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AmericanUrbanDesigner

The Southeast US

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Southeast US v. The Rest of the US

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This isn't really a "versus" thread... It's meant to be a window to discuss the existing, and potential, future of an often overlooked, but rapidly maturing, geographic region of the US.

Atlanta and Charlotte are two of the most important cities in the US today.

Atlanta is already one of the country's leading cities; Charlotte is rapidly becoming a major US city. Raleigh-Durham is one of the top cities in the US for higher education, bio-technology, environmental research, and computer technology.

Several Questions:

How does the I-85 corridor, running through the heart of the Southeast and including Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, Atlanta and Birmingham compare to, and can it emerge as one of, the other dominate economic, education, income, and cultural, regions of North America?

Does the region deserve respect now...or, can it earn respect in the near future?

What do the faces of the region's largest cities look like in 20 years? Do they each continue to emerge as unique cities, with unique strengths and characteristics?

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This is probably not the reply you are expecting or desiring, but I think the South has poor prospects for the future. The reason is energy and the failure of suburbia. I will pull a quote from James Howard Kunstler:

"The regions that have benefited the most from cheap energy -- the west and the southeast -- are going to suffer the most in an energy-challenged era. I have maintained that we will see cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas virtually depopulated in the next fifty years as all their artificial means to support human settlement grow scarce. Imagine Phoenix without cheap air conditioning. Those fleeing the Sunbelt deserts will have to go somewhere, and whether it is northern California or Michigan their influx is liable to create friction, greater scarcity, and more conflict.

I tremble to think what life will be like in Florida and Georgia twenty years from now. I suspect they will become places of violence and lawlessness as the suburban infrastructure fails economically and the discovery dawns on them that suburbia was their economy -- and now its over. What will they do in Atlanta and Orlando? I believe the southeast will revert to being an agricultural backwater, perhaps with an overlay of despotic fundamentalist Christian politics."

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This is probably not the reply you are expecting or desiring, but I think the South has poor prospects for the future.

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Actually having respect of the rest of the country isn't really on most Southerner's minds. Native Southerners are often amused at the rest of the USA's inability to understand the South and as a result, often create negative steriotypes that simply have no basis in reality. And in the last 30 years this amusement is added too my mostly Northern and Mid-Western people moving here, discovering how nice the South really is, and declaring "I'll never move back to .....".

People vote with their feet and the fact that more than 75,000 people have moved to Mecklenburg county (Charlotte) since the 2000 census, is indication enough as to the respect the area now receives. (let alone the entire metro)

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i'm guessing that whole thing about energy dependency was talking about the southwest? because in the southeast we have a little thing called the tva. i've heard it puts out a nice source of renewable energy ;)

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i'm guessing that whole thing about energy dependency was talking about the southwest? because in the southeast we have a little thing called the tva. i've heard it puts out a nice source of renewable energy  ;)

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

For sure. In addition Duke Energy designs, builds and operates the most efficient nuclear reactors (outside the military) in the world. The Southeast is a net "exporter" of electrical energy to the rest of the USA.

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...I tremble to think what life will be like in Florida and Georgia twenty years from now. I suspect they will become places of violence and lawlessness as the suburban infrastructure fails economically and the discovery dawns on them that suburbia was their economy -- and now its over. What will they do in Atlanta and Orlando? I believe the southeast will revert to being an agricultural backwater, perhaps with an overlay of despotic fundamentalist Christian politics."

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

WTF? :ph34r: I'm sorry, but I am going to have to respectfully disagree with Mr. Kunstler's negative comments. As usual, the bias and stereotypes of the South rear their ugly head again. Suburbia will not fail in the Southeast unless there is a reason for people to want to live in a different type of urban environment, or there is a mass exodus due to some other unforeseen phenomena.

The Southeast, and I am including more than just the I-85 corridor, will continue to grow and become more and more important for this country. Atlanta and Charlotte really do not show signs of easing up. Other smaller cities along the coast are also growing rapidly due to migration from the Midwest and the North. The primary region referred to in this thread will become one of the powerhouses in North America, and this will initiate a chain reaction throughout the entire Southeast.

monsoon hit the nail on the head...people do vote with their feet. Even if cities such as Atlanta become to big, they will not significantly go into decline because too much has already been invested into those areas. People will go to other cities in the South that have more room such as Augusta, Columbia, Greenville, Charleston, and Jacksonville.

