What makes [Vancouver] unusual—indeed, at this point unique in all of North America—is that roughly 20 percent of its residents live within a couple of square miles of each other in the city’s center. Downtown Vancouver is a forest of slender, green, condo skyscrapers, many of them with three-story townhouse units forming a kind of podium at the base. Each morning, there are nearly as many people commuting out of the center to jobs in the suburbs as there are commuting in. Two public elementary schools have opened in downtown Vancouver in the past few years. A large proportion of the city’s 600,000 residents, especially those with money, want to live downtown.
No American city looks like Vancouver at the moment. But quite a few are moving in this direction. Demographic inversions of one sort or another are occurring in urban pockets scattered all across America, many of them in seemingly unlikely places. Charlotte, North Carolina, is in the midst of a downtown building boom dominated by new mixed-use high-rise buildings, with office space on the bottom and condos or rental units above. Even at a moment of economic weakness, the condos are still selling briskly.
We are not witnessing the abandonment of the suburbs or a movement of millions of people back to the city all at once. But we are living at a moment in which the massive outward migration of the affluent that characterized the second half of the twentieth century is coming to an end. For several decades now, cities in the United States have wished for a “24/7” downtown, a place where people live as well as work, and keep the streets busy, interesting, and safe at all times of day. This is what urbanist Jane Jacobs preached in the 1960s, and it has long since become the accepted goal of urban planners. Only when significant numbers of people lived downtown, planners believed, could central cities regain their historic role as magnets for culture and as a source of identity and pride for the metropolitan areas they served. Now that’s starting to happen, fueled by the changing mores of the young and by gasoline prices fast approaching $5-per-gallon. In many of its urbanized regions, an America that seemed destined for everincreasing individualization and sprawl is experimenting with new versions of community and sociability.
New York and other top cities—including Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston—have been suffering the largest net out-migration of residents of virtually all places in the country, albeit the pattern has slowed with the recession.
It’s astonishing that, even with the many improvements over the past decade in New York, for example, more residents left its five boroughs for other locales in 2006 than in 1993, when the city was in demonstrably far worse shape. In 2006, the city had a net loss of 153,828 residents through domestic out-migration, compared to a decline of 141,047 in 1993, with every borough except Brooklyn experiencing a higher number of out-migrants in 2006.
Since the 1990s virtually all the gains made in the New York economy have accrued to the highest income earners. Overall, New York has the smallest share of middle-income families in the nation, according to a recent Brookings Institution study; its proportion of middle-income neighborhoods was smaller than any metropolitan area, except for Los Angeles. . . .
[M]iddle-class sensibilities get short shrift by urban scholars such as Richard Florida, who argue that in the so-called “creative age” places of residence should be “leased” like cars. In his mind, single-family homes, the ideal of homeownership, should be replaced “by a new kind of housing” that embraces higher forms of density without long-term commitment to a particular residence or location.
In fact, the sustainable city of the future will depend precisely on commitment and long-term residents. It also will rest on the revival of traditional institutions that have faded in many of today’s cities. Churches—albeit often in reinvented form—help maintain and nurture such communities. Similarly, extended family networks will be critical to future successful urban areas. As Queens resident and real estate agent Judy Markowitz puts it, “In Manhattan people with kids have nannies. In Queens, we have grandparents.”
Economic vitality may rely on a fast-paced lifestyle of risk and reward. But the creative class of one generation gives way to the next when they burn out and seek refuge in the suburbs. Just ask city pastors. This is the problem they struggle to solve. Turnover gives urban churches wide national influence. Ironically, it also undermines local community. So the very bonds of fellowship that attract young people to urban churches in the first place eventually dissolve when members lose their resolve to stay in the city.
In 1982, the neighborhood surrounding Harambee Center had the highest daytime crime rate in Southern California. The corner of Howard and Navarro, where we are located, was called “blood corner” because it was where the most drive-by shootings and failed drug deals occurred. Residents were held captive in their homes and there was little hope for change.
We believed the only legitimate way to become change-agents in this community was to become a part of it. Led by our founder, Dr. John Perkins, we moved into the community and became neighbors. For 20+ years we have served a 12-block target area, working with African American and Latino children and families.
“Harambee” means “Let’s get together and push” in Swahili. We seek to nurture and equip leadership that will wholistically minister to the community by sharing Biblical truths, in order to achieve the re-building of urban neighborhoods through relocation, reconciliation and redistribution.
The police have tried doing outreach to victims by, among other things, setting up domestic violence education tables at community events, only to find that no one wants to be seen near them. But the atmosphere is different in the safety of a beauty salon.
“The salon may be one of the few places women might be without their abuser around,” said Laurie Magid, a former state prosecutor who is acting United States attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “This program really addresses a need. You don’t have a case unless you have a crime reported in the first place and that is the difficult area of domestic violence.”
While Cut it Out trains stylists offsite, the Washington Heights workshops, conducted in Spanish, take place inside beauty parlors during the hours that clients are served, which not only makes it easier for people to participate, but also enhances the comfort factor.
“The salon is a place where everyone already feels at home,” said Sharon Kagawa of the Administration for Children’s Services, the agency that recruits salons for the program. “So they can be more honest.”
Several years ago, I lost my patience with our alienated, unattached world at lunch one day. I was waiting to get a sandwich at a place called Au Bon Pain. It’s a chain, it’s cheap enough, it’s fine. I was in a bit of a hurry. I eat late and the place was empty. There was no one in line, but I obediently stood in the proper place between the stanchions and waited to be told to approach the counter. Two sandwich makers were talking to each other behind the counter. They looked up, and I stepped forward meekly, and they continued their conversation. Fine, I waited. And waited. They laughed, I presume at me. I gave the customary attention-seeking cough and laser stare. Eventually one of them asked what I wanted in a surly tone and with a put-out look. The other guy slowly made the sandwich. I went back to the office to eat. The sandwich had tomato on it. I asked for no tomato.
I vowed never, ever buy lunch on a workday from a stranger again. It was a solemn vow that I break only under drastic circumstances. So, now I get lunch from Frank, Art, or Tommy, guys I have come to be friends with who run three different places. I like them. I think all three are funny, and they usually laugh at my jokes, which is key. I don’t see them except for lunch, but that’s fine. I enjoy spending money where I know the people. Lunch is now a little social part of my day, and I feel like I work in a real neighborhood, which it really isn’t. I love being a regular. I love purposefully limiting my choices instead of expanding them. Most of all, I think that I enjoy being loyal just for the sake of being loyal.
I don’t ever hate lunch anymore. I consider lunch one of my greatest triumphs.
Today, cities are refashioning themselves as trendy centers devoid of suburban ills like strip malls and long commutes. In Atlanta, which has among the longest commute times of any U.S. city, the white population rose by 26,000 between 2000 and 2006, while the black population decreased by 8,900. Overall the white proportion has increased to 35% in 2006 from 31% in 2000.
In other cities, whites are still leaving, but more blacks are moving out. Boston lost about 6,000 black residents between 2000 and 2006, but only about 3,000 whites. In 2006, whites accounted for 50.2% of the city’s population, up from 49.5% in 2000. That’s the first increase in roughly a century.