A Quick Note about Subsidization

Subsidization.

Depending on which side you’re on, the word elicits either hope or disgust.

I’m sympathetic to both sides.

I have worked in the nonprofit industry for the past 9 years and know firsthand how stark the difference is between private donations and corporate funds. In our world, the difference between small award money and large government grants can easily mean the decision of sticking to volunteer help vs hiring paid staff, seeking free tagline promotion vs paying for billboards, or repairing outdated computers vs upgrading to new office supplies. Subsidies make the impossible possible. And, when used strategically, they provide better services and improved efficiency which, in turn, actually paves the way toward independence and increased capacity.

Conversely, I understand that the goal of every entity is to be independent of government handouts and subsidies, free from corporate entanglements, and at liberty to make decisions without needing to answer to those who are actually footing the bill. And I do believe that privatized systems usually do work better and more efficiently (which is why I am not a Socialist).

When it comes to an issue like the Cincinnati streetcar–whose controversy has made national newsthe opposition has a legitimate point: Why should residents in the outskirts of the city subsidize a project that (directly) benefits only a small minority of the population? Like I said, it’s a legitimate question.

So it needs to be addressed.

One of the gentlemen who commented on my blog post about the streetcar debate echoed many other Cincinnatians when he wrote (mocking me by his quote):

So… the “strong urban core” requires looting people from the suburbs. Who is depending on whom?

I am sympathetic to his point and I’ve heard it said a million times in a million different ways. But I believe it speaks out of a misunderstanding of how vibrant cities actually work.

A metropolitan area is a complex machine. If a city were the human body (the most complex machine in existence), the city’s infrastructure would be the veins and arteries and the people would be the blood vessels. The urban core is the heart of the city. The heart pumps the blood that pushes out into the rest of the body to move the limbs and keep the brain functioning at full capacity. If the heart dies, the rest of the body dies.

What does this have to do with subsidies?

No part of the body–or the city–functions alone. We all want to pretend that we exist independently of each other, but we don’t.

Too many of us have a false sense of autonomy.  It’s as if we believe that we are “self-made men” who have not (directly or indirectly) benefited from the financial investments of others. And maybe it’s true. Maybe we never accepted $20 from our parents for gas money. Maybe we didn’t attend a public university with the help of some sort of financial aid. Maybe we purchased our home with cash and have never borrowed from a bank. Maybe our neighborhood association paid for the street lights on our street. Maybe we wrote a personal check to off-set the cost of the mega-grocery store relocating to the shopping complex down the road. Maybe we don’t send our kids to Cincinnati Public Schools or use city trash services. Maybe we live off the grid and use electricity from solar panels (that were made by a company that was not partially-funded by a government grant).

Maybe someone somewhere lives in a place that is growing and thriving and a safe, wonderful place to live, but where everyone pays for only their own stuff and no one ever has to share anything.

But I don’t live in that place.
I live in a city.
And, in a city, we share.

When we choose to live in a city–and I don’t mean an “urban area,” I mean an incorporated City in the proper sense–we make a promise to cooperate with our neighbors to make the city a better place for all of us. When we have an opportunity to embark on a new project that could benefit us all, we do it together or we don’t do it at all. And, if we can’t agree how to do it or how to pay for it, we put it up for a vote and the majority rules.

I understand that some people are skeptical of the streetcar project. I’ve admitted many times that I’m a bit skeptical myself. But, in this instance, the majority has already ruled.

Twice.

When people on the edges of Cincinnati say that they “shouldn’t have to pay” for development in our urban core, they are functioning with that false sense of autonomy. They act like the quality of life or culture, energy, or economic vitality of the urban core means nothing for the quality of their own lives. It’s as if they’ve never watched a Bengal’s game. Or had a job with one of downtown’s Fortune 500 companies. Or their kids didn’t beg to go see the fireworks on the riverfront or the Christmas tree on the square or the exhibit at the museum. Or they didn’t buy their wives or husbands or grandparents or secretary a ticket to the Symphony or the ballet.

Amenities and cultural institutions are what make Cincinnati a vibrant and desirable place to live, work, and play. A healthy urban core gives businesses and institutions a safe and comfortable place to exist and a safe and comfortable place for you to bring your out-of-town guests (and take your urban-chic family photos, which are all the rage among suburban folk). Without a healthy urban core, we decentralize these amenities to a point where we lose the very thing that draws people here in the first place–our shared identity.