The Southeast region may not become the most important because some areas like New York, LA, and Chicago have a monopoly on that distinction. But I do believe that this region is gaining equal footing in prominence and importance.

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One thing is clear: Kunstler is a fool. The sky-is-falling, we-are-running-out-of-natural-resources crowd is ALWAYS proven wrong. The reason is we are not dealing with a static system but instead humans have the ability to adapt to changes. Man's knowledge doubles every ten years, so it is hardly believable that we will just cease to innovate and will abandon cities b/c of some possible (although unlikely) environmental crisis. What he describes could only happen if there is some kind of nuclear exchange with China or Russia. Absent this, we will be fine and probably a lot better off in 2025 than we are now. I think the real motivation behind his comments is his bias against the South and Southwest. What kind of mental illness must you have to believe this Kunstler nonsense?

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Kunstler writes from The Clusterfudge Nation Chronicles. All, if any, credibility should file a libel suit against him.

The entire state of Florida is experiencing population and economic growth that few other states have the option of equalling.

monsoon mentioned that, "75,000 people have moved to Mecklenburg county (Charlotte) since the 2000 census." The same can be said of Duval county (Jacksonville). Orange county (Orlando) has added nearly 100,000.

Even some of the smaller counties are gaining nearly that many.

The massive urban redevelopment of Jacksonville, Orlando, Charlotte and Tampa are indications that not all is sprawl and that Mr. Kunstler merely writes for the pure controversy it creates such as we have done in this very thread.

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I think the real motivation behind his comments is his bias against the South and Southwest.  What kind of mental illness must you have to believe this Kunstler nonsense?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I agree wholeheartedly! :D I'd like to know his basis for such insane, and completely irrational observations. While I think that the Southwest may be somewhat artificially existing with its electricity and water, the South has far more natural resources to handle any sort of crisis.

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How does Tennessee and its cities compare in population growth and overall progressive atmosphere to the Atlanta area and North Carolina? Those two areas seem to be standards for Southern prosperity.

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I think the real motivation behind his comments is his bias against the South and Southwest.  What kind of mental illness must you have to believe this Kunstler nonsense?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I've read some of the man's writings, and I have to disagree with this. Kunstler isn't biased against the South and southwest -- he's biased against suburban and exurban sprawl. He admires Charleston and Savannah, but loathes Atlanta.

Kunstler's sky-is-falling rhetoric about the end of oil definitely gets tiresome, but when it comes to urban development he's right on the money. Current suburban development practices, along with the massive government subsidies they necessitate, cannot be sustained indefinitely.

Unfortunately, the sprawl lobby is still hard at work trying to turn our beloved South into a cartoonish facsimile of New Jersey. Too many of the so-called Southerners who constantly rant and rave about "heritage and traditions" are the principal cheerleaders for tearing down what little is actually left of our architectural heritage and tradition.

If we continue the mad race to see who can cover up the most land with concrete and asphault, there won't be a South left to talk about.

However, there are cities all over the South that are working to revitalize their downtowns and limit the destructive effects of the automobile. Those brave communities that embrace good urban design and well-planned transportation systems, particularly mass transit, will be the real winners in the long run.

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Kuntsler can be a bit wacky at times, but he makes many very valid arguments about the nature of suburban development and should not be dismissed out-of-hand as a crank.

The energy problems that Mr. Kuntsler talks about are not of the sort that the TVA and Duke Power are going to be able to cure. Kuntsler's discussions of energy shortage refer almost exclusively to petroleum energy, more specifically to gasoline. He believes that petroleum shortages and increasing prices will ultimately doom suburbia to decline, as people find that they simply cannot continue to support a lifestyle that requires driving for even the shortest trips.

Future technological advances with hybrid and electric vehicles may render this argument toothless before any supposed shortage of petroleum occurs. Or, as some theorists argue, it may turn out that petroleum is a virtually inexhaustible resource (this sounds more ridiculous to me than most of the things Kuntsler says, but there are some serious people who believe it may be true).

Kuntsler hates sprawl. He couches his arguments against it in chicken little terms because those are the only terms people in this country understand any more. You stand either wholly opposed or wholly in support of everything and more reasonable arguments are drowned out. Kuntsler isn't to be forgiven for this, but he didn't invent the rules, either.

