — more rooms, larger areas for the kids to play, more space to get away from each other and so forth.
    3) Security. Parents are instinctively drawn to value getting private, safe space away from the world. This means homes that are separated with large yards and shrubs. It also means fleeing from crime and undesirable social influences.
    4). Environment. We wanted to be around the Paleolithic ideal setting of a place on higher ground with lots of grass, occasional trees and water. We usually moved alongside an open area of forest or a golf course or lake. These are not to be found in the city unless one is very rich.
    5). Multicultural. My family is multiracial, so we tried to find neighborhoods which were not all upper class white snobs. This was probably the most difficult thing to find in the suburbs.
    6). Schools. Nobody wants their kids to go to a bad school or to be around less desirable peers. I would not send our kids to private schools because of the snob thing and economics. Therefore we sought out good school districts. These are usually in the suburbs with other upper class people who invest in their children. There is a vicious circle here. Good parents want to be around other good parents and their kids. We tend to find each other.
    7). Taxes and regulatory burden. Inner cities always seem to be captured by special interests with high taxes and absurd redistributive politics.
    8). Congestion. We liked to live in places where you could bike anywhere without being run over or choked in exhaust fumes. This meant places with bike paths and such. Again, the burbs.

    In summary, living in the city never made any sense. The only time I did live in the city was when I was on short term assignment and lived for half a year without my family. Single I would have been bored stiff in the burbs.

    By the way, by far, the best community was The Woodlands Texas. It was a tad too white for us, but had everything else.Report

    • Avatar aaron david in reply to Roger
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      says:

      This sums up my thoughts also. I would only ad one thing, and that would be hobbies. Many people have hobbies that take up additional space, things such as gardening, woodworking etc. If yo ur hobby is going to the opera, fine dinning or what have you, then living in the city center is fairly ideal, but if you like to restore old cars, enjoy home brewing, or working on real (slow cook) BBQ, you will want to spread out a little.

      And also, great first post!Report

  15. Avatar Christopher Carr
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    says:

    Cost is the main reason I don’t live in the city, actually. I’m there all day, so it would make sense for my family and I to live there. Plus there are cultural draws. But we cannot afford the minimal amount of space and schooling we require to live a comparable lifestyle in the city, so we’re living a comfortable lifestyle in the suburbs instead.Report

  16. Avatar Dan Miller
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    says:

    I think that cost is the biggest problem, especially because in cities, families will be bidding against DINKs or groups of roommates. I currently live with 3 other roommates, and everyone works; we rent a four-bedroom. If a family wanted to rent the same place, they’d have to do it despite having only one or two wage-earners. The solution is probably to remove building restrictions and therefore increase the supply of housing in urban areas. Unfortunately, there are a lot of NIMBYs out there that will fight tooth and nail against any new project, so it’s tough. Ultimately, you need institutional reform so that one aggrieved neighbor can’t hold up every project.Report

  17. Avatar LWA
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    says:

    Land in cities is expensive, because it is so very valuable. Cities offer a density of commercial opportunity- employees, customers, other businesses, etc.

    So if “middle class” is defined as vast expanses of cheap land then cities can’t contain a middle class.
    And for Americans of the Boomer generation, that is exactly how “middle class” is defined; a suburban home where land is cheap.

    There are a few factors at play that are forcing a redefinition of middle class and urbanism.
    One is that the post WWII model of real estate development, where you purchase cheap open land and build a bunch of single family dwellings, is coming to a close.
    The marketplace, and political decisions are making that model economically unsustainable.
    For instance, no one is building freeways anymore- anywhere. The political will to construct them isn’t there. And almost all the cheap land within commuting distance of a freeway is already expensive or built on.
    Exceptions abound, but this is pretty much the norm in most states.

    The suburb as we all grew up with, is going to play a smaller and smaller role in defining what it means to be middle class.

    People like to have status markers that define how they fit into society- for nearly everyone here, our parents used the single family home as the marker of middle class prosperity. Our children will devise some other defining characteristic, but they will more likely than not, live in a much more dense configuration than we did.Report

    • Avatar trumwill mobile in reply to LWA
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      says:

      Or… the jobs spread out to meet the people. As little political will as you might see for new and bigger freeways I think there is less for density and public transportation.Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to trumwill mobile
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        says:

        Density doesn’t need an advocate, or political will; it already has the muscle of the marketplace behind it.

        The dream of living in the countryside while making money in the city will forever be tempting; so there will always be some form of suburbs, but I don’t see them getting cheaper anytime in our lifetime.
        The dream of a personal transportation device will forever be tempting; if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

        Suburbs can’t exist without cheap energy; transporting yourself back and forth to your job is only going to get more and more expensive, even if we all decided tomorrow to cover the countryside in freeways.
        Single family dwellings has a wildly inefficient mass of embedded energy, regardless of technological advances.

