America's Growing Poor, First World Favelas, Gross Inequality, Metrocenter, Phoenix, Social Stratification, Urban Sprawl
I’m being more selective in my reading these days since I’m not so interested anymore in the minutia of the everyday happenings concerning industrial civilization’s decline. Certainly if the planetary tipping points continue to be breached by an economy dependent on infinite growth, then all these social issues everyone frets about will be meaningless anyway.
I read a very good article on urban decay by the Rogue Columnist this evening called ‘Growthgasm!‘ which reminded me of a very recent trip to one of my old stomping grounds in Phoenix, the Metrocenter Mall. Not too long ago when I was a teenager this was quite a popular hang-out, filled with thousands of shoppers on any given day. Today it has become a veritable ghost town. On my visit I saw no more than a few dozen customers within this expansive mall. Many of the shops are now vacant and locked-up. As you can see from the pictures below that I took, the empty building casts an eerie feeling of abandonment and lifelessness. The few tenants that remain are desperate to attract customers and some have posted employees outside their doors to try to make a hard sale and entice passersby to come in.
If you are a reader of this blog, then you’ll know I’m not a fan of the mass consumerism that was spawned after World War II, but in my younger days I was a reluctant participant growing up in that environment. Since the bursting of America’s last big bubble, the suburban utopia that this nation built for itself through the Great Ponzi Scheme of Sprawl is decaying. Those who can flee, the affluent who have managed to hold on to their economic well-being, are moving to newer ‘exurbs’ to be with others in their social status and to insulate themselves from the spreading poverty:
…suburbs facing the highest burdens of the new poverty will be least able to meet them because of the economic recession and the spatial retreat of the better off. Just as many white Americans fled the cities for the suburbs in the 1960s, leaving the cities behind with declining tax revenues and fewer job opportunities, there is new cycle of exodus of the well-to-do from inner-ring metropolitan suburbs. As the better-off retreat, the provision of amenities and essentials from parks to schools to garbage pickup, heavily funded by property taxes, are bound to flounder for those left-behind.
One recent study conducted by Sean Reardon and Kendra Bischoff of Stanford University documented the spatial sorting by income that is going on, with the wealthy flocking together in new exurbs as well as gentrifying pockets of urban centers. In 1970 — the high-water mark of a more homogeneous suburban America — only 15 percent of families in metropolitan areas lived in socio-economically segregated neighborhoods categorized as affluent or poor. In 2007, that figure was 31.7 percent.
The replacement of America’s middle-class suburbs, however flawed, by wealthier exurbs and secondhand suburban remnants is a leading symptom of America’s 21st-century reinvention as a society of stark class divisions, spatial segregation and inherited social status…
So will the suburbs of a country whose transportation and infrastructure was built on cheap oil become the favelas of the first world? It certainly seems inevitable in a world where class lines are growing deeper, high unemployment is intractable, and the age of cheap fossil fuels has drawn to a close.