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The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City
The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City
Alan Ehrenhalt
Knopf, 2012
288 pp., $26.95

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Naomi Schaefer Riley


Reverse Migration

Back to the city.

If you watch enough episodes of House Hunters, Property Virgins, or any of the other myriad reality shows in which people search for and eventually purchase a home, you will find that buyers, and especially young buyers, want three things (in no particular order): a kitchen with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, an open floor plan, and a location within walking distance of shops and restaurants. When I began to watch these shows a few years after my own move from the city to the suburbs of New York, I was a little surprised by how commonly this last factor was mentioned, especially by couples with children or children on the way. I nearly fell off the couch when I saw a young couple demanding that their realtor find them a place "within the Cleveland city limits."

I once lived in a place with my husband where you could walk to everything—the park, the drycleaner, the independent bookstore, the coffee shop, the outrageously priced supermarket—but the idea of raising kids there barely occurred to me. My neighbors were in a constant battle with the landlord. They wanted to leave their strollers in the hallway so they could eke a few more feet of living space out of their cramped apartments; the landlord said it was a fire-code violation. It was ridiculous enough lugging our drycleaning and groceries back and forth—who could imagine doing it with kids in tow? We had no car: parking one would have required spending hours of our lives each week to play musical vehicles, or paying hundreds of dollars a month to put it in a garage 11 blocks away. Our neighborhood was safe by New York standards, but kids on our street were never allowed to play by themselves in the park a half-block away. Instead, their parents—who paid $40,000 a year to rent a two-bedroom apartment (I shudder to think what it is like now, ten years later)—tied a milk-crate to the lamppost and allowed them to shoot baskets on the sidewalk out front. And don't even ...

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