        Multifamily housing and mass transit will always have the economic edge; They are just naturally more efficient in how they use energy and materials.

        What we witnessed from 1945- present was a fluke, a freak era of prosperity where technology (autos, mass home production) collided with politics (unions, New Deal, Great Compression) to make single family homes the norm for the working class.

        For thousands of years, people were able to raise children and live pleasant lives even while living in dense urban cities. We (all of us in the American Baby Boom) have just never really experienced that so it sounds ominous and frightening.Report

        • Avatar Roger in reply to LWA
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          says:

          I agree that the last 75 years or so has been historically exceptional. We have been able to choose to live in a spacious, low density, inexpensive area by using personal transportation. Once people were no longer tied to how far they could walk or ride on an hour or so, they could choose to spread out. Families chose this option. Because they could.

          For the record, I see no long term trend toward significantly higher personal transportation costs. The costs of resources continues to drop with discovery and technology.

          I also find it interesting that you and I draw such different explanations of the trend. The libertarian guy sees it as based upon free choice and decentralized factors and you see it as part of the noble efforts of well intentioned progressives leading unions and New Deal policies (along with some unfortunate raping of the defenseless planet).

          We are such cliches.Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger
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            says:

            “For the record, I see no long term trend toward significantly higher personal transportation costs. The costs of resources continues to drop with discovery and technology.”

            I think we’ve hit peak oil. Personal transportation costs will continue to double about every five years (yes, some people will go back to trains/streetcars/bikes. those people don’t count).

            Of course it’s free choice. It’s also racism, and stupidity, and directly causative of distinct and uniquely american forms of insanity.Report

          • Avatar LWA in reply to Roger
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            says:

            We do indeed tend to see what we prefer, don’t we?

            To continue a line I have been pursuing, the development of the cities and suburbs has indeed been the result of freedom of choice- but only the freedom to choose within a very limited menu of options, which were the end result of government and private sector decisions.

            For instance, the choice to move from city to suburb was the result of massive government intervention and subsidy. The government took command of the right of way, used taxpayer money to construct freeways, used more to construct streets and infrastructure, offered low interest VA and FHA mortgages, and restricted the use of the land for low density single family houses.

            Its that same idea, that what we consider to be the natural and inevitable workings of the marketplace is actually the result of loaded dice and scale-tipping.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to LWA
          Ignored
          says:

          Pleasant lives in urban cities for many years included walking barefoot through streets filled with shit. Or maybe that was just Paris? ;-PReport

    • Avatar Kim in reply to LWA
      Ignored
      says:

      Mon Fayette Expressway ring a bell?Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Kim
        Ignored
        says:

        Frankly, I see less actual “commuting” in the future. Technically, I’ve been able to telecommute from my house for the last 10 years. Only a series of managers that “liked their team in the office” prevented it.

        It served me little to drive into the office to email / call the Singapore-ese or the English and French when I could do it from home. Outside the occasional staff meeting, all hands meeting, customer meeting (at their site or ours), there was little need for me to actually be in the office. This was and is the case for my of my coworkers.Report

  18. Avatar James Hanley
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    says:

    New Dealer,

    Just two quick comments.

    First, good post on an interesting and important issue, and welcome to the illustrious world of guest posters.

    Second, rent control is part–not all, but a part–of the problem in some American cities. As good as the idea sounds, it ends up creating a class of folks who don’t want/can’t afford to move out of their rent-controlled apartments, a class of folks living in luxury non-rent-controlled apartments because they’re a lot more remunerative for developers to build, and a class of folks who can’t get into rent-controlled apartments or afford what’s actually available on the market. Here’s a Cato paper (I know, Cato!?, but check out the graphs) on the issue. (Warning: PDF).Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to James Hanley
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      says:

      Interestingly rent control might be helping me stay in San Francisco. Rents in my neighborhood have risen dramatically because of the new tech boom.

      Though now we get into a trickier question of cities with limited space and cities with unique aesthetics. Matt Y’s solution to this would be build build build. More buildings need to be build but I think San Francisco would cease to be San Francisco if you tore down the housing stock and replaced it with apartment towers.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        Yes. it would then be NYC. *ducks*Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        ND,

        Indeed San Francisco would change and become something very different. It’s a question of values–do we value keeping it’s character or keeping a larger stock of affordable housing? Ultimately that’s a political question.

        But do read the article I linked to. While rent control benefits some set of individuals, it does over time reduce the available stock of affordable housing. There’s a cost to the policy of retaining San Francisco as is (and reading about how SF’s counterculture is disappearing, it’s questionable whether the policy’s really doing that, or just keeping the physical appearance of the old SF.)

        Put another way, your good fortune in having a rent controlled apartment comes at the expense of someone who’s not making a lawyer’s salary.Report

        • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to James Hanley
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          says:

          I’m no sure about that. Vancouver has no rent control and virtually no affordable apartments, so rent control doesn’t equal sufficient supply to bring the price down. In this case, it just equals more luxury apartments being built rather than the construction of anything in regular people’s price range.

