Are American Cities in Crisis?

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Chicago Gold Coast
Chicago Gold Coast

These are uneasy times for the American city, and especially New York. Officially despised, targeted for punitive cuts in federal funding, gentrified into a rictus of bland affluence, deeply segregated, crippled by crumbling rail lines, and blamed for rampant inequality, even one of the world’s most successful cities is falling victim to its own success. That, at any rate, is one conclusion in Richard Florida’s glum new manifesto, The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class—and What We Can Do About It.

Florida lards his book with plenty of data-driven analysis to show that cities are suffering from what he calls “winner take all urbanism,” the idea that superstar cities, like superstar athletes, gorge themselves on money, starving their would-be peers. At the same time, a pampered corps of city dwellers prospers by chasing out others and impoverishing the rest, poverty and crime leach into the suburbs, and the slum-filled megacities of the developing world point to an ever more apocalyptic future. This is a book of lamentations — the last, half-hearted clause in the subtitle stands in for a last, half-hearted chapter full of solutions.

His pessimism is new. In 2002, even as Mayor Michael Bloomberg was pulling New York back from the trauma of 9/11, Florida issued an optimistic clarion call, The Rise of the Creative Class, that could almost have been a manual for how New York might rule the world. Fifteen years later, Florida is back with a Cassandra-esque sequel, while Bloomberg, together with former Sierra Club head Carl Pope, has published a book that glows with the optimism of levelheaded reason. “Cool heads can produce a cooler world,” Bloomberg and Pope write in Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet. […]