The Not-So-Distant Future: Cities in 2020, a series

Two professors at Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics consider the fate of the cities of this country in their article, “Thriving as a City in 2020: A Model for Urban Vitality” and Feet First will be doing a series on our blog that walks through this piece in 10-12 installments.

The Not-So-Distant Future: Cities in 2020, Part 1 

Posted By Megan Wildhood

Sept. 25, 2012

You may not know it if you live in or near a city.  Most cities are typically bustling, with people walking, riding their bikes or hopping on a train or a bus. According to Professors William Weis and David Arnesen, this could all be radically different in less than ten years.  the survival of cities even into the next decade – is the topic of their paper as stated in the abstract:

            The prognosis for American cities has been prophetically bleak since 1950, when we began taking the first steps to debase and dismantle our urban landscape.  Yet no one could have guessed just how complete, or how irreversible, would be the ultimate end to city life in America.  

            At a time when we were investing in the reconstruction of destroyed cities in Europe, we were investing in the destruction of cities in our own country. Today fewer than ten cities remain as potentially viable cosmopolitan centers as we look to the year 2020 – from a field of over 300 in 1950.  And even those ten are but a shadow of what they could have been, and remain vulnerable to the myopic leadership that left most American states without a single urban center.           

            As we approach 2020, what are the decisions and actions that will insure survival for those few remaining American cities?  Are there remedial actions that could resuscitate some landscapes that were once cities?  What is the likelihood that leaders will launch a renaissance of urban life in America?  These are the questions that are addressed in this discussion, and that will determine whether vibrant urban centers will survive the next decade.

When Feet First thinks about the survival of a city, we can’t help but jump straight to our feet.  That is, visions of sidewalks, separated travel lanes for people walking and biking and mass transit that gets everyone everywhere they need to go dance in our heads.  And “Thriving as a City in 2020” keeps sustainability keenly in view as it discusses if and how city life as we know it is to survive.  This idea that cities are dying (how could there only be less than ten cities in the country?) may seem confusing, as you can probably rattle off at least ten cities with a population over one million in America (New York City, LA, Chicago…).  

Stay tuned next week for clarification of this and other questions as we begin our walk through Weis’ and Arnesen’s model for urban vitality in the coming weeks.

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