Barack Obama said this back in 1990 as a 28-year-old law school student at Harvard. This doesn’t bother me. I’ll bet most twentysomething yuppies would agree. Cities are so much more alive and hip to these folks. I probably said something like that myself when I was in my twenties.
Then, we get married and have kids, and suddenly most of us notice how unaccommodating our urban environments are for kids. We notice the crappy schools for the first time. We start to pay a lot more attention to the crime reports in our neighborhoods. We lament the fact that we hardly see children outside in our neighborhoods having fun.
So, many of us leave our hip urban enclaves for the boring suburbs. My wife and I left San Francisco for the suburbs of the Peninsula back in 2006 when Marco, our oldest, was 1-1/2. At least half of our San Francisco friends with young kids did the same. San Francisco’s proportion of population under 18, 14%, is one of the lowest in the United States (see this article). New York’s is 15%. By comparison, the national average is 24%.
Meanwhile, government officials and hip intellectuals continue to denigrate the suburbs. Some are even ready to write their obituary. President Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan, recently said, “We’ve reached the limits of suburban development: People are beginning to vote with their feet and come back to the central cities.”
Fortunately or unfortunately, Donovan’s just dead wrong. As Joel Kotkin writes, 2010 census statistics show a strong continuing trend away from central cities to suburbs. Furthermore, the percentage of all ethnic groups living in suburbs is growing, so that more than half of all minority groups in large metro areas, including blacks, now reside in the suburbs. Donovan may wish that people were leaving the suburbs in droves, but his wishes and the facts are two very different things.
I hope that government officials and intellectuals out there start to realize the difference between their aspirations and the reality regarding suburbs. Yes, suburbs can be boring. Dreadfully boring. They can be horrible for community relations. They can be bad for the environment.
And yet, we’re here, in huge numbers that are getting bigger, because we still think this is better than the big city. Shaun Donovan and his ilk may think we’re idiots, but, well, that doesn’t change the fact that we’re here.
So, rather than ignoring suburbs because we’d like them to go away, we need to figure out how to improve them. Certainly, they need an awful lot of help. In most suburban neighborhoods, neighbors barely know each other, and kids don’t play outside. That’s awful.
I’m working very hard in my suburban neighborhood to improve these conditions. Many of the other neighborhood leaders I write about here are similarly working very hard to make their suburban neighborhoods into better places.
High speed rail or electric car subsidies won’t do us a bit of good. I don’t like how automobiles dominate suburban life, either, but the only way to get suburbanites out of cars and into their neighborhoods is by offering the carrot of an attractive neighborhood life.