cities and suburbs
I get a variety of pitches for stories in my inbox, most of which I can delete just from the subject. One that did catch my eye enough to open the message was headed "everyone wants to life like Friends and Seinfeld, not the Sopranos." The trick was that it was a pitch for the merits of the urban life of Friends and Seinfeld, versus the suburban life of the Sopranos. I clicked through, glanced at the article, and then moved on.
Then, yesterday, I read David Brooks' column in the NY Times, where he claims that most Americans prefer the suburbs. So, which is true?
I went back to the blog post at the Infrastructurist and found that Leinberger's argument was actually far more complicated than the trick headline. What he actually said is "Gen Xers and Millennials want a lifestyle closer to Friends and Seinfeld (that
is, walkable and urban) than to Tony Soprano (low density and
suburban)." Brooks agrees that "Cities remain attractive to the young. Forty-five percent of Americans
between the ages of 18 and 34 would like to live in New York City." But Leinberger implies that the preference for urban living is a permanent characteristic of this cohort, while Brooks suggests it's something they will age out of: "cities are profoundly unattractive to people with families and to the elderly." Neither one provides evidence for their hypothesis.
Leinberger goes on to say "It’s not that nobody wants Tony Soprano. About 50 percent of
Americans actually do want that configuration. But if we’ve
built 80 percent of our housing that way, that’s the definition of
oversupply. The other 50 percent of Americans want walkable urban
arrangements and yet that’s just 20 percent of the housing stock."
I'm not sure where those numbers come from. The Pew study that Brooks' article cites (although the Times still doesn't include links) says that "Americans are all over the map in their views about their ideal
community type: 30% say they would most like to live in a small town,
25% in a suburb, 23% in a city and 21% in a rural area." If the small town and city figures are combined as part of a "walkable lifestyle" you get about 50 percent, but that's sort of a stretch.
There's also an issue about whether people are talking about cities as they are, or cities as they might be. If I could live in the world of Friends where people who aren't investment bankers can afford huge Manhattan apartments, sure, I'd be interested. In the real world, I'm unlikely to move back to NYC unless I win the lottery. Do people with kids say that they don't want to live in cities because they think yards are essential to childhood, or because they assume the schools will be bad?