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View Full Version : Signs of Suburbia's Demise (finally)?


a630
03-02-2008, 04:34 PM
rikahlberg posted this on another thread but i dont think anyone took notice - i think it deserves its own:
"The subprime crisis is just the tip of the iceberg. Fundamental changes in American life may turn today?s McMansions into tomorrow?s tenements."
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200803/subprime

An interesting idea but 'fundamental changes' in culture may not be enough. The great majority of development is still in suburbs, and that is because it's possible there. Infill development is still hard because (1) it's not zoned for (2) it's resisted and (3) if it is zoned for, or rezoned for, or there is a variance, it's often saddled with other costs for the developer eg affordable housing and pocket parks somewhere. So the biggest fundamental change would be in zoning law, which I can't see happening, or in planning attitudes, which should recognize that unaffordability is foremost a question of supply.
Beyond the suggestion that new suburbs may decline due to infill, this article does not suggest anything new. Suburban areas are hardly static, given an elastic regional housing supply. There has been a consistent trend for older suburban areas to decline as new areas open up. So what's so orignial here? Sam Warner documented this in "streetcar suburbs" in late 19th century Boston: how desirable middle class neighborhoods of Roxbury and Dorchester within 40 years became majority rental. It's been covered in Los Angeles by an endless list of geographers, Allen Scott and Michael Storper among them, in their studies of industry in the San Fernando Valley and Orange County. Yesterday's suburb is quite often today's slum. Most of the depressed urban neighborhoods in this country are rows of bungalows that were desirable middle class housing not so long ago. The San Fernando Valley - Brady Bunch land only 30 years ago - is now incredibly diverse, economically and racially. Panorama City - one of the most highly publicized mass-suburban developments of the postwar era in southern califronia - is now anything but a model of the American Dream. I bet a majority of socal's postwar development fits in that category.
Notice all the examples he cited of suburban places with rising crime etc are in the sunbelt, the place with the elastic housing markets where there's always something to trade up for. For now, most of the growth is still going into suburbs, and so yes, some suburbs will decline, because others spring up. This has always been the case. Is it realistic to say that suburbs will decline because infill will spring up at a rate that accommodates a good share of our growth?

vanshnookenraggen
03-02-2008, 06:49 PM
I totally want to talk about this cause I read it a while ago and actually showed it to my urban studies prof, but I can't right now.

Ron Newman
03-02-2008, 07:51 PM
But sometimes you go from desirable suburb to slum then back to desirability again, as tastes change. Somerville is a good example of this.

a630
03-03-2008, 03:53 AM
yes, that happens all over the county. but look at what the article is saying and then think of what somerville really looks like. the article suggests that the desirability of urban areas may lead to the transformation of many suburban areas. that many suburban areas will change is inevitable; most have in the past. will it be because of gentrification? proving a relationship would at least require that urban areas are accommodating a significant proportion of regional growth. this is true in some places, but not for the reasons the article suggests. it is true of los angeles, where there has been more growth in the core urban areas of the county than in peripheral areas recently, or new york city, which has seen impressive growth. however this is because of foreign immigration and overcrowding of rental units (both of these cities, despite gains in housing production, are seeing increasing overcrowding rates). the production of immigrant slums in south and east LA, in the outer boroughs of New York. gentrification, the appeal of cities to the middle and upper class, a global creative class blah blah whatever you want to call it, does not account for a significant proportion of growth in urban areas or regionally.
so look at somerville. even as prices and the pressure for development increases, the population increases at an extremely slow pace or remains stagnant. even as the number of housing units increases the population does not increase. this article misses one of the fundamentals of gentrification: that it involves the consumption of more space per person. Boston has 200,000 fewer people than it did in 1950, but more housing units. And if it wasn't for foreign immigration and the overcrowding of remaining rental units, cities like Boston (still losing white population in absolute terms), New York, and Los Angeles, would all be losing population. All of these cities are an increasingly disparate landscape of ever-larger market rate units occupied by 1-2 people, and old, overcrowded rental units (i think 14% of the city of Miami fits into the middle income bracket), and they can only make up for a singificant proportion of regional growth when the latter is truly formidable as in LA or NY.
a serious challenge to the current pattern of growth would require a rate of urban infill and redevelopment currently simply not legally permitted or culturally tolerated, the transformation of existing urban areas into truly unrecognizable places over the course of a decade. and i don't mean rehabs. today growth is something we still see mostly at the fringes.

vanshnookenraggen
04-08-2008, 02:26 PM
On Borrowed Time
Urban decline moves to the suburbs Michael Gecan

A few months ago, about 125 leaders from religious institutions, civic organizations, and social service groups met at Etz Chaim synagogue in the town of Lombard, in DuPage County, to wrestle with a new reality: a budget crisis. Budget crises aren not supposed to happen in places like west suburban DuPage. It is home to nearly one million souls and more than 600,000 private sector jobs. It boasts a median income of $70,000, one of the highest in the nation. And yet the county, strapped for cash, was threatening to cut convalescent services, veterans? services, housing assistance, breast cancer screening, and many other essential public functions.

Until recently DuPage County had been one of the big winners during the forty-year decline and imminent collapse of Cook County. Major corporations fled Chicago?s failing downtown and moved to DuPage?s open spaces and tax-friendly towns. Working class homeowners on the west and southwest sides of the city sold their bungalows and bought ranch houses, Cape Cods, and new town homes in Wheaton and Naperville and Downers Grove. Families troubled by the city?s public schools happily sent their children into shining new facilities and well-equipped classrooms. County government prided itself on its lean budgets and effective service-delivery.

By the date of the meeting, however, the developers who had helped double DuPage?s population in just 30 years had run out of land. The income generated by their construction efforts had dwindled to a trickle. Education and public safety costs continued to climb. Scores of specialized local districts and commissions?water, sanitary, and others ?absorbed hundreds of millions of dollars that never made it into the general operating budget of the county and were subject to little, if any, scrutiny or oversight. And residential real estate taxes?the backbone of the county?s budget due to the long-standing agreement to attract and retain business by keeping commercial taxes low?soared.

