THE SPREAD

Posted in Rants on September 4th, 2012 by Ed

As many of you know I recently moved out of Georgia and back to the flatlands from whence I came. Having spent my entire life in the Midwest with the exception of the last three years in Georgia there is no culture shock or adjustment period upon returning. It is as I remember it, which is to say that it's equal parts comfortable and depressing.

The city in which I live now is a perfect example of what people on the coasts think about the Rust Belt. If you look up "post-industrial" or "urban decay" you might not see an actual picture of where I live, but it would be hard to tell the difference. Even if you have never been here, there's a great chance that you've been to one of the dozens of places exactly like it across the Midwest or New England. If you've seen one Youngstown you've seen 'em all – cities that were awesome in about 1958 and everything has gone downhill since then. The factories all left, everyone with the means to do so left, and now the downtown area looks like a set for one of those movies wherein the protagonist wakes up to find that everyone else is gone.

What surprises me about this city is that the population has fallen over that time but it is spread over an area that has doubled in size. The population density has plummeted and left us with the familiar "donut" pattern: an empty shell of a downtown surrounded by unplanned, idiotically sprawling suburbs. As a result, a city that could be somewhere that people actually want to live feels like a ghost town. Just imagine if everyone actually moved back to the city. Wouldn't that be neat?

But that would entail suburbanites living near, like, black people and poor people and stuff. And they wouldn't be able to have those giant yards they don't actually use. And the houses might not all have 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms (which is the minimum necessary for four people). And if you don't have to drive absolutely everywhere, how are you going to show off the car? Who wants to live so close to other people? What are we, peasants?

All the policy solutions in the world – tax incentives, harebrained "renewal" schemes, endless/fruitless talk about luring "high tech" industry to the city – can't overcome the warped attitudes and preferences that led us to the current state of affairs. We don't care if we never see or talk to our neighbors; in fact we prefer it. When people think the bugs are actually features, it's hard to expect any logic from their collective decision-making.