Weekly Digest: The Semi-Elite City
Welcome to my weekly digest for August 12, 2022.
For new subscribers, this contains a roundup of my recent writings and podcasts, as well as links to the best articles from around the web this week. You can control what emails you get from me by visiting your account page.
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My next monthly longform newsletter will be out on Monday. It will be about the role of aesthetics in society.
Looming Decline for Chicago?
I got a huge amount of Twitter hate last week when I commented on an article by Matthew Yglesias, who argued that Chicago is facing a person of major decline. I was actually defending the city, but made the observation that it attracts mostly “B” talent compared to the “A” talent of the coastal superstar cities. A number of people took extreme umbrage at that. I followed up with another article on the city, this time in City Journal:
Urban planner Pete Saunders has become famous for observing that Chicago is “1/3 San Francisco, 2/3 Detroit.” Chicagoans like to point out that a large sub-city is in fact thriving. The authors of the Crain’s piece note that the “core” of Chicago is prospering and has a population of 1.37 million people, which would make it one of America’s largest cities on its own. But concentrated thriving areas are what one would expect to find in a declining market. As regions or states or nations go into decline, people and businesses pool into islands of success, as with Tokyo in Japan or Columbus in Ohio. Large parts of the city of Chicago, as well as increasing numbers of suburbs, are experiencing moderate to severe decline. Thus, we see concentrated success.
Can a city, metro area, or state be carried by one sub-district? Chicagoans bristle at Detroit comparisons, but remember that, even as the city of Detroit collapsed, Oakland County, at 1.26 million people (about the same size as core Chicago), prospered as one of America’s premier upscale business-oriented suburban counties. The success of Oakland County did not stop value destruction on a large scale in other parts of the region, nor did it mean that the Detroit region was somehow not in major decline. Chicago is by no means Detroit, but the same principle applies: the success of a sub-district can’t be used as evidence for the health of the whole.
Click through to read the whole thing.
I’m actually on balance positive about the city’s future, despite the terrible headlines. But the real problems, and risk of the Yglesias scenario, can’t be ignored.
For those who don’t know, I spent over a decade professionally studying and applying my insights to cities. So when I write about cities and the church, it’s a topic I know something about.
New Content and Media Mentions
Crain’s Chicago Business, the city’s business weekly, republished my Governing article on the city.
Alexander Sosler referenced my three worlds model in a new piece that uses The Giving Tree as a metaphor.
New this week:
David French’s Cancel Culture - My discussion of a Dispatch hit job on a very young conservative journalist. Their actions seems to be drawing a lot of condemnation in conservative circles.
At American Reformer, Scott Yenor writes about Christianity and the working class.
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The New Public Liturgy
This half hour First Things video essay with Carl Truman is very good.
Best of the Web
Lyman Stone: How to Face the Church’s Growing Fertility Crisis - more good stats from demographer Lyman Stone. We had a conversation on fertility on my podcast last year. Here’s an interesting chart of actual fertility in various religious groups (red) vs. the fertility level required to maintain their population size (blue). As you can see, many of them are in decline.
Crossway: When Marriage and Motherhood Become Idols - Here is a classic example of the modern evangelical church reconciling itself to post-familialism. It’s truly astonishing that in an age of falling family formation rates, rising median age of first marriage, declining fertility, etc. that marriage and family are said to be idols. Many churches have sold out their own members’ futures in order to avoid unpleasant conversations in the present.
Rob Henderson: Rich Friend, Poor Friend - Henderson writes about a new Raj Chetty study showing that having wealthier friends helps with social mobility. Henderson, who came from a lower class background and is now a Ph.D. student at Cambridge, pushes back on this. My experience is similar to Henderson’s. We tend to be most comfortable around people of similar backgrounds. It’s also hard to have a close friendship with someone a lot richer than you. Among other things, you won’t be able to participate in a lot of the activities they do because you can’t afford it.
Purdue University was recently ranked the 4th most trusted public university in the country. I write about institutional trust a lot. There are a lot of institutions that don’t deserve our trust, and whose trust levels I would like to see fall. But for those institutions and leaders who are trying to do the right thing and be competent, I wanted to support what they are doing. Purdue University Mitch Daniels has done a lot right to start reforming the American university, particularly in freezing tuition for a decade, and the results are showing up in the trust surveys. I wrote an article what he was doing there back in 2014.
NYT: Drop Box for Babies: Conservatives Promote a Way to Give Up Newborns Anonymously - It’s interesting to contrast some people’s view of baby boxes with their view of abortion. They approve of instant, no questions asked abortion, but allowing a mother to do the same thing when dropping off a baby at a designated safe space location is all of a sudden problematic.
The Prism: The Perils of Audience Capture - This is why I try to live by the old rule of thumb that every magazine should offend 20% of its audience with every issue, but it should be a different 20% each time. It’s good to lose readers from time to time, lest you become captured by people who can’t abide hearing something they don’t like.