Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Country Needs New Cities

By all accounts and forecasts, cities will host the majority of the world's population (now at 7
billion people) within the next 20 years.  The problem as I see it, particularly here in the U.S., is that there aren't enough of them.  And a majority of the ones that do exist are unfortunately falling apart at the seams... structurally, socially, and financially.  Estimates are that most U.S. cities will continue to suffer through budget gaps in the 10 - 20% range for the foreseeable future.  So why does the country continue to try to keep patching these cities together and forcing them to remain the sole focus of our national re-urbanization?  Why don't we just create new ones?

4-1NewCities The world has been dabbling in the development of new urban centers from scratch for the last decade or more.  New cities are popping up all over the Middle East and Asia and are being viewed as the next bastion of urban living for a new generation, replete with new technologies and new efficiencies.  Now seems like the best time for the U.S., to begin looking to shore up it's future by investing in the development of it's own new cities... either from scratch or by thoughtfully expanding the country's towns and small city communities who are beginning to build for the future.

In a recent benchmarking study of the top 100 U.S. cities, IBM found that the most efficient of the top 100 does not correlate to population size.  Smaller cities in the U.S. have begun to differentiate themselves as leaders in urban planning, attracting younger more technology oriented citizens, and managing their public finances. While older cities continue to suffer infrastructure failures, growth limitations, and population gentrification.

There are some very good examples of how new (or newly reinvigorated) U.S. cities can rise up from sleepy, small, almost broken towns.  Dubuque, Iowa has been named one of America's most sustainable cities for the last two years.  This reinvention of itself as a "smart city" demonstrates the direction needed in the U.S. to create environments for the new urban generation.  Even better are cities planned from scratch like Destiny City, Florida, where sustainability can be built in from the start and growth can be optimized along the lines of the efficiencies noted in the IBM study.

It's not that current U.S. cities don't have value and can't continue to be engines for economic growth.  However reinvention can only go so far before inherent constraints in city infrastructure limit the return on investment of new growth initiatives... regardless of the power of technology advances.  Attracting new populations to overburdened cities does not make sense from a smart growth perspective.  Developing new, sustainable communities that grow into tomorrow's city icons does.  I, personally, look forward to seeing the new skylines of the next New York, Chicago, or Boston grow out of the vast space that still makes up the majority of the U.S.