Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Robust Urban Clusters

The bigger question to a polarized Americas has to be, “if not the United States, what?” Whether rural traditionalists, with heavily Evangelical values, like it or not, in the current configuration of the “United” States, they are destined to lose power, influence and perhaps the ability to continue their lives in accordance with their passionately-held values. This, notwithstanding the First Amendment and the fact that 53 states have governors and legislatures controlled by white conservative traditionalists. The nature of our population is changing. Demographics and raw economics will slowly pull the plug on a lifestyle from times past, a culture that time is leaving behind. Homophobia, climate change denial, preachers overriding scientific research, racial discrimination and a gun culture represent values of a bygone era, unsustainable in a modern, futuristic world.
Today’s “relevant” earth is not built around the vast tracts of land that form the bulk of almost every political jurisdiction. The bulk of high-value commerce, jobs and invention are almost strictly urban, relegating that more open land to blue collar resource extraction and cultivation. In the developed world, large metropolitan areas have rather dramatically supplanted states/provinces as the true political and economic power bases. That’s where the wealth is concentrated, even where the owners of those vast natural resources mostly choose to live. The United States is no exception. Political scientists and economists know: Nations governed by agricultural or mineral resource-driven rural regions lag behind countries that have prioritized their urban centers.
Writing for the April 15th New York Times Op-Ed, Paraq Khanna, a senior fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, explains the macro-economic reality that may someday reshape the United States into smaller, regional countries more aligned with their constituents. The power will continue to shift to the major cities, and the polarization that seems to grow with every election will probably define those territorial boundaries.
Khanna writes: “Advanced economies in Western Europe and Asia are reorienting themselves around robust urban clusters of advanced industry. Unfortunately, American policy making remains wedded to an antiquated political structure of 50 distinct states.
“To an extent, America is already headed toward a metropolis-first arrangement. The states aren’t about to go away, but economically and socially, the country is drifting toward looser metropolitan and regional formations, anchored by the great cities and urban archipelagos that already lead global economic circuits.
“The Northeastern megalopolis, stretching from Boston to Washington, contains more than 50 million people and represents 20 percent of America’s gross domestic product. Greater Los Angeles accounts for more than 10 percent of G.D.P. These city-states matter far more than most American states — and connectivity to these urban clusters determines Americans’ long-term economic viability far more than which state they reside in.”
The rest of the developed world is already metro-focused. As our Congress caters to states (where federal voting districts are controlled) – a rather clear misuse of funds if true overall growth is the focus – central authorities in Europe and Asia are investing heavily in infrastructure favoring cities where jobs and people are the most plentiful. We’re diverting precious resources to benefit a dwindling segment our population, and under-investing where infrastructure would create the greatest benefits. Our political system doesn’t permit any other result.
But urban power brokers have other ideas. “These are the groups that are pushing America deeper into the global economy by rethinking how the national economy functions. But they have to go it alone, because Congress still thinks in terms of states. America needs a new map.
“We don’t have to create these regions; they already exist, on two levels. First, there are now seven distinct super-regions, defined by common economics and demographics, like the Pacific Coast and the Great Lakes. Within these, in addition to America’s main metro hubs, we find new urban archipelagos, including the Arizona Sun Corridor, from Phoenix to Tucson; the Front Range, from Salt Lake City to Denver to Albuquerque; the Cascadia belt, from Vancouver to Seattle; and the Piedmont Atlantic cluster, from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C.
“Federal policy should refocus on helping these nascent archipelagos prosper, and helping others emerge, in places like Minneapolis and Memphis, collectively forming a lattice of productive metro-regions efficiently connected through better highways, railways and fiber-optic cables: a United City-States of America.” Khanna. But we live in a country where too many of us really have stopped caring about those with contrary beliefs.
The degree of polarization hit me hardest in 2013, when 36 Republican U.S. Senators voted against FEMA aid to east coast Hurricane Sandy victims because they lived in liberal states, signaling a level of divisiveness the United States had not witnessed since the Civil War. That suggests that the United States may well devolve into these regional nations to the extent that this level of animosity and divisiveness continues unabated. Khanna even suggests that the contiguous 48 states might well break apart into seven massive territories that could look like the map above. Who gets the nukes, the military and what happens to our national debt? What happens to international treaties, our currency, power grid and our power-generating capacity?
If we cannot care about each other, if we have raw callousness about and hatred for those with differing values to the extent that we cannot help them in their time of dire need, then exactly how will the United States cope with the horrific costs we are already experiencing (like the flooding in Houston) and will continue to experience with climate change? We face trillions of dollars of damage and destruction in the next few decades. How and when will this extreme vision of the United States be possible? I hope not too soon, but I fear our polarization will only accelerate the process… unless someone figures out to make Americans out of us again.
I’m Peter Dekom, and if we don’t like this vision of the future, perhaps it’s time we invested a little more reality into our present.

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