The Triumph of the Creative Class

The election of Obama, that is, according to noted sprawl apologist Joel Kotkin. It’s a compelling proclamation, and Kotkin has some insightful things to say about it. But alas, you can’t get very far through the piece before his trademark enmity for urbanism shines through.

First, he decides that Richard Florida’s own definition of the creative class isn’t good enough, and that it ought to exclude those who “live in suburbs, have children, and… attend conservative churches.” Cause, you know, all those urban, single, childless secularists (read: not real Americans) are the true uppity ones.

And here comes the boogy man:

“Also threatened will be anyone who builds the suburban communities–notably single-family houses and malls–that most Americans still prefer but that Gore and his acolytes dismiss as too energy-intensive, not to mention in bad taste.”

It may well be true that Americans have preferred the suburbs. But the idea of preference loses its significance when there is little choice to begin with, when the choice is subsidized up front, and when it has ongoing external costs that the buyer doesn’t pay. In any case, the times are changing:

“…a majority of future housing demand lies in smaller homes and lots, townhouses, and condominiums in neighborhoods where jobs and activities are close at hand. …demographic changes, shrinking households, rising gas prices, lengthening commutes and cultural shifts all play a role in that demand.”

Kotkin’s position boils down the this: People made sprawl: therefore is it good, and always will be good.

And sorry Joel, the energy-inefficiency of sprawl is not the invention of acolytes, but is established scientific fact. It’s unfortunate that those whom you deride as “jihadis in the war against climate change” are helping to save your planet too.

What’s more, Kotkin warns, the ascendancy of those clueless urban creative classers is literally a threat to the food on your table, because “this could prove very bad news for groups… that, like large agribusiness firms, are big consumers of carbon.” Presumably the underlying concern here is that most Americans prefer industrial, processed food.

For a more transparent taste of Kotkin’s anti-urbanism, check out No More Urban Hype. Here, Kotkin is positively giddy about the drop in housing prices in big cities like New York, which to him, signifies the puncturing of the urbanist bubble. The more rapid decline of housing prices in car-dependent suburbs has been widely discussed since last Spring.  But contrary to Kotkin’s fancy, even up until a month ago, New Urban News reported that, “the US lending crisis has cut homebuilding nearly everywhere, but walkable, transit-oriented developments are suffering least.”

And if you really have too much time on your hands, visit Kotkin’s Newgeography.com. There, currently ranked number one under “popular content,” you’ll find a piece by Wendell Cox entitled “Root Causes of the Financial Crisis: A Primer,” that extends the the blame to excessive land use regulation and smart growth. Who could have known that density is so evil?

10 Responses to “The Triumph of the Creative Class”

  1. Frank

    It’s funny, Kotkin is a kind of relic from an earlier era. He made his bones in the era of Ford Explorers and $1.09/gal gas, and he refuses to adjust to the new reality.

  2. Dan Staley

    I don’t read Kotkin. It frees up time, avoids crowding my brain with irrelevancies, and keeps my blood pressure lower.

  3. joshuadf

    You mean rural conservatives had special access to the Bush White House? I’m shocked. Kotkin makes fun of geographic concentration but conveniently leaves out that 1 in 10 of all Americans live in “just two cities, New York and Los Angeles.” Presumably they “prefer” to live in a city, just like this WASP with kids does. (OK, I’m not the typical WASP, but a WASP nonetheless.)

    And did anyone else notice on county-based election results such as Mark Newman’s cartograms that every single large city except Phoenix went for Obama? That includes the ones in Texas and other “red” states (Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, etc). In a country that is already overwhelmingly urban, the Republicans really need to get their act together to appeal to urban voters if they want to win an election.

  4. Dan Staley

    A better election map, in my view, is the NYT series that showed, at the county level, the change over time in voting. 2008 had Appalachia-Ozarks and S Great Plains as red, everyone else was majority blue. That, my friends, is change we can believe in!

  5. anonymouse

    Damn right, it’s excessive land use regulation in dense urbanized cities like Las Vegas, Phoenix, Stockton, and Riverside that cause the huge housing bubbles there, while sprawling suburbs like Portland and Seattle managed to avoid the huge changes in house prices. Wait… something doesn’t sound quite there…

  6. joshuadf

    Wow, I hadn’t seen that NYT Electoral Shifts Recap. That’s awesome. I’m somewhat surprised that Obama had such success in the suburbs vs Kerry in 2004, in addition to his urban vote growing by 19%. And I’m still amazed that Houston and Dallas went for Obama, even if he did lose Texas. (Both went for Bush in 2004, of course.)

  7. Joshua

    I hate any argument that starts with “The majority of Americans prefer…” It’s completely nonsensical. Here, in no order of infuriating importance, are other things that the majority of Americans either have preferred, or currently do prefer:

    1. Slavery
    2. Socialist witch hunts
    3. The Vietnam War
    4. George Bush
    5. American Idol

    I’ll slightly paraphrase today’s final parting shot by Thomas Friedman: Let’s hire Steve Jobs to develop an ad campaign for urban density. Then we’d see what American’s prefer.

  8. Dan Staley

    Joshua, there are certainly reasons for regretting leaving Cascadia. I do miss the chanterelles. And the view from my front porch. Biblius. Slappin’ youze upside yo’ haid about preferences (after a few frosty beverages, of course) is another. Wha?

    Preferences may be transient, capricious, wrong, or whatnot. One-third of those surveyed prefer built environments based on Smart Growth principles. This is how we know there is a latent demand. Do we discount these survey preferences for “revealed preferences” of cr*ppy single-use zoning, esp single-family detached products cookie-cuttered across the landscape? There are many ways of knowing. We must be careful in using all of them. ;o)

  9. japhet

    The main problem with Richard Florida’s work is that he uses lousy methods and specious arguments to come to attractive (and perhaps even true) conclusions. However, any two-bit statistician or fundamentalist hack like Kotkin can punch holes in his research large enough to drive a Hummer through. If we base our policy findings on shoddy data collection and analysis by Florida, then we open the door for hacks to undermine those policies by pointing out the obvious failings. There are plenty of solid rationales for smart growth, and we have a few thousand years of history that points to the economic might of cities. They only have about 50 years worth of sprawling development predicated on cheap gas, infinite road construction budgets, and a zero cost for urban infrastructure, and an artificially low value of social capital. I think we can argue against those assumptions without Richard Florida’s “Creative Class” stalking horse.

  10. Elba Davis

    I usually don’t submit in Blogs but your blog pressured me to, superb work.. stunning …

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