Joel Kotkin talks small town revivalism in Oxford

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Internationally recognized geographer, author and urban development expert Joel Kotkin is scheduled to speak at the Pavilion at Ole Miss Friday, May 6 at 11:30 a.m.

The event is co-sponsored by Ole Miss Athletics, the School of Business Administration, the UM Real Estate Advisory Board and the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. The event’s topic will focus on ways Oxford can begin accommodating the 12 percent growth it has experienced from 2010 to 2015.

Over the past decade, Joel Kotkin has completed studies focusing on the urbanization of major cities such as London, Mumbai, Mexico City, New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Houston, San Bernardino and St. Louis, among others.

An author of seven published books, Kotkin has been described by the New York Times as “America’s uber-geographer,” and has published reports on topics such as the future of class in global cities and places with the best opportunities for minority groups.

Currently, Kotkin is conducting studies on Texas urbanism and is involved in a project about the future of Orange County, CA.

Blake Tartt III, president of the UM Real Estate Advisory Board, helped to orchestrate Kotkin as the speaker for the upcoming lecture.

“I think the reason the board decided to go with Joel Kotkin this year is because there is so much development,” Tartt said. “We thought Joel could put a really good spin on good development and why people are coming to small towns like Oxford.”

Tartt is also concerned with addressing the present need for increased infrastructure.

“They need to keep up with their water and sewer capacity and expanding their road system so that it will alleviate traffic congestion,” Tartt said. “They need to embrace density, that’s what infrastructure is, it’s your utilities. Another thing Oxford lacks is high-speed fiber optic [internet].

According to Kotkin, who contributes to Forbes Magazine’s weekly column “New Geography,” the growth of Oxford and towns of comparable size can be attributed to a large migration of people looking for a cheaper cost of living without sacrificing urban areas perks.

“Oxford is one of the fast-growing, small cities in America and I think it’s because it provides what people want,” Kotkin said. “They want enough choices of what to do and where to go, and they don’t want to spend an hour on the Long Island railroad or the 405 [interstate] to do it.”

A large demographic contributing to Oxford’s growth is what Kotkin calls the “lost millennials”.

“We’ve been trying to figure out where millennials live,” he said. “The New York Times’ definition is that they all live in Brooklyn, wearing hipster hats and drinking designer coffee. But as it turns out, most of them are living in small towns and suburbs, But it’s as if they don’t exist.”

With the rising cost of urban living, small towns like Oxford are becoming more attractive to students, young families and those beginning their journey into retirement.

Kotkin said if Oxford wants to continue this growth and expansion, it is going to have to make some decisions.

“If you are going to grow your town, you’re going to have to figure out a way to build family-friendly housing that’s relatively affordable,” Kotkin said. “If not, you’re just going to be a town that’s retired rich people, students and service workers. That’s all you’re going to have.”

Kotkin said it will be up to Oxford whether or not it will continue to grow and expand or become what he dubs a “museum town” – a town that caters only to a specific demographic of residents and tourists.

Charlie Mitchell, assistant dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, said sponsorship of events like Kotkins’ is critical to the development of Oxford.

“In order to be effective in urban planning, Kotkin talks about that you have to be adept in communicating with the public,” Mitchell said. “This is a good thing to alert our students to. There is value for them, and that’s why we’re doing this. The better you can explain to people the process of something, the more successful project you’re going to have.”