Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Replay: The Rupture

Then the LORD said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers….your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell…you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure. I, the LORD, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end. – Numbers 14:20-23, 34-35 ESV

There are any number of generational archetypes out there. The notion of a heroic “elder days” for example. But among the most enduring and one of continued relevance to us every day is the notion of the “generation gap,”, the idea that between one generation and the next there can sometimes seem to be an unbridgeable gulf.

This is of course best known in the generation gap between the baby boomers and their parents. Though I’m Gen-X, it is easy to see that there’s something very real to this. I can talk and relate easily to baby boomers, even though many of them are pushing retirement age like my parents. It’s not that we share the same experiences or world view on everything, but we can sit down and engage with each other as adults and friends. But when I talk to people even a few years older, I always notice that it’s like talking to someone in code. There’s just some unbridgeable gap or barrier that exists. The difference between talking to my parents’ generation and my grandparents’ is profound. I suspect it is often easier for a 65 year old baby boomer to have a dinner time conversation with a 25 year old Millennial than with someone 75 or 80.

I think part of this is due to the major rupture to their existence that the pre-baby boomers experienced. Those previous generations experienced the Great Depression and/or World War II. Those had to have left an indelible mark on them that is in some way missing from subsequent generations, something that rendered their life experience too alien to be fully understood, and in turn rendered them incapable of understanding.

This is the pattern we see repeated. There’s some sort of involuntary rupture that hits a generation, and they are simply unable to transcend it, nor anyone else to fully comprehend it. It’s no surprise to me that the Israelites who fled Egypt never got to enter the Promised Land. The rupture of leaving the only life they’d ever known behind simply rendered them incapable of fully enjoying what was beyond that, no matter how many miracles they witnessed. Similarly, one could argue that we’ve yet to overcome the multi-generational rupture resulting from the great ill of slavery.

I’ve been thinking about this in terms of the generation gap in how the urban cores of our cities are perceived. When I talk to people in various Rust Belt cities about how they perceive their urban cores, there’s a clear generation gap in evidence. As a Gen-Xer, I am close to the fulcrum of this, so I see it clearly.

Gen-X and the Millennials have a much more optimistic and positive views of urban areas than baby boomers and previous generations. I think this results from the rupture that those earlier generations experienced when our urban cores declined. If you read a newspaper interview of someone in that age bracket, you always here the stories about the wonderful things they did in the city when they were younger. It was the land of good factory jobs, the downtown department store where their mothers took them in white gloves for tea, of the tidy neighborhoods, the long standing institutions and rituals – now all lost, virtually all of it. Unsurprisingly, this has turned a lot of people bitter. Many people saw everything they held dear in their communities destroyed, and they were powerless to stop it. These people are never going to be able to enter the Promised Land.

For people about my age or younger, it’s a very different story. None of us knew any of those things. Our experience is totally different. We’ve basically never known a city that wasn’t lost. Gen-X, which Jim Russell views as the heartland of Rust Belt Chic, is a generation defined by alienation, so the alienated urban core suits our temperament perfectly. The Millennials of course have a very different attitude towards cities.

I don’t see any signs of the older generations getting through the grieving process and moving on. This makes me think that for us to fully embrace a true urban policy, even in city government itself, it is going to take generational turnover. The baby boomers are already starting to age, but they’ll be with us a lot longer. Alas, they have historically been the most suburban generation, and not shy about imposing their values, so I suspect we’ll be dealing with that legacy for a while. Still, as time goes on, we’ll have more and more people seeing the city with fresh eyes, and only knowing it when there’s reason for hope and optimism. That by itself will be a building force for change and new directions over time, until the true changing of the guard arrives.

This post originally ran on May 6, 2011.

Topics: Urban Culture

22 Responses to “Replay: The Rupture”

  1. Matthew Hall says:

    So true. Cincinnati has been much more politically functional since the last of the old white working class left Cincinnati in the last decade for various distant exurbs. They cost more in services than they paid in tax and hated everything about the new residents with a passion. They had to go. Now they stand on the outside and lob every insult they can think of at Cincinnati, but the new coalition of professional class, bohemians, and the younger generation is moving on nicely now that the old working class are out of the way. The more successful Cincinnati is the more burning their hatred becomes. It just reinterates that they had to leave. They were absolutely committed to stopping any such change with all they had.

  2. John V. says:


    I definitely agree with your observation about the the change in generational differences that enable boomers and Gen-Xers to communicate with a respect, pleasure and productivity that many of us boomers never had with our own parents (my conversations with you over the years being a prime example). Footnote: From the grousing I hear from a lot of my Gen-X friends, however, I’m not so sure Gen-X’rs and Millenials necessarily communicate as well with each other.

