Tonight, I was reading up on Alaska as I have a friend who might be moving there soon. Anchorage contains 40% of the population of the state, which is the second most-concentrated population in America. What is number one? New York City. 42% of the people in New York State live in New York City. At one point, this number was over 50%! For comparison, Boston has never contained over 20% of Bay Staters, and today, contains under 10%.
In a democracy, and one where governments allocate funds and other resources based on what will get them the most votes, there must be political consequences to figures like these. It would stand that only in a state with a large urban population, are urban issues foremost in people's minds, and governments. While even New York City, (population eight million), had a few bad decades, losing the equivalent of the populations of eight Lowells just between 1970 and 1980 for example, its continued success stands in stark contrast to basically every other city in the Empire State and certainly against many cities in our state. There have been discussions for many, many years of splitting New York into two states for this reason. When 40% of your citizens care largely about what happens in one tiny area, how would you allocate resources? Add in the NYC commuter suburbs, and if I lived in very much struggling Buffalo, I'd feel I wasn't being heard, too.
How bad is the situation in Massachusetts? I made this graph off of the populations of all the cities in my August post, and took them as a percentage of the population of the entire state at the time. While this is clearly not *every* urban area in the state, and contains a few suburban areas that happen to be in incorporated cities as well, I would guess a more carefully constructed graph would look similar:
|Click for a larger version|
It gets worse: there is certainly a chicken-and-the-egg question about if people fled cities because suburbs were intrinsically much more attractive, or if broad policies and subsequent financial and communal disinvestment made cities bad enough to make suburbs more attractive. Either way, it's certainly a feedback loop at this point and has been for a long time.
Combine the snob-zoning regulations in many home-rule Massachusetts suburbs (that still like to think they're quaint, rural, New England towns) with the low education levels and financial resources our policies have concentrated in our urban municipalities, and the 25% of potential urban votes we still carry are worth even less than their gross numbers would imply. Don't forget: poorer, less educated people tend to vote less and contribute less to campaigns as well.
The end result is policies that continue to reinforce the patterns we've been seeing for the past 50+ years. In a period of energy uncertainty, an aging population, shrinking family sizes, growing financial disparities, etc, etc, etc, are we wise to continue to turn our backs on sustainable, denser, more integrated, lower-energy communities? Are our politicians failing to support cities because that's what is best for everyone in the long term and what people truly want, or ... is it all about a vicious cycle of votes and money?
This is clearly a very non-scientific post, but something to think about...