Urbanites Discover ‘Geographic Inequality’ . . . Sort Of

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Over at Sullivan’s blog, a host of subs have been blogging for the past week while the proprietor takes a vacation.  One of the themes of their posts, probably because Richard Florida is one of the subs, is “the rise of anti-urbanism.”  (Start here and scroll down through the last several days for more.)

There are some serious blindspots in their analysis.

For starters, there’s the fact that one cannot speak of a rise in anti-ruralism, because anti-ruralism never declined.  It has been a constant among the urbane and, understandably, our urban-centered national media.

It seems to me the more salient thing Florida is on to (though I have no numbers to back this up, and Florida is a statistician) is the partisanization of both anti-urbanism and anti-ruralism.  It used to be that both parties had both urban and rural power bases in various parts of the country.  It is largely the case now that the Democratic Party is an urban party, while the Republican Party is a rural party.

That’s why you see more anti-urbanism in political discourse (which is the observation at the heart of Florida’s argument).  Not because there’s more anti-urbanism, but because it’s become a highly useful political tool.  Again, I got no numbers, but my sense is that we’ve also seen an uptick in anti-ruralism in political discourse, and for the same reason.

Another major problem with the post linked to above is its totally urban-centric notion of geographic inequality.

They’re worried not about the geographic inequality between the Boston-D.C. corridor and most of the rest of the country, or the one between coastal parts of the country more generally and the inland parts, or the one between all of those parts plus the Rust Belt, and the rural South and Appalachia.

No, the geographic inequality they find important is not any of these, which have been problems since the Industrial Revolution and long before, but the geographic inequality that might develop in the future between, on the one hand, declining Rust Belt cities (like Flint), and the cities that pick up the talented people who leave those places.

How can we keep Rust Belt cities propped up, keep jobs and people from leaving there and going to other places?  That’s the question that vexes them.  Not, like Mary Kane, how can we help those cities manage their shrinkage responsibly?

I suppose if they were blogging the birth of the automobile industry instead of its death, they’d be looking for ways to keep people from leaving Northeastern cities to take jobs inland, thus perpetuating that era’s largest geographic inequality (and probably this era’s, too, despite the century of wealth created by the automobile industry).

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