Monday, May 23, 2005

Urban decay

Interesting article in today's New Republic about the state of urban America (you may have to pay for it). This writer thinks that reports of American cities' improving health are greatly exaggerated, and cites four areas where urban dysfunction is driving people to the suburbs and exurbs: housing, infrastructure, jobs, and public education. The article mentions cities like Boston, San Fran, New York, and Portland that have had a reputation for attracting the hip and well-educated as suffering from problems in these areas. As a resident of Boston, this seems fairly obvious -- and if some of these think tanks want to pay me, I could pretty easily come up with the same conclusions it seems to take people who get paid lots of money to conduct research to figure out. Housing prices in Boston -- and indeed all of Massachusetts -- are spectacularly high. People like me and my fiance, who, I flatter myself, are the sort of people cities might want to retain, simply cannot afford to buy a home in the city (unless we fancy paying $400,000 for 600 square feet).

As to whether public education is a problem, you just have to observe my neighborhood for a while to figure that one out. There are two types of children around where I live. First, babies and toddlers, many of them white. Indeed, when walking the dog in the afternoon I see lots of hip young white couples pushing strollers. Then, you see older children and teenagers -- but all black. If I go home early on a weekday afternoon, I can see lots of black teenagers heading home from school for the day. Basically no white ones. At about, oh say, school age, all the white kids are mysteriously sucked out of the city. My guess? They've been taken away by the suburban school fairy, who promises parents a public education without all the metal detectors.

That may sound kind of, um, unpleasant, but I think it's safe to conclude that this is happening because these young, educated couples have the resources to leave the city, buy a home in the burbs, and put their kids into better quality public schools.

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