          It’s perfectly plausible that in some cities, rent control raises the stock of affordable housing from “none” to “some” rather than decreasing it from “lots” to “some”. It all depends on how many rich people want to live in the city – and in places like SF, NYC, or Vancouver, there’s no shortage of such people.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to James Hanley
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      says:

      Here is a question for the libertarian minded but completely different from the original post:

      http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2013/02/25/counterparties-italys-protest-vote/

      Choice quote:

      ‘Markets, not surprisingly, hate the whole “ungovernable” thing.’

      Why do business/economist types refer to markets like they are sentient beings? I agree that markets exist but markets are made up of people: Business people, investors, stock brokers, consumers, etc. Why not say ‘Business people and investors, not surprisingly, hate the whole “ungovernable” thing.’ This feels more accurate to me.

      A market can only act as it’s participants act. It does no action on her own.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        It’s just a shorthand for the longer version you suggest. Like all short hands, it’s taken for granted by a certain circle and irritates the bejaysus out of others. When I hear it I automatically understand it actually refers to the collective responses of market participants, and rarely stop to think about it’s literal implication of a sentient abstraction.

        There was some phrase used here by liberals a while back that I made a similar criticism, and they all rushed to object that of course they didn’t take it the way I thought they were taking it. So in that case I seem to have been the outsider. (Of course I’m still not fully persuaded, so if you’re not fully persuaded by me, well, turnabout is fair play!)Report

  19. Avatar Roger
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    says:

    New Dealer,

    A question back at you…

    How have the responses affected your take on this issue?Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Roger
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      says:

      This is a great question, Roger. One that should be asked on most of these posts.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Roger
      Ignored
      says:

      I’ll just toss in that the conservations here have changed my views on many of these issues. I’m not a libertarian but i understand that logic a bit more and think more positively of libertarian econ/social policy ideas. I also think a lot less of some libertarian and conservative ideas. I’ve always been frustrated with some liberal arguments.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to greginak
        Ignored
        says:

        The same happened to me on the recent voter fraud issue. I assumed the republicans had a valid point up until they failed to make one that convinced me. And I really learned from Nob’s latest post too.

        Dialogue is good.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to greginak
        Ignored
        says:

        I would second this. I’ve said this before, but my opinion of libertarians and their philosophy is hugely different now than from before I came here and started to get to know them.

        They haven’t succeeded in making me a convert, but they have gotten my to readjust my compass when thinking about big issues.Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to greginak
        Ignored
        says:

        @ Greg:
        “conservations ”

        Thats a nice coinage; I propose that it be used to refer to the dialogue that occurs on Sunday morning talk shows where the guests range from one extreme of Beltway belief(Paul Ryan) to the other extreme (John McCain).Report

  20. Avatar Tod Kelly
    Ignored
    says:

    BTW, this was a great post ND.Report

  21. Avatar BlaiseP
    Ignored
    says:

    A well-written piece, ND. You must write more.

    Not for the first time would I be observing any Middle Class is a temporary phenomenon. They arise in the wake of paradigm shifts, a phrase I hate so much I shall now mulct a 20 dollar fine upon myself, payable the next time LoOG does a fund drive.

    But it’s true. The American middle class emerged in the wake of WW2. Suburbia was concomitant with a huge spurt of road building, Eisenhower’s Interstates. Malls replaced down town stores. The rest you know, of how the middle class began to thin out starting in the 1970s, giving way to the Dumpsies of today, the inverse of the Yuppies of yore, the Downwardly Mobile Professional Suburbanite. Age doesn’t matter: the oldsters are just as prone to downward mobility as their kids, many of whom are still living in their parents’ homes.

    The first middle class was called Bourgeois for a reason: they lived in cities. They weren’t nobility, they weren’t serfs.

    Cities are now an afterthought in modern American politics. If anyone cares, it’s the mayors. Governors don’t much care. Washington doesn’t care. We can’t call the American middle class “bourgeois” any more. They’re “suburbois”. Increasingly they’re an endangered species. Middle class wages haven’t risen since they were kids eating Froot Loops watching the Saturday morning TV shows.

    Labour has no push-back any more. We’ve gone from a manufacturing society, where labour might have had some influence, to an information and capital society, where labour has no influence. Drone People patrol the server rooms. H1-B Babu is coding up yet another ASP.NET abomination. Marcy in Accounting is filling in an Excel spreadsheet late into the night for the Corporate Vice President of Strategic Cost-Cutting. Indeed, what with the Corporate Catberts reading all the email on the MS Exchange servers, it might be said the Drone People are actively serving the cause of their own demise.

    There is no more Middle Class formation in the United States. It was a nice dream while it lasted. But it was always temporary. In the struggle between Capitalists and Labour, money has always talked.Report

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