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the future of suburbia

Feb 21 '08 138 Last Comment
Barry LehrmanBarry Lehrman
Feb 21, 08 8:43 pm

Just as suburbs are getting the museum treatment, an article by Christopher B. Leinberger gives all those urban snobs, another reason to hate suburbia.



A demographic shift has pushed mcmansions into becoming tenament slums, with the foreclosure crisis speeding this train wreck along.

a likely surplus of 22 million large-lot homes (houses built on a sixth of an acre or more) by 2025—that’s roughly 40 percent of the large-lot homes in existence today.

For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay.


Take that! TOLL Brothers and other destroyers of the urban fringe.

Lifestyle centers won't save cul-de-sacs from gangs, drug dealers, or crime.

Makes me happy to live in a city!

...only about a third of the people surveyed solidly preferred traditional suburban lifestyles, featuring large houses and lots of driving. Another third, roughly, had mixed feelings. The final third wanted to live in mixed-use, walkable urban areas—but most had no way to do so at an affordable price. Over time, as urban and faux-urban building continues, that will change.

so the future is:

...The experience of cities during the 1950s through the ’80s suggests that the fate of many single-family homes on the metropolitan fringes will be resale, at rock-bottom prices, to lower-income families—and in all likelihood, eventual conversion to apartments.

This future is not likely to wear well on suburban housing. Many of the inner-city neighborhoods that began their decline in the 1960s consisted of sturdily built, turn-of-the-century row houses, tough enough to withstand being broken up into apartments, and requiring relatively little upkeep. By comparison, modern suburban houses, even high-end McMansions, are cheaply built. Hollow doors and wallboard are less durable than solid-oak doors and lath-and-plaster walls. The plywood floors that lurk under wood veneers or carpeting tend to break up and warp as the glue that holds the wood together dries out; asphalt-shingle roofs typically need replacing after 10 years. Many recently built houses take what structural integrity they have from drywall—their thin wooden frames are too flimsy to hold the houses up.

 

Emilio
Feb 21, 08 8:56 pm

well, definitely an exaggeration on the high end McMansions: i know at least two families that live in them and they are pretty well built. also doesn't know shit about frame construction: it's the exterior sheathing which gives the solidity to the studs, not the drywall. anyway, if the cheap houses do deteriorate, just build newer, more efficient ones on the same sites, which already have utilities, thus saving much woods and farmland.

Nam HendersonNam Henderson
Feb 21, 08 10:37 pm

Emilio, one of the points of the article is that on these sites although they may have infrastructure already for water, power etc
These systems were not designed for high loads of urban density. So as the ratio's of urban to sub/ex-urban living level out we won't be able to repurpose these newer suburban divisions for higher density.

Also, while the author may be technically incorrect about frame construction (with regards to support from drywall) i think the basic underlying premise stands. Meaning the basic bones of the current housing stock is not built out of materials that will stand up for long period of time, or that can be repurposed easily to other forms of housing etc..

Most frame construction i see (condo's etc) are relatively low quality construction. the benefit of them up till now has been that they are of a relatively low price...

trace™
Feb 21, 08 11:16 pm

I've always thought that this was inevitable, even without the housing crisis.

Seems like there should be a glut of Humvees, Suburbans and Excalades anyday now (especially with oil heading past $100).

liberty bell
Feb 21, 08 11:21 pm

Studs sheathed in vinyl siding are going to get at more racking resistance from drywall than the vinyl. Sheathed in wood or composite clapboard, of course, that's not the case.

I think a very interesting competition woudl be one that challenges us to reimagine a large-sized area - say three builder's "neighborhoods" surrounding a strip retail intersection - into a walkable, integrated community of middle income families. I'd enter that competition. And I think we are facing it as a huge upcoming problem.

Fred ScharmenFred Scharmen
Feb 21, 08 11:26 pm

I don' think anybody's laying the vinyl siding right on the studs? There's gotta be some OSB in there first.

liberty bell
Feb 21, 08 11:31 pm

Hahaha, my closest physical experience with the serious low end of that type of building was a musem installation critiquing suburban 'space' - and that was built w/no sheathing. I stand corrected 765! (Though I wouldn't put it past some builders to skip the sheathing if they could get away with it.)

