“Nueva Crisis Urbana” por Richard Florida

En este resumen de su nuevo libro, Richard Florida explica como el “urbanismo el-vencedor-toma-todo” ha profundizado la desigualdad, la segregacion y la pobreza– y que pueden hacer las ciudades para resolverla.

Origen: Richard Florida Introduces the “New Urban Crisis” – CityLab

RICHARD FLORIDA @Richard_Florida Apr 11, 2017
View of New York City in the 1970s. (New York National Guard/flickr)

Imagína que pudieras viajar en el tiempo hasta 1975, arrebataras de la calle a un neoyorquino al azar y lo soltaras hoy en la ciudad.

El New York que él conocía era un lugar en decadencia económica abismal. La gente, los trabajos y la industria estaban huyendo a los suburbios. Sucia, peligrosa y violenta, Nueva York se tambaleaba al borde de la bancarrota. ¿Qué haría de la ciudad de hoy, ese mismo neoyorquino?

No tendría ningún problema para encontrar su camino. El Bronx aún estaría arriba, el Battery estaria abajo, y Lady Liberty continuaría presidiendo sobre el puerto. La mayoría de los grandes iconos de la ciudad -el Empire State y los edificios Chrysler, Rockefeller y Lincoln Center- su aspecto permanece casi igual a como era. Las calles aún estarían atascadas con tráfico. Tomaria los mismos trenes de metro en Manhattan y fuera a los bordes de Brooklyn, Queens, y el Bronx, el tren PATH a Nueva Jersey, y el New Jersey Transit y Metro North a los suburbios exteriores.

Pero muchas otras cosas habrían cambiado dramáticamente. Por desgracia, las Torres Gemelas, recien estrenadas en su tiempo, habrían desaparecido. El reconstruido distrito financiero de la ciudad estaría repleto no sólo con hombres de negocios, sino también con el tipo de familias acomodadas que habrían hecho sus casas en los suburbios en los años setenta. Cerca de allí, en lo que antes era un páramo de escombros y destartalados muelles, un largo y verde parque con una ciclopista correría a lo largo del río Hudson a todo lo largo de Manhattan. Times Square seguíria teniendo sus luces y anuncios parpadeantes, pero donde los sordidos teatros y tiendas de sexo se encontraban una vez, encontraría una versión urbana de Disneylandia repleta de turistas, algunos de ellos descansando en las sillas mecedoras colocadas allí para su disfrute. Donde los artistas de SoHo y los hippies y punks del West y East Village deambulaban, encontraría restaurantes de lujo, cafés y bares llenos de banqueros de inversión, técnicos, turistas y más que la celebridad ocasional.

Las plantas procesadoras de carne que operaban, las bodegas industriales y los bares de homosexuales vestidos de cuero del Meatpacking District, se habrían ido; en su lugar, un parque lineal construido sobre la línea de ferrocarril elevada abandonada del barrio estaría lleno de gente. A todo lo largo de este habría nuevos y relucientes condominios y torres de oficinas, un nuevo museo Whitney, hoteles boutique, y tiendas de lujo. La cercana fábrica de Nabisco se convertiría en un patio de comida de alto nivel, y el antiguo y gigantesco edificio de la Autoridad Portuaria estaría lleno de expertos técnologicos trabajando para Google, una de las muchas empresas de alta tecnología del barrio. Cruzando el East River o el Hudson, vería las fábricas, los deteriorados edificios y filas de casas adosadas de Brooklyn, Hoboken y Jersey City transformadas en barrios donde jóvenes profesionales y familias viven, trabajan y juegan. Podría caminar por las calles de noche sin preocuparse del crimen.
La riqueza -y desigualdad- de la ciudad de Nueva York de hoy, sorprendería al visitante -viajero en el tiempo- del Nueva York miserable de mitad de la década 1970’s. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Pero tan pulida y bien equipada como la ciudad aparecería en la superficie, también sentiría las tensiones hirvíendo por debajo. Vivir allí sería mucho menos asequible para una persona trabajadora como él de lo que lo había sido en 1975. Los apartamentos que se vendian por $50,000 en su día hoy estarían vendiendose millones; otros que podría haber alquilado por $500 al mes hoy costarían $ 5,000, $ 10,000, o más. Vería torres relucientes –la Fila de Multimillonarios– erigiendose a lo largo de la calle 57, muchas de ellas casi completamente oscuras y sin vida por la noche. Oiría a gente quejándose de la creciente desigualdad, el aumento del “uno por ciento”, y cómo la ciudad se había vuelto cada vez más inasequible para la clase media.