    But I feel you are over-generalizing about boomers’ views about the city. I dimly remember an entire literature in the 60s and 70s bemoaning the sterility of the suburbs, and my own expeditions, before I had a driver’s license, on the el from Oak Park to downtown Chicago in high school, exploring in a widening radius to Rush Street, Loyola Beach, Old Town, etc. And once I got my license, it was Katie-Bar-the-Door. THE hot date was to bring a girl to “A Man and Woman,” at the long-defunct theater on Chicago east of Michigan Ave., and then a coke (no IDs!) at Charmet’s. This was before Water Tower Place was built. And all the foreign movies at the Playboy theater. And … and … and … Then, later, listening to folk music at the Earl, with jazz and blues up and down the street. Parking somewhere near Wrightwood and Lincoln in the early 70s to hear ths Seigal/Schwall Blues Band, hoping your car was there when you left, high as a kite, in the wee hours. Then, blissfully moving to DePaul as soon as I – and everyone I knew – could, with gang members sitting on the stoop of your three-flat, which had just been purchased by a couple five years older than we were: 18 layers of paint on the walls, ancient kitchens, Laundromat five blocks away, and no one owning a car.

    I remember thousands and thousands of us. It felt like the city was populated with post-college boomers all doing the same thing. To say nothing of all the kids who had actually grown up in the City, and spent significant portions of their lives at the Riverview amusement park, family outings to city beaches and parks, riding the el to pick up the girls they dated, going to Catholic city high schools, then to DePaul or Loyola. We supported – and opened – antique stores, restaurants, galleries, bars. We had picnics at Grant Park and biked the lakefront. We rehabbed all the neighborhoods which now – sadly – no one can afford, we or the Gen-X’rs.

    This was not just Chicago. I saw the same thing when I visited friends in New York, Baltimore, Phillie, SF, Boston. We LOVED the city, and believed in it.

    Did a lot of boomers never venture into the city? Absolutely. Did a lot of urban-pioneering boomers ultimately leave the city and return to the suburbs to raise kids? You bet. But a lot of us stayed. Tens of hundreds of thousands of us. And we’re still here.

    Maybe every generation has to believe it’s discovered the City, just like it needs to believe it invented sex. If so, maybe I should let the X’rs have their day in peace. But statistically, I hate to break it to you: You are living proof your parents had sex, at least once (as did mine — ugh). And, in the same vein, the cities the Gen X’rs are inheriting: uh, somebody had to be there first to build them.

    I hope this doesn’t read like a grumpy old guy saying “Back in my day …” I’m just offering this as a corrective to what reads like an over-generalization in your post about the generational difference. Just a wild-assed hunch, but I’ll bet if you break down the statistics on Gen-X’ers and Boomers you’d find roughly the same proportion of Gen’X’ers and boomers who are tied to the burbs by choice or necessity.

    The boomers and gen x’rs can work together on improving cities, as they are on other matters. And the best way to do that is to share what we all love about cities, not cultivating a competition about who loves cities more. I, for one, love your blog and constantly learn from your readers, a lot of whom are of your generation. I obviously share your passion for cities, and welcome and embrace a lot of the Gene X’rs ideas and commitment to make cities as good as they can be (even when they are sometimes rediscovering the wheel). The lack of any coherent, meaningful federal urban policy today – it’s shameful. We were doing better in the 70s and 80s. The Gen X’rs are showing up on the scene just in time. I only wish you could share what we had – a city that was a lot more affordable (albeit more dangerous, dirtier and with fewer amenities). Let’s all work together on this, boomers, Gen x’rs and Millenials. Lord knows, we need all the help we can get. Don’t write off you boomer allies, esp as they are getting ready to retire (some of them anyway). We can offer a lot of passion, time and experience to the cause, and some of us will even be willing work for free.

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, John. And yes, I stole that observation about the generation gap from you :)

  4. Patrick says:

    Your statement about the generation gap may be a generalization, but it’s one that aligns with what I’ve seen and experienced. And I think it’s especially noticeable in our second-tier (in terms of size) cities. I’ve seen the divide in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Milwaukee.