The leaders facing the crisis were themselves a new reality?more diverse than anyone would have imagined just ten years ago. In the modern synagogue meeting space, sitting around tables of ten, were approximately fifteen Muslim leaders from mosques and community centers, five Hispanics who were part of an exploding population drawn to the county by plentiful employment, and several African immigrants and African Americans. About one out of four participants were not white?a ratio that represents the make-up of the new DuPage. They were brought together by the leaders and staff of the local Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) affiliate called DuPage United.

The organizer of the group, Amy Lawless, asked me?a veteran organizer with IAF working in both the Chicago and New York metropolitan areas?to give a 30-minute talk about the state of the county. I started off where I often do, by thinking back to the west side of Chicago, to the corner of Ferdinand and Springfield near Garfield Park, where my family lived. There was no way to know, in the 1950s, that we were living at the city?s high point. The massive economic and political, civic and religious institutions had seemed as solid and stable as glaciers to those living with them or in their shadows. From the second floor of our double-brick corner house, we could see the tavern that we once owned, the then-modern building that housed Newark Electronics, where my father and I would someday work, and the row of houses that blocked a view of Tootsietoy Company, where my mother would be employed. Four blocks north was our parish, Our Lady of the Angels. Many thousands attended Mass each Sunday. Sixteen hundred children packed its classrooms.

By the mid-1980s, it was all rapidly declining. Today, our home, along with thousands of others, is abandoned. A state social service center fills the old electronics plant. Tootsietoy?s products are mostly made in China. And the parish church and school have closed.

In that pleasant synagogue meeting space, with the last of the new McMansions going up across the street, with 60,000 more workers commuting in to DuPage each day than commuting out, with the local football teams on the rise and the SAT and ACT scores still high, I suggested that perhaps the county had hit its own high-water mark and that without clear-eyed re-evaluation, it was poised, as Chicago had been in the mid-1950s, for decline.

DuPage is not alone, of course. In Nassau and Suffolk Counties in New York, in Montgomery and Baltimore Counties in Maryland, in Bergen and Essex and Middlesex Counties in New Jersey, in almost every mature suburb in the northeast and Midwest and mid south, families face these same conditions. A Roman Catholic pastor I met in Nassau County described it as suburbia?s midlife crisis. It may be part of America?s midlife crisis as well.

No longer young, no longer trendy, no longer the place to be, no longer without apparent limitations or constraints, these places, like people, have developed ways of avoiding reality.

Denial (supported by ever-stronger doses of public relations). One way is just to deny that there are new realities, or that these new realities will ever affect them. Hundreds of older cities and suburbs, large and small, do this. Denial keeps the real estate crowd happy?selling the safety and schools and jobs of the suburbs, while ignoring the property taxes and rising school and public safety costs, hoping that the younger and fresher and business-hungry counties further west, or the factories of China and tech campuses of India, don?t tempt too many companies to leave.

Gimmicks. A municipality buys a soccer team, or minor league baseball franchise, or jai alai fronton, or casino, or all of the above. Bigger municipalities start selling or leasing large parts of themselves. Just two years ago, Chicago leased the Skyway in an attempt to generate revenue and plug holes in an election-year budget. In late 2007, the papers were filled with stories about another $250 million gap. What?s the next one-shot? Naming rights are being discussed. And, of course, there is always the summer Olympics of 2016. In a desolate corner of the near-south side, amid boarded up gray stones and eerily empty boulevards during what should be the morning rush hour, a beleaguered local pastor told me that the possibility of an Olympic swimming venue (proposed by the city, for eight years in the future, as part of an Olympic bid with little or no chance of succeeding) would help revive the neighborhood.

Blaming ?others.? In cities of the 1950s, the ?others? were the black workers who had arrived by the hundreds of thousands for jobs that were just beginning to disappear. They needed housing and schools for their children. And the Democratic machine was more than happy to enrich itself by taking money from the developers and real estate hustlers who were running white ethnics out of their neighborhoods and steering minorities in. The political establishment blamed the blacks for the neighborhoods? decline. This extraordinary trope made it possible for a major American city to demolish much of its public housing stock?nearly 18,000 units?and essentially not replace it. Ten years ago, these 18,000 families were promised replacement apartments. To date, fewer than 2,000 have been built, most not affordable to the original renters. When I described this situation to two young and prosperous Chicago businessmen, they expressed no surprise. Blacks were the problem, weren?t they? And they had to hand it to Mayor Daley for figuring out how to evict them without greater opposition. Today, in the suburbs, the new ?others? are immigrants?Hispanic and Muslim. Some blame them for the current fiscal crisis. Meanwhile, the structural, financial, and political challenges of the suburbs?built into their creation and preceding the newest wave of immigrants by three decades?are not dealt with.

Withdrawal: Increasing fragmentation and privatization. As the budget crises persist, as the gimmicks become more transparent and inadequate, as the racial and ethnic rhetoric rises, those with resources begin to protect their own interests. Walls of all kinds are built. Private colleges and hospitals will became fiefdoms ?supplying their own security, sanitation, even housing at times. Private schools for those who can afford them multiply. Gated communities have become the norm. Most suburbs had little public housing or public transportation to begin with. But the logic for anything ?public? will be challenged as revenue to support any shared public activity shrinks. The forces for and against public effort, public institutions, and public life will soon collide in the public schools and public safety agencies of the suburbs.

We have moved a long way from the vision of the nation that Abraham Lincoln described in his Message to Congress, on July 4, 1861, ?To elevate the condition of man . . . To lift artificial weights from all shoulders; To clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all; To afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life . . .? ?All? is what FDR had in mind when he formulated the New Deal. It is not a word you hear in the public arena?city, county, state, or nation?these days.