En medio de todo el dinero nuevo y los turistas, vería vastas extensiones de desaventajados persistentes, a menudo cara a cara con los nuevos bastiones de riqueza. Encontraría que la pobreza y los problemas sociales, como la delincuencia y el uso de drogas, que habían plagado a la ciudad en su día se habían mudado a lo que solía ser solido bastion de suburbios de clase media. Podria sorprenderle el saber que un demócrata había votado de regreso a la alcaldía en 2014, después de dos décadas de gobierno de los conservadores, uno de ellos un multimillonario que sirvió tres periodos completos. Se sorprendería aún más al descubrir que el nuevo alcalde -un ex activista de la comunidad de Brooklyn- ganó el cargo en una campaña que se opuso a la transformación de la ciudad de Nueva York en dos ciudades: una rica y otra pobre. Cómo sucedió esto, “la historia de dos ciudades”, como lo puso el nuevo alcalde, sería en gran parte la historia de lo que había perdido en esos cuarenta años.

He vivido en y alrededor de ciudades y las he observado de cerca toda mi vida, y he sido un urbanista académico por más de tres décadas. He visto ciudades declinar y morir, y las he visto volver a la vida. Pero nada de eso me preparó para lo que enfrentamos hoy. Justo cuando parecía que nuestras ciudades realmente estaban virando la esquina, cuando la gente y los trabajos se mudaban de nuevo a ellas, una serie de nuevos desafíos urbanos -desde la creciente desigualdad a la cada vez más inasequible vivienda y más- empezó a aparecerse. Pareceria que de la noche a la mañana, el tan esperado reavivamiento urbano se ha tranformado en un nuevo tipo de crisis urbana.

Gentrificación y desigualdad son consecuencia directa de la re-colonización de la ciudad por los ricos y los favorecidos.

Entonces, ¿cuál de estas es?: las ciudades son los grandes motores de la innovación, los modelos de progreso económico y social que los optimistas celebran, o son las zonas de desigualdad abierta y división de clases que los pesimistas censuran? La realidad es que son ambas. El urbanismo es una fuerza económica tan poderosa como dicen los optimistas, y es simultáneamente tan desgarradora y divisiva como dicen los pesimistas. Como el propio capitalismo, es paradójico y contradictorio. Entender la crisis urbana actual requiere tomar en serio tanto a los pesimistas urbanos como a los optimistas urbanos. En mi intento de lidiar con ello, he tratado de sacar de las mejores y más importantes contribuciones de cada uno.

What exactly is the New Urban Crisis?

The New Urban Crisis by Richard Florida
(Basic Books, $28)

For the past five years or so, I have focused my research and my intellectual energy on defining it. Working with my research team, I developed new data on the scope and sources of urban inequality, the extent of economic segregation, the key causes and dimensions of gentrification, the cities and neighborhoods where the global super-rich are settling, the challenges posed by the concentration of high-tech startups in the cities, and the alleged dampening of artistic and musical creativity as cities have grown more expensive.

Marrying my own long-held interest in urban economic development with the insights of urban sociologists on the corrosive effects of concentrated poverty, I mapped the deep new divides that isolate the classes in separate neighborhoods and traced the growth of poverty and economic disadvantage in the suburbs. I delved deep into the many challenges that face the rapidly growing cities of the world’s emerging economies, where urbanization is failing to spur the same kind of economic growth and rising living standards that it did for the advanced nations.

The New Urban Crisis is different from the older urban crisis of the 1960s and 1970s. That previous crisis was defined by the economic abandonment of cities and their loss of economic function. Shaped by deindustrialization and white flight, its hallmark was a hollowing out of the city center, a phenomenon that urban theorists and policymakers labeled the hole-in-the-donut. As cities lost their core industries, they became sites of growing and persistent poverty: their housing decayed; crime and violence increased; and social problems, including drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and infant mortality, escalated. As urban economies eroded and tax revenues declined, cities became increasingly dependent on the federal government for financial support. Many of these problems remain with us to this day.

