Jason's Reviews > The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050

The Next Hundred Million by Joel Kotkin
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's review
Mar 06, 2010

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Read from March 04 to 08, 2010

If you think the following 2 statements are correct, then read to the end.

1. Did you have a stinking suspicion that the demographic of 'Sex in the City' was way off the mark, and as a result, couldn't determine exactly what was wrong, but whatever it was, it was egregious and you didn't like the show?
2. Did you grow up in suburbia, and despite the flak thrown by urban planners, environmentalists, economists, architects, and politicians about the rapaciousness of sprawl, you really liked where you grew up and see it as a viable location for retirement?

The Next Hundred Million is a futurist's prediction of what America's populated areas may look like in the year 2050 as our population reaches 400 million. Joel Kotkin extrapolates his discussion based on urban and suburban demographic trends. This is not a clarion call to action. However, it is part of a vanguard of voices, just beginning to be heard, that take the opposite view of urban sprawl made popular over the last 30 years--views that declare suburbia is ugly, unsustainable, environmentally unfriendly, culturally isolating, and the future ghettos of America. This vanguard believes that suburban areas, on the contrary, are great multi-ethnic sponges, linked together like an archipelago, that will serve as teeming, vibrant, and multi-class repositories of inevitable population growth.

I was a Malthusian before I knew what that meant. I still think geometric population growth--along with poor politics--is the seed of many of the problems today (poverty, famine, pestilence). Kotkin hasn't changed my mind about that. However, his book is a good counterbalance to the Thomas Friedmans of the world who see nothing but pernicious trends befalling America and causing her downfall in the next 40 years, especially against burgeoning countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China (the BRIC countries). Kotkin, and a growing number of scientists, are declaring that the next 40 years will be the strongest ever for America, her politics, her people, her economics. Suburbia, that resevoir of the metropolitan diaspora, has been blamed--rightfully so--for many things related to sprawl, increased energy consumption, traffic, stress, depression, the break-up of the nuclear family, and the whole rainbow of social problems. But in the future, Kotkin declares, suburbia is the only reasonable place for the next 100 million to thrive.

Kotkin's writing is the collation of hundreds of references. Published in Jan 2010, he uses facts and statistics as recent as late 2009, so the book is a current snapshot of the US. You can disagree with some of his extrapolations, but you can't argue that he didn't use sources. Here's a breakout of references per chapter, title, and the chapter length:
Ch 1 400 Million Americans 30 pg, 78 references
Ch 2 The Cities of Aspiration 38 pg, 109 references
Ch 3 The Archipelago of Villages 36 pg, 125 references
Ch 4 The Resurgent Heartland 34 pg, 98 references
Ch 5 Post-Ethnic America 32 pg, 118 references
Ch 6 The 21st Century Community 38 pg, 115 references
Ch 7 America in 2050 36 pg, 122 references
That's almost 800 references, some current, some historical, but a damn good cross section of demographic data. As America has always overcome its problems, has always defeated its threats, has always outlasted its downturns, and has always reinvented itself, I am beginning to believe that Kotkin is right about America over the next 40 years. I'm starting to disbelieve the soothsayers who claim the sky is falling over America.

Population bomb, global warming, AIDS, terrorism, the Cold War, global recession, H1N1--each bad, but never as bad as initially predicted by those trying to influence public policy. America has a unique and consistent way of finding solutions and growing stronger as a result. The rust belt will likely recover, racial issues will become less prominent with each successive generation, Mexican immigration will never threaten the culture of being American, global warming will not raise the sea level by 3 feet in 2080. The older I get, the more I realize I should take a middling position on controversial issues. My college revolutionary days are long behind.