We, collectively, choose to subsidize the infrastructure of our city because it’s what keeps the people–the blood, if you will–moving in and out and around the entire machine. Without a healthy urban core and an efficient and updated infrastructure, we simply cannot make the city the machine it needs to be to sustain the rest of the parts.

Said another way:
We can live without an arm, but not without a heart.

Or:
If you want a healthy city, you need to pump some love into its heart.

My Mother’s Day Article That Never Was

A few months back, I received an email from someone looking to interview a mother living downtown. She was writing an article for Her Cincinnati‘s issue about different Cincinnati neighborhoods, the women who live there, and what their lives are like. Always happy to wave the flag of urban parenting, I responded right away and, over the next few days, she and I engaged in an email interview.

Sadly, a few weeks before the article was set to publish, the magazine was kicked to the curb and the article never ran. There was talk about it being passed to a Mother’s Day issue of CityBeat, but that never came together.

Amanda, the woman who interviewed me, gave me permission to cut & paste the interview here on my blog.

Just for kicks- this is a bit of what you might have read, had the article been published:

1) Where do you live?

Orchard St., Over-the-Rhine

2) How many people are in your family, including pets?

My husband, myself, and two kids–Israel, a 4 year-old boy; Elsa an 18m-old girl. (Update: Elsa is now 21m-old and we’re expecting another baby girl in September.) No pets. We’re going to add a few more kids before we venture into animals. (Oh! And we’ve talked about backyard chickens.)

3) Describe your house (number of bedrooms, bathrooms, yard,and what you deem as the most important rooms)

Our home is a 1890’s italianate 2-story detached rowhouse with an unfinished basement and a finished attic. It was gutted after a fire around 1980 and then rehabbed in a few phases between then and now. So, unlike some of our neighbors, it’s neither a historic-quality renovation, nor a modern hip living space. It’s a bit of a hodge-podge that we are slowly working to personalize. After the fire, the kitchen was moved to the second floor and the first floor was cleared out to use as a workspace/shop while the owner was rehabbing multiple properties at once. Now, the majority of the first floor is a large “library” that we use as an entertaining space and for hosting events like house concerts. There are three bedrooms, and three bathrooms—one on each floor. We have a small yard, with the potential for off-street parking, but we are working to renovate it into an outdoor playspace with (eventually) a small edible garden. We spend the majority of our at-home time on the second floor, between the kitchen and what should be the master bedroom (which we use as our informal living room).

4) Where/how does your family eat meals? What percentage is homemade vs take out?

The kids and I eat most meals at home or, during warm months, outside. My husband brings a bag lunch to work most days. We eat all dinners together as a family, most of them at home and homemade. We eat dinner out once or twice a week.

5) Where do you shop or purchase food?

I run many errands on foot, in smaller trips. I get groceries at the OTR Kroger or the Avril-Bleh market if it’s something last-minute. We frequent Findlay Market–especially Madison’s–during the week (when it’s less crowded) for bread, deli items, eggs, and produce. I get a delivery of fresh, organic produce from Green BEAN Delivery every other week and own a herd share for local, raw milk which is delivered, as well. (Update: our herd share was recently cancelled and I’m shopping around for another one.) For bigger trips, I drive to the new Target or Kroger just across the river. It’s only about 5 minutes from downtown. I also make a monthly run around town bargain shopping at places like Big Lots.

6) How long have you lived where you live and why do you continue to live there?

We have lived in OTR since we got married five years ago. Our first apartment was an industrial loft space on Vine St.; We bought this house about 2.5 years ago.

Why are we here? Many reasons. This neighborhood is a part of our history together. My first job in Cincinnati was in OTR. We met in the neighborhood–seven years ago–and got married downtown. When we got married, both of our jobs were downtown. We believe in this city. We love the history, the architecture, and the particularities of Cincinnati. Also, ideologically, we believe that the health of a city depends on the strength of its urban core. So, we are committed to helping it thrive. What better way to show our commitment than to actually invest in living here?

As a mother, I value the urban lifestyle and what it offers my children. Urban living is not always “easy,” by modern American standards, where we’re accustomed to getting everything we want quickly, conveniently, in once place, and with a drive-up window. But, once we adjust to a more pedestrian life, the convenience of urbanism becomes undeniable. In one single summer morning, I can take my son for a haircut from “Mr. Frank,” pop in somewhere for a cup of coffee, drop a package in the mail, let my kids dance to some music on Fountain Square, buy my husband a new pair of socks, grab a bag full of new library books, picnic at Washington Park, and be home by naptime–all on foot. And when we get tired of the city, we hop in our car for a quick trip to a nearby forest preserve or park for a long hike.

