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Stranded By Sprawl

 
 
Reply Mon 29 Jul, 2013 10:29 am
This is an interesting and important piece by a Nobel prize winner in economics.

Stranded by Sprawl
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: July 28, 2013

Detroit is a symbol of the old economy’s decline. It’s not just the derelict center; the metropolitan area as a whole lost population between 2000 and 2010, the worst performance among major cities. Atlanta, by contrast, epitomizes the rise of the Sun Belt; it gained more than a million people over the same period, roughly matching the performance of Dallas and Houston without the extra boost from oil.


Yet in one important respect booming Atlanta looks just like Detroit gone bust: both are places where the American dream seems to be dying, where the children of the poor have great difficulty climbing the economic ladder. In fact, upward social mobility — the extent to which children manage to achieve a higher socioeconomic status than their parents — is even lower in Atlanta than it is in Detroit. And it’s far lower in both cities than it is in, say, Boston or San Francisco, even though these cities have much slower growth than Atlanta.

So what’s the matter with Atlanta? A new study suggests that the city may just be too spread out, so that job opportunities are literally out of reach for people stranded in the wrong neighborhoods. Sprawl may be killing Horatio Alger.

The new study comes from the Equality of Opportunity Project, which is led by economists at Harvard and Berkeley. There have been many comparisons of social mobility across countries; all such studies find that these days America, which still thinks of itself as the land of opportunity, actually has more of an inherited class system than other advanced nations. The new project asks how social mobility varies across U.S. cities, and finds that it varies a lot. In San Francisco a child born into the bottom fifth of the income distribution has an 11 percent chance of making it into the top fifth, but in Atlanta the corresponding number is only 4 percent.

When the researchers looked for factors that correlate with low or high social mobility, they found, perhaps surprisingly, little direct role for race, one obvious candidate. They did find a significant correlation with the existing level of inequality: “areas with a smaller middle class had lower rates of upward mobility.” This matches what we find in international comparisons, where relatively equal societies like Sweden have much higher mobility than highly unequal America. But they also found a significant negative correlation between residential segregation — different social classes living far apart — and the ability of the poor to rise.

And in Atlanta poor and rich neighborhoods are far apart because, basically, everything is far apart; Atlanta is the Sultan of Sprawl, even more spread out than other major Sun Belt cities. This would make an effective public transportation system nearly impossible to operate even if politicians were willing to pay for it, which they aren’t. As a result, disadvantaged workers often find themselves stranded; there may be jobs available somewhere, but they literally can’t get there.

The apparent inverse relationship between sprawl and social mobility obviously reinforces the case for “smart growth” urban strategies, which try to promote compact centers with access to public transit. But it also bears on a larger debate about what is happening to American society. I know I’m not the only person who read the Times article on the new study and immediately thought, “William Julius Wilson.”

A quarter-century ago Mr. Wilson, a distinguished sociologist, famously argued that the postwar movement of employment out of city centers to the suburbs dealt African-American families, concentrated in those city centers, a heavy blow, removing economic opportunity just as the civil rights movement was finally ending explicit discrimination. And he further argued that social phenomena such as the prevalence of single mothers, often cited as causes of lagging black performance, were actually effects — that is, the family was being undermined by the absence of good jobs.

These days, you hear less than you used to about alleged African-American social dysfunction, because traditional families have become much weaker among working-class whites, too. Why? Well, rising inequality and the general hollowing out of the job market are probably the main culprits. But the new research on social mobility suggests that sprawl — not just the movement of jobs out of the city, but their movement out of reach of many less-affluent residents of the suburbs, too — is also playing a role.

As I said, this observation clearly reinforces the case for policies that help families function without multiple cars. But you should also see it in the larger context of a nation that has lost its way, that preaches equality of opportunity while offering less and less opportunity to those who need it most.

 
ossobuco
 
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Reply Mon 29 Jul, 2013 12:41 pm
@Advocate,
I read that fast, agree with it.

I'm used to it already, re transportation issues for people who lived in south Los Angeles back when I was paying attention to all this when I lived in the city (many years, but not since 'early '99).
Advocate
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Jul, 2013 01:24 pm
@ossobuco,
I guess the answer is installing great transportation systems. I understand that Atlanta has a good light-rail system. It evidently is not good enough.

Has LA improved public transportation?