Actually, I'd like to add to this that Jared Diamond has written a book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, which posits that in fact geographic and climactic factors, and societaly choices in how to cope with them, have historically had great impact on the relative success or failure of a society. Diamond in fact supports the notion that while technology can make inhospitable areas quite livable (Phoenix, for example, or Riyadh), societies often make concious choices against adapting to changes in their environment because of a desire to continue to living in the accustomed way. Though he does not discuss the situation, if Diamond's thesis is to be accepted, then it is possible that development in certain areas of this country is in fact unsustainable but unlikely to change. Las Vegas is a good example of this.

Of course, this is much more accute in the southwest than in the southeast. Here Kuntsler is upset at the way the area has sprawled, and he may feel justified in claiming that if we don't stop sprawling all over the place we may be dooming ourselves, should his predicted petroleum energy shortage ever in fact come to pass. I would argue that we are seeing right now a growing backlash against what has been the dominate growth pattern in our neck of the woods for the last four decades, and that Kuntsler, though alarmist, was actually in the leading edge of people pleading for reform.

For my own part, I often ask myself why we don't abandon the suburbs. I detest living there, going there, driving through them. If I never had to pass through another sprawling suburb a la Brandon or Orange Park again I would hardly cry for the less. People consent to living in these sorts of places on the basis of comfort (they're used to it), availability (the only affordable property in booming sunbelt cities is in the burbs), and disinformation (schools are better in the burbs, it's safer in the burbs, there are more amenities in the burbs, etc.). People of my (our, based on the average age on this board) generation are rejecting these notions and returning to the cities. If as a society we can figure out how to encourage this trend and nurture it while ensuring that living in the cities is kept affordable and not the province only of the super rich (this is a problem Tampa is fighting as I write), we'll defeat Kuntsler's prediction without a second thought.

Kuntsler is a Yankee. I'm no fan of Yankees, and he does demonstrate some prejudice toward the South in his remarks. After all, have you been to Roxbury or Long Island? These places are little better than Roswell, Ga., as far as sprawl goes, and gas prices are much higher. However, his short-sightedness and prejudice are not a reason for us to unthinkingly deny the germ of truth in his words.

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For my own part, I often ask myself why we don't abandon the suburbs.

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I didn't intend for a complete thread-hijack but I believe it is very important for any discussion of the South's future to include a mention of suburban sprawl, since it is where a very large portion of southerners live nowadays.

I believe the future will be very harsh to petroleum dependent transportation and the communities built on that model. Unfortunately, much of the South's development has taken place in the automobile era and is thus in that category. Certainly oil and resource depletion is a topic for another thread, but I strongly disagree with RiversideGator that resources are not an issue. Suburban sprawl is a model of institutionalized excessive resource consumption, most obviously oil. The USA now imports over half of its petroleum consumption and US oil production is at roughly the same level as it was in the early 1950s. For oil at least, the US is exhausting its resource base. I believe $2 gas will be a fond memory, perhaps as soon as a few years from now.

To answer the questions of the original poster, my opinion is that:

1. The I-85 corridor's long term prospects are that of a regional or super-regional center and nothing more. In a time of energy shortage, I believe river and coastal access will be important for successful cities and none of those cities are well positioned in that regard.

2. Having spent 20+ years in the South, I can't say I have much respect for southern cities as they are largely underpopulated urban cores surrounded by interchangeable sprawl tracts crisscrossed with ever-expanding freeway networks. I realize some cities are attempting to reverse this trend but the damage from this growth model is widespread and extensive.

3. I believe in 20 years the suburbs will have failed and consequently many of the South's cities will be a disaster zone. Cities with water access and a more "walkable" layout will fare better in this scenario. This includes some of the "Old South" cities like New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston, etc.

On the bright side, I do believe the South can regain some of its lost agricultural power. Energy shortages will certainly mean that more goods need to be produced locally and the South is an excellent agricultural area to realize this. I believe the current trend of sending much of the South's traditional industry (textiles etc) overseas is a huge mistake as it is destroying the South's native economy in an attempt to serve a flawed model of globalization.

I realize the conventional wisdom on this site (and in the media) is to talk about endless growth and endless sprawl and how the South is growing so fast today, well surely it will tomorrow! My perspective on this topic is that the growth cannot continue as it has because the resource consumption costs of suburbia are too high. Thus the need for a more realistic assessment of the future of the South.

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Actually the worst cities in the USA for suburban sprawl in terms of population are not located in the South.

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That's where my problem with the piece came in. There's just as much sprawl in the NE and Midwest as there is in the South. The South is going to become some savage backwater while people move to michigan? Detroit may havea the built environement but they got zilch for transit. You want to rail against the burbs, fine, I'm right there with you, but let's be fair about it.