On a more personal level, we are a pretty conservative family, so living in the city balances us out in a way that a suburban lifestyle may not. The city is healthy for us, constantly challenges us, and gives us endless opportunities to rub shoulders with awesome people we would not otherwise know (neighbors, business owners, artists and artisans, kids at the park, etc). We may not live here forever, but it’s best for us in this season of our family life.

7) Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago, went to college in Elgin, IL, and then moved to Cincinnati almost eight years ago.

8) Are you at stay-at-home mom? Furthermore, how do you divvy up housework/childcare?

When my son was born, I went down to working 15 hours a week for the nonprofit Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, so I’m a “mostly” SAHM. On days when I work, we have in-home childcare.

In general, I handle most of the housework and do the grocery shopping and cooking. My husband has a job that is very physically demanding, so I let him take it easy when he’s home. But, I’m a pretty miserable housekeeper so he helps make up the difference, especially when we’re expecting guests. Also, as a contractor, he can do all sorts of home maintenance that I cannot (which is very helpful in an old house). We are both very active in parenting our children, but I am their primary caretaker–i.e. it’s my job to make sure they have clean clothes for the morning.

9) If you had to trade places with another family in the country/rural area for a week, what do you think some of the challenges would be?

We have some friends who are renting a large farmhouse on a few secluded acres in Mt. Washington. I’d like to trade places with a family like that and have some quiet and privacy for a little while. But, I wonder if it would be lonely and isolating. I’ve also really grown accustomed to the noise and busy-ness of the city, so being in the suburbs now seems eerily silent, dark and kind of scary to me. It would take some time for me to get re-acclimated. I would also hate having to get in my car to run even the smallest errand.

10) Your age as of April 1, 2013:

30.

And, then, the follow-up questions:

11) How many children do you see yourselves having?

We’ll have at least one or two more.

12) What about your children’s education? Homeschool, public, private, Montessori, Waldorf, etc…?

We’re going to homeschool our children using a hybrid Classical and Charlotte Mason model. We believe strongly in the high value of home-based education. But, were we to choosing standard schooling, Cincinnati Public has a lot of options for parents in our area. Many other downtown kids attend Fairview German School in Clifton or the SCPA. Both schools are great. There is also a contingent of local parents pushing CPS to establish the  Rothenberg Academy as a high-ranking, competitive school that will draw more young families to the area.

13) What would you say to someone who says “Well, isn’t OTR a dangerous place to raise a family?”

I could say a lot about the whole issue of “safety” as it pertains to parenting young children but, basically, I would say that no child is really “safe.” Never. Nowhere. With no one. If you believe that because you live in a place where every house looks like yours, everyone dresses like you, you all drive similar cars, and your bank accounts hold the same amount of money, your kids are necessarily “safer” you are fooling yourself. I don’t say this to be harsh, only to point out that danger comes at children from all angles. Depending on where you live, the dangers will be different, but no less scary. I think I’m pretty reasonable about the dangers of city life, never negligent, but not overbearing. Many families have gone before us and raised wise, competent children in cities around the world and I’ve learned a lot from reading stories about other families struggling through the same urban issues.

Living in the city may require more attention on my part, more oversight, and a more watchful eye while my children are young. But it would be more dangerous for me to live in a “nice neighborhood” where the perceived safety gave me a false sense of security. I grew up in a nice, suburban area. And so I know what goes on behind closed doors, in basements and backyards at those houses and with those kids. “Bad people” are everywhere. We don’t talk much about the prevalence of alcoholism, chemical dependency, suicide, bullying, physical and sexual abuse, and parental negligence in the suburbs because it’s done in secret. But, you cannot hide in the city. And, as a parent, that’s actually reassuring. At least we know what we’re fighting here. We are blessed to live on a fantastic street with great neighbors who know each other, communicate well about what’s going on around us, and help each other out. So, from our angle, it’s easy to see that there are plenty of “good people” everywhere, too.

As for our neighborhood specifically: In OTR, if you are not buying or selling drugs (or sleeping with someone who is), you are about million times less likely to be the victim of a violent crime. The average car ride is much more dangerous than minding your own business, walking down a city street. In simple terms, it’s much more likely that another child would be injured in a car accident during the 30-minute trip to his soccer practice than my child being mugged around the corner for his pocket change. I can’t give you the statistics on that, but I’d put money on it.

