Poor Suburbs, Rich Cities: Popular Fiction

The false dichotomy of rich cities and poor suburbs is reductive and damaging.
November 3, 2016, 12pm PDT | Casey Brazeal | @northandclark
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Songquan Deng

The rebound of the American city has been exaggerated, according to a story by Joe Cortright in City Observatory. While it's true that "inner cities" can't be called "a disaster.. in every possible way," it's just as true that they aren't all glittering "playgrounds of the rich." Cortright cautions: "As a description of the direction of change, these stories are right: many city neighborhoods are attracting more better-educated and higher-income residents," it also needs to be said that "the narrative of 'rich cities, poor suburbs' represents a vast overstatement of the scale of these changes," according to Cortright.

Furthermore, it's easy to manage the numbers to exaggerate the trend, looking at the case of a Brookings Institution report, Cortright found serious issues: "Dividing all urban space into just two categories (city and suburb) and reporting totals for each makes it seem like poverty is somehow increasing and evenly spread in every suburb. But that’s not true. Some poor suburbs are the older, first tier towns just outside the larger central city." He cites Hoboken, New Jersey and East Hartford, Connecticut as older cities, classified in Brookings study as suburbs.

The "so what" of all this change in cities is that it poses a real opportunity. Not for planners and urbanists to pat themselves on the backs for bringing people back to cities, but "to invest in city neighborhoods, commit to city schools, and exercise citizenship, there’s a huge opportunity to leverage this momentum to address the city’s poverty and segregation problems."

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Published on Thursday, October 20, 2016 in City Observatory
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