Have May Town Developers Seen the New America?

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What happens in Charlotte isn't likely to stay in Charlotte
On his Nashville 21 blog, Sean Braisted points to a story in The New Republic about ‘the demographic inversion of the American city.” It basically reaffirms what urban planners have long known: That cities – at least more the congested ones – are increasingly becoming home to the moneyed, more professional crowd, pushing poorer residents to the suburban fringe. Though the story focuses on the likes of Chicago, Vancouver, and New York, the same trend is happening to a lesser extent everywhere, be it in Minneapolis, Charlotte or, dare we say… Nashville. The thesis: People – specifically younger professionals – are not as enthralled by the suburbs as the boomer generation was. They’re looking for the faster, weirder, more cultured life of the central city. As traffic, parking, and the related ills of commuting become more torturous, the professional class is moving back to the cities they once evacuated, gentrifying dilapidated neighborhoods and driving the poor schmucks who used to live there further away. In short: We’re becoming Paris. It’s only a matter of time before we start wearing funny hats and acting superior for no apparent reason. Braisted argues that the trend may eventually liberalize the politics of the South, an assertion we’re not quite following. But the more interesting take is how it relates to May Town Center. Here’s the May family making a $4 billion bet that Nashville’s flight to suburbs will remain unabated for years to come. Demographic shifts say otherwise. As The New Republic notes, “we are living at a moment in which the massive outward migration of the affluent that characterized the second half of the twentieth century is coming to an end.” Of course, Nashville doesn’t yet have those golden ingredients of traffic, expensive parking, and punishingly long commutes. But it does have that ubiquitous factor soon to push this trend to hyper-drive everywhere: Way Too Expensive Gas. It wouldn’t matter if the May family wanted to buck this logic by blowing their own money. The problem is that, no matter what they say now, the Mays will someday come hat in hand to for a very handsome welfare package due to the usual “unforeseen issues.” That’s just Developer 101. And that’s when their bad bet will have to be covered by our checkbook.

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