Instead, in the Land of Lincoln, older cities like Chicago and counties like Cook have already shown how to focus on the few. Their economic strategies have benefited those who own the businesses that cater to the tourist trade, not the workers who make the beds and chop the onions. They have created enclaves around universities and hospitals where parents can buy condos for their student-children and where private security forces patrol the streets. They have sequestered revenues generated by business and medical clusters within those districts, thus starving the larger public housing, health, transit, and educational systems in the sprawling ghettos just outside the gates. They have encouraged construction of homes and apartment towers that few local residents can afford, which are bought as investment by European and South American elites. And they have kept control of the courts, jails, and police forces ?patronage for the operatives who guarantee machine incumbency, the industry of incarceration weakly buffering the loss of the steel and auto and other manufacturing industries of the past.

Many of the paths of laudable pursuit have been closed or semi-privatized?walled, gated, guarded?for some time. For three generations of African Americans, the city and county have been places of a deep and extended depression. For the white-ethnic working class, the results have been more mixed. Hundreds of thousands of families, like mine, lost equity repeatedly as each neighborhood on the west and south sides was re-segregated. Fearful whites sold low. Blacks desperate to flee tenements bought high. The real estate hustlers, with the blessing of the Democratic machine, made fortunes and kicked a percentage back to the local ward alderman or committeeman. Other whites accepted the instability of repeated neighborhood change for the stability of patronage employment. The city government that put food on the table took money from their savings accounts at Pioneer Bank and Talman Savings and Loan in the form of lost home equity. For more recent immigrants, the city has been stripped of opportunity in some places and sealed off in others.

The Democratic machine and its allies have fought an increasingly costly rear-guard action for nearly half a century. At the end of that period, the image of the city has been burnished, but Chicago is basically broke. Housing abandonment, homelessness, and foreclosure rates are all at historic highs. 34 public school children were murdered during the 2006-7 school year alone. The police force staggers under multiple charges of abuse and corruption. The old bungalow bedrock of the city?blue-collar and tax-paying?has disappeared.

It is instructive to compare Chicago with New York, which seemed in even worse shape 30 years ago. Most Americans remember the famous tabloid headline: ?Ford to New York: Drop Dead.? As late as the mid-1980s, a major magazine sported a picture of a darkened city on its cover with the letters, ?NYC RIP.? Indeed, beginning in the late 1970s, the city was locked in a very public life-and-death struggle. Only emergency action by labor unions and others saved the city fiscally. But, when faced with municipal mortality?perhaps because it had to face its own mortality?a strange thing happened. The city slowly began to revive.

This revival didn?t start in City Hall or in some political gathering. It wasn?t engineered by a major builder like the legendary Robert Moses. And it wasn?t the brainchild of a great corporate or financial titan. This building began locally, in some of the most forgotten corners of a city that was battling the equivalent of a virulent and advanced form of cancer. It started in East Brooklyn and the South Bronx and the Manhattan area called Washington Heights.

In the late 1970s, a little known group called the Community Preservation Corporation (CPC) began rehabilitating apartment buildings in one of the areas that Hollywood loved?drug-ridden Washington Heights. After 14,000 units were built in a decade, most of the rental housing in the area had been returned to useful life. In 1980, one of our organizations, East Brooklyn Congregations (EBC), began its work in an area a touring mayor from Boston dubbed, ?The beginning of the end of civilization.? EBC built 3,000 new, affordable, owner-occupied homes on the vacant acres there, and is constructing 1,500 more as we speak. In the South Bronx, another IAF group, South Bronx Churches, built one thousand homes starting in 1986, while other efforts led by Father Lou Gigante and Mary Daily built or renovated thousands more. Common Ground created 2,000 units of housing for formerly homeless people, giving them shelter, services, and an alternative to the streets. 2,000 more are now in development. Over a 25-year period, more than 200,000 units of housing have either been upgraded or built from scratch. A million New Yorkers have returned to the city, pushing its population back over 8.25 million. The city spent $500 million a year in some years on housing production. In the process, New York transformed lots filled with rubble and tires into neighborhoods for the hard-working families that lived in public housing, but couldn?t afford even a starter home in a suburb. Those families held on. They saved. They bought. And they benefited from one of the greatest public works efforts in modern times. Private developers vie for the remaining lots in places like Mott Haven or East New York, where they can now build market-rate housing. This, although with its own challenges, was utterly unthinkable in 1980.

During this same period, a similar renewal effort was occurring in public transit. In the 1970s and 1980s, New York City subways were famous for breakdowns, fires, and crime. The number of riders plummeted in what seemed to be a death-spiral. Massive state support solicited by Richard Ravitch and engineered by the late Speaker of the Assembly Stanley Fink and then-Governor Mario Cuomo helped stabilize the system. An epic campaign to block the construction of a West Side highway led by Marcy Benstock saved billions for mass transit. Relentless advocacy by Gene Russianoff and the Straphangers Campaign kept the problems and potential of the transit system on the radar screens of the press and politicians. Able management by Robert Kiley meant that the funds raised and saved were put to good use. A workforce of 40,000 transit employees, most city dwellers, kept the trains and buses running. Today, breakdowns are rare and crime is remarkably low. Predictably, riders jam the trains and buses at all hours of the day and night. New York is now expanding the subway system by adding spurs and new lines.

Finally, the police department has benefited from the leadership of three mayors over a twenty-year period. David Dinkins secured the funds to hire additional cops. Rudy Giuliani made public safety the hallmark of his administration and hired Bill Bratton to revolutionize police work in the city. And Michael Bloomberg both institutionalized and improved on Giuliani?s work, making New York one of the safest big cites and a challenge for the Hollywood crowd looking for edgy street scenes. This year, the number of homicides may dip to 500?down from 2,250 little more than a decade ago.

These three major improvements are so large in scale that they are hard to see, absorb, or interpret. Each improvement had a different trajectory and a different character, but they shared some characteristics.