But the New Urban Crisis stretches even further and is more all-encompassing than its predecessor. Although two of its core features—mounting inequality and rising housing prices—are most often discussed in relation to rising and reviving urban centers such as New York, London, and San Francisco, the crisis also hits hard at the declining cities of the Rust Belt and in sprawling Sunbelt cities with unsustainable economies driven by energy, tourism, and real estate. Other core features—economic and racial segregation, spatial inequality, entrenched poverty—are becoming as common in the suburbs as they are in the cities. Seen in this light, the New Urban Crisis is also a crisis of the suburbs, of urbanization itself, and of contemporary capitalism writ large.

The Five Dimensions of the New Urban Crisis

First: There’s a deep and growing economic gap between a small number of superstar cities, such as New York, London, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, and Paris, along with leading technology and knowledge hubs, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, Washington, DC, Boston, Seattle, and other cities across the world. These superstar places have wildly disproportionate shares of the world’s leading high-value industries, high-tech innovation and startups, and top talent. To take but one example: just six metro areas—the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Boston, Washington, DC, San Diego, and London—attract nearly half of all high-tech venture capital investment across the entire world. The rise of this winner-take-all urbanism creates a new kind of inequality between cities, with the economic gulf growing wider and wider between the winners and the much broader ranks of other cities that have lost their economic footing as a result of globalization, deindustrialization, and other factors.

The second dimension is the crisis of success that vexes these same superstar cities. These winners face extraordinarily high and increasingly unaffordable housing prices and staggering levels of inequality. In these places, mere gentrification has escalated into what some have called “plutocratization.” Some of their most vibrant, innovative urban neighborhoods are turning into deadened trophy districts, where the global super-rich park their money in high-end housing investments as opposed to places in which to live. It’s not just musicians, artists, and creatives who are being pushed out: growing numbers of economically advantaged knowledge workers are seeing their money eaten up by high housing prices in these cities, and they have started to fear that their own children will never be able to afford the price of entry in them. But it is the blue-collar and service workers, along with the poor and disadvantaged, who face the direst economic consequences. These groups are being driven out of the superstar cities, and they are being denied the economic opportunities, the services and amenities, and the upward mobility these places have to offer. It’s hard to sustain a functional urban economy when teachers, nurses, hospital workers, police officers, firefighters, and restaurant and service workers can no longer afford to live within reasonable commuting distance to their workplaces.

The third, much broader, and in many ways more problematic dimension of the New Urban Crisis is the growing inequality, segregation, and sorting that is taking place within virtually every city and metro area, winners and losers alike. If the hole-in-the-donut epitomized the urban crisis of the 1960s and 1970s, the New Urban Crisis is marked by the disappearing middle—the fading of the once large middle class and of its once stable neighborhoods, which were the physical embodiment of the American Dream. From 1970 to 2012, the share of American families living in middle-class neighborhoods declined from 65 to 40 percent, while the share living in either poor or affluent neighborhoods grew substantially. Over the past decade and a half, nine in ten US metropolitan areas have seen their middle classes shrink. As the middle has been hollowed out, neighborhoods across America are dividing into large areas of concentrated disadvantage and much smaller areas of concentrated affluence. In place of the old class divide of poor cities versus rich suburbs a new pattern has emerged—a Patchwork Metropolis in which small areas of privilege and large swaths of distress and poverty crisscross city and suburb alike.

The fourth dimension of the New Urban Crisis is the burgeoning crisis of the suburbs, where poverty, insecurity, and crime are mounting, and economic and racial segregation are growing deeper. Forget those Brady Bunch images of middle-class suburban life: today, there are more poor people in the suburbs than there are in cities—17 million versus 13.5 million. And the ranks of the suburban poor are growing much faster than they are in cities, by a staggering 66 percent between 2000 and 2013, compared to 29 percent in urban areas. Some of this suburban poverty is being imported from the cities as displaced families seek more affordable places to live. But much of it is also homegrown: more and more people who were once members of the middle class have fallen out of it, as a result of either job loss or rising housing prices. Suburbia has long been home to the wealthiest communities in America, but now its inequalities increasingly rival those of cities.

