Joel Kotkin continues his battle against anti-sprawl activists:
[The Equality of Opportunity Project study] actually found the highest rates of upward mobility not in dense cities, but in relatively spread-out places like Salt Lake City, small cities of the Great Plains such as Bismarck, N.D.; Yankton, S.D.; and Pecos, Texas — all showed bottom to top mobility rates more than double New York City. And we shouldn’t forget the success story of Bakersfield, Calif., a city Columbia University urban planning professor David King wryly labeled “a poster child for sprawl.” Rather than an ode to bigness, notes demographer Wendell Cox, the study found that commuting zones (similar to metropolitan areas) with populations under 100,000—smaller cities that tend to be sprawled by nature—have the highest average upward income mobility.
Kotkin’s data points could stand to be unpacked; the citing of upward mobility rates in places like the Dakotas and Texas cries out for some kind of control for natural resource industries. And while Kotkin compares his Mountain West winners to New York, he conveniently declines to mention Left Coast cities like San Jose and San Francisco, which rank in the top five along with Salt Lake City for upward mobility.
But Kotkin is right to scratch his head at those who insist on the self-evident benefits of piling humans atop humans, at least in this sense: it runs contrary to the legacy of New Deal liberalism. As Michael Lind has argued, FDR-era liberals, in contradistinction to the Progressive era’s technocratic elite, “sought to shift industry and population from the crowded industrial centers of the Northeast and Midwest”: “They did this through rural electrification based on hydropower projects, factories supplying the military and federal aid to citizens seeking to buy single-family homes in low-density suburbs.”
You might say this was the dialectic of the New Deal: a flurry of centralization whose goal was, in part, decentralization.
There will, of course, be those who maintain that Obamaites are the legatees of the Progressive left, as opposed to pro-middle class Roosevelt-Truman-Kennedy-Johnson liberals. (Stanley Kurtz, anyone?) But globalization is doing more to concentrate the cognitive elite and lock in the professionalization of the upwardly mobile than yesterday’s Progressives and today’s anti-sprawl activists could ever accomplish on their own. And Kotkin’s oil-and-gas hot spots will do little to change it.