Bay's Petraeus Interview, Ehrenhalt's Demographic Inversion, and Kotkin's Look at Gentrification of American Cities

New articles provide interesting points of view on these subjects.

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Corrected on 8/20/08: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the number of people who work in historic downtowns. Chicago is one of three American cities where more than 500,000 people work in historic downtown.

Austin Bay is something of a renaissance man—Army colonel, Ph.D., and novelist, blogger, and now multimedia blogger. Here you can read his 30-minute telephone interview with Gen. David Petraeus and listen to the audio. It's well worth your time. One interesting point Petraeus makes is that terrorism can segue into organized crime. Indeed, it seems to be a pattern—that's what happened over the years to the IRA in Northern Ireland and the FARC in Colombia.

Also interesting is military historian Michael Howard's Alastair Buchan Memorial Lecture. I disagree with Howard on some things: He considers our military action in Iraq a mistake, while I think it is increasingly producing results that make the whole effort—botched as it was in some respects, as all wars are—worthwhile. But I read his comments with respect.

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  • Finally, my longtime friend and sometimes competitor Alan Ehrenhalt (he used to be chief coauthor of Congressional Quarterly's book that competed with The Almanac of American Politics) has a very interesting article in the New Republic on "the demographic inversion of the American city." In 1996, Ehrenhalt published a terrific book about Chicago in the 1950s, the time he was a boy, called The Lost City: The Forgotten Virtues of Community in America. Now he notes that Chicago has been gentrifying, with old immigrant neighborhoods near the lakefront now teeming with affluent professionals, while immigrants are moving to the suburbs. "We are living at a moment when the massive outward migration of the affluent that characterized the second half of the twentieth century is coming to an end," he writes. Chicago is coming to resemble Paris, with the rich inhabiting much of the central city and immigrants and blacks increasingly living in the suburbs. He also notes a similar pattern in Atlanta and Chicago, where the central cities—a small proportion of their sprawling metropolitan areas—are becoming whiter, with blacks moving out to suburbs and immigrants locating in different suburbs on arrival.

    Ehrenhalt contrasts his views with those of Joel Kotkin, also a longtime friend, who has argued that the gentrification of central cities and old downtowns is a demographically minor phenomenon, and that the large majority of Americans—especially families raising children—will choose to live in the suburbs. I'm not so sure there's that much difference between them. Ehrenhalt understands that most central cities are not growing in total population, and that the new kicky neighborhoods are much more attractive to singles than to married couples with children. And I don't think he'd disagree with the point that Kotkin often makes, that most jobs are now in the suburbs, too. Chicago, to be sure, is one of three American cities where more than 500,000 people work in historic downtowns (the others are New York and San Francisco), but metro Chicago also has big edge cities, and so do metro Washington and metro Atlanta. In fact, another longtime friend, Joel Garreau, was inspired to name edge cities and to write his 1988 book Edge City: Life on the New Frontier by the reporting he did for the Washington Post on Northern Virginia's Tysons Corner.

    I think the contrast in views is rooted in the fact that Garreau and Kotkin are looking primarily at the economics of metro area growth, while Ehrenhalt is more interested in politics. And the gentrification of Chicago and Washington (I'm not sure about Atlanta) has had significant political ramifications in those central cities. Chicago, which once looked headed to a majority-black electorate and a series of mayors in the mode of the late Harold Washington or Jesse Jackson, is now happily headed by Richie Daley, who has had enormous popularity with the gentrifiers. And Washington's new mayor is the energetic and thoughtful Adrian Fenty, the product (like Barack Obama) of a mixed-race marriage who grew up in D.C.'s multiracial Mount Pleasant but, unlike Obama, strongly supports charter schools and bucks the teachers union. These gentrifying central cities may be overwhelmingly Democratic, but the gentrifiers won't tolerate the kind of dreadful union-dominated school systems that the voters of heavily black Detroit seem willing to tolerate.