Kotkin Decries "Cramming and Concentration"

Joel Kotkin says that despite the fashion for density among urban planners, the future relies on "dispersion" and focusing on developing small and mid-range cities.

Kotkin reinforces his usual battle cry against planners and thinkers forcing "a density agenda on a largely unwilling population" with arguments stating that throughout the world the benefits of megacities and their infrastructure are overrated:

"The greatest urban centers of history-Babylon, Rome, Constantinople, Paris, London, Kaifeng, Baghdad, New York, Tokyo-grew in part because concentration provided the best, and sometimes only, way to support the basic infrastructure for commerce, cultural development, state religion or the exercise of power. But increasingly size not only matters less, but actually can be seen as a detriment to efficient, sustainable urbanism. This is particularly evident in the developing world where urbanization is spreading most rapidly."

Full Story: The Dispersionist Manifesto



Not sure what Kotkin is trying to say

This self-published piece contains some very basic contradictions. The main one is how Kotkin conflates density and population. After advocating for economic development in smaller second-tier cities, rather than megacities, and praising high-rise Singapore, Kotkin really goes off-track to equate this argument with support for suburbs over cities in the U.S.

Not sure what Kotkin is trying to say?

He's saying that everyone everywhere in the world wants to live a suburban lifestyle and that all planners everywhere are trying to force normal people to live in high density cities. You should forget all you know about rural-to-urban migration from the time of the industrial revolution (or better yet, from 4,000 years ago when cities first arose as a function of commerce when agrarian societies emerged). That is, forget the fact that cities are viewed as economic engines and opportunity magnets; planners are responsible for plucking people from their happy rural lifestyles and putting them into crowded cities.

I will give Kotkin credit; his title rightly claims that he's pro-dispersionist (and presumably therefore anti-urban). As such, it seems pointless to argue with him. I live in a city... near downtown... on top of a store (as in not a suburb). I hate suburbs. Kotkin can stay in his suburb, and I'll stay where I am.

The real problem is that Kotkin, and many others like him, advocate an anti-urban agenda. They have managed to enforce NIMBY-zoning on the vast majority of most America's at such a low density that there's no chance that most will ever be able to regain any sense of true urbanism. And, they won't be happy until the rest of us live as they want to live.

On the whole, his discussion of 100 largest cities is irrelevant. It has nothing to do with America's suburbs, and it has nothing to do with his anti-urban manifesto.


Planners Fighting Decentralization—of Nations?

In addition to confusing density and population, Kotkin seems to be confusing decentralization of individual cities ("Bollywood long ago migrated to the northern suburbs") with decentralization of entire nations ("moving to smaller . . . cities such as Bangalore"). And he has the strange idea that planners disapprove of the latter situation and are trying to fight it. It's as if, to use a USA example, he's decrying planners' efforts to push the country's population away from Columbus and Fresno and into New York and San Francisco, regardless of whether those efforts exist. Though planners usually encourage greater density, and some cities represent density while others do not, there's little reason to believe that planners would encourage a cross-country move just for the sake of seeking density or that non-dense cities could/would not densify.

Kotkin is a smart writer but

Kotkin is a smart writer but he's such an apologist for the status quo.

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