    I’m originally from the Pittsburgh area and have an older sibling in her early fifties. As a lifelong suburban resident, she only goes to the city a few times a year – usually at times like the Fourth of July or at holidays, when it seems like EVERYONE IN THE ENTIRE REGION is there at the same time. All she ever sees is crowds, traffic and chaos, and she’s never looked any deeper at what happens in the city. Her young adult years coincided with the total collapse of the steel industry and the beginnings of the implosion of the city, so I think that also shaped her opinions.

    As a Gen X’er I feel like we were the canaries in the coal mine in terms of being the first to venture back in after white flight and the explosion of suburban sprawl. I lived in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh in the late 1990s and early 2000s in a loft space that was $200 a month amid broken glass and empty lots. We saw the promise in the midst of the broken glass. That same neighborhood now is an amazing success story for Pittsburgh and has a vibrant economy, shopping district and arts community.

    Seems like we continue to see changes based on cause and effect. We know it was a combination of government policies (highways, mortgages, etc.) as well as the subtext of racism and segregation that drove the explosion of suburbanization. Clearly there are a number of factors driving people to city living again.

    There are many factors, but I’d argue that for younger residents, student loan debt and the recession has played a part. In Pittsburgh, it’s a matter of practicality. Mass transit was always limited in that city and has (aside from the wasteful half mile extension to the stadiums) shrunk even more in the last few years. There’s a growing base of people in Pittsburgh who aren’t driving and are living within biking or walking distance. (A sign of this evolution is that Pittsburgh is having a growing conflict between motorists and bikers.)

  5. Rod Stevens says:


    As a Baby Boomer, your comments about my mother and her generation, the Depression Babies, rang true. She never gave up on the city, since she lived in a nice quasi-suburban area only ten minutes from downtown, but her view of its decline was definitely shaped by her childhood and her memory of the downtown institutions.

    Born in 1923, she lived a mile or two from the core of downtown. All of her aunts and uncles and grandparents lived within walking distance on sidewalks memorialized in Beverly Cleary’s children’s books. Her great grandfather’s business was just a mile a way. She went to the local stock market with her grandfather, then to tea at the grand hotel or the grand department store with her mother. This was just the world of institutions but of society itself. To eat, walk or work in the city was to define one’s status and participate in its life. There was physical proximity that brought both social encounter and social awareness. When these institutions broke down or move outward, so did the social ties.

    I came of age right on the cusp. The big deal was Portland Mayor Neil Goldsmidt doing a deal to keep the department store downtown, with a satellite collection of parking garages. Next up was a collection of Hippie shops in the old town. That was the early to mid 1970s, and it would take another ten to 20 years for these efforts to bear more fruit. But that’s the way cities and urban development are. People think these things happen quickly, but their pace of change is really measured in decades, not years.

  6. George Mattei says:


    I think that the differing views that generations have on cities could also go hand in hand with the differing views they have on social structure and the “good life”. I have heard Boomers say that the Mary Tyler Moore show was their Seinfeld or Friends-a hip show that defined the lifestyle to which the current generation aspired. Moore lived in a well-appointed new suburban home, which many envied. Plus, while many Boomers supported Civil Rights, it was seen as helping a distant group of people with which they did not have much contact. Multiculturalism was not something to which most aspired, either (that’s a statement, not a judgement). I think you can add these items to the lists of changes between the Boomers and subsequent generations.

  7. M. Swanson says:

    Quick question: how much do we, Generation X, really matter? We’re the smallest demographic group and going to remain so for the rest of our working lives.

    Born in 1974, I find myself equally bewildered by Boomers’ intransigent hatred of all things urban and the Millennials’ perplexing social mores. Seriously, I do not understand them. They did far fewer drugs as teenagers than we did, had far fewer teen pregnancies, and have more functional relationships with their parents, to the degree that their parents are much more involved in their lives than mine ever were (although this might be a side effect of the dim economic prospects most millennials have faced). I recently attended a twenty-year-old’s housewarming party, and we stayed up until 11:00 o’clock playing board games and drinking water. Board games and water. Who in the hell are these people?

  8. Rod Stevens says:


    I’m a boomer and I love cities. Not everyone moved out to the ‘burbs to fill their houses with stuff.

    I think it is less of an issue of generational differences than trends and pioneers. I wouldn’t move into downtown Detroit right now, but I am happy to see the Millenials do so and can’t way to see how they work it out. My tastes run more to Pottery Barn than thrift shop, but ultimately these are the people that will be re-making the world, so I am eager to see where they are going. Back in the 1960’s, George Wallace was the symbol of the reactionary world, the racist, conservative world of the Archie Bunkers. I can’t think of a similar figure to him today. The world has become a lot more varied, and so while Aaron makes an interesting point about the loss of institutions, we’re now at the point in “creative destruction” where much more of the emphasis is on creation than destruction.

