Tuesday, September 06, 2011

What's to love about cities? And why Republicans hate them

Cities are full of people who don't look like most Republicans. Here's a stark reminder of the demographic facts:

WASHINGTON — Minorities accounted for 98 percent of the population growth in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas over the past decade, according to a new report, as the country’s white population continued to stagnate, and in many places, decline.

Hispanics and Asians led population growth in the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas over the past decade, growing by 41 percent and 43 percent respectively. The population of blacks grew by 12 percent, and the aging white population was largely flat, increasing by less than 1 percent.

... In large metropolitan areas, the white population represented 57 percent of the total in 2010, down from 71 percent in 1990. Whites accounted for a bigger share in smaller cities, at 73 percent, and in rural areas, at 80 percent, Dr. Frey said. In all, the white population shrank in 42 out of the top 100 cities. ...

New York Times, August 31, 2011

But cities are the country's economic engines. Cities are where people can live, and live well, while free to develop in all our very individual avenues. Yes, free! Economist Ryan Avent explains how dense cities offer opportunities that can't develop smaller places:

What is it exactly that dense cities are doing? Consider a simple example. Suppose that within a population one person in 100 develops a taste for Vietnamese cuisine, and suppose that a Vietnamese restaurant needs a customer base of 1,000 people to operate profitably. In a city of 10,000 residents, there aren’t enough people to support a Vietnamese restaurant. The only restaurants that can operate profitably are those appealing to considerably more than one in 100 people — restaurants offering less daring fare. In a city of 10,000 people, there is little room for specialization, and less for experimentation.

A city of one million people, by contrast, can support multiple Vietnamese restaurants. Not only will this larger city enjoy a specialty cuisine unavailable in less populous places, but its ability to support multiple producers of this cuisine allows for competition, improving the price and quality.

A city with multiple Vietnamese restaurants may attract sellers of the fresh ingredients used in Vietnamese cooking, who then invest in distribution of those products in the larger city. This, in turn, attracts the sort of discerning eaters who favor authentic, high-quality Vietnamese food, reinforcing the concentration of Vietnamese eateries. The larger market facilitates competition, which again boosts quality and reduces prices. This is good for consumers. But competition also means better service from suppliers and growth in the consumer market, which is good for the restaurants. The result is a stronger, more productive and higher-quality microeconomy than in the city of 100,000, where only one Vietnamese restaurant can survive, or the town of 10,000, where there is none at all.

It's not just Vietnamese restaurants. It's about all the different interests, projects and activities that each of us chooses to pursue -- cities make it possible for us to devote ourselves to following our enthusiasms. The internet is great for meeting like-minded others, but cities are where we can find live communities of interest.

A search for room to spread out was in the DNA this country as settlers spread across the continent, eventually occupying it all. I too can feel the pull of open spaces; I instinctively head for the hills when I need to recharge. But cities are where life abounds. We need to treasure them!

1 comment:

Ronni Bennett said...

Ah hah! Now I know why I haven't had a decent Chinese meal since I left New York City for, first, Portland, Maine and now Lake Oswego.

And why there is no pizza except the least interesting national chain and no French, Vietnamese and Middle Eastern restaurants at all.

And why the only Italian restaurant in town is - well, something, but not Italian.

And why arugula is sold here in tiny plastic containers at exorbitant prices as an herb, for god's sake, instead of as a salad green.

Okay, I know the point of this story is larger than food, but I'm glad to have the explanation.