Many U.S. cities are starting to look more “European,” in that the affluent residents are moving toward the city centers, while the less affluent are moving more toward the areas they can best afford: the outskirts. The New Republic’s Alan Ehrenhalt describes this phenomenon in an article entitled “Trading Places“:
In the past three decades, Chicago has undergone changes that are routinely described as gentrification, but are in fact more complicated and more profound than the process that term suggests. A better description would be “demographic inversion.” Chicago is gradually coming to resemble a traditional European city–Vienna or Paris in the nineteenth century, or, for that matter, Paris today. The poor and the newcomers are living on the outskirts. The people who live near the center–some of them black or Hispanic but most of them white–are those who can afford to do so.
Developments like this rarely occur in one city at a time, and indeed demographic inversion is taking place, albeit more slowly than in Chicago, in metropolitan areas throughout the country. The national press has paid very little attention to it.
The cause of this movement is not simple. For example, Ehrenhalt explains that in Atlanta, this shifting of demographics is not occurring because “the white middle class is moving inside the city borders, but more so because blacks are moving out. Ehrenhalt also explains that “race is not always the critical issue, or even especially relevant” to this phenomenon.
In sum, Ehrenhalt argues that “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.” This shifting of the less well-to-do doesn’t bode well for those who end up living in the outskirts, where they might end up stranded due to the inexorable rise in the price of energy. I previously cited to an extensive article in The Atlantic entitled, “The Next Slum,” which examined some of these trends.