Each was extremely costly, requiring sustained financial support for fifteen years or more. But each long-term investment, once it hit critical mass, also generated extraordinary value. The value of real estate has soared in the toughest and most distant corners of each borough. An NYU study has shown the existing homes near IAF?s Nehemiah sites benefited greatly from our construction.

Each improvement took time to build, reach critical mass, and generate a chain reaction in the right direction. The turnaround in public safety has occurred over a fifteen-year period. The renewal of the transit system started nearly 25 years ago. And the revival of the housing stock is in its 30th year, if you count, as we do, the work of CPC in Washington Heights as the starting point.

Each improvement was led by a mix of leaders. The overwhelming majority came from the civic or voluntary sector and from the government sector (both elected officials, but as, or more, importantly, able administrators in the housing, transit, and public safety fields). The private sector could point to an occasional participant, but, by and large, it lagged the other two sectors by a large margin.

And each improvement was contentious. Those leaders involved in each of these three efforts were by no means in sync, cooperative, or even civil to one another. On the contrary, each effort was accompanied by disputes, rivalries, jealousies, and open warfare at times. There was no centralized ?meeting of all the stakeholders? in some lavish foundation conference room or elegant university hall.

What to make of this? Even today, the conventional wisdom is that New York is out of control, dangerous, dirty; a nice place to play, but a terrible place to live. And Chicago is tidy, orderly, safe, and a great destination for tourists, business people, and university students. As someone who has lived in and around both cities for nearly 30 years each, I know how hard it is to be objective about them. And stereotypes, once set, often trump reality. Besides, Chicago is the private preserve of the Daley clan, and the current Daley projects all that?s positive about the city and takes any criticism of it personally. Chicago has a face and a lake front focus. New York is no one?s personal preserve, not the current mayor?s (who is a billionaire), not the previous mayor?s (who was a presidential candidate), not the next mayor?s. New Yorkers relish their edginess and untidiness, even exaggerate it at times. New York has a blur of faces and multiple points of interest.

One conclusion to draw is that it is better in the long run?as an individual or as a municipality?to face reality. Sometimes, a crisis, like New York?s flirtation with bankruptcy, can help trigger that confrontation. The reality in New York 30 years ago was that both the market and the government had failed miserably?the market unwilling to invest in devastated areas or support a dying city, the government wasting hundreds of millions on do-nothing programs run by local groups connected to hapless pols.

When I described the situation in DuPage County and other areas to a well-respected Republican advisor, he responded in the predictable way: ?How about cutting business taxes? Wouldn?t that attract commerce and people?? But business taxes have always been low in Republican-led DuPage County and are decreasing as a percentage of overall revenue. Even with low taxes, even with 600,000 private sector jobs, even with 60,000 more workers traveling to the county for work than commuting from it, the county finds itself in structural fiscal distress.

Besides, when reality is finally and fully faced, it is not all bad. While a whole generation of institutions has declined, a new generation has begun to emerge. In DuPage, the Muslim and Hispanic communities are rising and eager to contribute to the next phase of the county?s life. Evangelical congregations are growing and thriving all across the country, many arriving at their own mid-life moment after 30 years of astonishing growth. The local community college?The College of DuPage?attracts a diverse cohort of 30,000 students to a single sprawling campus. Community colleges, which began decades ago as small and often isolated vocational schools, now educate 45% of college students in the United States. Vibrant networks created and led by those recovering from alcohol and substance abuse are major presences in almost every urban neighborhood or suburban development. In Long Island, these recovery communities are navigating their ways into the public arena cautiously and creatively. From the most forlorn corners of Chicago?s west side to the packed streets of East Harlem, social entrepreneurs are establishing hundreds of new public schools and public charter schools. In all of these areas, organizations like DuPage United and East Brooklyn Congregations and Washington Interfaith Network and Greater Boston Interfaith Organization are beginning to imagine, design, and implement solutions to what once seemed to all intractable social problems.

A second conclusion is that many of the current political structures and leaders are either unable or unwilling to deal with these new realities. When you find the exceptions, like a reluctantly persuaded but then fully committed Mayor Ed Koch or a housing commissioner like Felice Michetti, fine. But waiting for most to act or blaming them when they don?t are often not constructive responses. This puts the burden of thinking and acting back on a new type of civic leader: a volunteer with a real following in a local community, but also with a range of analysis and understanding that crosses town or county or city boundaries. The renewal of most of the failed cities of the failed state of Ohio?Dayton, Toledo, Cleveland, Youngstown, Sandusky, Lorain, and many others?depends on men and women who live in and care about those cities. But they will need to relate to leaders well beyond their own towns. And they will need to become a kind of ad hoc economic strategy team for their area, for their state, and for the struggling midwestern region described in Richard Longworth?s fine book, Caught in the Middle.

A third conclusion is that this work will require a new set of allies and partners if it is to succeed. The rebuilding of East Brooklyn depended on the extraordinary leadership and financial support of three religious bodies?the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, and the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church of St. Louis. These three institutions disagreed on almost everything doctrinally, but came together to invest millions of no-interest construction financing to help EBC build affordable housing. Other key allies were the late I.D. Robbins and the current general manager of the effort, Ron Waters. These two construction professionals helped facilitate and oversee the extraordinarily difficult and complex rebuilding effort. Another significant ally was the Community Preservation Corporation, which provided invaluable technical assistance and financial support.

Each of these allies was not ?local? in the same sense that the East Brooklyn organization was. The local congregational and community leaders had to have the confidence necessary to identify and trust talented people from other spheres. But when they did, they deepened and extended their impact well beyond what anyone could have imagined at the start. A Harvard Business Review piece by John P. Kotter describes the need for leaders to ?align? the right participants to improve the odds of making major changes. The current alignment of local and national dynastic leadership, tired liberal programs, stale conservative tax policies, and fragmented municipal entities is all wrong. A new alignment?a new generation of local leaders, visionary supporters like the late Bishop Francis J. Mugavero, top professionals in the fields of finance and new business creation, academic talent that?s not too cautious or not on the establishment?s payroll?is needed. Better yet, a number of new alignments.

