May 16, 2008

The ghetto formerly known as the suburbs

I'm going keep blogging about this until I'm blue in the fingers... people no longer want to live in the suburbs. The truth is that, due to longer and longer commuting times, higher gas prices and less of a desire for whites to get away from minority neighbors, all the demand growth for housing is currently in cities.

And lo and behold, look at today's U.S. home construction report:

The U.S. Commerce Department is reporting construction rose by 8.2 percent in April, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.03 million units. However, the growth came from a big jump in apartment construction. Building of single-family homes continued to weaken.

1 comment:

ProblemWithCaring said...

I enjoyed that article last month, though I think these are old themes in urban planning, and the author has a very myopic and urbanistic point of view. Some things to note:

1) While the lack of regulation in the lending industry led to huge housing bubbles in "exurbs" surrounding large metropolitan areas, this housing bubble will affect all areas. Right now it looks worse "out there" because it is, but many of the issues raised in the Atlantic article will hit some urban communities (metor LA, for one) just as hard as suburban ones.

2) Again, these ideas in American urban-planning have been around a long time, so why don’t we see more families living in the cities? The reasons are numerous, some having to do with the better quality of life in suburbs even with commuting; some having to do with the freedom afforded by the automobile; and some having to do with the inherent problems of cities. For example, even with the rising cost of gas, the savings between a 110-mile commute and a 10-mile commute is still much less than the savings on an $800k home versus a $200k home. People will always buy a Prius instead or at the very least, downgrade from the SUV. Further, in knowledge industry based suburbs, full time commuting is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Many savvy businesses setup satellite offices in suburbs as a recruitment incentive and encourage telecommuting all or part of the week.

3) I think it would be interesting to see if the author really went looking at American cities, beyond the one or two examples he provided, for evidence. At least one of the blighted areas he referenced in Charlotte, NC was very poorly constructed in an overbuilt area. It is no surprise that this development has decayed rapidly into a crime ridden slum - a quick reserach on Goole shows it was an exception for the Charlotte area and really shouldn’t be used as a generalization.

All that said, I think the author is correct in that, with the housing crisis, a lot of the “newly arrived” suburbs, those without the infrastructure and sense of community, will feel a lot of pressure and some/many may not survive. Unfortunately, this is not a problem of suburban decay, more of American decay.