The Rise of the New American Community

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The Rise of the New American Community

For decades the Trends editors have highlighted the absurdity of the great urbanization trend.  So-called experts insisted on conflating the mass flight from rural poverty in the developing world with the continued growth of certain dense urban centers in the OECD countries.  Much of the confusion arises from the biases of analysts in parsing the data.  For instance, as explained in prior Trends issues the often-quoted assertion that “dense urban areas are exceptionally productive” in economic terms, turns out to be untrue when the data is accurately parsed.

Nevertheless, for a generation, a procession of pundits, public relations agents, and real estate speculators have promoted the notion that our future lay in dense — and politically deep-blue — urban centers, largely on the coasts.  In fact, in the midst of the financial crisis just a decade ago, suburbia’s future seemed perilous, with experts claiming that many suburban census tracks were about to become “the next slums.”  Specifically, the head of President Obama’s Department of Housing and Urban Development proclaimed that “sprawl” was now doomed and people were “moving back into central cities.” Of course, that “wisdom” came from the same administration that told us “you can’t drill your way to energy independence” and “those U.S. manufacturing jobs are never coming back.”

Notably, that idea was always overwrought with enthusiasm.  But now, with the COVID-19 pandemic heavily concentrated in these urban centers, the case for forced densification promoted by “urban supremacists” has lost a lot of its former luster.  Why? Because, by some estimates, the death rate in large urban counties has been well over twice those of high-density suburbs, nearly four times higher than lower-density ones, with even larger gaps with smaller metros and rural areas.

The pandemic has been toughest on those areas that suffer what demographer Wendell Cox called “exposure density.” In the worst case, which is in New York’s outer boroughs, this pattern is exacerbated by living in crowded apartments, walking packed streets, traveling cheek-to-jowl in the subway, and then being forced into a crowded workplace. This could explain why sprawling, large, and relatively less-dense urban areas in Texas, California, and Florida — each with its own pockets of poverty — have also experienced far lower infection and fatality rates than New York.

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