But Does It Really Matter?

When I speak openly about my commitment to urban living, I get a lot of mixed responses. The most common response seems to be something along the lines of, “I agree with you that urban living can be great, but I like where I live and I’m just not convinced that it really matters that much whether I live here or there.”

In a way, I agree.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter where you live. Any place–city, suburb, rural village–can be terrible or wonderful and provide a rich, fulfilling life, especially as it relates to parenting children. An overwhelming majority of what fosters a healthy family life has more to do with the health of the family itself and not its location. This is why I don’t question the independent decisions of friends and strangers who have made different decisions than me. I may talk a lot about my commitment to urban living, but I don’t make a habit of picking fights with suburbanites.

But, in another way, I couldn’t disagree more with the idea that it doesn’t really matter where you live. Where you live–and why you chose to live there–says a lot about who you are, what you value, and what you believe to be your role in your community.

And that’s why I’m willing to raise the issues.

When addressing the issue of where to live, parents especially tend to focus entirely on the practical questions. I think this is a backwards way to make your decision. If you are committed to providing a healthy family life for your children, you can adapt to any circumstance and living situation. The logistics matter, of course, but they are not primary. Think bigger.

There are a few ideological questions to consider when addressing the question of where to live–especially if you’re making the decision as a parent.

1. Where/how will my tax money, purchases, and investments be best spent? This may seem like a practical question of affordability, but it’s not. Depending on where you live, your income will be spent in different ways. You can live comfortably on the very same income in two very different places and spend your money in completely different ways. How much of your income will go to paying for that “perfect house?” How much will you waste on transportation costs? How much will be spent investing in your private property, for your own gain? How much will you be contributing to public, shared amenities from which everyone benefits? How much will you use public amenities in other communities that someone else is paying for? How often will you be able to (conveniently) support local businesses? Will you even have the option?

2. How will this place change me? What can it teach me? What will it teach my children? First, I believe that it is your job to control the education and socialization of your own children. So, building on the foundation you build at home, what will your community have to offer your family? What can you learn from your neighbors? Will it be a place of constant comfort (and, therefore, complacency) or a place of constant challenges (and, therefore, struggle)? Can it offer both comfort and challenges? What will the “life experience” of growing up here teach your children about themselves and about the world? Will this place help them become wise, competent adults? Will it prepare them for the adult world?

3. How can I improve/change this place? Does it need me? I would not recommend moving into a community with some sort of savior-complex, committed only to change it. But I likewise would not recommend moving into a community that is perfect as it is. The fact is, your perfect community does not need you. Your “perfect” community is perfect because 10, 20 or 30 years ago, someone loved it enough to commit themselves and their family to making it the best it could be. They invested years of their lives into that community and it’s your job to do the same–somewhere else. You don’t necessarily need to adopt a decrepit building or become Mayor or anything like that. But all people of conscience should be committed to seeking the welfare of their community–not just themselves and their family. If you are no good to your neighborhood, then you are a free-loader. Everyone has something to give. Find a place that could use what you have and move there.

4. What will living in this place communicate about who I am and what is important to me? This question gets tricky because it assumes it’s possible to place judgement on the decisions and motives of other people, which is not really true. BUT. There is something to say for the power of our decisions to communicate to the world around us, whether or not the message is our intended message. The best example I could give is that of a church I was associated with a long time ago. The particular congregation was “committed to the city.” They showed this commitment by bringing food to the homeless, serving food at a shelter, and attending quarterly outreach events in the public park. These are all good, important things. But, you know what no one in this congregation did? Not one person moved to the city. Their commitment only ran deep enough to affect a weekend a month or a few hours a week. Their “commitment” never affected their life decisions–the way they spent their own money on a daily basis, they place they built their homes, the people they introduced to their children. I cannot judge the motives of the people in this church. I knew many of them and loved them a lot. But the simple decision of where to live communicated something that they did not intend. Namely, that they were faking it. So, does your decision about where to live align with what you claim to care about? If you hate the city, you hate the city. And if you love the suburbs, you love the suburbs. But, if you claim to “love your city,” then you should live there. If you “value diversity,” then you should live among people who are different from you. If you “want to make the world a better place,” then live in a place that you can make better. Seems simple enough to me.