A fourth conclusion is that new kinds of money, from new sources, used in creative ways, will be required if cities, counties and regions are to revive. A relatively modest fund of $8 million, raised from religious sources by East Brooklyn Congregations in 1982, fundamentally changed the way its proposal to build affordable, single-family homes was received. The group of pastors and lay people from a part of the city that had been designated by the elites for ?planned shrinkage? had somehow amassed a sum of money that impressed the mayor, his commissioners, newspaper editors, and developers. That revolving construction fund has generated housing with a current market value approaching one billion dollars. New pools of money?in the hundreds of millions in smaller cities and billions in larger cities and metropolitan regions?will need to be created by these organizations and their allies. Local governments will need to reject the low-tax or anti-tax theology of the post-Reagan era. Higher taxes in support of carefully targeted social and economic strategies will be key to the rebuilding of older American cities and maturing suburbs. During the most productive years of its housing revival, New York City spent more than the next fifty American cities combined on housing creation and rehabilitation. It shows. The return on this investment is incalculable.

A fifth conclusion is that there may be a need for less government and more planning. Today, there is as much, or more, local, county, and state legislative activity as ever despite decreasing revenues for fewer and fewer priorities. The virulence of internal disagreements and personal vendettas will only increase as resources disappear. Political disputes will resemble academic battles: more intense because they concern so little. For citizens to continue to spend time and energy in this dynamic is deadly, a slow form of political suicide.

I ended my remarks on a lovely late-October night with a challenge: citizens in suburbs like DuPage?historically Republican, politically moderate, located between the vast fields and farms that produced the midwest?s first phase of prosperity and the once-robust manufacturing center of Chicago that forged the region?s second period of wealth?need to align themselves with new leaders from other sectors and cut and clear new paths for peoples? laudable pursuits in the decades ahead.The very act of doing so, of opening these paths, engaging all, figuring out how to offer all people an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life, would reinvigorate people and places and position them for the next rich phase of our local and national experience.

Link (http://bostonreview.net/BR33.2/gecan.php)

I like this article because he presents ideas for how cities can fix themselves from the bottom up and not with flash in the pan development projects that go nowhere. I think this is a great strategy for places like Roxbury and Mattapan, and even cities like Lawrence, Fall River, New Bedford, etc.

Ron Newman
04-08-2008, 03:27 PM
Interesting article, though I'd question such characterizations as "Chicago's failing downtown" and "the failed state of Ohio".

vanshnookenraggen
04-08-2008, 03:57 PM
It does seem alarmist but if you can get past the hyperbolic adjectives he highlights some important problems facing older suburbs and presents some examples of what has been done in NY, namely just getting your shit together and being realistic.

czsz
04-08-2008, 05:08 PM
Interesting. Surprised not to see Joel Kotkin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel_Kotkin) referred to favorably, or Richard Florida (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Florida) denounced.

Scott
04-09-2008, 05:14 AM
The author reminds me of people who imply that they had no choice but to move out of the city; the banks were evil, the government corrupt- everyone's fault but my own. I think we should be honest with ourselves. I look back at my youth in the city with fondness but if you asked me when I was 16 if I would rather live there than a more comfortable suburb I would have laughed at the question.

Of course that wasn't the point and we cannot really compare suburban Chicago to suburban Boston because they are two different animals. Yet we could compare the New Hampshire suburbs in the sense that population has recently surged to the point where their very financial structure has been shaken to the core.

For so many years NH has been this libertarian dream of low cost real estate and no income tax. This is only possible when you have a lot of land, a small population and are next door to a state like Massachusetts that has jobs. Real estate was so cheap that people would pay the MA income tax as well as the high property tax rates per thousand in NH because it was still a good deal. Now houses are more expensive meaning a local tax reassessment for $100,000 more in MA would mean an extra thousand dollars a year but up there that could be $2000-$3000 more. That is a tough nugget to swallow when you live in a town that has tripled in population but does not have modern services like full time police and fire as well as sewers and trash removal.

underground
04-09-2008, 09:18 AM
I look back at my youth in the city with fondness but if you asked me when I was 16 if I would rather live there than a more comfortable suburb I would have laughed at the question.

I look back at my youth in the 'burbs with fondness, but if you asked me when I was 16 if I would rather live there than a more exciting city I would have laughed at the question.

Scott
04-09-2008, 09:28 AM
I look back at my youth in the 'burbs with fondness, but if you asked me when I was 16 if I would rather live there than a more exciting city I would have laughed at the question.

I can understand that. That is probably why you now live in town and I now live in the 'burbs.

underground
04-09-2008, 09:40 AM
^ Totally agree. I think so much theory gets thrown around when talking about development, but one of the major points that gets overlooked is the simple fact that tastes change over time. I mean, at one point break dancing was cool, then it wasn't cool, now it's cool again. The history of human development in general is similar; we push out, we come back, and we push out again. The only difference in recent years is that cars and the country's general wealthy state has allowed us to move further. As tastes change again, and as we run our course with cars, and as we fall back to equilibrium in terms of general wealth, we'll probably all move back to the city... ane we'll all join break dancing troupes! Sweet!

Scott
04-09-2008, 09:50 AM
To follow that thought up; the actual reasons I moved out of the city was to live near my job and it was cheaper.

vanshnookenraggen
04-09-2008, 10:41 AM
I grew up in suburbs and now all I want is to live in the city. I went to college with this one woman who had lived in Charlestown her entire life and hadn't even been out the of the country (she was 26 at the time). She now lives with her finance out in Suffolk Co Long Island. When I found that out I couldn't for the life of me think why she would want to live out in the middle of nowhere. Then it hit me, she spent her entire life in a cramped apartment building, of course she wants to move out of the city and get a place with space.

