Sunday, April 24, 2016

Pointless Urbanism: YIMBYs Are The New Yuppies

We need bigger cities because suburbs are bad. The only people who know suburbs are bad lived there with silver spoons in their mouths. The folks who poo-poo suburbs have a geographic choice. Damn all ye working class African-Americans dreaming of a green lawn and a white picket fence but redlined urban for decades.

In light of such a legacy, which land use morphology makes sense? What is geographically just? A rich world defined by arcs of urban epochs:

In 19th-century Paris, photographers rushed to document the last moments of medieval streets and intimate alleys. In London, most urban construction today is perceived as a nuisance rather than a sign of progress, greeted not with nostalgia for the old but frustration in the moment: a closed Tube station, a road diversion, a racket. As the capital grows, it goes through waves of rebuilding, each purporting to address a dominant issue. In the late 19th century it was slum clearance; after the second world war it was the rebuilding of a city devastated by bombing as a physical expression of a new welfare state; in the 1980s the rebuilding was an effort to revitalise the city as a global financial centre. And now — what exactly?

What exactly, indeed. Today's rationale is real estate development as economic development, with the young white, college-educated elites leading the charge. Where oh where will the well-born millennial find the safe suburban in the urban jungle at an affordable price? In the same place where the career banks of boomers find attractive, that's where. The sons and daughters of one big generation fight their dads and moms over urban space. Once again, the privileged decide the fate of the city, as they always have done.

Today's affordable urban hood is yesterday's slum clearance or new financial district. Make way for the YIMBY, today's version of the YUPPIE. Tiny houses cater to the millennial ego the way cooperative living appealed to the boomer sense of social justice. Both approaches made shelter affordable to poor (for the time being) idealists.

As the Yuppies became reviled, so will the YIMBYs. Both groups shout, "gentrification beats concentrated poverty!" Boomer and millennial work together. They sound the same. Both can win as long as everybody else loses.

In the gap generations, the same is true. The impact isn't felt because the demographics are small by relative comparison. The beats and the slackers worked together to monopolize the crumbs of urbanism left over from the boomers and millennials. The same silver spoon critique applies. The numbers fail to add up.

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