The problem is that we want to build these new Chicagos in nice places—the Mediterranean climes of California, or the deserts of Phoenix and Las Vegas, or near the oceans or the Gulf of Mexico. (More than half the American population already lives within coastal counties of the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico or Great Lakes.) The mountains will also do, which is why you see explosive growth near Virginia's Blue Ridge, the Gold Country of the California Sierra and even the Big Sky Country of Montana.
Unfortunately, in our search for new utopias we don't merely pave over paradise; we massively annoy the planet. Natural disasters are getting more expensive not only because the weather is getting worse but also because we keep putting our new Chicagos in harm's way.
What are the morals of these recitations?
Two leap to mind.
The first is, whenever you start thinking that this country is screwed up beyond redemption, it pays to travel beyond our borders. It's amazing how often the not-so-wonderful realities that we think of as terrible problems constitute other people's dreams.
The second is, demographics may not be destiny. But the numerical study of who we are and how we got that way does have a refreshing habit of focusing our attention on what's important, long-term, about our culture and values—where we're headed, and what makes us tick.
Joel Garreau has written three books on culture and values and served as a senior fellow at George Mason University and the University of California at Berkeley.