“There’s an urban renaissance happening right now in America,” I heard someone on the radio say last week. I had to pause for a second. In a way, they were right. People seem to be flocking to cities and metropolitan areas. I wanted to nod my head in agreement to the person on the air.
But I just could not stop the words from coming out of my mouth, “No, it’s a community renaissance, not an ‘urban’ renaissance.”
It’s true, people are moving closer to cities and metropolitan areas. However, something larger is at play in this country.
Every generation or so, we go through a “reset”, as Richard Florida calls them in his 2010 book “The Great Reset“. Essentially, Florida says, after every major economic turn in our history, we have adjusted how and where we live. We’ve got from cities to farms, back to cities, to suburbs, and now back to cities. It’s a cycle we can’t seem to kick, almost as if we’re in a perpetual loop of trying to decide if we want a lawn or not. The latest “reset” came at the end of the 2008 financial recession which we’re just now emerging from. The Great Recession caused many of us to reevaluate our transportation habits, the ability to buy/sell a home, and our core needs. As a country, we moved out of the suburbs and into apartment high rises, townhomes and condos; we began biking where ever we could; we became much more dependent on our immediate surroundings.
At the same time, cities of all sizes were forced to take an honest look at their assets and figure out new ways to lift their communities out of an economic funk. Over the past ten years we’ve seen the emergence of new metropolitan partnerships between cities and their neighbors, a trend well documented by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley in “The Metropolitan Revolution“. We found strength in collaboration with each other. By looking internally at their communities, cities and towns were able to honestly admit their strengths and weaknesses, and then lend their talents to other communities who could alternatively leverage their strengths to fill the other’s weakness. The root of this trend began long before the Great Recession, but the result up until recently were collaborations focused on one area (e.g. the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina). What has happened recently is a new angle on the role metro areas should play in the lives of residents and businesses.
No longer are we looking outward for solutions to every problem, we’re looking internally.
The need to be close to our resources has driven us to congregate around communities, not just cities.
A community should not be confused with a city. A community knows no city limits, a community is not a unit of government, a community is not on a map. A community is defined as “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” A community exudes a sense of belonging.
We are moving closer to our family and friends. We are moving into smaller homes, forcing us out on to the streets and into our parks more often. We are shopping at farmer’s markets, not because we want to, but for many of us because we have to. We’re riding public transportation more than ever. We’re “eating local” more than ever. We’re opening more small businesses and nonprofits than ever before. Our new love of living closer to each other is forcing our downtown districts to stay open longer, meaning more opportunity for local businesses to flourish. Main Streets of all sizes are being revitalized and improved upon. A sense of community pride is driving us all to volunteer more. Our entire way of living is changing. We’re creating a new economy – a community economy.
We’re not looking for urban areas to live, we’re looking for communities. We don’t care how big or how small.