Americans moved to the suburbs because they were tired of living in tight quarters in dirty cities. Now there is a generation of people who grew up in boring suburbs and are now moving back into the cities which they see as exciting and interesting. I'm sure my kids will probably move to the suburbs.

czsz
04-09-2008, 11:21 AM
NB: this kind of cyclicality is not nearly as evident in other countries, even those where development laws don't restrict sprawl. Even if we admit fashion and taste has a lot to do with it, the fact that the postwar push to suburbia both coincided with an independent process of urban decay and helped speed and compound it was a unique concatenation of circumstances. In other words, even if our kids all want to live in the burbs, it probably won't be the death knell of the city.

ablarc
02-21-2009, 06:39 PM
SIGNS OF SUBURBIA?S DEMISE (FINALLY)?

How to Save the Suburbs: Solutions from the Man Who Saw the Whole Thing Coming

http://www.infrastructurist.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/suburb1.jpg

For a half century, it?s been easy to mock suburbia for being too comfortable, white-bread and conformist. That?s all changed in the last 18 months as many suburbs have abruptly taken on a sense of tragedy and desperation?a fact that underlies Obama?s trip to devastated Lee County, Florida, later today. Drug violence, gangs pillaging half-empty subdivisions for scrap metal, skateboarders reclaiming the pools of abandoned McMansions, and whole streets of dead lawns spray-painted green have emerged as the new symbols of life in the ?burbs.

One man who foresaw all the ugliness is Christopher Leinberger. The Brookings Institute fellow and distinguished scholar of the suburban living arrangement has decades of experience in real estate development and urban planning. The meme of doomed suburbs went mainstream with his cover story for the Atlantic magazine last March, ?The Next Slum?? The problem, he says, goes much deeper than the foreclosure crisis. It?s part of a painful societal adjustment that will take a generation or more to work through.

After heralding the crash of America?s predominant living arrangement, his latest efforts are devoted to showing how suburbs can adjust and reemerge as healthy communities. In this conversation he analyzes the roots of suburbia?s current plight and explains how three straightforward adjustments to infrastructure can save a community.

The suburbs are really suffering. What?s the short-form diagnosis?
Americans are undergoing a fundamental shift in where they want live, work, and play. So this is not just a normal cyclical downturn. We?ve structurally overbuilt retail, office, and housing, and we?ve done so in the wrong places.

So where?s the bottom? Or, rather: Is there a bottom?
It?s not a matter of waiting for two or three years to absorb the overproduction. It?s a matter of drastically reducing real estate prices to well below replacement cost. And when you sell something for below replacement cost ? that might sound like, well, ?Somebody takes a hit but life goes on as usual.? No, life doesn?t go on. For the owners of that retail or housing space, every dollar that they invest will be money they don?t get back. That is another definition of a slum. There?s no incentive to invest in a slum. So here you are. You buy a 4,000 square foot house 40 miles outside town. You think, wow, I got great value. But when the roof begins to go, you just patch it, because if you put a new one on it?ll cost $20,000, you?ll still be at the same selling price. So, why do it?

You mentioned 40 miles outside town. Last year people were talking about high energy prices as the one of the prime causes of suburban collapse. But gas is back under $2 a gallon.
Energy prices have nothing to do with it. I said that at the time. They can accelerate the process, but what drives it is the shift in consumer preferences. Gen Xers and Millennials want a lifestyle closer to Friends and Seinfeld (that is, walkable and urban) than to Tony Soprano (low density and suburban). It?s not that nobody wants Tony Soprano. About 50 percent of Americans actually do want that configuration. But if we?ve built 80 percent of our housing that way, that?s the definition of oversupply. The other 50 percent of Americans want walkable urban arrangements and yet that?s just 20 percent of the housing stock. That?s called pent-up demand. So the market is just responding.

So rather than asking about a bottom, the better question might be: How long will it take for supply and demand to get back into equilibrium?
Upwards of 30 years. In a good year we only add 2 percent to the built environment. So even if we only produced walkable urban product for the next 20 years, it would take that long to get caught up.

That prognosis seems a tad glum. Give us some hope. How can a suburb save itself?
It can adapt. The Washington DC metro area is a useful model. A year ago I came out with a survey for Brookings looking at walkable urban places in the top 30 metro regions. DC was at the top on a per capita basis.

I imagine people are surprised to hear it?s not New York.
New York ranked tenth. When that came out I actually got a phone call from the NY Post and they were pissed. But only 8 percent of metro New Yorkers live in Manhattan. Most of the other 92 percent are spread out over four states at a density lower than Los Angeles.

Interesting. So what can DC teach us as an example?
What we?re learning about the DC area is that there are 30 of these walkable communities here. I?m only talking about regionally significant places, not individual neighborhoods. So, for instance, downtown DC, Reston, Bethesda and so on. Of these places, 90 percent are on the metro system and most of the rest will be linked into it in the next five years. So that?s a pretty obvious correlation right there. But most of these walkable places are in the suburbs.

What?s the lesson?
This structural trend is about the transformation of the suburbs into something else. I?ve been doing some research looking at the price premiums on a per-square-foot basis for walkable communities. They get a price premium between 40 and 200 percent. I?ve also been looking at what I call the ?penumbra.? A walkable place is typically 50 to 500 acres in size. The penumbra, that area around it, can be even bigger.

Almost like micro suburbs.
Yes. These places are still suburban but they are within walking distance of the walkable places. This ?penumbra? is seeing premiums of 20 to 80 percent over the rest of the market.

What?s an example?
Look at Tyson?s Corner outside DC. It has that giant suburban mall ? 40 million square feet of retail and the largest suburban downtown in the country. It?s a traffic nightmare. They?ve been trying to get a Metro link that the Bush administration finally allowed to go through after years of trying to kill it. (The Bush people despised public transit.) The head of the neighborhood group that was involved in with this torturous three year planning process told me, ?I?ve seen Arlington.? Arlington is one of the great models in the entire country of a redeveloped suburban commercial strip. Arlington has tripled its square footage and traffic has gone down ten percent. The people in Tyson see that and they want it too. They want that kind of urban excitement.

