Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Death of the American City

I've thought about this problem: John Ransom: Union Greed and Politician Apathy are Killing Cities, in the past, and although Ransom is right in his analysis of the immediate problem facing many cities, this is only part of what is "killing" cities. Some cities, like NYC, Boston, Seattle, and others are not being killed - - yet. What, in my opinion, has killed many cities are the same forces that have killed the mainstream media and is killing other sectors of the “old city” economy.... Societal Evolution and the Invention of the Internet. 

Today there is little need for big cities. Sweatshops have all but disappeared. Manufacturing has disintermediated, as has much of the old traditional economy: Supplier > Manufacturer > Wholesaler > Retailer to finally, Buyer, has been replaced with: Just-In-Time Manufacturer > Buyer; and this to large degree has been facilitated via the Internet. Even the traditional salesforce has been severely diminished. In the traditional economy, of just a decade or two ago, the old model business chain clustered in and around the city, providing millions with jobs. Many of those "jobs" have simply disappeared - never to return. Not just outsourced manufacturing jobs, but most "middleman" jobs as well.

Today, especially in the high-tech world of electronics, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices, "campuses" have sprung-up in the suburbs and even the exurbs. What little population support needed by workers quickly develops around these campuses as, what I call, "a city in a box." The box is nearly pre-manufactured and merely needs assembly. It generally consists of the familiar modern "town" of a few big-box stores, fast food franchises, and necessary services such as: a complete medical building, perhaps even a small hospital; various and sundry mechanical services including a local airport; educational facilities and minimal county government services.

Crowds, crime, the uneducated, the unemployed, the unemployable, the unwashed of the present, if you will; those are the peoples of the dying cities. Those folks do not pay substantial taxes and are supported to a large degree by government: police, the courts, other government service providers; the bureaucrats. The very presence of this growing segment of modern society is exacerbating the death of the city. President Obama, and others are attempting to stop and even reverse this trend, to financially gut and strangle those suburbs and exurbs in order to force the tax paying population back into the cities and thus support the old culture there. Drive-up the cost of fuel is one ploy, but is back-firing; the one-time commuter will look for work closer to home or move even further out rather than return to that which he/she ran from: the big (and now dirty and dilapidated) city; and simply use less fuel. Starting a business today requires, in city services, little more than an internet connection! Gone is the glamour of the city. Good food, culture and entertainment are all available just about everywhere, and once again the Internet aides and abets.

Cheers, Mel

P.S. Sorry Governor Brown (CA), High Speed Rail and other rapid transit public transportation schemes won't stop, let alone reverse, this trend. It's called: evolution. 

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