He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
Well thank God for David Brooks, then.
AND Dear Lord, he's back at that exurbs thing like a dog returning to its sick. This is either the result of Late Onset Complete and Utter Failure Syndrome (taken, in some quarters, for Premature Obama Derangement, but I'm sticking with my diagnosis), or Desperate Thrashing In Search Of Continued Employment. Whichever the case, either get the man a good editor or into treatment, or both; surely, unlike MoDo, there's someone on the Times staff who still believes his schtick.
The 1980s and 1990s made up the era of the great dispersal. Forty-three million people moved every year, and basically they moved outward — from inner-ring suburbs to far-flung exurbs on the metro fringe. For example, the population of metropolitan Pittsburgh declined by 8 percent in those years, but the developed land area of the Pittsburgh area sprawled outward by 43 percent.
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act, and soon Americans from coast-to-coast had steam coming out of the tops of their heads.
I know, I know, we've been over this before. Real sociology is bad enough, though it must be given credit for more-or-less avoiding the fascist impulses of its closest cousin. Pop sociology is tennis with the net down, eyeless linesmen, and no balls.
People in cities moved outward! It seems less like a polished gem of cultural observation and more like an imperative of simple geometry. I suppose they could have gone Up, or Down, or Stayed In One Place; each of which would then have Told Us Something Significant about Up or Down or Stasis. It's like Thurber's vain struggles with the microscope in Biology 101: Mr. Brooks, you do realize you've just drawn a picture of your own eyeball?
And again, we're fine with these pastoral frolics of his; we simply object to the venue. But then we actually live in that America which Brooks occasionally pretends to visit. And we can pretty much tell you that Exurb-Bound America in the 80s and 90s was tryin' to get far enough away from the Nigras that only a few of them would show up at its children's school in the next fifteen years, and those would have 4.2 speed in the 40 or good penetration off the dribble. The End.
Did anyone ever call Brooks on this? I don't mean on the internets, I mean during his decade and counting on PBS and NPR. The man has built an entire career based on studiously avoiding the obvious...
If you asked people in that age of go-go suburbia what they wanted in their new housing developments, they often said they wanted a golf course. But the culture has changed. If you ask people today what they want, they’re more likely to say coffee shops, hiking trails and community centers.
...while substituting this passive-aggressive, updated-for-the-Go-Go-Eighties And Not Since version of Hippies vs. Straights for an easily amused audience. Not to mention one which did not want to be reminded why it really fled the suburbs for the supersuburbs.
People overshot the mark. They moved to the exurbs because they wanted space and order. But once there, they found that they were missing community and social bonds. So in the past years there has been a new trend. Meeting places are popping up across the suburban landscape.
There are restaurant and entertainment zones, mixed-use streetscape malls, suburban theater districts, farmers’ markets and concert halls. In addition, downtown areas in places like Charlotte and Dallas are reviving as many people move back into the city in search of human contact. Joel Kotkin, the author of “The New Geography,” calls this clustering phenomenon the New Localism.
And James "Doghouse" Riley, who hasn't got anything to sell that wasn't available at this summer's yard sale, calls it "White upper-middle class trendoids doing something different with their money than white upper-middle-class trendoids did fifteen years ago, and some guy in the newspaper discovering it eight years later. Which is, like, really, really unprecedented."
This is, admittedly, anecdotal, but then it's at least an anecdote, not something I extrapolated from a magazine while I was waiting for them to call my reservation. As someone who lived in a series of downtown neighborhoods that ranged from "trendoid transitional" to "sketchy", I've seen a remarkable, perhaps remarkably crazy, resurgence of the northside of my benighted village in the ten years I've been a suburbanite. The area north of the old, old monied residential areas of downtown, which were largely gentrified in the late-70s through the 80s, saw a housing explosion which had a lot more to do with Old Speculation than New Localism. To a guy approximately my height and weight who used to walk through areas of somewhere between ramshackle and condemned fine old houses, the difference between the latest go-round and the earlier was that this time in the place of individual rehabbers you got tax-break contractors coming in and turning whole neighborhoods into Victorianesque McMansions. I don't know anybody who lives there, which is to say it's a young couples' game, but I suspect that if the housing bubble burst anywhere in this city of neighborhoods, it's there, and that people who imagined they were going to sell for big profit and move across the county line when those children they planned to have someday were old enough to go to school are now considering the cost of a vasectomy. White flight is right where it landed. It isn't going away, and it sure isn't crawling back to the city shamefaced, shit-faced, or otherwise faced. It is, it goes without saying, demanding that a light rail system be built for it, to relieve the congestion and shorten the commute it caused and accepted in the first place, as small price to pay for getting away from the coloreds.
Barack Obama has said that he would start an infrastructure project that will dwarf Dwight Eisenhower’s highway program. If, indeed, we are going to have a once-in-a-half-century infrastructure investment, it would be great if the program would build on today’s emerging patterns. It would be great if Obama’s spending, instead of just dissolving into the maw of construction, would actually encourage the clustering and leave a legacy that would be visible and beloved 50 years from now....
the Obama stimulus plan could help localities create suburban town squares. Many communities are trying to build focal points. The stimulus plan could build charter schools, pre-K centers, national service centers and other such programs around new civic hubs....
But alas, there’s no evidence so far that the Obama infrastructure plan is attached to any larger social vision. In fact, there is a real danger that the plan will retard innovation and entrench the past.
Okay, in response, let me just say, "Fuck you." If we need advice about where the next fifty years are headed, maybe we should look elsewhere, rather than to the guy who last prediction lasted twenty, and that by his own scorecard.
If the Middle Class now finds itself in a leaky lifeboat with a serious list on a moonless North Atlantic night while suffering the first signs of hypothermia, maybe it could begin by thinking about the underclass it willingly threw overboard for the sake of a little extra leg-room, back when the sun was shining and the wind was fair. You Broke It, You Bought It, and don't act like you didn't see the sign. I'm sorry for the Middle Class. I are one. And I've been screaming about Reaganism for thirty years, but still, fair's fair. We're enduring the moral repugnance of bailing out Wall Street thieves and pirates, not simply because there are Wall Street thieves and pirates, nor the corporate shill politicians who enable them, but because the Middle Class consciously, and repeatedly, voted in their favor. To say now that massive federal works program designed--at least partly--to repair the damage--in whatever portion--ought to concentrate on building bridges so SUV-commanding exurbanwhites can get to daycare more efficiently is the sliming on the cake. Charter schools? Fuck you. Repair the damage you've done over the past forty years by turning urban schools into political footballs and surrogates for segregation. No more top-down entitlements, no more tax subsidies for Lifestyle Shopping Experiences while schools go begging and honest people go broke. Either the economy continues to spin down the toilet, in which case the Middle Class will soon become the Underclass, and full recipients of the back of the hand they offered when times were good; or the economy will stabilize, and it will be time for the people who enabled this to start paying an overdue bill.
For a country which feels so strongly about religious conviction that it routinely lies to pollsters asking how often it goes to church, you might think the day would dawn when it decided to actually wash away, rather than wish away, its stain. That's no doubt too much to hope, but I don't see why a loathsome toad and former Bush page boy like David Brooks should still be offering us his vision of the future, and still sitting at the New York Times instead of on some trendy 21st century version of the dunking stool. At taxpayer expense, fine.