Over at Snarkmarket they've got a post on changing demographics in the 21st century, referencing a Foreign Policy article on "The Return of Patriarchy" I shot to LPS a while back, prompted by a New York Times Op-Ed on gender imbalances in college applications that had been flagged earlier. So, like cities last year, demographics and population seem to be the thing everyone in our little virtual salon is thinking about at the moment.
But wait! They're totally related! Here's my original comment on Robin's Snarkmarket post:
To modernize it a bit, "the creative class" inevitably gets outdone by "the procreative class": new urbanites are no match for the procreative power of exurban conservatives or the immigrant and indigent urban populations they seem to be displacing.
That Foreign Policy article on patriarchy reminds me of an even more awesome article by Ian Frazier that appeared last year in The New Yorker, about Genghis Khan.
The gist of both of them seems to be this: cities and advanced civilizations, with their culture, commerce, safety, and pluralism are wonderful things. But sooner or later, the barbarians will come to the gate, and with their axes, horses, draft animals, will either burn your cities to the ground or force you to open your gates, and two centuries from now, all of your children will look like them and speak their language.
When I was in high school, I had a formula for this (it was actually about European languages): "Sooner or later, everyone gets fucked by a Viking."
To some degree, this is really Joel Kotkin's argument against Richard Florida in a nutshell. Kotkin wants cities to stop trying flashy gimmicks to draw in the childless older, gay, and young professional populations, and invest in infrastructure, schools, and the other things that will keep and attract families. We've also been down this road with the cities-schools thread that bounced back and forth on Short Schrift and Snarkmarket last year.
Now I've argued with Kotkin before, and I still think this demographic sword cuts both ways. An aging and childless population, however wealthy, is a terrifying prospect for nations, because it requires huge expenditures in health care, pensions, etc., without a corresponding increase in revenues. For cities and local governments, though, it's a different story, because their revenues and expenditures are balanced in almost entirely the opposite direction. Having a population of the old, gay, and childless is guaranteed property tax revenue without a corresponding expenditure on schools, transit (to some extent), etc.
So we have a demographic contradiction -- cities have strong incentives to get rid of kids, while nations have strong incentives to encourage children and childrearing. (School districts are different -- they want school-age children, or more to the point, they want the money associated with children. But the governments of cities and counties don't, at least, not really.)
Maybe this is an aspect we need to bring to the forefront in our discussions of cities and communities, as it's already been brought to the forefront in most discussions of health care. The policies we make now really have to address the question of what kind of population we want to have, the unintended consequences of well-intended changes, and the unimaginable: how to correct the mistakes of the present without repeating the sins of the past.