Special PSA: Joel Kotkin's Future is Stuck in the Past

[Joel Kotkin & robot in his flying car suburbia.]

Some of you may have heard, as I did, "urban futurist" Joel Kotkin interviewed on Kerri Miller this morning.

Kotkin is a slippery bastard. He's probably the most visible of the anti-urbanist rear guard that is fighting to hold on to suburban sprawl for as long as they can. Along with folks like Randall O'Toole, Wendell Cox, and Robert Breuggman, Kotkin basically devotes his life to murking the waters about the environmental, economic, and social benefits of cities (transit, density, mixed-use &c). He mixes neoclassical economic liberalism with anti-urbanist ideology in such a willy-nilly way that its difficult to separate out which of the things he says are fabrications, imaginations, 'mainstream American economics', or actual common sense. (For example, when he talks about the myth of the information economy, or the need for a WPA-style jobs program, I agree with him.)

But the one thing that is certain is that Kotkin doesn't buy the idea that our environmental footprint is too large. The first half hour of the interview was basically a defense of unregulated suburban sprawl, and all the car trips, infrastructure costs, large home and retail construction, and metropolitan segregation that suburbia entails. The end result of Kotkin's "vision" is further marginalization of poor communities in segregated urban neighborhoods, and a continuation of energy intensive growth for growth's sake.

If he was speaking in 1950, his message that cities will be multi-polar, downtowns will lose their dominance, suburbs will grow, and the consumer economy will continue unabated might actually be interesting news. As it is, a visit to Kotkin's "New Geography" magazine is on par with the Paleo-Future website. He seems to be oblivious to the many growing and real problems that our communities are facing: scarce energy resources, climate change, severe imbalance between the global south and the global north.

If you listen carefully to the interview, you will hear Kotkin admit that he's being wildly optimistic. He pitches that 'power of positive thinking' argument, that we need to believe in "success" in order to achieve success. (If by success, you mean SUVs and gated McMansions.) Well, that's also a great way to delude yourself. In the end, Kotkin does nothing but pull the wool over our eyes, while maintaining the belief that we can use suburbia to build a house of cards.

Let it be known: Joel Kotkin sucks.

And the opportunity came along this week when Joel Kotkin, the New America Foundation fellow with a fondness for sprawl and a fear of "climate-change zealots [being] in our faces and wallets," took to the pages of Politico.

Kotkin's full piece, entitled "Smart growth must not ignore drivers," can be found here. Streetsblog's re-mix, entitled "Smart growth must not ignore is not the enemy of drivers," is below.


According to neo-pseudo-centrist (best political label I can hang on him, implying he’s a kinder, gentler paleo-neo-con hybrid) Kotkin, environmentalists are why California is in the crapper. Or, to be more specific, they’re the prime cause of California’s narcissism:
The modern environmental movement often adopts a largely misanthropic view of humans as a “cancer” unalloyed evil, gobbling up resources and spewing planet-heating greenhouse gases.

This is wrong historically, sociologically, environmentally and more.


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