Asking these questions will take us all to different places. Some will live in the urban core of their nearest city, some will cozy up in an ex-urban community outside the urban core. Some people will commit themselves to a rural farming community and some will run for a Council seat in their suburban paradise. I would simply encourage you to concern yourself more with the ideology of the decision, rather than the logistics. Why are you living where you are living? Are you doing it intentionally, or have you just settled for a nice, cozy house that you thought you could afford? You might not think it really matters, but I believe that it does.

* You’ll notice there are three important things I didn’t include in my list: affordability, safety, and quality of public education. Funny enough, these are the three excuses most people use for why urban living is impractical for families. I have some pretty strong opinions about these issues and it’s probably better for all of us if I don’t go into them now.

We’ll save that for another time…

My Problems With The Suburbs

It should be no surprise that I favor urban areas and adamantly support families choosing to live in urban environments. I’ve made a lot of bold statements about the value of urban environments, the quality of life available to urban families, and (what I believe to be) the challenges inherent in suburban living. When I make these statements, my suburban friends sometimes take offense. Some offense is appropriate, of course. I am, after all, calling their most basic lifestyle decisions into question. But, too much offense would be disingenuous. We all, every time we make a life decision for ourselves and our family, are calling other people’s decisions into question. Just because I say my reasons out loud should not make me an enemy.

That said, before I quickly explain my thoughts on the suburbs, I should clarify some things for people who don’t speak the language of the “city vs suburbs” question because much of the offense comes from misunderstanding what I mean when I say certain words or phrases. I apologize, ahead of time, for the way these clarifications will lengthen this post.

So, some clarification:

1. When I speak of an “urban” environment, neighborhood, or area, I do not mean a large, metropolitan city. Of course, large cities are “urban,” but urban design extends to many other built environments. When I speak of an “urban” environment, I am speaking less of size or population and more of issues related to city planning and design. Urban areas are spatially dense, socially diverse, economically diverse, are supported by a public infrastructure, and are culturally unique, regardless of their size.

2. Urbanism extends beyond the center of large cities. To give an example: Cincinnati is a metropolitan area of almost 3 million residents, divided into 52 distinct neighborhoods and surrounding municipalities. In a city like Cincinnati, the Central Business District is not the only definitively “urban” neighborhood. There are multiple neighborhoods within the city that could qualify. The same goes for some of the surrounding municipalities. Likewise, in a city like Chicago, the central urban core is much larger than in Cincinnati and the sub-urban sprawl extends much father from the core. Many of the surrounding municipalities are designed much the same way as large cities, but on smaller scales. Many of these areas are ex-urban areas or commuter cities that depend, in some way, on the vitality of the nearby large city, but also have their own urban character.

3. Not all “urban” areas or cities or parts of cities are the best example of the best of urbanism. I am speaking in generalizations. If your situation or experience does not match my assessment, then you are welcome to share the difference between your situation and my assessment, but it does not negate the truth of a generalization.

4. As should be obvious by my numbers 1 & 2 above, areas outside (or even far from) a city are not necessary the “suburban” areas I take issue with. The purpose and design of sub-urban areas has shifted drastically in the past 150 years and, so, the areas established outside cities at the turn of the 20th Century will be very different from those developed in the past 3o years. In general, most of the areas that meet my critique are those developed post-WWII.

5. It seems ridiculous to even have to say this, but I will. As in number 3 above, not all “suburban” areas are the best example of suburbia. Again, I am speaking in generalizations. If your situation or experience does not match my assessment, then you are welcome to share the difference between your situation and my assessment, but it does not negate the truth of a generalization.

6. Now, for my suburban friends: I will say, and have always said, that there are legitimate reasons to live in the suburbs. I have many wonderful friends and family who live in neighborhoods and houses that I would never choose to live in, but have made what they believe to be the best decision for their family. I did not have a “bad” experience growing up in the suburbs; I had a pleasant and safe suburban childhood. Unless you ask me for advice, I’m not out to make personal judgements about your personal decision, but I am willing to call out the entire culture of suburbia based on what I know about the design of the suburbs and have learned about the nature of vibrant, thriving communities. Maybe your community will fit the bill; maybe it won’t. That’s not for me to decide. If our life situation changed and my husband got a great job in the suburbs or if we needed to move in with or nearer to my parents or my mother in-law, I may find myself in a different position. But, regardless of where I live now or in the future, I am not afraid to make bold statements about the design of suburban areas and what it means for the lifestyle of those who live there.

