Thursday, March 16, 2006

Planners Played with Erector Sets as Kids?

Interesting interview by the Australian Broadcast Company interviewer Michael Duffy with Joel Kotkin, the proponent of "New Suburbanism." Duffy apparently had Richard Florida (Rise of the Creative Class) on earlier, and Kotkin takes on the notions expressed by Florida.

"No, (Florida's) completely wrong," Kotkin says. "I think Richard's theories had a kind of currency with the dot-com boom. ... The reality is quite the opposite. Take a look at San Francisco; San Francisco was at the height of the dot-com boom, the laws of economics had been revoked, and yet what do we see today? San Francisco's lost roughly 4% of its population, 10% of its jobs, the Bay Area has the largest domestic out migration of any area in the country. ... Where have the tech jobs been going? They've always been in the suburbs, I've always thought the Richard made a very unfair characterization by saying that tech growth is where the hip cools are. I've covered Silicone Valley for 25 years. Silicone Valley is basically a bunch of nerds; they don't care about Burmese restaurants unless they happen to be Burmese."

Some interesting stuff here. Particularly when he talks about planners. Duffy asks Kotkin why urban planners in general seem to be opposed to the idea that suburbs are important places, why they tend to focus on "hip cool urban downtowns." Kotkin responds, "There's an authoritarian streak in urban planners. They love Paris..., how they wanted to create this perfect urban environment and they did a pretty good job, but France has basically been a dictatorship, a top-down dictatorship for most of its history, and the reality is that even in France the middle class is moving to the outer ring of Paris anyway. But I think it has to do with the culture of planners; they want to control things. You always get the sense these were people who played with erector sets when they were kids..."

Huh? I thought that was civil engineers. I played more with block towns and train sets and the like -- I didn't have the patience for erector sets!

Kotkin does blast academics and intellectuals who disdain the suburbs in favor of urban centers, saying they ignore what are the most sought-after, desireable places to most people -- the fast-growing suburbs.

A recent example of that urban bias is a column by John Barber this week in the Toronto Globe and Mail. Titled "There's No Escaping Our Suburban Mistake," Barber writes, "For the sake of suburbanites alone, the end of suburbia would be a blessing. But that's not happening. ... It may be, however, that the suburbia we all love to hate is simply no longer historical, something that will change and perhaps improve in time, but anthropological: a big mistake made permanent."

The truth, I suspect as is true with so many polarized viewpoints, lies somewhere in the middle between the two.


At 2:57 PM, Blogger google_PEAK_OIL said...

Well I don't know what to say about Kotkin so I'll let Kunstler say it for me.( as always, be warned that Kunstler's blog title has a bad word in it)

As far as John Barber's comments on The End of Suburbia, he doesn't really disagree with the premise of the documentary that resource scarcity will make suburbia a difficult place to live.
Suburbia isn't going to be abandoned, there's too much invested in it. It's where all our bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchens are. The energy costs of suburban living will become a crushing burden for those who will be trapped there. Building more of it will simply increase the severity of the coming social crisis.
As far as escaping suburbia, time and events will tell. Interestingly, the sequel to The End of Suburbia is going to be titled Escape From Suburbia. It will be interesting to see what they have to say this time.


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