May 4, 2016

Demographics and De-urbanization

There's a good article by Joel Kotkin at RealClearPolitics regarding demographics and suburbanization versus urbanization. I thought I'd add my two cents in the form of a single, salient point (followed by some reasoning behind it).
Yet if politics are now being dominated by big cities along the coasts, the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data suggests that when it comes to their own lives, Americans are moving increasingly elsewhere, largely to generally Republican-leaning suburbs and Sunbelt states. In other words, politics and power are headed one way, demographics the other.

Perhaps no American president has been less sympathetic to suburbs than Barack Obama. Shaun Donovan, Obama’s first secretary of Housing and Urban Development, proclaimed the suburbs’ were “over” as people were “voting with their feet” and moving to dense, transit-oriented urban centers. More recently, Donovan’s successor, Julian Castro, has targeted suburbs by proposing to force them to densify and take more poor people into their communities.
Here's my two cents: The trend towards de-urbanization is inevitable.  With the advent of the Internet, the ability to work from home via VPNs is becoming more common.  Additionally, companies have come to realize the benefit of open seating offices with shared desk space by leveraging the work from home model.  The real estate cost savings are significant for companies.

So too are the savings for commuters.  Less fuel.  Less time travelling.  So, suburban and rural alternatives become more palatable as places to reside.  Congestion, crowding are not problems.  De-urbanization becomes possible allowing people cheaper residences, more room and and stronger sense of community given the lower density towns.

Not overnight, but the Internet has the potential to replace the automobile as the work-related necessity for employees.  Given the ongoing offshoring of skilled labor and the advent of 3D printing technology, perhaps even skilled laborers can benefit from the de-urbanization potential. 

Urban centers will remain meccas for entertainment and medicine and social activity.  But not forever.  Even those things are becoming decentralized.  Amazon with drone delivery technology waiting to be realized mean even mass transport of goods will change.

In the social arena people who are concerned with global warming will take heart in the ability to avoid using vehicles as much as possible. The desire to 'eat local' and buy local are truly reinforced with smaller communities.

All of this is not a small thing. And the implications will be global. Consider the impact on the automobile industry and mass transit.  Consider the impact on conservative politics versus progressive politics - the opportunity to grow faith in a distant central government exists.  But so does the opportunity to localize education as opposed to Internet-izing it.  The same is true for mass media and news outlets.  The potential to localizing religion exists - for good or bad. The implications are vast, and I've only just begun to consider them.  What do you think?  Is it even possible let alone inevitable?  And if it does happen, what do you see changing?

The future is still wide open.

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