  9. Chris Barnett says:

    “Boomers’ intransigent hatred of all things urban”???

    That may be just a bit over-the-top of an observation, and I think it depends greatly on the circles in which you run. Many of the people who were leaders in community revitalization and community development are boomers.

    For example, the “head boomers”, President and Mrs. Obama, got their start in urban community development. And I don’t think President Clinton (the first Boomer president) could ever have been considered anti-urban.

    Perhaps you’ve conflated “suburban Republican/Tea Partier” and “Boomer”. They are NOT the same. Paul Ryan is a Gen Xer, born in 1970, the first Gen X national candidate, and the “true conservative” on the Republican ticket. He grew up in a city of less than 100,000. If I generalized from that extremely small sample, I might reach some nasty conclusions about Gen X being anti-urban.

    Finally, I can assure you that my Millenial sons do not drink only water, play board games, and turn out the lights at 11pm. But then again, they are Marines. :)

  10. John V says:

    George M:

    ACTUALLY, Mary Tyler Moore’s first house was a beat-up subdivided victorian house on Lake of the Isles, a neighborhood well within the city limits, a stone’s throw from downtown Mpls, and then she moved into Cedar Riverside in later seasons, the first so-called HUD-funded experimental “new-town-in-town,” a collection of downtown high-rises sandwiched between the urban campus of U of M and the West Bank, the then-hip and grungy area of Mpls. (She was forced to move because the actual owners of the house put anti-Nixon signs on the front porch when the on-location crew came to film the following season’s opening shots.) Everyone in Mpls back then could’ve told you that. Oh … wait. No one LIVED in Mpls. I forgot. They were all out in the suburbs hatin’ on the city …

    Oh, and, sorry, but I can’t resist: “Multiculturalism was not something to which most [boomers] aspired …” Could you source that, pls? Did you actually READ that somewhere, or is this your theory based, possibly on, let me take a crazy guess, what you were exposed to while growing up — in, possibly? — the SUBURBS? Sorry, but you need to bone up on your history and let go of these very, very inaccurate and naive stereotypes.

  11. Benjamin Hemric says:

    I think various generation gaps are [1] signifant factors in a number of current disagreements about urban policies — and [2] significant also in the development of widespread misunderstandings (and controversies) about the work of Jane Jacobs, particularly her book, “Death and Life of Great American Cities.”

    – – – – – – – –

    Regarding [2]:

    To take the second topic first, I think one reason for various widespread misunderstandings of “Death and Life . . . ” (where almost everyone these days seems to be discussing various myths surrounding the book, rather than what Jacobs actually wrote) is that readers from later generations dominate the current discussion and many of them are just plain unfamiliar with the cities and circumstances that Jacobs was writing about — and this has consequently colored (and distorted) their understanding of her work.

    To take just one example: her chapter on the need for aged buildings is not really about landmark preservation, as many readers today seem to believe, but about the penchant of urban renewal programs in the 1950s to completely obliterate old buildings from urban renewal sites (in those days old buildings were seen as functionally hopeless and thus blighting, and the total elimination of them was the very purpose of urban renewal — as least in the early days). Since Jacobs was writing at a time when these attitudes were a siginificant part of the zeitgeist, she only occasionally mentions them directly (correctly assuming that readers at the time would know what she was talking about). But this subtlety can easily be confusing today, I believe, to readers from later generations, who didn’t actually experience pre-urban renewal cities, the pre-Jacobs zeitgeist or the “innocent” early days of urban renewal.

    By the way, I also think the generation gap has also contributed to a significant misunderstanding about the meaning of Jacobs’ famed description of the “ballet of Hudson Street. (To be written about at another time.)

    – – – – – – –

    Regarding [1]:

    I also think various generation gaps are signifant factors in a number of general misunderstandings and disagreements about urban policies, particularly those regarding fiscal restraint, various zoning regulations, urban development, and gentrification (and the self-destruction of diversity in general), to name just a few.

    For instance, unless one is from a generation that has actually experienced urban abandonment (e.g., SPREADING abandoment and arson through the South Bronx), decay (e.g., a truck falling through the West Side Highway) and high-crime — in real time — I don’t think one truly understands how awful stagnation, disinvestment, high crime and decay and abandonment are — for everybody, even the very poor. Thus you have among “many” from later generations (at least in New York) a romaticism of crime-ridden, stagnating and decaying pre-gentrified New York.

