For those of us watching cultural trends, it seems that there is a renewed focus on establishing the live-ability of the urban, downtown environments of our cities. Lots of development work is going in to recapturing failed sections of cities, buying out old industrial districts and turning them into hip, upscale community centers like The Pearl in Portland.
But live-able for who? I came across an article by Joel Kotkin recently who has done extensive research on the migrations of people in and out of these new urban centers. There are some concerning trends:
City planners and urban developers favor the unattached: the “young and restless,” the “creative class,” and the so-called “yuspie”—the young urban single professional. Champions of the unattached suggest that companies and cities should capture this segment, described by one as “the dream demographic,” if they wish to inhabit the top tiers of the economic food chain.
Another key group coveted by cities are the legions of baby boomers who have already raised children. No longer cohabiting with offspring, they are expected to give up their dull family existence and rediscover the allure of a fast-paced, defiantly “youthful” lifestyle. The new retirees, suggests luxury homebuilder Robert Toll, “are more hip-hop and happening than our parents.” They are more interested in indulging “the sophistication and joy and music that comes with city dwelling, and doesn’t come with sitting in the ’burbs watching the day go by.”
I immediately thought of the Pearl District in Portland, a place with which I have sort of a love-hate relationship. On the one hand, it is filled with cool shops, the best of all being Powell’s Books. There are fabulous one-of-a-kind restaurants within easy reach. The arts and parks are wonderful and the walking experience is a feast for the senses. The light rail will take you anywhere else you want to go.
But I’ve often wondered what people with a four year old and a two year old do. You don’t see people with kids very often wandering around Pearl. I even went to the Pearl’s guide web site and looked for what I assumed would be some upscale schools, fancy boutiques for urbanite moms looking to buy their daughters some designer eco-friendly toys. But a look at the marketing, photos, and highlights leaves the married-with-kids out of the mix. Look for yourself. You see the two demographics mentioned in Kotkin’s article.
I wonder what sort of effect this will have on smaller communities like Salem. I know Salem wants to be like her big sister to the North and is on a rampage to upscale its downtown along these same lines. Is the lifestyle of the “unattached” the goal of our vibrant urban centers? What happens when newly-forming young families are forced to choose between the hip urban lifestyle and one that includes the possibility of children? Is this a wise development choice?