Friday, August 22, 2008

Demographic shift: poverty and suburbs

Alan Ehrenhalt's essay in last Sunday's edition of The Dallas Morning News ( "Trading Places," August 17, 2008, 1P) should be required reading for leaders, city planners and anyone interested in effective responses to poverty in the U. S.

Ehrenhalt predicts that more affluent and younger residents of major metropolitan areas across the nation will continue their migration to the central cities. At the same time, the cost of housing and the associated forces accompanying the movement of the upper classes back downtown will force low-income people, including a growing number of immigrants, to move out of the inner city to the suburbs.

Read his essay and give me your feedback.

If Ehrenhalt is correct, the cities of America will begin to look more European, except for our ubiquitous downtown freeways.

Thinking about the future of our work, it seems clear that our approach will need to be dual dimensional. We'll need to turn our eyes to the suburbs and our partners there, while working hard to carve out spaces for the poor who desire to remain in the inner city.



Justin said...

There was an article I read a couple months back in the Atlantic monthly talking about this very phenomenon. It was something I had been noticing here in Nashville, but I didn't realize how much of a macrotrend it has become. We have a couple of suburbs on one side of Nashville that have essentially become full of low income people, and as a result, crime has followed.

Its clear that suburbs built, especially in the last 20 years or so, were built with substandard materials, and they are going to go downhill much faster than the inner cities did post white flight. I think communities need to think about creating sustainable urban development for all people in cities that are gentrifying. My neighbors of the middle class and white persuasion in my neighborhood are working towards that. We would like to see the neighborhood become vibrant again, but not at the expense of the poor and minority. We have a neighborhood group that is working with the city to help make that happen.

And on you point about the freeways Larry, even those may be a thing of the past. A group has come up with "The Plan of Nashville" which is essentially how to intelligently redevelop the urban core of the city. Their plan is to turn all the interstates in the urban core into Boulevards and reconnect the street grids. Once they get the rural interstate loop complete, they will be able to do this without causing too much of a traffic problem, because through traffic on 40 will drive what is essentially 10-15 miles more distance, but at 70mph with little traffic.

Ryan Fowler said...

ShelterForce, the journal for affordable housing and community building, created a response to the article in Atlantic Monthly and can be found here:

I think it's worth reading.

I also believe that this demographic shift presents an enormous opportunity for the church to embrace the poor among us, wherever they may live. Hopefully the "once suburban" churches won't run from this opportunity to embrace people that may now live in their neighborhoods.

I'm also not in favor of isolated poverty (the old housing project mentality), so it's my hope that communities with broader economic mixes will create a brighter future for our neighborhoods as a whole. The trick is creating an environment where those residents with sufficient resources don't abandon their neighborhoods when the shift begins to take place. If everyone runs, then the cycle of isolated poverty (and probably crime) will just begin again in a new location.

Can the government provide incentives to help sustain these neighborhoods that are now mixed economically? I'm hoping that the Hope VI model of housing will provide some long term sustainability in that regard. Hopefully more local organizations will begin to see the value of sustainability and won't continue to always resort to more sprawl.