    I also think the generation gap is something that shapes disagreements about zoning — as later generations have only experienced greatly altered cityscapes — and thus it is difficult for them to understand just how significant (and bad, in my opinion) some subsequent zoning code changes have been — in their totality over time.

    – – – – – – –

    One area of disagreement: in terms of NYC, at least, I don’t see people from older generations (e.g., baby boomers) as “grieving” about a glorious lost past — since, given NYC’s size, much of its glorious past has, indeed, never been lost. (This makes NYC unlike a rust belt city like Detroit, which seems to have retained very little of its glorious past.)

    Rather I see generation gaps as helping to create confused discussions as people from different generations wind up talking past one another without realizing it (as mentioned in the Jane Jacobs examples — where people don’t realize that are not even talking about the same things).

    And in terms of the other examples, I see people from younger generations not being aware of, and thus not learning important lessons from, the past — not learning from past mistakes. For example, why repeat the stagnation, decay, high-crime and fiscal precariousness of NYC of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s?

    Also, as has already been pointed out in a number of online discussions elsewhere (sorry, don’t have the references handy), at least in terms of NYC, it’s actually Generation X’s (and younger) who are often prone to a dysfunctional “grieving” (“nostalgia”) about a lost NYC. And in this case it’s a perversely romanticized “notaligia” for the dirty, drug-ridden, high-crime economically stagnant neighborhoods of NYC in the 1970’s and 1980’s (e.g., Times Square, the Lower East Side, etc.).

    Benjamin Hemric
    Mon., Nov. 5, 2012, 6:30 pm

  12. Rod Stevens says:

    To put some perspective on the cities in the 1970’s: In 1979 I did an undergraduate paper on gentrification in three SF neighborhoods. My prof, along with a guy in Boston, may have coined the term. One of the neighborhoods I studied was lower Pacific Heights, where the SFRDA had subsidized market-rate townhouse development. Whole houses in Hayes Valley, four blocks from the Opera House, were selling for $10,000. And that was during a strong market. Given how strong these places are today, it’s hard to remember that the cities were weak, that 100-year-old houses were falling down, and that the streets were dirty. They were just not the same as today. One of the small but important lessons of the modern period is that these day-to-day things matter, that you can’t take small quality of life things are just as important, if not more so, than the giant convention centers that are way downtown.

  13. James says:

    I suspect that you will be hard pressed to find anyone on this site own up to turning their backs on the core city. No testimonials that go “yup, our generation turned away from downtown”. But surely it happened. The numbers don’t lie. It happened from the 60s to the 80s in many cities around America. So who were they? Were they a cohort of people who were born in the same decade?

  14. Benjamin Hemric says:

    P.S. — a clarification to my previous post of 11/5/12, 6:30 pm

    I had also meant to say that much of the notalgia towards the drug-ridden, crime-ridden neighborhoods of NYC in the 1970’s and 1980’s seems to be ideologically based — as well as generationally based. Thus, a number of young people who express this kind of “nostaligia” are, in fact, “leftists” who are actually too young to have experienced the longed for “golden era” first hand.

    Plus, a lot of this nostalgia seems to be partly based on the viewing of movies that in some way have romanticized this “gritty” New York. This would help explain, at least to some degree, what seems to be a preponderance of this perverse nostalgia among those who are not old enough to have experienced the real thing.

    So, it’s admittedly not soley a “Generation X” thing — although according to Wikipedia, the beginning birth date of Generation X’ers is the early 1960s, so some Generation X’s would be in their late teens and early twenties during the late 1970s and 1980s. It does seem to me, though, that Generation X’s have been among the first adopters of this nostalgia. Also, those who are from the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomer Generation — people who experienced the worst of this stagnation, disinvestment and decay as adults — seem to be those most immune to this perverse nostaligia.

    So basically it seems the older you are — and the more you experienced the city first hand — the more immune you are to this perverse nostalgia. The generational differences in perceptions and attitudes does seem to be there, although it’s hard to draw a precise line through the named generations as to where it begins.

    Benjamin Hemric
    Mon., Nov. 5, 2012, 7:30 pm

  15. Benjamin, I really didn’t have in mind NYC in writing this, since it didn’t experience nearly the degree of flight and depopulation of other places. I was thinking more of Rust Belt type metros. I think James nailed it. Clearly these cities were abandoned (by whites at least) in large numbers. That happened largely before Gen X. Perhaps I overly stressed baby boomers, because there were older generations in play too, but the numbers don’t lie. Even Gen X I think isn’t a truly urban generation to the extent the Milennials are (though a majority of even them will likely end up in the burbs.