7. It should also be said that I am not a professional urban planner and a purist may argue with some of my definitions. If you want to know the real ins and outs of the “city vs suburb” debate, look to someone else.

So, here goes.

My problems with the suburbs are as follows.

Suburban areas are characteristically homogeneous. Everything from the appearance of the buildings to the income of the residents is the same after the same after the same. There is no economic or social diversity–everyone lives the same kind of life, drives the same kind of car, has the same kind of job, and lives in the same kind of house. There is no aesthetic diversity–every building was designed by the same architecture firm for the same developer to look exactly like the other building next door. This is true for suburban business districts, churches, and schools, as well as residential developments.

There is no value in the aesthetics of an area that is designed for economic expediency by a large, corporate land developer. Beauty is an afterthought when efficiency is valued above creativity. A “custom home” in which your choice is between beige and ivory vinyl siding is not truly custom by any stretch of the imagination. When every lot is the same size, every home is the same average sq footage, and the city legislates the color of your painted trim, there is no room for aesthetics. It is boring at best and ugly at worst.

Real estate and property values in the suburbs have a tragic economic depreciation rate. What is the lifespan of your home? What will your home be worth, in its current condition, in 30 years? Which areas are still thriving during our economic recession? Look it up. I dare you. This is especially true for big-box commercial developments and crappy strip malls which seem to be designed to for demolition in 20 years, just to make way for another economically expedient, aesthetically-void development.

You simply cannot survive in the suburbs without a car. Even in suburban areas where things are close in proximity, nothing is designed for pedestrian traffic. A walk to the grocery store–even if it’s three blocks away–is a death wish in suburbia. Try going to visit a friend, picking up Chinese food, or taking your child to school without using a vehicle. Add up the cost the average American family incurs by relying so heavily on car use–especially in a two-car family. Add up the time wasted in a year’s worth of commuting. It will amaze you.

Physical space in the suburbs is completely privatized. Have you ever been out of town, passing through a suburban area, and tried to find a place to stop and walk around? To stop and let your kids play? To stop and park and take a break from driving? Good luck finding any space that is not owned by someone else. Nothing is shared–not driveways, not yards, not parking lots, not even ponds or pools or walking paths. Sure, some homeowners’ associations or corporate office complexes do a good job of creating an appearance of “public space,” but it’s different. And only an outsider can really feel the difference. Spending leisure time in someone else’s suburban empire requires–more often than not–paying your way. Buying something in a dining establishment, paying for recreation, or shopping are often your only options.

The economy of suburbia is entirely corporate. Hey, I like eating at Chili’s as much as the next person and I still buy my jeans at the GAP. But, another Chili’s restaurant or Sam’s Club or Wendy’s does nothing to bolster my local economy or put my neighbor’s kids through college. Sure, it might be good for tax revenue, but do some quick research on the economic return of a “mom & pop” establishment, when compared to a corporate entity. What is worth the investment? If the economic return is really so substantial, isn’t it worth paying an extra dollar for your sandwich or cup of coffee?

The suburbs require no personal interaction in your own community. The average suburban resident may go days without interacting with a single neighbor. Heck, you may not even know their names. Private driveways, closed garage doors, privacy fences, and long, off-set front entryways say to neighbors, “This is MY kingdom. Call ahead, please.” Close friends live a 30+ minute drive away. Shopping is done at a corporate mall across town. You hire a contractor from the Yellow Pages instead of the local newspaper. You attend church in someone else’s neighborhood with people who live somewhere else and who you see for 2 hours a week on Sunday. (And you call this “community?”) You live here. You mow your lawn. You send your kids to the safe, clean schools. You pay your taxes. That’s all that is required of you.

In closing,

Obviously, living in an urban area does not guarantee a different life. There are dying and vibrant communities everywhere. So, why do I think urban design is superior? Easy. Building community might not be contingent upon design, but it is aided (or hindered by it) and urban areas are, by definition, designed for it. So, choosing to live in a place that is designed to be inaccessible to outsiders, economically hollow, and fiercely privatized is counter-productive to the very nature of community-building. It might not make it impossible, but it does not make it any easier.

Is it “easy” to live in the city? In some ways; not others.

Is it “easy” to find a place to live that is both “urban” and affordable for a family? Not everywhere, but you’d be surprised.

Is living in an urban environment “comfortable?” Not necessarily.