And I think the author's point is valid - the drywall may be some of the highest quality "material" in those houses. I recall the OSB clapboard in Oregon growing mushrooms on the walls of houses in the Pacific Northwest a few years back.

will gallowaywill galloway
Feb 21, 08 11:40 pm

i would respectfully name this vision of dried and desicated suburbia as mostly wishful thinking.

it might fall out that way. it might not. i am guessing not. i am in fact guessing that something entirely unexpected will happen. which is what has been the case do far with our cities.

the urban fringe used to be ghettoes for the poor and the stigmatised, then became havens for wealthy, then the evangelical christians led the movement that gave us the suburbs we all know today...what happens next? i don't know...

cities change. the accuracy of guessing trends has been historically very poor. ejemplo primero, suburbia has in been relegated to doom and decay for at least a hundred years and yet it remains and thrives...now with 50% of population and employment in suburbia in usa there is not likely going to be an implosion. things will change, for certain. but moving back to city centre is maybe not the most likely scenario. the idea that suburbs will become walkable is also very nice, but most people will still work all over the city (with 2 people working th chances of both members of household working within walking distance to home are very very small). so unless the economics of employment and business location changes real fast the idea that people will walk anywhere is a big question for me...

the way i see it every city and every suburb will change locally. large trends will probably not be noticed until years later. we could be on cusp of something interesting. mass conversion to new urbanism? doubtful.

xacto
Feb 22, 08 12:30 am

The conclusions drawn in this article are absurd. As much as architects would like to think that the suburbs are going to disappear, i see that as being highly unlikely. Businesses have moved out to the suburbs along with former urbanites, and new technology like high-speed internet and video conferencing will continue to make long distance commuting less frequent for many professionals.

I agree with jump, the suburbs will transform, but they will not disappear.

I ask the question, what happens when bankers, doctors, lawyers and all their rich buddies no longer need to come into the city to make their livelihood?

What happens when the real estate bubble in cities like New York explode, and people are left with negative equity? No, I do not envy you urban dwellers.

Nam HendersonNam Henderson
Feb 22, 08 8:33 am

While agree that we aren't going to see large scale changes i do there are 2 valid points made here.

First the author makes the point that it is only in the last few (3-4) decades that the suburbs have really taken off. In the sense that a mjority or very large portion of th epopulation lives there. This was brought about by a number of factors. White flight, urban decay and the cheapness of the land/housing in the burbs.

However, the author points out that the last few years have begun to see not a reversal of this trend but rather a evening out of the ratios of suburban to urban housing. This is a result of a number of factors.

In many suburbs especially older or affluent ones housing prices have gone up to match those of some cities. As baby boomers age and become empty nesters many are realizing they prefer urban living, and finally there has been a resurgence/gentrification of urban living.

All this points to a trend wherein sub/exurban housing will still be a large force in this country. However rather than being close to 2/3 or more it will revert to 1/3 or thereabouts of our pop, which he suggests is the "historical" norm.

Personally i think there is some truth to all of this and although i don't think suburban living will go away i think we will see some reduction and reuse/repurposing.

I really like LibertyB, idea for a contest. Remakign a large section of one of these housing divisions into a walkable, mixed use neighborhood. I think there have been some small scale examples of this where in older burbs they are bginign to densify and developers are building lifestyle centers to mimic the urban density of a downtown...So, more than an abandoning of the burbs i think there will be a huge need to recreate them into better communities......

Sir Arthur Braagadocio
Feb 22, 08 9:05 am

for lb, close to what you're looking for flip that strip

i used to install seamless steel siding right over the old asbestos or vinyl siding on old homes that were already bowing from structural failure, i am still freakin' amazed me what people will cover up for a re-sale..and not to mention the unbelievable shitty constrcution of "high-end" apartments sold in Manhattan especially brooklyn...if you're looking - beware - i've detailed some of those, just to have it not built the right way.

i'm with jump and xacto, suburbs will never ever die, but neither will the downtown. I think if was Toffler who envisioned everyone working from their cottage, but obviously even with enhanced technology meeting people is still the quickest and most efficient way to do business.

every person wants a castle deep down, everyone wants the american dream, and part of what jump says about evangelical chrisitians founding the suburbs as we know it actually goes for all walks of life, since people really don't want to mix their personal life with personal lives of others...

the suburbs in question have to be addressed as well, in NJ and NY near Manhatten this article has absolutely no value, even with the recent housing bust, its still densely populated and people keep immigrating to New York.

now Arziona, Colorado, etc...that's where the problem is, brand new shitty construction across the way from a cow pasture with new infrastructure no one will use, that's where its going to get interesting.


will gallowaywill galloway
Feb 22, 08 9:21 am

lars lerup has done some interesting things in that vein. so have most of the new urbanist designers, though not as fancy or forward looking as lars.

the idea that the proportion of population will change is not likely to me. not unless the negative externalities (to borrow the economists view) associated with suburbia become large enough to make a disinvestment in the current situation the better choice. that may happen, but i am still not convinced. will be interesting to see how much behaviour changes now that oil prices have past the $100/barrel mark...will people still commute the same distances, but with more fuel efficient cars, or will they move, even quit a job, to make the economics work...? next few years will tell.

my view of suburbia is strongly sympathetic to economic theory fundamentals, which attempt to be cynically and ruthlessly objective in order to make intelligent reality based decisions...for economists the assumption is that we should start from now and work forward.

