Census Proves That Downtowns Are Coming Back

Earlier this week, the new American Community Survey data was released. Daniel Nairn writes that the new data show "a reversal of the 20th century story of urban decline."

Nairn show some telling maps that show a remarkable increase in median income in city centers, like this map of Charlotte, NC (yellow = 0-20% increase, blue a 0-20% decrease in median income):

Full Story: New Census numbers confirm the resurgence of cities



Want to speed this up?

One reason big box stores are so popular -- easy to park. To help the town center, make public transit free. Abolish parking enforcement. Ban cars from main street.

Absolutely don't do that! We

Absolutely don't do that!

We did that exact thing in Buffalo and it failed miserably.

They built a light rail from the northern border of Buffalo (University at Buffalo South Campus) to Downtown at HSBC Arena (Home of the Sabres). The rail goes above ground from our theatre district all the way to the arena along Main street. When the rail goes above ground, all other vehicular traffic is not allowed. This was to create a sense of a "pedestrian mall."

What ended up happening is people stopped shopping on Main street. Businesses closed. It's quite depressing. The better restaurants and places to shop have migrated to other streets parallel to Main street. The metro rail is used the most when Northtowners want to goto hockey games or theater events.

Simply put, don't remove cars. Find another solution that makes traffic much calmer.

Free public transit first. Then rail much later.

Yes, absolutely do not do that. Do not put in rail on top of the auto system. Running rail in the street while most people are still car-dependent is counter productive. Rail is popular with middle class people who want to live in the suburbs and go to the city. These projects only extend the life of an unworkable system.

First transit must be free. That period must last long enough to allow the car-dependency critical mass to be broken. Only then should rail be considered. The people who are doing the most for the economy and the biosphere are the bus-riding urbanites. We should grow their ranks by taking the fares off. Fares exist only to discourage use and protect the oil and auto industries.

Suburban sprawl and car-dependency are unsustainable and will be brought to an end -- nicely, or nature's way.

You choose.


Is "resurgence" synonymous with "gentrification"?

Urban planners often refer to this pattern of resurgence as gentrification, which can mean different things to different people. At its root, the term means the process of the "gentry" moving into a community. Gentry is defined by Merriam-Webster's dictionary as the "upper or ruling class: aristocracy".

However, the word "gentrification" has become emotionally and politically charged in its use within the planning environment. When referred to positively, it usually focuses on the benefits of deconcentrating poverty and providing a healthy mix of incomes for a thriving or sustainable community. When used in a negative context, it usually refers to a process of home values increasing to the point of displacing long-term existing residents through unaffordable property taxes and excluding new low-income residents through a lack of affordable housing.

It may be said that the initial effects of resurgence/gentrification are positive wherein the community is no longer neglected, receives private investment and a stronger tax base to provide social services. However, often once the self-reinforcing market cycle of increasing property values takes hold of a community, it can be difficult to stop this from producing a monochromatic community of middle- to upper-income residents.

The divergent opinions of resurgence/gentrification can also be split along the lines of place-based planners versus people-based planners. While all planning is inherently conducted within a particular place, some planners focus on improving the built environment and believe that people's lives will subsequently improve through physical determinism. Conversely, people-based planners focus more on improving the lives of individuals within a community, and believe this will lead to an improvement in the built environment. While place-based planners may be pleased to see a resurgence of cities, people-based planners may claim that the process didn't improve poverty, it merely shuffled these people to another community (perhaps in the suburbs) that is experiencing its own set of challenges and decline.

As the author of this article noted, several studies have pointed out the trend of the suburbs' declining popularity and its associated externalities, such as Chris Leinberger's article "The Next Slum" (1) and a Brookings report on the increase of suburban poverty (2). This new American Community Survey data is illustrating this much more vividly than most of us probably expected.

The short-term effects for the resurgence of cities may look positive, but a longer-term vision may be worse than where we came from. Envision this process continuing for another 10, 20, 30 years; what kinds of metropolitan areas will we have then? Will they be like Paris, where the wealthy live in the city and the poor live in the suburbs? This poses its own set of problems, as the suburbs are sprawled-out car-dependent oceans that make it difficult to provide social services to low-income families (3).

We should make use of this data to create public policies that help maintain affordability for low- to moderate-income residents. By doing so, we can ensure that they are also able to benefit from sustainable communities alongside the gentry.

1. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/03/the-next-slum/6653/
2. http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2006/12poverty_berube.aspx
3. http://americancity.org/magazine/article/surviving-suburbia/

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