06 September 2012

"It's alive.. It's alive" or another resurrection of the central city. A review of "The Next Major Real Estate Cycle: Walkable Urbanism" in Atlantic Cities

According to a recent article in The Atlantic Cities, “The Next Major Real Estate Cycle: Walkable Urbanism” based on the newly gentrifying neighborhoods in Washington, D.C.  is that the American population is moving back into the urban core.

While I was intrigued with the title of the article, as I read further, it started to sound familiar being a mixture of warmed over ‘back to cities’ propaganda  and Dr. Richard Florida’s ‘mantras’ about the cultural economy of cities.  However, I did personally enjoy the dig against real estate brokers, which has the ‘ring of truth’, but has little sound basis in empirical evidence.

Plus, when did Washington, D.C. become the model for trends for the rest of the nation? The article tries to ‘spin’ it to make the readers believe that ‘as goes Washington then so goes the rest of the nation,’ but somehow it an argument you would like to believe, but just can’t.
Overall, the article was insipid, because the manner that the juxtaposition of anecdotal evidence, cursory references to a studies by the Brookings Institute and others, lack of understanding suburban and central city development and most of all due the introduction or the 'snake oil' ideas of Dr. Florida.  This was not just only because of the author's lack of knowledge of urban geography, but also due to  Dr. Leinberger's murky views of these  issues. .His expertise is real estate, not urban geography or urban studies.

Here are some selected quotes from the article that sets its tone:

Not too long ago in Washington, D.C. – and still today in plenty of other cities – "walkable urbanism" was a niche real estate market. Developers weren’t all that interested in mixed-use, compact projects, of the kind where carless urbanites might live, work and grocery shop in strolling distance. And people didn’t seem to want to live in them anyway. But things have been changing in the capital. Now, argues real estate developer and George Washington University professor Christopher Leinberger, walkable urbanism is becoming the real estate market.

"Quite honestly, one of the major reasons that we’re not seeing the real estate industry read these market signals is that it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks," he says. "They know the answer to everything. They’re very strong-headed, and opinionated, and particularly those who have been successful for many decades in building regional malls or subdivisions, they know what the market wants. And dammit, you can’t tell me anything different." (quote from Professor Leinberger)

"We’ve got this rising tide of college-educated people, which is the key component to the knowledge economy, which is what’s driving our economy," Leinberger says. "And as [Richard] Florida and a lot of other folks have pointed out, the college educated want the option of urbanism." (quote from Professor Leinberger)

And, the last quote is the caveat! It was this quote that made me realize that  Professor Leinberger has been taken away by the gospel of Richard Florida, the ‘feel good evangelist’ for the urban cultural economy. He conveys in his quotes all the fuzziness, ‘spun’ statistics, anecdotal stories, Neo-Liberalness and superficiality a la Dr. Florida about one of the emerging trends in urban development. (I have ‘pulled some punches’ related to my opinion of Dr. Florida’s view of the cultural economy and will save them for a later blog entry.)

Of course, the savior of cities according to Dr. Leinberger via Dr. Florida will be
wait for the drum roll…envelope please…the winner is:

the young middle class affluent creative class.

The issue of the movement of people into the urban core and the subsequent fate of subusbs is much deeper and complex than Dr. Leinberger discusses in this article, according to ‘gospel of Richard Florida’ or framed by this article’s author. 

Urban areas are transforming/transitioning due a complex mix of demographics, cost of energy, the stagnant U.S. and global economy, the effects of increasing globalization and structural changes much beyond such simplistic and antedoal explanations based on the Washington, D.C area. Likewise The same forces are changing other urban land use as mentioned in my blog entries on the emerging decline of ‘big box’ stores in urban areas, The coming collapse of 'Big Box' and department stores and their urban impact (draft). 

In future blog entries, I would like to discuss about the transformation of suburbs (briefly) and my suggestions on retrofitting the suburbs in light of emerging trends, particularly sustainability. 

In a earlier article, I discussed the quasi-utopian ideas of Dr. Florida in reference to the present utopian concept of the Information/Technology City. This article, The Information Age City: A Bourgeois Utopian Dream was published in Urbana: Urban Affairs and Public Affairs.

Another of my articles which also made reference to the cultural economy of cities with a focus on Istanbul,Global Cities as Centers of  Cultural Influence: A Focus on Istanbul, Turkey, published in trantext(es) transcultures: Journal of Global Cultural Studies may also be of interest to the reader of this blog entry.   


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