Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Suburban Challenge

I haven't posted for a bit because of any number of factors - busyness at work, inaugural hoopla, watching all of season 4 of Lost last week - but now that the premiere of season five is past us, it's time to move on. Unfortunately I have nothing particularly new or exciting to say, so let me just link to this Newsweek article about "The Suburban Challenge," which highlights some of the changes and issues suburbia faces:

Suburbs now provide more jobs than cities. Only about 22 percent of jobs in major metropolitan areas are located within three miles of a traditional downtown; twice as many are more than 10 miles out. Suburbs also host more immigrants: in the largest metropolitan areas, nearly six in 10 foreign-born residents now live in the suburbs. In places like Charlotte, N.C., Minneapolis, Sacramento, Calif., and Washington, the first address of many new Americans is most likely down a suburban lane.

Then there are the downsides. Nationwide, a million more suburbanites are living below the poverty line than city dwellers. Suburban St. Louis County, Mo., has 50 percent more working-poor families than the city of St. Louis itself. The mortgage crisis only adds to the problems. The foreclosure rate in Clayton County, which encompasses many of Atlanta's southern suburbs, is twice as high as that in Atlanta. Homes in neighborhoods close to downtown Chicago, Pittsburgh and Portland, Ore., have held their value, while prices for homes far from those urban cores have plummeted, according to new research by Joe Cortright, an economist at Impresa Consulting.

The article goes on to note that "the mental line between city and suburb no longer makes much sense; policies need to treat metropolitan areas as a whole." I've argued for some time that we need not pit cities against suburbs, but rather that we should seek the welfare of the whole metropolis. Urban issues are suburban issues, and vice versa. As new suburbs and exurbs become the new cities, old suburbs become old cities, with all the same kinds of challenges and issues. The article concludes:

The end of the (traditional) suburbs was inevitable. Hopeful, mobile Americans may once have thought they could leave behind the pressures, demands and compromises of city life. But social concerns inexorably follow society. Our leaders, starting with a metro-minded president, now have to make the mental jump across the urban-suburban boundary, and catch up.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"And all levels of government need to reinvent the physical landscape. We need to create walkable communities and more public transit to link people in the burbs to jobs, schools, concert halls and sports fields that may be in the next neighborhood, the next municipality or the next county. As much as they may love their SUVs, suburbanites would benefit from lower greenhouse-gas emissions; less traffic and higher housing values (proximity to transit boosts home prices)."

I think this is the most important part of the article. However, it also means that governments have to put a lot of money in up front. I don't know if many will be willing to do so.

The congress for new Urbanism posted an article promoting a stimulus bill that would produce some of this.

There should be no rift between city and suburb, but suburban design is not stable and sustainable that is being proven by the article and has been proven my countless other incidents. Cities and their suburbs can work together, but I don't know who suburbs will maintain stability without becoming more urban (that doesn't mean downtown urban, but traditional neighborhood urban).

I also did worry about one part of the article. It suggested that inner-city non-profits move out to the suburbs and target the poor there. I support caring for the poor in the suburbs, but I think that needs to be a new breed to non-profits the issues and the landscape of suburbia and suburban poverty is different (bus tokens vs gas money), the inner-city non-profits are already bogged down and overworked and I believe that suburban non-profits would be able to create better community than branches of urban non-profits. I also think for suburbia to shed its escapist characterization that community members need to turn to community members.