This CNN.com article on the decline of the suburbs and the rise of "walkable urbanism" (a.k.a. New Urbanism), relies too much on Arthur C. Nelson:

As the market catches up to the demand for more mixed use communities, the United States could see a notable structural transformation in the way its population lives. ... [Arthur C. Nelson, director of Virginia Tech's Metropolitan Institute,] estimates that in 2025 there will be a surplus of 22 million large-lot homes that will not be left vacant in a suburban wasteland but instead occupied by lower classes who have been driven out of their once affordable inner-city apartments and houses. The so-called McMansion, he said, will become the new multi-family home for the poor. "What is going to happen is lower and lower-middle income families squeezed out of downtown and glamorous suburban locations are going to be pushed economically into these McMansions at the suburban fringe," said Nelson. "There will probably be 10 people living in one house."
Nelson is a prolific and long-time scholar in urban policy, but he's boldly predicted about 13 of the last 0 dramatic transformations in the urban landscape. First of all, I don't grant the article's premise that New Urbanism will become the new American Dream, replacing suburban life. New Urbanists have been claiming that the era of New Urbanism is right around the corner(!) for about 15 years now. They've convinced journalists write breathless articles about the coming of New Urbanism so many times I've lost count. The article notes that more and more young people want to live in walkable urban areas. Yes, they do. But then they get married and have kids, and move to where there's less crime—suburban areas (yes, crime rates in urban areas have decreased significantly, but they're still higher than in suburban areas). Preferences change over time. Just because young people want to live in walkable urban areas today doesn't mean that they'll always want to live in walkable urban areas. Second, there won't be a wholesale exile of low-income families to the suburbs. The low-paying jobs are concentrated in the urban areas, and low-income families can't afford the already high—and rising—transportation costs of commuting to work in the urban core from the suburbs. Affluent people relocating to walkable urban areas will displace some low-income families, but those low-income families will just move to other poor neighborhoods in the urban core. Poverty won't be dispersed, it will become more concentrated. If affluent people flock back to the urban areas, it will be because of high gas prices. High transportation costs won't shift the different income groups around the traditional city-suburb model. Rather, high transportation costs will compress the traditional city-suburb model. Affluent people will still live on the fringes of the metropolitan area and poor people will still live in the center, it's just that the metropolitan area will be geographically smaller.

5 comments:

GFW said...

So, if the urban/suburban area compresses (which sounds reasonable) what will happen to the outermost suburbs? Stand empty? Occupied by squatters?

Anonymous said...

I don't think they actually compress. The prices on outer places will fall until the travel economics make sense.

RH

Anonymous said...

Your data on crime statistics is from 2005.

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