The fifth and final dimension of the New Urban Crisis is the crisis of urbanization in the developing world. The urban optimists believe that urbanization will ultimately bring economic growth, rising living standards, and a growing middle class to these places, just like it did for the United States, Europe, Japan, and more recently, China. Cities, after all, have historically driven the development of national economies. But this connection between urbanization and a rising standard of living has broken down in many of the most rapidly urbanizing areas of the world. We are seeing the rise of a troubling phenomenon of urbanization without growth, in which people pour into rapidly urbanizing areas of the developing world, but see little or no improvement in their living standards. More than 800 million people—two and a half times the entire population of the United States—live in destitute poverty and substandard conditions in slums, barrios, and favelas, and their numbers will continue to grow as the world’s urban population surges.

Although the New Urban Crisis has multiple manifestations, it is shaped by the fundamental contradiction brought on by urban clustering. This clustering force is Janus-faced; along with its positive attributes, it has significant negative ones, too.

On the one hand, the clustering of industry, economic activity, and talented and ambitious people in cities is now the basic engine of innovation and economic growth. It is no longer natural resources or even large corporations that drive economic progress, but the ability of cities to cluster and concentrate talented people, enabling them to combine and recombine their ideas and efforts, which massively increases our innovation and productivity.

Out of that ferment come the new inventions and entrepreneurial enterprises that power prosperity. The extent to which economic activity has become concentrated in the world’s cities and metropolitan areas is staggering. The fifty largest metros across the globe house just 7 percent of the world’s total population but generate 40 percent of global economic activity. Just forty mega-regions—constellations of cities and metros like the Boston–New York–Washington corridor—account for roughly two-thirds of the world’s economic output and more than 85 percent of its innovation, while housing just 18 percent of its population. The amount of economic activity packed into small urban spaces within the leading cities is even more astonishing. Just one small sliver of downtown San Francisco, for instance, attracts billions of dollars in venture capital annually, more than any nation on the planet save for the United States. This is why I believe it is more useful to refer to contemporary capitalism as urbanized knowledge capitalism as opposed to knowledge-based capitalism.

On the other hand, even as urban clustering drives growth, it also carves deep divides into our cities and our society. Not everything can cluster in the same limited space; some things ultimately crowd others out. This is the essence of the urban land nexus—a product of the extreme clustering of economic activity in very limited parts of a very limited number of cities and the increasingly fierce competition over them. As with most things in life, the winners in the competition for urban space are those with the most money to spend. As the affluent and advantaged return to cities, they colonize the best locations. Everyone else is then crammed into the remaining disadvantaged areas of the city or pushed farther out into the suburbs. This competition in turn shapes a related economic paradox: the paradox of land. There are seemingly endless amounts of land across the world, but not nearly enough of it where it is needed most.

In this new age of urbanized knowledge capitalism, place and class combine to reinforce and reproduce socioeconomic advantage. Those at the top locate in communities that afford them privileged access to the best schools, the best services, and the best economic opportunities, while the rest get the leftover neighborhoods, which have inferior versions of all of those things and hence offer less of a chance for moving up in life. The well-off, living in a relatively small number of advantaged cities, and an even smaller number of advantaged neighborhoods within them, capture a disproportionate share of the economic gains for themselves and their offspring.

The stunning victory of Trump and the Republicans means that over at least the next four years we will have scant federal investment in our cities and little if any investment in affordable housing. While the Trump administration has pledged to spend more on infrastructure, its priorities will likely be roads and bridges as opposed to transit. Some combination of local government, nonprofit organizations, and philanthropic foundations will have to try to fill in the gaps that result from Republican inaction and the deep cuts that are likely to be made in America’s already fraying social safety net, which will hit hard at disadvantaged people and neighborhoods. Now more than ever, mayors and local officials will have to take the lead on transit, affordable housing, poverty, and other pressing urban issues.

Ultimately, the urbanism for all that is required to move us forward must take shape around seven key pillars:

  • Reform zoning and building codes, as well as tax policies, to ensure that the clustering force works to the benefit of all.
  • Invest in the infrastructure needed to spur density and clustering and limit costly and inefficient sprawl.
  • Build more affordable rental housing in central locations.
  • Expand the middle class by turning low-wage service jobs into family-supporting work.
  • Tackle concentrated poverty head-on by investing in people and places
  • Engage in a global effort to build stronger, more prosperous cities in rapidly urbanizing parts of the emerging world.
  • Empower communities and enable local leaders to strengthen their own economies and cope with the challenges of the New Urban Crisis.

This article is adapted from The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class—and What We Can Do About It.

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