Plus there?s the incentive of protecting their property values.
Well, I?m not sure they know that they?re feathering their nests financially. But once this kind of information gets out hopefully they?ll understand it?s not only a higher quality of life for them, it?s better financially.

But Tyson?s Corner has a more lot going for it than, say, Lehigh Acres. What about those places that can?t adapt?will they just disappear?
Well, they?re probably not going to bulldoze these places. Though that may happen at some point. I?ll just repeat from the Bible: There will always be poor among us. The only model we have is the ?50s and ?60s when the middle class decamped from center cities to the fringes. The poor got very good housing at very low prices. A lot of that housing was broken up into apartments. I was just talking to a reporter from a major newspaper the other day who is covering this same thing. He had been spending time out at the fringe and he was shocked to see house after house of unrelated single men living together there. They?re flop houses.

But it?s tough to compare a brownstone in Brooklyn to the some house in the Antelope Valley made of particle board and paint.
There will be losers. And, yes, this is junk we?re putting up now. What?s the life expectancy particle board and plywood under even the best of circumstances?

So you have a suburb full of flimsy houses in the middle of nowhere, with no incentive for upkeep. That?s an ugly situation.
Exactly. It fails. Good lord, I?m a great amateur student of ancient cities. At some point they?re just going to collapse upon themselves and blow away ? unless there is some massive redevelopment agency steps in.

In very practical terms, how do towns get on the right side of this multi-decade imbalance between supply and demand?
You need to get the right infrastructure in. Doing so is a three-step process. First, is getting a transit connection that can anchor a walkable urban core. Second, is putting in overlay zoning districts around the train stations that will allow for much greater density and mixed use development. We?re talking about a hundred, two hundred, three hundred acres. The third step is to get in place an entity to manage the thing, which generally takes the form of a non-profit business improvement district. These things are very complex, but we know how to do it now. We didn?t 50 years ago, but we do now.

That?s a tight plan.
And we have hundreds of examples of it working.

Is there a resource where, say, one might be able to find all the compiled case studies?
That?s my next book.

Well, I?m sure you?ll have no shortage of interested readers. Thank you.

http://www.infrastructurist.com/2009/02/10/how-to-save-the-suburbs-an-interview-with-christopher-leinberger/


* * *


A RESPONSE:

? Roadrunner Says:

February 10th, 2009 at 11:10 am

I live in Arlington, VA?the county he mentions that tripled its square footage and dropped traffic by 10%. I assume that?s only the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, and not the whole county, but still?that?s an amazing statistic. And I can confirm that it?s a fantastic place to live. My boyfriend and I don?t own a car, live three blocks from the Metro, and spend many a weekend going no further from home than a 15 minute walk. But that 15 minute walk includes dozens of (good!) restaurants, two grocery stores, a couple small concert venues that bring some great local bands, and lots of retail. And we?re a five minute Metro ride from the shopping mall at Ballston, which has a traditional department store and your more usual mall stores. And a five minute Metro ride from downtown DC. And a twenty minute morning commute on the Metro to our offices.

And, unlike almost everywhere else in the country, my neighborhood is experiencing a construction boom. There?s a new Marriott hotel opening a couple blocks away, and five separate high rise apartment buildings going up within five blocks of my building. And I can?t wait for the new residents of those buildings to move in, because the more people who live close by, the more successful the local businesses will be, and the more diversity in retail our neighborhood can support.

czsz
02-22-2009, 01:49 AM
A recent New Yorker piece (sadly not online) had similar things to say about the slumification of half-finished tract housing estates on the Florida Gulf Coast. I don't think we should get too caught up in schadenfreude when the enormous social problem of the poor moving into ever-shoddier housing with even fewer "eyes on the street" begins to plague the country. Thus far urbanism has moderated the problems of mass poverty; imagine them superimposed on the stretched infrastructure and crime-conducive form of the suburbs.

In any event here's another recent article on the phenomenon:

On Borrowed Time
Urban decline moves to the suburbs
Michael Gecan
Boston Review

A few months ago, about 125 leaders from religious institutions, civic organizations, and social service groups met at Etz Chaim synagogue in the town of Lombard, in DuPage County, to wrestle with a new reality: a budget crisis. Budget crises aren not supposed to happen in places like west suburban DuPage. It is home to nearly one million souls and more than 600,000 private sector jobs. It boasts a median income of $70,000, one of the highest in the nation. And yet the county, strapped for cash, was threatening to cut convalescent services, veterans? services, housing assistance, breast cancer screening, and many other essential public functions.

...

DuPage is not alone, of course. In Nassau and Suffolk Counties in New York, in Montgomery and Baltimore Counties in Maryland, in Bergen and Essex and Middlesex Counties in New Jersey, in almost every mature suburb in the northeast and Midwest and mid south, families face these same conditions. A Roman Catholic pastor I met in Nassau County described it as suburbia?s midlife crisis. It may be part of America?s midlife crisis as well.

No longer young, no longer trendy, no longer the place to be, no longer without apparent limitations or constraints, these places, like people, have developed ways of avoiding reality.

...

One conclusion to draw is that it is better in the long run?as an individual or as a municipality?to face reality. Sometimes, a crisis, like New York?s flirtation with bankruptcy, can help trigger that confrontation. The reality in New York 30 years ago was that both the market and the government had failed miserably?the market unwilling to invest in devastated areas or support a dying city, the government wasting hundreds of millions on do-nothing programs run by local groups connected to hapless pols.

