Divergent Views on the State of America's Cities; Can They Both Be Right?

Kaid Benfield discusses two influential new publications that posit very different takes on the state of America's cities. While he finds elements to agree with in both, Benfield ultimately finds himself an optimist when it comes to our urban future.
June 25, 2013, 5am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Benfield discusses the divergent outlooks presented in The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy, by the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley, and the State of the City: 5 Trends Impacting America’s Cities, released on Monday by Living Cities, "a consortium of philanthropic institutions working 'to improve the lives of low-income people and the cities where they live.'”

He muses on the arguments presented in both, but summarizes the difference thus: "where Katz and Bradley see excitement, innovation, leadership, and economic recovery, Living Cities sees declining city services, crumbling infrastructure, a failing educational system, unemployment, and struggling households."

Based on the truths that undergird each, he asks whether we should be optimistic about the future of cities, or pessimistic.  

"I’m notorious for being the latter – I’m always convinced my favorite sports teams will lose – but, when it comes to cities, I’m more with Brookings," says Benfield. "I believe the state of cities (or, if you prefer, the future of metros) has never looked brighter in my lifetime.  Yes, the inequality created by wealth distribution in our country is appalling; so is our educational performance; and many people are still hurting from the recession." 

"But, if you think cities are hurting now, you should have seen them 20 or 40 years ago, when whole districts were being burned to the ground and people of means were fleeing as fast as they could, taking their tax dollars and businesses with them."

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Published on Monday, June 24, 2013 in NRDC Switchboard Blog
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