The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City
All in all, though, The Great Inversion is book that every urbanist should read. It is a serious, provocative, and gracefully written, and consistently interesting look at how the urban-suburban balance is shifting.
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Over the past decade or so, the astute journalist Alan Ehrenhalt has been walking, looking, and asking questions in many of America’s metropolitan areas—trying, in the manner of Jane Jacobs, to see afresh, without preconceptions. It’s been a very productive venture for the former editor of Governing magazine.
Ehrenhalt discovered that “a radical rearrangement” is under way. People possessing money and choice “were increasingly living in the center, while newcomers and the poor were settling often in the suburbs ....” These shifts amount, he says, to a “great inversion.” Chris Leinberger of Brookings Institution has offered a similar assessment, but Ehrenhalt’s chronicle is particularly illuminating, drawing as it does from visits to a widely dispersed metro areas, including Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Chicago, Denver, and Phoenix.
“Between 2000 and 2010, Chicago became a whiter city with a larger affluent population,” Ehrenhalt reports. The residential population of the Chicago’s central area—a district five miles long from north to south and about one mile wide, from Lake Michigan westward—jumped by 48 percent from 2000 to 2007 and is projected to grow another 39 percent, to 230,000, by 2020.
More than 12,000 condominium and luxury apartment units were built or retrofitted in the last