The Dangers of Diffusion
I've previously written about the dangers facing cities in the upcoming economic collapse. Even as some "urbanists" are naïvely predicting that city cores will only strengthen during the coming decade as suburbs decline, cities face many hurdles. One is that second cities, both in the US and abroad are subject to a network effect, being left behind by a few more powerful brethren that get all the press. Been to Buffalo, Detroit, Utica, Syracuse, Albany, Newark or Paterson lately? Cities are a basket case.
But let's give equal opportunity to suburbs. Poverty has been dramatically increasing in suburbs during the last two decades. Take this piece on 18 Cities Whose Suburbs Are Rapidly Turning into Slums. Why is this happening? Certainly, in some cases, like New York, the poor are being priced out of cities. Instead of putting on our party hats and kazoos, as many urbanists seem to want, we should ask if this new form of out-of-sight/out-of-mind segregation isn't evil. But that's not the only reason.
Certainly part of it is the collapse of the US economy since the late 1960s, but there's more. Take a look at this article by Hanna Rosen from 2008 in the Atlantic Monthly in which she links the diffusion of poverty to government programs to get rid of the projects. As areas of concentrated poverty in cities are undone, poverty diffuses into a broader territory both within suburbs and within second cities (as in the case of Memphis, which is her focus).
Network City is a complex place, a palimpsest of failed neoliberalist and Fordist policies. Unfortunately it is also not a very happy place, either, once you get past the shiny bits.