Monday, December 06, 2010

Affluenza?

The Growler has been preoccupied with other activities lately, but just can't let some recent news pass without calling it to readers' attention.

A few weeks ago Dr. Stephen Fuller of George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis presented an astounding recommendation to City leaders at a gathering hosted by the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, ACT for Alexandria and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership.

Dr. Fuller advised Alexandria's leaders that to grow economically the City needs to build more housing for middle- and upper-income residents. The Alexandria Gazette reported that Dr. Fuller believes building such higher-end housing would boost housing and retail markets while creating a labor pool that will be available to fill jobs that will be created after the recession ends.

The Growler can't imagine a prescription for success that is further from the predilections of our local politicians. Affordable housing and public housing are such sacred cows in Alexandria that Dr. Fuller's words may very well have sent a ripple of quiet indignation through his listeners.

But curiously, at about the same time the Washington Post ran an article on suburban poverty that cited Scott W. Allard, a University of Chicago professor and author of a recent Brookings Institution study on suburban poverty. Dr. Allard has apparently found that more poor people now live in the Washington suburbs than in the District.

What appears to be happening is a broad and massive reversal of sociological and economic trends at work since the 1950s. Instead of being a phenomenon of blighted and abandoned inner cities, poverty is now being pushed to the outer edges of metropolitan areas while historic downtown areas and older inner suburbs are enjoying a renaissance and attracting new waves of affluent residents.

With such factors at work, the Growler muses aloud and wonders if Alexandria is politically and historically afraid of becoming too affluent and too successful. Are our leaders still deluded that this is the region's oldest and most prestigious city and are therefore bent on maintaining a microcosm of all classes (lower, middle, and upper) with a diversified industrial and retail economy, instead of letting the place lapse into its real identity as a bedroom suburb nearly indistinguishable from Arlington and Fairfax County?