Revitalization, re/urbanization and cohort-generational attitudes
There was a very interesting presentation yesterday at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies, primarily by academic researchers in Montreal, looking at Montreal's history of immigrant immigration and considering what lessons might be applicable to DC as a city (not DC as the center of the current anti-immigrant national government).
Whites refocusing city investment on public spaces "for them." Professor Derek Hyra, Director of American University's Metropolitan Studies Center, was the respondent, and in response to a suggestion by a GWU professor in the audience, Prof. Hyra recounted the story of dog parks in the Shaw neighborhood as an example of how new residents are reshaping the city's investment priorities at the expense of what we might call legacy residents, mentioning that at the time the park where the dog park went was in need of renovation.
The reality is that in the past 15 years or so, DC has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on park and recreation (and library) improvements, with a disproportionate amount of that money being spent on facilities serving African-American and/or disadvantaged areas in the city, e.g., new recreation centers in Barry Farm, Trinidad, Deanwood, new libraries like in Anacostia, Deanwood, and Shaw, etc.
Is it age/generational or racialization? One of the people in the audience, Justin Rood, organizer of the DC Funk Parade, argued that in DC it's very easy to see every issue in terms of race, black or white, and what he called a "racialization" of issues, when he thought that the major issue was more about change generally, and that older people, black or white, are less favorable to changes as a matter of course.
Re/urbanization vs. out of date ideas about urban practice. I countered that while it was a good point, it isn't so much about age as it is about generationally-based sets of attitudes towards what (re)urbanization is and ought to be and what it should look like. (Some of this is discussed in Richard Florida's new book, The New Urban Crisis.)
For years I have discussed this in terms of the general "suburbanized paradigm of transportation and land use policy" that has imprinted most of us in the US, whether or not we are aware of or acknowledge it, where land uses are separated, and the primary means of getting around between various disconnected activities is the car.
Even the people who moved to the city from say the early 1960s through the 1990s before urban living became not only trendy but accepted, while more pro-urban than most, still are imprinted by land use ideas, behaviors, and attitudes that aren't fully pro-urban.
I have written about the split in attitudes within DC in terms of the Core or Inner City vs. the Outer or more suburban City ("DC as a suburban agenda dominated city"), and how yes, people in the Outer City are older, more connected, generally have more time to be involved, and without realizing promote more suburban-appropriate policies.
But the issue is about re/urbanization more than it is about "age," it's just that what reurbanization means is more easily addressed as a race or generational question.
This is especially problematic for two reasons.
First, like everywhere else and in national politics, people argue that there is only one way to act, to live, etc., and they aim to require that every piece of land or transportation policy be made to support their particular set of choices, which they deem a form of "natural law."
Instead we need to recognize the value in differentiation, e.g. as one example, that the rural areas can have different gun policies than cities and it doesn't mean that restricting uses means that the government aims to make us all slaves,
It definitely means that cities and metropolitan areas need to be addressed in ways that support the reality that these are economic engines for regions and states. Instead, many state legislatures, dominated by rural interests, use their levers of power to punish statens.
One current example is how the Minnesota Legislature is working on a bill to eliminate state funding for transit in Greater Minneapolis ("Transportation bills pass, starting the real Minnesota talks," Grand Rapids Herald-Review).
Another is how the State Legislature in Kentucky is diminishing power of the combined City-County Government in Louisville-Jefferson County ("Bill strikes at Louisville merger, tax base," and "A 'war on Louisville' bill poised to become law," Louisville Courier-Journal).
Second, people refuse to wake up to the fact that to be successful now, in this decade and throughout the 21st century, places--not just cities--need to refocus on the benefits from and generation of agglomeration economies that support clustering, and organizing, reorganizing, and appropriately intensifying land use and transportation infrastructure in response.
The problem is that people are making decisions today which will shape this and other cities for generations, in ways that seriously impinge social and economic resilience.
Decisions made today more generally and with regard to specific properties have a useful life of 30-60 years at a minimum, longer depending on the land tenure arrangements.
Getting it right the first time is an imperative, especially in a period of increased economic competition, increased demands for services from the government, increased costs for services and infrastructure, and a national government that is increasingly hermetic, anti-government, anti-tax, and is federalist to the extent it can use national law-making powers to restrict local ability to act independently.