I really like the new book by social commentator Joel Kotkin, The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050 (The Penguin Press, 2010).
Mr. Kotkin is not subject to the groupthink that is so prevalent in our society today. While many students of population and urban trends and urban design view Houston as a disaster and Portland, Oregon as the role model we should all strive for, Kotkin sees it differently. Portland is rapidly becoming, like San Francisco and New York, a “ghetto for wealthy people” (my phrase). Not there yet, but on the way. I love Portland and understand why people like living there; but it is becoming so expensive that most of us can’t afford it. New York County (Manhattan) now has the biggest spread between the top income earners and the bottom income earners in the United States. As much as I also love New York, I don’t think that is anything to be proud of. Houston, on the other hand, is still a city that works for millions of middle class people. And likely to stay that way. The same can be said of Dallas, San Antonio, and many other cities.
I found his comments about Austin to be particularly provocative. He points out that my city is on the cusp. It is still affordable for the middle class – at least in the outlying suburbs – but is trending toward getting out of line. Housing in the central part of the city already is too expensive for most people. So perhaps we are at a real turning point, whether we decide whether this city continues to be great or begins to narrow its range and vibrancy.
Whether you agree with these ideas or not, I think you will find this a provocative book. And he talks about a lot more than just urban issues: he looks at America’s religion, ethnic mix, and many other elements of our society. Most importantly, he is studying social sciences, he has a great sense of geography, and he focuses on trends – how things change through time. These are the same points that I have made repeatedly in my writings and speeches, so he is preaching to the choir when he “speaks” to me.



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