Bruce Springsteen is playing an Obama rally Thursday in ye ole Parma. I need KMB to come through for me. They haven’t announced how you can get tickets yet, but they’ll be gone in two seconds, so if any of my readers have some special connection, you should connect me. If that actually happens, this blog will have officially “arrived.”
This week, I’m going to write about various parts of my Next American Vanguard conference in St. Louis. It was a really great experience and I loved being around so many passionate people who are doing cool things for their cities. It renewed my passion and love for the Great American City.
A focus in community development, urban planning, and basically everything else in the world, is how do we make our living habits and our cities sustainable? And I don’t mean in the purely environmental way, but the economic as well. A discussion led by Sharon Carney at the Urban Institute centered around home ownership as a means of wealth-building (a concept of the past, in most cases) and renewed ways of finding economic security. As Sharon pointed out after the conversation, her thesis established no consensus nor solutions. A few people in the room found home ownership to still be a very important part of the urban landscape, while others felt that renting homes is not only a smarter choice for most, but may be a part of what makes cities most vibrant (citing studies that have found the cities that are doing the best have large numbers of households who rent).
In Cleveland, the only requirement to buy a house is having been born…Obviously, not really, but it’s not far from the truth, particularly in neighborhoods where livable homes can be found for less than $50,000. I personally have dreams of home ownership. I can’t wait to personalize my own home, on the inside and out, and pay the same (or maybe less) for a mortgage than I do in monthly rent. I have no delusions that my home will one day have so much equity that I can retire. Ohio City is a great neighborhood, but Cleveland is not DC or Chicago, so I don’t foresee a $100k home being worth $800k in 20 years. My economic security comes from small, consistent contributions to my retirement, attempting to save enough for an 8-month emergency fund (I’m nowhere CLOSE, by the way!!!), and the hope that one day, I’ll make a salary where I feel comfortable putting back several hundred dollars a month in retirement so I’ll actually be able to quit working by the time I’m 90 or something.
If we equate “economic security” with being a part of the “middle class” (which not all necessarily do, but I’ll propose it just because I’d say the substantial majority of this country would feel that way), it begs to question, what are the standards of the middle class and should/will those change in order to become more “sustainable” in the future. Some standards many might put forth: vehicles for every licensed adult in the house (and all adults are licensed to drive), cable television, home internet, new clothing every month (Americans buy lots and lots of new clothes – see book “Overdressed,” also my favorite nonfiction book of the year), and the list goes on. The conversation surrounding wealth-building and economic security naturally progresses in my head to what standards are sustainable and how can cities address, cultivate, or change those standards?
Driving is an easy one. Car-free households and one-car households are commonplace in the most cities because of the access of public transportation, biking, and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. Cable television and other forms of home entertainment is another easy standard that cities can address and change. I don’t need cable television (even if I did like what most of what is on it) because I don’t have time to watch it. I’m busy taking part in all that Cleveland has to offer – be it indie films at the Cinematheque, dinner and drinks out on the town, bike social, volunteer opportunities, yoga classes, or just conversing with my neighbors from my front porch. Cleveland has met the needs that cable television tends to meet in most folks – entertainment, relaxation, and social (I’m certainly willing to bet that the viewer feels television satisfies his or hers’ needs of social interaction in a weird, messed-up kind of way…I’ll certainly admit to being very drawn-in and attached to certain characters or their relationships).
So I guess is what I’m trying to say is a lot of people need to find alternate ways of meeting the “middle-class standard,” this so-called standard needs to change, and cities can best effectively do that. So I GUESS what I’m saying is that cities are our best hope for changing the world so people need to move into them from the exurbs, politicians need to invest in them (hello, GOP), and our country needs to cherish them.
Don’t forget that I need to see Bruce on Thursday (that is my Krissie-standard).