What do you call it if you feel schadenfreude for yourself? Suischadenfreude?
Years ago I was reading on all of the usual platforms the celebration of the Great Inversion: America’s return to the city. I wrote a piece on how my anecdotal evidence showed no such transition; Millennials, my former students, were all posting pictures on Facebook of their new suburban homes, and one or two were even moving out of starter homes and into exurbic Mc “m’eh” nsions. The only one of hundreds of former students I could find doing an urban thing outside of the usual NYC, Boston, San Francisco types of cities was one kid with political ambitions fighting for social justice in Hartford …home residence unspecified.
Seeing an article from Governing magazine linked at Planetizen proclaiming that domestic migration from cities to suburbs was accelerating didn’t surprise me. I’m not sure if even the idea that even the most sprawling of larger metros were ex-urbanizing even more surprised me. What I did find funny was the fact that right above the link to this article was another link to a Guardian piece proclaiming Phoenix, Arizona THE WORLD’S MOST UNSUSTAINABLE CITY!
Also the sprawlingest and fastest growing; see census estimates.
My “large urban county” lost population to domestic migration…which does NOT include Puerto Rico somehow…but saw a net gain of 700 people through international migration (which may include Puerto Rico, it’s not clear) and childbirth. It was incredibly interesting the other day to hear a young person discussing her family’s unwanted move to the Carolinas due to affordability issues. It wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to interject but I couldn’t help but think about all of the assumptions bound up in the conversation.
It begins, of course, with the idea that there are no affordable places to live in this region. The obvious assumption was that the only acceptable places to live in the region were the unaffordable ones. As someone sitting in a nearly 4,000 square foot Victorian purchased for $90,000 who pays less than $2,500 a year in property taxes who lives “in the region” I would dispute the idea that there are no affordable residency options, they just aren’t in the mostly white wealthy suburbs. Schools usually come up as part of the conversation, but I would argue with anyone trying to imply that schools in either North Carolina or South Carolina are superior to those in Massachusetts.
What that leaves is, if you want to live …with white people…in suburbia…then this area is unaffordable. I find it hard to sympathize with people who complain about how difficult it is to make ends meet when they’ve chosen to pay a premium of literally $30,000 to $40,000 a year for decades not to live in perfectly wonderful homes in nice traditional neighborhoods while sending their kids to school with brown people. So they leave exclaiming that Tax-a-chusetts has forced them to do so.
Back to the inverting of the inversion. I don’t see the the de-inversion of the Great Inversion re-inverting until circumstances give people no other choice; Maricopa County may be the world’s largest experimental die-off Petrie dish, but “ain’t nobody going nowheres” until the water runs out, the gas gets too expensive, and the AC gets shut off! And that brings me back to something of a motif of late; the ridiculous ignorance, or let’s call naïveté, of the young urbanists: “You know what will revitalize your down-on-its-luck Rust Belt downtown? A coffee shop!” Thanks Jane Jacobs. Wow. What an insight.
If only we had thought of that before.
“Housing? Try bringing housing to your metro center! You know, cool lofts and stuff.”
Yup. 30 years ago. Didn’t change anything.
The simple fact is that the success of all of these things is the effect, not the cause of resurgence. Coffee shops have been opening and closing all the while decline has been happening. Hell, in Springfield there are coffee shops that are still here which were here before the decline began.
Springfield, Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven, Syracuse, Albany, Rochester, Worcester, Providence, and Utica all didn’t experience decline while southern and western cities experienced growth because the former didn’t have coffee shops, or hotel rooms, or colleges and the latter did. Spain, England, Portugal, France and Holland didn’t beat Italy, Austria, and Turkey to the New World because they were better, faster, stronger, and had more coffee shops; looking at a map will give you some clues as to why. In the case of Spain, being first and best in the New World didn’t actually do them a lot of good in the long run, though it did make one of their languages hugely more significant than it would ever be in its own hemisphere.
My recent focus on reading and re-reading some texts on Springfield history only distances me further from the “magical coffee shop” believers. This city exists because it won a competition, knowingly or not, for one of the first “Amazon HQ2” type developments in the newly formed United States of America: The National Armory. Until that moment the city had lost ground and indeed even its regional pre-eminence to Northampton. It was the location of the Armory which brought artisans, craftsmen, industrialists, and financiers here which then lead to the still relatively resilient, vibrant, diversified economy the city enjoys today.
The first American made car, motorcycle, vulcanized rubber tire, the invention of basketball, the headquarters of one of the world’s largest financial institutions, one of the world’s best water systems, our colleges, the incredible architecture of our libraries, city hall, and commercial structures all go back to one enormous gamble on one enormous industrial employer. Sure, a brief 150 years later the entity that started it all was to close up shop, but, it turns out, all of the cubs that lion had sired were mature and fully grown by then, and so we persist. Struggling? Yes. But still among the most affluent metro areas of the nation, still manufacturing products used around the world, still possessing a heritage that very few cities its size can match in terms of not just history, but architecture as well.
I doubt a coffee shop would have done all that.