DC, where I spent most of my life, has a superb subway-surface system. It is highly successful and really covers the area like a blanket.
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Jul, 2013 02:00 pm
@Advocate,
They got a light rail a while ago, but that doesn't get the whole lack of south central transportation fixed.
On the other hand, I haven't read up recently, as the LA Times has a paywall - while there are 15 articles you can read a month for free, that is pretty much none relative to what I used to read.
0 Replies
 
realjohnboy
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Jul, 2013 05:27 pm
I am a fan of Krugman but my first reaction to the article was, bluntly, a yawn: suburban flight = urban blight. There was, it is argued, a conspiracy involving car companies, oil companies, their unions, real estate developers and the government to sell the public on the dream of life in suburbia after WW2.
I think it is much more complicated than that and my comments should be read as mere outline.
> The movement of jobs to the suburbs followed, often fueled by tax incentives;
> Public mass transit failed to keep pace, as Krugman noted. Sometimes there would be fancy light rail etc zipping through the urban areas. Too often, though, there would not be an efficient system of feeder transport for what I call the "last mile" to where people actually lived;
And now it gets even more complex.
> The jobs followed the executives of the companies to the suburbs at about the same time as women began entering the labor force; dealing another blow to urban dwellers;
< And, perhaps, the end of segregation, integration, had some unintended consequences. NPR this evening had a story on a high school in DC. At one time the faculty was composed of black Phd's who could only find work and a place to live in the inner city.

So, anyway, while Krugman's article was widely retweeted in the last couple of days, it left me a bit underwhelmed.
(By the way, Osso, I, like you, use up my free views to the NYT's etc before the month ends. I highly recommend Real Clear Politics. The RCP site is a compendium of diverse op eds etc from numerous sources along with often times thoughtful comments.)
ossobuco
 
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Reply Mon 29 Jul, 2013 06:33 pm
@realjohnboy,
I especially agree with your second point - I should have verbalized that.
Thanks for the clue about the RCP site, I'll look into it in a minute (have to run back to the kitchen and wipe up before the ants find new treasures).
Edit to say this is all old news to me, but maybe not to others.
0 Replies
 
hawkeye10
 
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Reply Mon 29 Jul, 2013 06:42 pm
sprawl is a huge problem, but transportation will always be a problem so long as national policy lacks any interest in sustaining big cities. what is needed is triple current mass transit spending to go along with smart urban planning.
0 Replies
 
hawkeye10
 
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Reply Mon 29 Jul, 2013 06:57 pm
@realjohnboy,
good point about the jobs....it is no longer cool to be in the city, every corporation now wants the campus in the lush rolling hills of suburbia. with the corporate welfair in the form of tax breaks that they often get for doing it who's to say they are wrong? look at Sears as only one example, thy left their iconic tower in Chicago and are still collecting welfare at their new location even though the company is slashing employment. this welfare is partly funded by Illinois...what sense does that make?
realjohnboy
 
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Reply Mon 29 Jul, 2013 07:46 pm
@hawkeye10,
Welcome to Advocate's thread about Sprawl, Hawkeye. It will be interesting to see how long it lasts.
I think that some companies are rethinking the concept of "corporate campuses" where their employees (or associates or partners etc or whatever they are called) interact only with each other in their isolated, insulated environment.
As an aside, which I may have mentioned elsewhere before, is the growing popularity of the phrase "metropolitan redevelopment" as opposed to "urban renewal."

ehBeth
 
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Reply Mon 29 Jul, 2013 07:58 pm
@realjohnboy,
My employer is one of many that has considered, and decided against, the suburban campus.

The lease will be up in our downtown tower location in a year. We are moving to a bigger tower even closer to the core of our city - literally a five-minute walk closer. Staff surveys showed people would rather quit than have the jobs move to the burbs. Interesting since the majority of our staff commutes in from the suburbs. People would rather commute 1.5+ hours to come downtown to work than to have a shorter commute to nowhere.

My two most recent previous employers have given up their suburban spaces and moved closer to the city core as well.
Thomas
 
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Reply Mon 29 Jul, 2013 10:55 pm
@ehBeth,
ehBeth wrote:
Staff surveys showed people would rather quit than have the jobs move to the burbs. Interesting since the majority of our staff commutes in from the suburbs.

Interesting, but not surprising. On average, suburbs are closer to the center than they are to each other. And a company that moves to "the" suburbs is unlikely to move to yours.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
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Reply Mon 29 Jul, 2013 11:05 pm
@Advocate,
Advocate wrote:
I guess the answer is installing great transportation systems. I understand that Atlanta has a good light-rail system. It evidently is not good enough.

Marta, Atlanta's bus and commuter-rail system, is good in downtown and serviceable in midtown. But it's too thin around the suburbs, where most people live. That's nearly inevitable. (Or should I say hard to evit?) The more your suburbs sprawl out, the less efficient your public transportation system will be at connecting them.
hawkeye10
 
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Reply Mon 29 Jul, 2013 11:14 pm
@Thomas,
high population density us critical to running efficient urban mass transit, I was not happy to see that chicago's density is way down. Munich is my favorite system of all time, but then expanding the city is almost never done, the existing city is continually recycled.
0 Replies
 
 

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