The Future of American Cities, Part 1

During roughly twenty years from 1970 to 1990, American cities went into sharp decline. The migration of African-Americans from the south to northern cities resulted in white flight and the creation of inner city ghettoes. In the late '70s and early '80s That There Were protracted recessions diminished tax Revenues and drove some cities into virtual or actual bankruptcy. Meanwhile, urban planning in the mid-20th century and privileged the automobile stores and big stadiums and lots of parking and no residents and massive housing projects for the poor. All of this led to downtowns That Were like ghost-towns after dark, and neighborhoods riddled with crime That Were. The middle class fled Along with many jobs, leaving the poor even poorer neighborhoods. Cities Were polarized into poor non-white centers and affluent white suburbs.

However, for the last twenty years, since 1990, American cities have experienced an amazing renaissance. During this time many cities' population declines have reversed or at Least slowed. People Began moving back into cities in droves, and downtown / center cities Began to regenerate at Their cores. Why? First, During this time the U.S. experienced remarkable economic growth and what is now being called a series of economic "bubbles." This created a great deal of new wealth and new jobs. Second, crime went down in cities, probably for Both liberals and conservatives Reasons Talked acerca (job creation, tougher law enforcement). Third, cultural the mood Became what we now call "post-modern," that is a culture enjoys Which eclecticism, a mixture of the old and new, asymmetry, messiness and unmanageability, cultural diversity, and the artistic. All of These are features of city-life rather than the suburbs, que are much more controlled and homogeneous. Fourth, and Perhaps Most important of all, changes in immigration law in 1965 (the Hart-Celler Act) opened the door to an Influx from non-European nations. Between 1965 and 1970 U.S. immigration Doubled and then from 1970 to 1990 Doubled it again. Most of this wave of immigrants went into America's cities, renewing and Diversifying many neighborhoods. Also It completely changed the older, gridlocked, binary black-white dynamic of urban politics to a far more complex, multi-polar situation of many ethnicities and nationalities.

As a result many American cities Began to arise. New professional-class neighborhoods developed Along with working class and poor ones. Sometimes the gentrification was more destructive and disruptive to the social fabric, while other times it was more healthy. The main new residents In this upsurge included empty-nest Boomers returning to cities, cities young professionals seeking to live and work in, and a wave of immigrants in inner city neighborhoods and inner suburbs That produced second-generation college graduates who moved in to the center city to live and work. These groups joined the communities of homosexuals and artists always Who Have Chosen to live in urban communities.

Our church was founded at the very beginning of this renaissance, in 1989. One at that time, moving into the city center to begin a church Seemed to be a fool's errand. The year we moved to New York City, a survey came out indicating That Most of the residents of NYC would move away If They Could. Those were bad times! Yet, Within a few years of our founding, I Began to get calls from churches, denominations, and leaders who had Begun to notice the renaissance in nearby cities. They Realized That it was time to plant churches to reach all of These new residential communities.

But twenty years later, info we have Reached the end of an era. The Great Recession is upon us, and even if it has officially ended - or has it? - We expect a protracted time of high unemployment and fitful, sluggish economic growth. This same kind of economic environment in the 70s and 80s was destructive for cities. The question for us now is, what lies ahead for American cities?