  16. Benjamin Hemric says:

    Hi Aaron!

    I realize you didn’t have NYC in mind when you wrote your post. But I heartily agree with the general concept that different generations see cities differently (it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently), and hoped to show how this phenomenon can lead to misunderstandings (re Jacobs) and how it also might “play out” differently in different circumstances (e.g., NYC).

    Also, thought it important to show how sometimes it might be an older generation that is “in touch” and a younger generation that is “out of touch.”

    – – – – – –

    Regarding white flight in rust belt cities vs. in NYC.

    It seems to me that the extent of white flight not only happened to various degrees in various cities but that it also occurred in different time frames — which makes it even more complicated to ascribe it to one generation or another.

    For instance, one of the interesting things about NYC’s post WWII history was not only did the city have relatively less white flight than other cities, but the white flight, when it did happen, seemed to occur much later than it did elsewhere.

    Also, white flight in NYC (as was probably true elsewhere) seems to have resulted from particular policies (e.g., school busing). So a lot would seem to depend on when certain policies were adopted in certain localities — further confusing particular generational linkages.

    So I think we all agree that generational differences matter, but which generations will get attached to which phenomena may get kind of confusing and vary from place to place.

    Benjamin Hemric
    Mon. Nov. 5, 2012, 8:25 pm

  17. George Mattei says:


    My statement was my own opinion. I wasn’t trying to say all Boomers were racist (although surely some were and some were not), but just to comment on how much society has changed. I don’t think that multiculturalism was actually as accepted back in the 50’s and 60’s as it is now. Sure there were pioneering cursaders for equality, but that’s different than actually having a cultural norm where cultural differences just aren’t noticed as much. I think it was more “We’re crusading for these groups that are unfairly treated” and less of “Group, what group?”.

    I have to say I also don’t think my Generation X has nearly the multicultural bent that the Millenials do. Technology broke down cultural barriers for that generation, and that only just began when I was in my teens.

    I have to say I never really watched the Mary Tyler Moore show, so perhaps I was mis-informed there!

  18. Chris Barnett says:

    I think Benjamin raises an important point about the subset of city abandonment that is “white flight”. The phenomenon did start with the end of “redlining”, but I agree that in most cities it probably got its biggest push when the public schools were forced to take affirmative action to de-segregate.

    The people doing the moving in those days were “greatest generation” and the leading edge of Boomers. By the time “trailing Boomers” (1955-64, too young to be drafted for Vietnam) came of househunting age in 1980, in most places not named Detroit or Cleveland the urban population decline had begun to flatten out. (In most cities, 1970-80 was the decade of greatest population decline. After that it flattened out and in some places went positive.)

    And though it’s a peripheral point, there is a rupture among Boomers, as I pointed out above. The second half of the generation came of age after Vietnam ended, after the war protests and peace marches were over, and the moon landings, Watergate, and the Agnew-Nixon resignations were the defining “shared” moments. For the early boomers, it was Kennedy’s death, free-speech/antiwar protests, and the spectre of service in Vietnam.

  19. the urban politician says:

    Brilliant observations, Aaron.

    I really agree with you on this one. Even though my parents were immigrants, you still see the difference the attitudes of their generation have had on them regarding cities. Cities are bad, crime-ridden, decaying places.

    You can’t shake that out of some people. The author of Yo Chicago (Joe Zekas) is a great example of a bright individual who really does seem marred by his generation’s view of cities. He is but one example, but the list can go on and on.

    I do think that us Gen-Xers could be the turning point of how cities are perceived down the road, but the vast barrier cities face in truly turning around their image (to ANY generation) is the quality of schools they provide. Whether you were born in 1940 or 1976, if your community does not provide a good public education you will almost certainly choose to relocate.

  20. DBR96A says:

    I’m here to reinforce Patrick’s (post #4) comments: There’s a clear rupture in the Pittsburgh area, and if I had to guess an approximate age, it’d be 45. People younger than that have a more positive view of Pittsburgh and its future, while people older than that have a more negative view. This probably explains why the median age in the city of Pittsburgh decreased between 2000 and 2010, and why Allegheny County is forecast to get younger as well while the outlying metropolitan counties remain old.

  21. Chris Barnett says:

    DBR, I think that’s more specific to Pittsburgh (and probably also Cleveland and Detroit).

    As you and others have pointed out, the Boomers who stayed there weren’t the highly-educated ones. In other cities, Boomers began the process of gentrification.

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