He goes on to detail ways in which declining suburban areas can harness new demographic trends and preexisting institutions to mirror the recovery of 1970s New York. I'm not so optimistic (he seems to ignore entirely the suburbs' structural physical flaws), but if you're intrigued by the argument, you can read the rest here:
http://bostonreview.net/BR33.2/gecan.php

vanshnookenraggen
02-22-2009, 03:54 AM
I knew I had read that article before (czsz) so I found the old thread and merged them.

I feel like this is something I was saying a while ago and when someone called me out on it I didn't have any proof. Well here is the proof.

I like that this guy isn't some alarmist nut job; he knows things are bad but has solutions. And he isn't some one sided urbanist who thinks that everyone should live in a city. He understands that Americans have a choice and many prefer the suburbs.

BarbaricManchurian
02-22-2009, 02:13 PM
The author is reading too much into his few examples. Sure, Lehigh Acres has collapsed but it really wasn't very good in the first place. I'll bet that suburbs in the Northeast will not have any problems, and will thrive (well, of course there's not much going on in them but nothing really will change) for the rest of the century. It is the overbuilt suburbs in the Sun Belt that are having the problems; suburbs in New England and the rest of the Northeast will probably experience no change for at least the next 10 years, and that's only if oil spikes again for a prolonged (5+ years over $4/gallon) period of time.

ablarc
02-22-2009, 03:25 PM
...no change for at least the next 10 years, and that's only if oil spikes again for a prolonged (5+ years over $4/gallon) period of time.
If the feds decide to tax gas the way Europe does, we'll have this pronto.

czsz
02-22-2009, 04:06 PM
The suburbs in the Sunbelt are at least densely built enough that one can imagine them being easily reconfigured into pedestrian-friendly transit villages. Stores in snout-house garages could help form the quaint, mixed-use Newbury Streets of tomorrow, while streetcar lines on former strip-mall lined arterial roads could lead to development that looks a lot like Commonwealth Ave. in Allston or Beacon St. in Brookline.

That's assuming, of course, that the economies in the Sunbelt ever fully recover from this speculative burst.

Meanwhile, the isolated-McMansion-on-an-acre-plus model of exurban development that persists in the Northeast is bound for doom if the regional economy does not perform as well as it has been - and particularly if progressive Northeastern governments opt for the gas tax model. Ironically, there could be clamoring for commuter rail to take the pressure off beleaguered gas consumers who can no longer drive downtown - but without the concomitant pressure for improved zonings in the towns the new rail lines will serve.

Ron Newman
02-22-2009, 09:26 PM
if you mean the Lincolns, Westons, Dovers, and Hamiltons of our region, it would take an economic collapse much worse than the 1929-36 Great Depression to empty those places out. I'd hate to see circumstances that would produce that result.

underground
02-23-2009, 10:11 AM
The question I have about that article (that I'd bet he answers in his book) is, what are the charectaristics of a suburb that can easily be converted to a higher density node, and how many of these places exist? I'm not personally researching this, so I can't present any evidence to back myself up, but I'd be willing to bet that the best areas for this transformation to happen are the smaller downtown areas that have recently been vacated as people have suburbanized. These areas are places like the downtown's of the Lawrences, Lowells, Fitchburgs, Lynns, and Naticks of the world. Luckily, there are a lot of these types of spots, and even more luckily, because housing is a very durable commodaty, there are a ton of buildings in these areas just waiting to be re-imagined.

ablarc
02-23-2009, 10:41 AM
You have to lift or modify the zoning first. It's mostly the zoning that keeps these dysfunctional places from changing.

czsz
05-31-2010, 08:01 PM
Abandoned house on cul-du-sac, Memphis:

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2010/05/29/business/20100529_BLACK-slide-CCLF/20100529_BLACK-slide-CCLF-slide.jpg

Related story (warning: very sad):

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/31/business/economy/31memphis.html

jass
06-05-2010, 12:55 AM
Good looking homes. Note how the garage is hidden, and not the centerpiece.

Patrick
06-05-2010, 12:17 PM
The question I have about that article (that I'd bet he answers in his book) is, what are the charectaristics of a suburb that can easily be converted to a higher density node, and how many of these places exist? I'm not personally researching this, so I can't present any evidence to back myself up, but I'd be willing to bet that the best areas for this transformation to happen are the smaller downtown areas that have recently been vacated as people have suburbanized. These areas are places like the downtown's of the Lawrences, Lowells, Fitchburgs, Lynns, and Naticks of the world. Luckily, there are a lot of these types of spots, and even more luckily, because housing is a very durable commodaty, there are a ton of buildings in these areas just waiting to be re-imagined.

Good idea. What you have just spoken of is referred to in planning and architecture jargon as an integral portion of "Smart Growth" -- i.e., channeling new development to existing city and town centers, with pre-existing brownfields sites and infrastructure already in place. In fact, in further discussion of your Massachusetts-specific example, I read a while back that there were plans of doing this in exactly the towns and cities you mentioned in terms of accommodating greater Boston's continued residential growth. I can't remember where I read it, but it was part of a large state plan, and of course plans don't always (in fact they rarely) materialize as articulated.

Also, Ablarc, you are absolutely right about zoning. One of my favorite new urbanist inspired quotes is that, if the places we love (think portsmouth, back bay, etc.) were wiped out in a storm, it would be illegal to rebuild them today. This is ironic. We have, through zoning, prohibited many of the most desirable types of environments. When one considers that this is a phenomenon (single use zoning based on autos) driven by the widespread use of the automobile and the types of development patterns it compels, coupled with the fact that something like 80% of the built environment in the USA was constructed in the last 50 years, it is no wonder why suburban sprawl is as big of a problem as it has become.

My suggestion? Form based codes or completely scrapping all zoning. Of course, nuisance actions at common law would remain an option, and perhaps some limited form of city wide regulation applying to nuisances only could be retained, but I think zoning is a crock. Portland and Boston and Portsmouth and myriad other enjoyable towns had their best portions built BEFORE zoning. Zoning is constitutional, but NOT mandated by law at the highest level.