Monday, April 14, 2008

Suburbia's midlife crisis

A commenter pointed me to this recent Boston Review article which, interestingly enough, starts out talking about my home county of DuPage County here in the western Chicago suburbs. He writes that "urban decline moves to the suburbs":
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 are 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.

This says something about how current economic conditions are affecting our suburban context. It has been over half a century since the initial mid-20th-century suburban boom, so while newest suburbs continue to grow and expand, older suburbs are hitting midlife crisis and decline. For many decades, counties like DuPage have had high levels of development, investment and prosperity. Counties have gotten used to certain amounts of growth and income. But now things are tapering off because counties are running out of land for new development, and previous levels of investment, income and spending are becoming unsustainable. As new suburbs/exurbs become new cities, old suburbs become old cities, with similar challenges of adapting to new economic realities.

So as local governments face increasing costs, expect to see more budget cuts of various services that may make life more difficult for our suburban neighbors, especially the most vulnerable. This may well become an opportunity for the church to partner with the nonprofit sector, as churches find ways to meet needs and minister to people that are falling through the cracks.

1 comment:

Real Live Preacher said...

What I'm noticing in Texas is abandoned retail space further away from town. The pace of creating retail strip centers near suburbs seems to be increasing. And the number of years before they decline is decreasing. We actually have one near my house that was finished two years ago and never had a tenet. A little four unit strip mall that went from new to seemingly abandoned with no stage in between.