Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Future of Exurbia

First a note to readers:  I've become active on Twitter -- @buddshenkin.  It's an interesting format, informal, edging one toward more extreme expressions, and definitely compressing composition.  I find it generally a salutary influence - amazing how it helps one get to the heart of the matter quickly.  Which I need.  I invite you to follow me there.  But remember, Twitter is addictive.  Maybe it diverts your time badly, or maybe it just keeps up your interest and keeps you going.  YMMV.

Another note: as I write this I'm listening to “The Hits of the Crystals,” the great Phil Spector girl group of the 60's in what I think is the second wave of rock 'n' roll. Please make allowances for probable overstatements and over-enthusiasm.

So, I just tweeted about an article by the terrific NYT Upshot columnist, economist Neil Irwin.  Here is the article:

It's basic thrust is this: it's a mistake to view the US as one big average. The varieties of individual experiences, and especially the variation in regions, is very striking. He looks at a case in point in comparing two adjacent counties. “Economically, Loudoun County is humming from the technology boom in Washington’s suburbs....” By contrast, adjacent Jefferson County, WV has lost businesses. Loudon County was strong for Hillary, and Jefferson strong for Trump. This divergence is typical in the US.

Amazingly, Irwin relates that top economists are just beginning to realize that looking at averages across the US has obscured this local variation. Irwin must be exaggerating; it's been so obvious and talked about. He also relates that policy makers are wondering what to do about it. Increase tax benefits to people in lagging counties to help them thrive, or tax incentives to build businesses in these lagging areas? “Would it be better, for example, to help people stay, or to help them go? Invest in transportation infrastructure or better schools, or ease relocation to more dynamic places?” “...a public fund to support small-business loans in the struggling regions, nationwide broadband internet and vouchers to help the unemployed move to places where there are more jobs?”

So I return again to the idea of high-speed rail and regional transportation networks. It's not clear if shrinking the time-space remoteness exurban areas would actually help the current residents or simply gentrify the space and further displace the left-behind. But it is perhaps relevant to think about the data which shows that placing former ghetto residents in more middle class areas leads to increased success for these people – as long as there are not too many of them, which would lead to a persistence of ghetto culture and persistence of inequality.

Personally, I can't help but think that education is the key. Give people good schools – and I mean good schools, not just current American schools, but schools like Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, with the best teachers, the highest ideals, with drama, debate, music, style, intensity – a culture of achievement and celebration – give people these schools, and give them access to urban centers, and my prediction would be a renaissance of society.

But there I go again, with that vision thing. The reality is, who is in charge of envisioning education and giving incentives and funding and pushing the agenda? Betsy DeVos, local school boards, teacher unions. We're doomed.

Budd Shenkin

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