The Lives of the Next 100 Million

By Brooks, James | Nation's Cities Weekly, August 16, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Lives of the Next 100 Million


Brooks, James, Nation's Cities Weekly


It's regrettable that Joel Kotkin's vision of America in 2050 is not more imaginative. His rejection of the entire new urbanism agenda as a tool to accommodate the next hundred million U.S. residents ties his "cities of aspiration" to the automobile, to fossil fuels, to the large single family dwelling and to an expectation that high speed Internet service--and the subsequent jobs this will create--will be ubiquitous in the unspoiled green space that is presently rural America.

To be sure, "The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050" has many salient thoughts for those who study or make decisions in cities. Kotkin favors localism over control from the national government. He envisions midsize cities such as Fargo, N.D., Ames, Iowa and Boise, Idaho, capturing a greater degree of power and importance at the center of their respective regions. He even acknowledges that there must be a balance struck between strong economic growth and preserving the quality of the environment. So far, so good.

What needs to be rejected in his analysis, however, are the assumptions that all density is bad, that only the rich can live in the "luxury" or "superstar cities" on the coasts, that business innovation and adaptation will be achieved by an entire generation of work-from-home cyber-entrepreneurs, and that modest town houses and mass transit are evils to be loathed rather than encouraged.

After all, the City of Phoenix, a favorite example from the book, has a perfectly wonderful new light rail system that is the center piece of a region-wide transit oriented development program.

The book quotes studies and spouts some conventional wisdom as fact. But there are just as many credible research reports that undermine his data. Regardless of the merits of the data, Kotkin could help drive a future policy agenda if his vision were compelling. Unfortunately, his vision continues to value the worst aspects of sprawl. He rejects any effort to make better use of already developed areas in or on the edges of urban centers in favor of rapid outward development, especially into the vast open spaces of the American mid-section. …

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