Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Will the Great Recession drive big changes in U.S. lifestyles?

We’re undergoing dramatic economic and demographic changes. How should governments and communities respond? It’s a key question we’ll discuss in the new CITYSCAPE, which MinnPost relaunches today.

Claims that we are living in “pivotal times” or standing “at a crossroads” or “at a turning point” should always raise suspicions. These are journalistic devices better left to historians who, decades later, have a clearer shot at connecting the dots and explaining society’s momentous shifts.

And yet it’s likely that we are living in pivotal times.

We’re lost in the deepest economic swamp since the Great Depression with no clear way out. We face energy and climate problems that seem sure to render our current lifestyles unsustainable. Jobs no longer provide the wages, benefits or security they once did. Demographic shifts will dramatically alter our collective age, complexion and culture over the next few decades with a potential for backlash. Meanwhile, the media that drive our public decisions seem more interested in amusing and inciting us than informing us about the choices ahead.

How should governments and communities respond to these changing conditions? More specifically, how should Minneapolis-St. Paul prepare for what’s next? Big changes always bring geographic consequences. Cities rise and fall. They prosper and decline. What should this city be doing now to give itself the best possible shot at success?

Demographers say that the MSP metro will likely grow by another million people over the next two decades. Where best shall they live and work given the realities at hand? How best shall they get around? How can we accommodate the growth we need while protecting our treasured lakes and other natural features? How can we reconcile our spacious lifestyles when the future seems to demand more efficiency? How can we keep and attract a creative, productive work force? Can we take steps now? Is planning still valid? Or are we helpless to the dictates of the market? Must we simply accommodate whatever happens?

CITYSCAPE re-launched, starting now
These are among the questions we’ll discuss in the new CITYSCAPE. We’ll write about highways, traffic, transit, walking, biking. We’ll discuss architecture, real estate development, parks, retail, jobs, “green” innovations, the arts, sports and entertainment. Our sharpest focus will be on urban design. But we’ll write also about education, crime, poverty and family life.

The lens will be wide and narrow. We’ll concentrate on MSP but toss in case studies from around the nation and world. This blog is aimed largely at planners, architects, policymakers and anyone else interested in the art of city building.

The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity

As a prelude I invite you to read two new books and be prepared to discuss them during July. They are:

• “The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity” by Richard Florida
Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto’s school of management, is a provocative commentator on urban design issues. His previous books, “The Rise of the Creative Class” and “Who’s Your City?” were influential descriptions of how talented people are clustering in the most attractive cities. His new book places the Great Recession in historic context and predicts that it will drive major changes toward smaller homes, closer jobs, less driving and more compact communities.

The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050

• “The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050” by Joel Kotkin
Kotkin, a fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in suburban Los Angeles, is a well-known analyst of urban geography, with six previous books and a weekly column in Forbes magazine to his credit. Unlike Florida, Kotkin sees the next hundred million Americans extending the reach of suburbia farther into the countryside. The current recession will have minimal impact on lifestyles, he predicts, with cars, strip malls and spacious suburbs continuing to dominate the landscape. Inner suburbs provide the main exception, Kotkin writes. They will be densified in ways that give them the look and feel of cities.

Next week: Richard Florida’s “The Great Reset”