Is sacrificing the personal security blanket of suburbia worth the investment into the urban, shared environment? Absolutely.

Is the Urban Middle Class Destined for Extinction?

Blogger Aaron M. Renn (aka: The Urbanophile) posted a link on Twitter to an interesting New York Times article that questions the affordability of Manhattan real estate for middle-income residents. The article discusses how market rates have shifted in the past 40 years, the difference between market rate and rent-regulated housing, and the near complete void of anything market rate that is affordable to the average family.

You can read the complete article here.

As a property-owner in an area of Cincinnati that is experiencing a renaissance, this issue hits really close to home. My husband and I are firmly planted in the middle-class. And we benefited from an opportunists’ real estate market a few years ago. But, were we to try to find a similar home now, it would be very difficult, maybe impossible. Heck, even a significant raise in taxes might make our home unaffordable.

Urban revitalization is a risky endeavor. But when we talk about the dangers of gentrification, we usually talk about how it will effect the poor, the homeless, those who depend on Section 8 and other “affordable housing” situations. We rarely talk about the way it will effect the rest of us–the working class and the middle class, those who benefit greatly from the amenities and accessibility of the urban environment. When the difference between the costs of subsidized housing and market-rate housing continues to increase, will there be anything left for the rest of us?

In a city like New York City, the middle class was being phased out decades ago. Am I crazy to think that Cincinnati could be inching toward the same problem, even if if happens on a much smaller scale? Similar to the outlying boroughs of NYC, there will still be neighborhoods of Cincinnati in which average families can purchase homes and rent affordable apartments. But, what about those of us who actually want to live downtown?

Some other things to consider:

-Let’s be honest: Having a family changes everything.

“One way to stay in Manhattan as a member of the middle class is to be in a relationship. Couples can split the cost of a one-bedroom apartment, along with utilities and takeout meals. But adding small roommates, especially the kind that do not contribute to rent, creates perhaps the single greatest obstacle to staying in the city.”- O’Leary, The New York Times

Since I believe that strong families are so important for the health of a community, I believe it’s absolutely necessary that there be a place for families to live in vibrant, thriving cities.

-Employers can help. It’s not unheard of for large employers–universities, hospitals, corporations, etc.–to purchase property and rent to employees at subsidized rates to aid in hiring, relocation, and job stability. What if event smaller businesses did this? What if there was a resurgence of business owners living within walking distance of their businesses and providing reduced-rate housing for their employees?

-There has to be a way to get in on the ground-level of development. One way that middle-income families make it work in Manhattan is that they have been around long enough that they secured their real estate before prices soared. They have, essentially, been grandfathered-in to the Manhattan lifestyle. Cincinnati’s downtown is still relatively affordable, but it may not always be. If you’re anything like me, you could not afford the new built-to-suit single-family homes in Over-the-Rhine. But many of us could possibly afford one of the remaining vacant properties that are ready for renovation. Securing these properties can be tricky and finding loans for their rehabilitation even trickier. So, it reasons to say that cities who wish to preserve a thriving middle class must encourage entrepreneurship and provide the means for early investment by those who have staying-power in their community.

I’m curious to know whether all cities experience this phenomena of a disappearing middle class and how they cope. I’d also love to know more about the rent-regulated properties in NYC. Who regulates them and what does it take to get ahold of a property? I’m also curious how Section 8 housing plays into the issue and when the number of government housing subsidies actually works against the working class to limit their housing opportunities.

Anyone want to chime in?

Found it: Conservative Support for Public Transit!

How did I not see this before?

The American Conservative–a publication that I read often online–has a wing whose mission is “to build support for public transportation, especially urban and intercity rail, as a non-partisan, non-ideological infrastructure issue.” The American Conservative Center for Public Transportation was founded by American Ideas Institute to fill the void for Conservative, non-partisan discussion of urban issues–specifically, transit.

Super awesome!

More about the organization:

streetcar“The American Ideas Institute’s American Conservative Center for Public Transportation will be a strong and effective advocate for a robust public transportation system.  The Center will work to establish a conservative voice for enhanced public transit, including both urban and intercity rail. Conservatives have traditionally supported a strong national defense, and nothing is more essential to America’s security than reducing our dependence on automobiles powered largely with imported oil.  Improved public transportation can be an effective partner in this process, with technologies, especially electric railways, that have been tested and proven in more than a century of service.”

Read more here.

To those of you who think that consevatives (should) hate urban development: maybe it’s time to change your mind?