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Futurist Friday: The Great Inversion

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

Here’s a good medium-length read on the rise of the city (one of our feature topics in TrendsWatch 2013): an article by Edward Luce in the Chicago Tribune on The Future of the American City, documenting the revitalization of the urban core “as the suburbs become the new home of the poor.” [~4,000 words]

It includes a great counterpoint to the prevalent “Detroit is dying” narrative, documenting how downtown Detroit is attracting new employers and new residents, particularly the young, creative class. (And Luce gives a shout out to the DIA as one of “America’s finest…institutes of art,” helping make the city an attractive place to work and live.)
Some of the forces Luce describes as driving re-urbanization are:
  • Gen Xers, to whom the suburbs they grew up in represent a “poverty of living”
  • Baby Boomers growing bored of the suburbs, too
  • The increasing proportion families without children
  • The rise of independent charter schools which give families the option of staying in the city wen their children reach school age
  • The rising importance of “Place-based” shopping as online retail erodes the primacy of the mall
  • Growing urban investment in mass transit, with coincides with Millennial aversion to car ownership
  • A growing cadre of activists who bypass dysfunctional local government to work directly with the private sector on community revitalization

The story also paints a grim picture of the growing divide (Luce characterizes it as a moat) between booming downtowns and impoverished city neighborhoods, and of rising poverty in the suburbs, where hardship is often easier to ignore, and harder to address.
Some questions that occurred to me (you can contribute others in the comments section, below):
  • How can museums join the ranks of “social entrepreneurs” actively contributing to urban rebirth?
  • How can museums help bridge the moat within the city between neighborhoods with attractive cultural amenities, and those without?
  • How can museums find, and serve, the suburban poor, who face even greater barriers (transportation, cost) to accessing cultural resources than their urban counterparts?
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