Arts, Culture, Entertainment: Not Just for the Elite
Joel Kotkin makes valid points about the necessity for cities to invest in the needs of their middle class and families [“The Rise of the Ephemeral City”]. It seems difficult to imagine healthy, sustainable urban areas that disregard the needs of major segments of society—but he equates investments in culture with its automatic abandonment. His derogatory characterizations of the rich as “idle” and the young as “restless” seems to betray some resentment of these classes and efforts to attract them.
A common trait of the successful urban economies he cites—San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles—is that they have a balance of resources that make them attractive to diverse classes. Good schools and affordable housing are essential for families. But if businesses, universities, and government agencies hope to attract the talented employees they depend on, it also makes sense to cultivate the quality-of-life amenities that smart, creative people want. Museums, walkable retail districts, a variety of entertainment and the like are not just for the elite. Working people and families are enriched by and attracted to these resources as well.
What Mr. Kotkin says is quite true. It has been consistent American government policy—at least since the end of World War II—to bribe the urban population to move out of cities and into the suburbs. Add to that the 1970s’ law enforcement failures, the disastrous decline in urban schools, the urban riots, the creation of a subsidized urban underclass, redevelopment (which on the whole has been a net destroyer of urban housing), and bussing: the results shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
Is there a solution? In the near future, there probably is not. It took us half a century to get to the present unfortunate state. If we are lucky—and work hard at it—it will take at least that long to reverse course, assuming the leadership wants to reverse course.
Professor of Law Emeritus
Loyola Law School