***Spoiler Alert***Here's what I learned:
- Large inner cities are growing much more slowly than their suburbs, some even with negative growth
- The percentage of money spent on family real estate is magnitudes of order greater in non-metro areas than downtown
- Population in cities like NY, Chicago, LA, Philly may have peaked
- America is undergoing a 'de-clustering' of economic power, from traditional locations to the suburbs
- The Heartland is the new 'brain belt;' locations that attract post-education specialists, close to large universities, low real estate prices, good uncrowded schools, availability of reliable bandwidth, access to open spaces
- Immigrants--not especially whites--make up a growing percentage of suburbia, and by 2050 will be the dominant suburban dwellers
- 'On-shoring' is growing rapidly in the Heartland; US companies are reacting to growing resentment of English speakers calling help lines overseas
- With the power of telecommunications, tech companies can better recruit to the Heartland
- Boise real estate is 1/4 the cost of San Francisco
- America, better than any other country, absorbs ethnicity into its mainstream, rather than alienating it; we have no exclusionary ghettos like France, Germany, Britain
- The recession beginning in 2007 will cause momentary blips of demographic regression, but the pre-Bust trends will reassert themselves
- It's harder to define 'turf' in suburbia; there is a growing ethnic mix; there is less balkanization than you find in the inner city
- Late 1990s, the % of people over 5 who didn't speak English was 1/4 of a century earlier; in other words, more people speak English in America, by percentage, than at any other time in our past, and this trend will increase, not decrease, as the 3rd and 4th immigrant generations age
- Bi-lingualism is hard to maintain because English is so highly regarded economically
- 2000-2007, the number of people declaring themselves of mixed race heritage jumped 33%
- 1970s, 1 in 5 Americans moved annually; 2008, barely 1 in 10 moved annually; the lowest since 1950s
- Single 30-something white women with a college degree have a 75% chance of marrying
- Families are thriving (made more so by recent economic necessity); young adults staying with parents longer; extended families are returning to the nuclear family
- Overemphasis in media and academia about the demerits of suburban living: planners, architects, industrialists, scientists, environmentalists
- Prevailing intellectual narrative in last 40 years has suggested America's eventual decline; however, America, in contrast to other countries, has never been stronger and will probably continue to confound the nay-sayers

Kotkin is not all positive about the future. He does illustrate some of the problems in America: moving away from a manufacturing and technology base toward more and more service economy is unsustainable with another 100 million on our land; dependence on foreign oil; climate change; green building; needful improvements for infrastructure, over reliance on financial services, etc. However, the book is geared mainly to champion America's ability to always overcome social, cultural and financial problems.

So, back to the 2 questions at the outset. One, 'Sex and the City' is so demographically improbable that I intuitively withdrew from the premise. 4 attractive, urban, white, educated women in their mid- to late-30s with no marriage potential, season after crappy season. Two, suburbia is here to stay, and, defying the postulates of the last 30 years, will most likely be the most sought after area to raise a family.

3 stars only. Kotkin has written several books of this subject matter, and The Next Hundred Million is nothing more than a smoothed presentation of a lot of data. I think he's also trying to get ahead of the 2010 census, which normally provides ample material for books about demographic trends and interested citizens that find this topic especially interesting about every 10 years.

New word: caudillo
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! I don't read about this subject but I do think about it constantly because of my profession. I've flip-flopped on the urbs v. suburbs over the years...I know how I would like things to go, for practical reasons, and realize I don't see the whole picture. "Home" is such an emotionally charged idea that seems to get passed down through families and media (one of your points, the overemphasis of), practicality is unlikely to triumph.

Sorry for the stitched response. I enjoyed the spoiler list of facts.

Jason Eh,

A lot of points made in this book are 'no-duh!' facts you discern simply by being a citizen and paying attention to current events. I found it refreshing, however, to find an academic proponent that likes suburban sprawl. Obviously he doesn't like the traffic, the poor zoning, the poor real estate development, urban planning, etc (none of us do), BUT sprawl is not a temporary phenomenon that will be replaced by futuristic building in the vertical plane. America has land space, the love of the family car, and the desire to live in the horizontal plane. Therefore, we will continue to spread out into suburbia. And, because Chicago, LA, NY are so big already, future suburbs will explode around Charlotte, NC; Austin, TX; Provo, UT; Bismark, ND; Bend, OR; Omaha, NE; etc.

This is a really fast read, and extremely current.

message 3: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! I view suburbia as becoming metropolitan once the sprawl reaches a certain density and ease of connection through roads and transit.

message 4: by Jen (new)

Jen Is it okay that I still read to the end but couldn't answer the questions as correct? It's just the way I was hardwired- all wonky.

Jason Eh!, sprawl, by it's very nature, will never become as densely populated as a metropolitan area. We all like our 0.26 acres and white picket fences too much. Suburbia is also strictly zoned by height. And, America has plenty of land to move out and away from metropolitan areas. As a result of all this, suburbia will always be limited to a certain population density. Metro areas can only grow vertically; suburbs can only grow horizontally.

Jen, no worries, I never liked 'Sex in the City' but I thought it would be a good attention-grabber to start a review.

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