Is this really a ‘great inversion’ or is this just gentrification? Or is it urban revitalization? And what are the differences between these three ideas? This is something that I feel Ehrenhalt could have addressed more. I wish he also had gone into more of the planning of these metropolitan areas, rather than just the demographic shifts. One of the more interesting points he made was how Houston’s lack of zoning makes it able to respond more quickly to demands caused by the “great inversion”. He also failed to have any mention really of the participatory planning and intercultural understanding (or lack there of) in his example cities. Ehrenhalt did make a convincing connection between growing suburban immigration and community development. However, he did not talk very much about what sort of planning and policy interventions these populations were supporting or opposing.
I also wished Ehrenhalt had gone into more detail on the connection between different types of transportation and urban revitalization. One of the unintentional consequences of transportation systems is the huge impact it can have on the demographics of the metropolitan area it serves. For example, after the interstate system was created it greatly contributed to both congestion and “white flight” to the suburbs. Public transportation, especially subways, is a main economic driver in the Boston metropolitan region. Saying “no” to more highways in the 60s and 70s likely saved many local economies.
One can see some of the effects of this demographic inversion happening in Boston and its inner suburbs. There are close similarities between Boston’s gentrified South End and Sheffield (Chicago). Both were once run-down, and now it is all but impossible to find affordable low- to middle-class housing in these neighborhoods. The story of Cleveland Heights in the middle of this demographic inversion reminds me of Somerville. Like Cleveland Heights, Somerville has a diverse range of ethnicities and income levels. It has both high end and low end jobs. It’s quirky and supports a thriving artist scene. It also has a struggling public school system, with middle and upper-income residents preferring to send their children to private schools. The incoming green line, and commercial corridor revitalization will likely only increase housing values further. This is both good and bad, of course. In all likelihood, it will loose some of its diversity as residents who can’t afford the higher property tax will leave and others can no longer afford to move in.