Complaints about urban biking and new bike lanes might be less about biking and more about what younger Americans don’t want: the sprawling suburbs.
All this sounds like a nightmare scenario if you live in the suburbs. Gas prices rise and housing prices fall, eating into liquid capital and equity. Families with the ability to move return back to the city, depressing housing prices even further. Declining property tax revenues and a fleeing upper-middle-class undermine previously excellent schools. At best, suburbanites take a huge hit on depreciating houses; at worst, they’re stranded in decaying neighborhoods, cut off by isolating new infrastructure…That’s where I see an undercurrent of Millennial resentment (we’ll spot Kass a decade or so on “grunge;” when you’re out across the county line, the news travels slower). The boomers escaped cities in decline, investing sweat equity earned in office parks into a house and two cars, the gas taxes they paid into epic interchanges, and their high property taxes into excellent schools.
And the little bastards who went to those excellent schools don’t want that inheritance. They want to ride their car shares from their rented apartments to mass transit, making the last-mile commute on shared bikes (they don’t even own bikes!) to virtual startups in work-share spaces.
From the perspective of postwar America, it looks like a whole lot of nothing, an unsettled and rootless future. Where they’re going, they don’t need… roads…
But it’s the future we’re being promised by a lot of people in position to make it happen, who threaten to reverse—to invert—what their parents spent a lifetime building. It’s scary, and not just on a merely economic level. And the people out there who are so angry about it aren’t just trying to outrun a few three-speed, step-through shared bikes; they’re trying to outrun the future, and you’re in the way.
Moser is arguing the bike lanes are just a sign of bigger trends at work, as suggested in books like The Great Inversion and The End of the Suburbs. This is really about a changed way of life, a different way of thinking about the American Dream, trading suburban spaces for new iPhones and exciting urban experiences the creative class desires. I think Moser is right to be skeptical; these changes will take time as well as a lot of collective action. At the same time, there is a lot of conversation about denser suburbs and returning to cities. Of course, this doesn’t mean such moves solve all the problems; there are still plenty of poor urban neighborhoods and suburbs that are left behind in the movement of what might be largely middle- to upper-class residents who can afford these changes.
How much irony is there here that the suburbs might have actually provided the “unsettled and rootless future” that younger Americans may now not want? Think about classic suburban critiques like American Beauty or the Arcade Fire album The Suburbs. The suburbs were viewed by many as the places to escape the problems of the city – everything from corrupt morality, dirtiness (factories, pollution, horses in the street everywhere, etc.), new populations – and yet the suburbs clearly have their own problems.
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