Obsolescence of the City
It has to be said on of the strangest turns of the digital revolution is the revival of the American metropolis. In an age where physical location means less than any other period in human existence almost all opportunities are being concentrated in fewer locations. In an age where more options are available, more people eat making the same choices. Think of San Francisco. People pay the highest rent but are bused out of the city to their employer’s offices. Then at night, they bus back to their trendy luxury condo that matches all the others built recently across the world and consume the current global fads that score on social media by people who may or may not be near SF. How is that any different than living in a McMansion in the burbs and going to the office park?
Where is the disruption? Many gentrifiers will point to the homeless man on their stoop say his name and the cliffnotes of his life call him neighbor maybe give him a mug of coffee and a smoke before saying they want to live among the people by which they mean the poor who would be happy to afford a McMansion if they could. The truth is tech could save the rural life from the attack by industrialism. If a band can make millions from a track recorded at different times and all the members on separate continents then so can a company. If skyscrapers were needed to house the mountains of paper and the people that pushed them then what is needed after the mountains have been shredded. If our overlords can function with their money all offshore then why must we clock in to the same building.
I will admit we have a major infrastructure crisis in America. Beyond crappy roads, bridges, and dams there is an aged telecommunications network (that includes broadband even if the FCC disagrees). As I discussed previously, broadband access isn’t universal. It could be. The telephone wires and broadcast waves, we all take for granted wasn’t built by companies seeking profit but by Americans for other Americans through the New Deal. It can be done again.
Cities are inefficient as population centers in a wired world. Look at the response time for safety officials in LA vs rural CA and compare distances traveled and taxes paid. It isn’t pretty. If government is best decentralized then so is the population. Each community can function as it wills rather than war with political machines churning out party bench candidates for higher offices. Plenty of services can be outsourced with Sandy Springs as a strong example. Culturally digital media delivery has removed most barriers. In the past, a print was 10k a pop and an empty theater disastrous but those days are behind. No longer is a physical film print or even theater needed to share smaller and foreign movies . No longer do you need a store to buy an album or a book. You may cry wait there is still the live music experience and that is true but like with film where previously one assumed there was a full audience once population hit a certain number now we can see where the most streams or album buys are from. The band can actually find and perform for all their fans without assumption. You can show there is a fan base. But food you may say. If you can tell the difference between a cronut and a knockoff congrats you are an asshole. Food is trendier than any other entertainment these days. I saw three poke shops in a row on my commute this morning. Most restaurants fail. City or rural, why not have rotating chefs and menus, a touring residency. Of course, local cuisine favorites and landmarks will continue to be permanent and a chef could stay but on a wider level why not recognize the transient nature of taste and support tastebud adventures without anyone losing a shirt.
I don’t claim that de-urbanization will solve everything but I do think it would lead to a future rather than this remake of the 20th century we are currently playing out.