Over the past decade, the biggest social development has been the cratering livability of the American cities that had been our most praised and prosperous. San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland were once the “Superstar Cities” hailed by urbanist guru Richard Florida. Having successfully attracted the “three Ts”—talent, tolerance, and technology—they were, he explained in The Rise of the Creative Class (2002), poised to play an increasingly dominant role in America’s economic and cultural life.

The brightest young people would continue to flock to these centers of harmonious flux, he predicted. New patterns of living built around bike lanes, food trucks, greenways, and dense multi-unit housing in neighborhoods “upzoned” for mixed use would appeal to college-educated knowledge workers. In turn, their high incomes—taxed heavily but just short of the point that impinged on the creative-class lifestyle—would support a robust social service infrastructure for the underprivileged.

This rosy dream of America’s New Urban future appeared to be materializing 20 years ago, though there were already signs of stress. Opioid overdose deaths, which had been climbing steadily since 1999, surged upward around 2014, as prescription pill abuse subsided while consumption of heroin increased. Even worse was the growing trade in

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