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You know what's amazing is that many people on this thread detest suburbs, yet they don't even mention the huge difference in crime rate compared to the inner city. Everybody that posts about how bad the 'burbs are seems to miss one of the MOST important characteristics that people look for when locating into a city: SAFETY.

Energy resources are but just a trivial aspect when considering the Southeast as a place to live. People want to feel safe wherever they live. If an area has a high crime or drug rate, NOBODY WILL WANT TO MOVE THERE, regardless on how expensive oil gets. I will pay $5 per gallon if I know that I won't be shot at or propositioned for drugs!!! :angry:

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And one of the continuing problems in urban America is that of vagrancy. This problem was created by an unholy alliance of cheap conservatives who did not want to pay to house the mentally ill and stupid, sentimental liberals who believe that people have the "right" to be living on the streets (i.e. to be "homeless"). The presence of filthy lunatics or addicts on our urban streets screaming at air and digging through trash cans and urinating in doorways turns off many suburbanites who might otherwise move into an urban environment. Women and people with small children in particular will avoid such chaos out of fear for their safety. The solution is these people should not be allowed to plague our downtowns any longer. The mentally ill should be institutionalized and the lazy who refuse to work should be removed from the streets by the police. This, incidentally, was the status quo until the liberal revolution of the 1960s. There is clearly some connection to the fact that this is when the cities also began to decline.

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You know what's amazing is that many people on this thread detest suburbs, yet they don't even mention the huge difference in crime rate compared to the inner city.

That doesn't always hold true anymore -- that trend is quickly reversing... As suburban areas continue to spread out, crime is spreading outward into the suburbs just as quickly.

Suburbia is actually becoming the preferred grounds where drug traffickers like to do business. Suburbanites are now among their biggest clients, and since they tend to be more affluent and develop more expensive habits, they are cash cows.

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That doesn't always hold true anymore -- that trend is quickly reversing... As suburban areas continue to spread out, crime is spreading outward into the suburbs just as quickly.

Suburbia is actually becoming the preferred grounds where drug traffickers like to do business. Suburbanites are now among their biggest clients, and since they tend to be more affluent and develop more expensive habits, they are cash cows.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Agreed, here in Raleigh where downtown revitalization efforts have continued for about eight years, downtown is actually the safest district in terms of crime. There has been a 66% reduction in total crime in the last four years...

However, the predilection of folks to perpetuate the perception that inner cities are plagued by crime and drugs continues...mainly by the same groups that seek the continuation of the suburban epidemic. Don't believe me? Go read the sales materials for a new development out in the 'burbs and see how long it takes to find a mention of "lower crime rates". Utter falsehoods and propoganda diseminated by the same folks profiting from cheap development.

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And one of the continuing problems in urban America is that of vagrancy.

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I did not mean to suggest it was the sole cause of suburbanization. There are many causes of that, in my opinion. In the South, these include: advent of the automobile, advent of highways, subsidization of suburbia by govt, bad zoning, integration, etc. As to the vagrancy issue though, they do cause people to avoid downtown. People do not want to see this kind of human debris. It is sad that people like this are living on the streets, and they should, for their own good as well as others, be removed from the streets. No sane person would prefer to live out of a stolen grocery cart underneath the overhang of a building. Just yesterday, three vacant historic houses burned in Jacksonville and I guarantee you the fire was started by a deranged homeless person (it has happened before). This is another example of their deletrious effects on urban life. And, as I said, both parties are guilty with regard to unleashing the "homeless" on America. I just think we need some sanity in our government as to this issue.

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As to the vagrancy issue though, they do cause people to avoid downtown.  People do not want to see this kind of human debris.  It is sad that people like this are living on the streets, and they should, for their own good as well as others, be removed from the streets.  No sane person would prefer to live out of a stolen grocery cart underneath the overhang of a building. 

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I would agree that the stigma of vagrancy in urban areas, I would say it reality it is more widespread than that. More and more panhadlers are moving to intersections further away from the center cities.

However, how do you just remove someone from the street and what do you do with them after they're removed. Most cities that I'm aware of are in tight budget situations. I just don't see an easy solution in the near future.

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On the flip side of the original argument- What if heating costs got so high that cities in the north such as Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago,New York, Boston, Cleveland are emptied? And all the people in these cities had to move south to keep from freezing. We can "what if" all day long.

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