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March 23, 2012

Town & country: the great inversion

     Just a couple of decades ago, it was taken for granted that inner cities were the preserve of immigrants and the poor, and suburbs were the chosen destination of those who could afford them. Today, a demographic inversion is taking place: Central cities increasingly are where the affluent want to live, while suburbs are becoming home to poorer people and those who come to America from other parts of the world. Highly educated members of the emerging Millennial generation are showing a decided preference for urban life, and are being joined in many places by a new class of affluent retirees.
      Alan Ehrenhalt, author of The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City, published this spring by Alfred A. Knopf, will deliver the second Lincoln Lecture in the spring series April 10 at Lincoln House. All in all, he says, our cities are becoming more like European cities and like those that have existed in the Western world for most of the last millennium. The flight of the wealthy to the suburbs in the last generation comes to look more like an aberration than like a sign of things to come. The commercial canyons of lower Manhattan are becoming residential neighborhoods, and mass transit has revitalized inner-city communities in Chicago and Brooklyn. Car-dominated Sunbelt cities like Phoenix and Charlotte have sought to build 21st century downtowns from scratch, while sprawling postwar suburbs are seeking to attract young people with their own form of urbanized experience.
    Alan Ehrenhalt served for 19 years as executive editor of Governing Magazine, and is currently executive editor of Stateline, a news service about state government that is part of the Pew Charitable Trusts. He has been a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review and op-ed page, the Washington Post Book World, the New Republic, and the Wall Street Journal. He is the author of The United States of Ambition (1991), The Lost City (1995), Democracy in the Mirror (1999), and was editor of the first four editions of Politics in America, a biennial reference book profiling all 535 members of Congress. In 2007, he received the Donald Stone award from the American Society for Public Administration, for contributions to the field of intergovernmental management.
   The lecture is free but registration is required.


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