How and Why an Accelerating Urban Exodus Is Forever Transforming America’s Economic and Political Landscape

A Three Part Series:

  1. Tele-Work Affords Business and Family Access to Suburban and Rural Lifestyle Advantages
  2. Coronavirus Pandemic Turbocharges Information Technology Shift to Virtual Platforms
  3. Progressive Politics Hasten the Tragic Demise of Great American Cities

General Series Introduction:

A demographic business and residential shift away from many large metropolitan centers caused by a coronavirus-accelerated tele-work trend and growing crime and social disorder is reshaping America’s economic and political landscape.

As discussed in Larry’s 2018 pre-COVID-19 book Reinventing Ourselves: How Technology is Rapidly and Radically Transforming Humanity, this escalating business and cultural population exodus to surrounding or distant suburban and rural areas will inevitably extend and deepen preexisting regional ideological divides.

Many metropolitan centers were already losing large tax-paying headquarter companies and employees through a digital wave of workplace and workforce transitions away from traditional big office — big city — operating structures made possible by internet connectivity.

Survival necessities, in combination with newly realized remote-working employer and employee benefits, continue to cause more and more corporations to dramatically downsize central city offices, or relocate them altogether.

And it just got worse. A new pandemic of protests, riots, and lootings is certain to propel an accelerated flight of fright exodus of small businesses and affluent residents from turbulent social chaos that is tragically being allowed to rage out of control in many of our nation’s major urban centers.

As Americans we share a common history, common cultural and family values, common economic needs and self-fulfillment aspirations, and a common future. We celebrate our independence to speak and live freely, and we revere the enrichment and empowerment afforded by non-prejudicial diversity expressed and exercised through lifestyle preferences.

Our great nation is presently experiencing a disturbingly dangerous period of economic and social upheaval that threatens to shroud, discredit and to replace our cherished inherited constitutional independent freedoms with government-conscripted conformity.

John Steinbeck painted a grim picture of accelerating outcomes of this disruptive and destructive trend in his 1960 book Travels with Charley: In Search of America. He writes:

“When a city begins to grow and spread outward from its edges, the center which was once its glory…goes into a period of desolation inhabited at night by the vague ruins of men. The lotus eaters who struggle daily toward unconsciousness by the way of raw alcohol.

Nearly every city I know has such a dying mother of violence and despair where at night the brightness of the street lamps is sucked away and policemen walk in pairs.”

More optimistically, Steinbeck adds:

“And then one day perhaps the city returns and rips out the sore and builds a monument to its past.”

The challenge at hand is for human society to now determine what cultural and economic monuments to achievements and failures will ultimately represent America’s future.

Tele-Work Affords Business and Family Access to Suburban and Rural Lifestyle Advantages

A 2017 Washington Post Family Foundation opinion poll revealed substantial lifestyle priority and political differences between Americans living in rural settings versus metropolitan centers. A key finding was that this conservative versus liberal divide is more cultural than economic in nature, and these convictions were held most strongly in rural communities.

The survey of nearly 1,700 Americans – including more than 1,000 adults living in rural areas and small towns – found a stark sense of estrangement from people who live in urban areas. Nearly 7 in 10 said their values were “very different.”

Rural Americans were also broadly skeptical about benefits and influences of big government in their communities and lives. More than 60 percent said that federal efforts to improve living standards either make things worse, or have little impact.

The survey responses, along with follow-up interviews and focus groups the pollsters conducted in rural Ohio, brought into view a portrait of a split that is tied more directly to social identity than to economic experience.

A vast majority of rural Americans judged their communities favorably as places where people look out for each other, which was cited as a point of pride and distinction they say they can’t find in city centers.

At the risk of overly-broad generalization, it’s popularly accepted that cities, suburbs and rural communities all offer different living experiences which various people prefer.

Large metropolitan center dwellers typically prioritize ready access to diverse business, entertainment and museum/theater culture higher than those who opt for rural living.

Whereas many young and older people everywhere will be content with life in small studio apartments with a roommate or as single-person lifestyles, families more typically prefer a home with a reasonable amount of outdoor space for kids and pets.

Smaller cities and suburban locales typically offer much cheaper rental prices, property costs and real estate taxes. Both are regarded as good and safe places to raise children surrounded by other families with shared community priorities. Prized attractions include close access to neighborhood businesses, convenience shopping and community services, and high-standard schools.

Rural lifestyles are in many ways opposite of urban. There’s still a lot to do, but at a slower, more relaxed pace with a less distracted and simpler lifestyle. As with suburban living, a less transient “small town” environment promotes closer long-term ties to friends and neighbors, active interest and engagement in community affairs, and activities structured and centered upon children and extended families.

Rural living also expands yard space, affords more privacy, and extends more immediate access to the natural landscape, family and individual outdoor recreational activities.

Urban employers benefit from tele-work too. Suburban and rural areas will increasingly provide abundant, moderate cost, human labor resources for businesses and institutions that prioritize interactive personal attention, such as, for example, health care services enabled by an AI-driven medical technology revolution.

Decentralization, together with increased use of Internet-wired-together outsourcing of expertise, enables metropolitan-based companies to cut back on costly real estate holdings and escalating tax assessments mandated to offset eternally-expanding municipal deficits.

Tele-employment also enables professional business organizations, ranging from larger corporations to small start-ups, to recruit and retain the best people no matter where they live; and to buy a unit of service and labor at lower salary and overhead prices.

Low costs and high networking capabilities afforded by IT and AI also enable small businesses and start-ups, along with larger community-based enterprises and institutions, to serve ever-broadening markets that large strategically-located corporations previously monopolized.

Such decentralized, remote-work benefits should not be interpreted to suggest that cities will be abandoned altogether. Dynamic and diverse urban lifestyles will always be much preferred by a great many, and will be vital or useful to countless others.

Numerous varieties of metropolitan attractions will continue to thrive. Examples include specialty shopping, museum and theater districts – along with public federal, state and local government centers, large research and treatment hospitals, major sports and entertainment arenas, and global commerce and conferences requiring proximity to major airports.

Other sectors will likely fare far less fortunately. Growing losses of traditional office business populations will hurt urban center service industries such as food and beverage establishments, janitorial and maintenance workers, and commercial security providers.

An unhappy consequence is that as young families and well-off retirees leave, major cities will become increasingly more divided between upscale progressive singles who are able to afford the political incompetence and residents of inner-city neighborhoods that will fall further behind.

Wall Street Journal writer Daniel Henninger characterized a familiar story line of recent years that originally gave rise to great economic and political power of urban centers such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington as young, politically progressive workers in the knowledge and service industries poured in.

This insurgence of influence increased existing tension and division between urban sophisticates on the forward edge of everything and the stodgy suburbs and conservative rural communities.

Sadly, there is no clear way to reverse transformative demographic trends that are dramatically and irreversibly changing the economic, social and political landscapes of great American cities. While not total solutions, protections from crime and disorder which are discussed in the next two parts of this series are fundamental prerequisites for all good outcomes.