Thursday, October 08, 2009

America Will Build No More Great Cities

Bloggers blog for different reasons. I'm looking for a good conversation and I've found one with Aaron Renn about Charlotte. However, our exchange has been preempted by Jon Talton:

Now Wachovia is gone, a victim of the greed and bad bets of its executives. Bank of America has been badly wounded in the banking mess, particularly its acquisition of Merrill Lynch. Now CEO Ken Lewis has suddenly announced his resignation with no succession plan. A bully who pushed out talent that intimidated him, Lewis has done further damage to the nation’s largest bank. Worse, he didn’t share McColl’s deeply personal passion to build Charlotte as a great city, yet he was the last major bank official with a tie to the city. It will be very hard for BofA to avoid the gravitational pull of New York as the capital of America’s capital markets. A successor could likely begin a slow — or fast — move of the headquarters north. This pressure will only be intensified by the consolidation and restructuring going on in finance now.

Read the entire post. The juxtaposition of Chicago and Charlotte is strikingly similar to what Aaron has written. Charlotte could have been a great city. Instead, it is a symbol of America's waning global hegemony.

The other thread in Talton's piece is something I could have written. America's urban frontier is closed. That said, I don't appreciate the geographic fetishism:

Real cities — with high concentration of population, walkable neighborhoods, transit, lovely civic design, high quality of life and numerous assets — will have a much better future in a world of expensive energy, global competition for talent and capital, and the increasing stresses and costs from sprawl’s environmental and social degradation.

Europe is enhancing its cities while Asia is building new ones. America is frozen in place.

Real cities? Everywhere else gets it, but America doesn't? That kind of hyperbole reminds me of 1991 in the United States. Hegemonic decline was all the rage. I vividly recall Peter Taylor trying to assure his audience at the University of Colorado that the fall of empire didn't signal the end of days. He used the United Kingdom as an example. But folks weren't listening. We were doomed, frozen in place as the rest of the world raced passed us.

During this global reset, a new kind of bold ambition must emerge. I see this energy in Youngstown, a city that those in Europe surely appreciate. The Sun Belt and California are testament to our ability to rise out of the 1991 recession. The decade of the 1990s was the golden age of sprawl. Looking forward, the upcoming decade will celebrate the recycled city. The urban frontier is shifting. Sorry, Charlotte.

1 comment:

Schultz said...

Come visit Raleigh. While you there come visit Durham, a smaller but equally trans-formative and potentially great American city. Raleigh has a population of close to 400,000. They are expecting it to grow to close to 700,000 within the next two decades. The city of Durham struggled for a long time but it has been undergoing a true renaissance. Whenever I visited Charlotte's downtown area I thought "this place looks too new, too fake" and I think the article you posted confirms what I was feeling at the time. Contrast Charlotte to Raleigh-Durham, which, while relying heavily on health care and pharma, is a pretty diverse economic region.