the planners approach is kind of the opposite, working out an outcome and then figuring out how to "get there from here" by reverse-engineering the idea. but that approach seldom works...and i think often those who advocate for a certain outcome are quick to jump onto trends they imagine fit into that reverse-engineered model - endowing them with authority as though they are proofs of concept. when in fact they may be nothing of the sort.

my suspicion is that this is another one of those times. i mean if you think about how many times and how many ways the garden city has been used in the last 100 years, it really is amazing. bruegmann pointed this out at a lecture once, making the observation that it was a solution in search of a problem. the list of people advocating for the garden city model are amusing when considered historically, as they have flipped a few times from people trying to get people out of the city to people trying to get people back in to the city.

and yet the untamed (lovely!) city goes on and the garden city is still just a meme...

not that namhenderson isn't correct. suburbs may become more urban. but things may go the opposite way entirely, towards even lesser density...remember fishman declared suburban growth was over in the 80's and look what has happened since then...

brian buchalski
Feb 22, 08 9:27 am

american suburbs will slowly transform into slums resembling those of other large metro areas throughout the world as most members of the american middle class that currently inhabit this housing stock will slid towards the poorer end of the growing chasm between rich & poor.

some of the wealthy will maintain large estates in suburban areas but these will become fewer and farther between and increasingly fortified. i'm reminded of a point made by naomi klein (?) in an essay last year that the world will increasingly resemble the red zone/green zone fortification urbanism of baghdad.

but then again, i might be wrong.

vado retro
Feb 22, 08 9:35 am

i went to a IRC amendment seminar a couple of years back and believe there are builders out there who do not use sheathing.

vado retro
Feb 22, 08 9:36 am

also there are many suburbs ie tract housing developments that have been slums for thirty years. they're just white trash slums is all. pass the meth please.

won and done williams
Feb 22, 08 9:59 am

leinberger is a u of michigan real estate professor cum new urbanist who fancies himself a progressive developer, i.e. he specializes in "urban loft living." there may be a hint of truth to what he's writing, but there's also a hell of a lot of politicking involved with his piece as well. i find opinions like this so completely detached from the realities of our cities and suburbs to be almost laughable. he is very narrowly focused on one market trend (the subprime housing meltdown) as a large predictor of a major socio-cultural trend. while the subprime market will be a very important trend in the coming few years, there are major institutional and infrastructural problems far larger than the subprime market that are preventing people from repopulating our cities: the biggest being public safety and education.

in my home city of detroit, there has been an increase in people moving back to city, but not the way you might think. while there are some "progressive" developers, the ones that seem to be doing the best are buying large tracts of land, subdividing them into large acre lots, creating cul-de-sacs and gating the whole thing, i.e. sububanizing the city. while this may sound distasteful to many urbanites, these gated communities, while still socio-economically segregated, are creating some of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in an area marked by some of the worst racial segregation in the country.

all of which is to say that these housing trands are far more complicated than what people like mr. leinberger would like to make them appear.

evilplatypus
Feb 22, 08 10:22 am

shouldnt we be making a distiction between between old suburbs vs. postwar suburbs vs. exurban development and sprawl suburbs.

If you look at the mature suburbs of LA and Chicago and prob NY area too - those suburbs achieve a density far greater than most smaller cities and have mass transit serving them too - so the suburban model isnt all bad in all cases either

evilplatypus
Feb 22, 08 10:23 am

and Detroit - they have some beatiful, densely populated burbs. In fact most of the great lakes region is fairly dense old suburban/urban in character

Nam HendersonNam Henderson
Feb 22, 08 11:02 am

Jump...

Yeah i love some fo the work and writing Lars Lerup has done...

Great stuff. I am currently working through reading a giant tome he helped put together which is available online. I don't have it write now as I am at work but whne i get home i will add the link to this disscussion.

As many have pointed out. Yes there is a big difference between older suburbs and the newer exurbs..
Many older suburban areas are begining to densify.

Although the decline of the suburbs has been long predicted i think there are a number of factors which will make this move away from the burbs a growing but not complete trend.

Including the end of cheap fossil fuels, the coming retirement of the boomer population, the housing/credit collapse which many observers are pointing out hasn't even been fully felt or understood. Just the other day another bank had to write off billions. Trust me this shakeup will havbe profound effects on how American's build and buy homes for at least a number of years..And when combined with the growing expense of oil/gas i think some shrinkage is inevitable...

brian buchalski
Feb 22, 08 11:29 am

ha...now that i've actually followed the link and read the article i feel it'd be worthwhile to thank leinberger for his acknowledgement of my favorite actors, kurt russell, in one of his seminal roles as snake in escape from new york...although these days i'm personally favoring captain ron as one of my top movies (just ahead of the genius of cocktail)

won and done williams
Feb 22, 08 11:36 am

but nam, you're really only considering one half of the question: why people would move back to cities? without looking at the other half: why people would not? before people will move back to cities, cities will have to address two issues: public education and public safety. these two issues will trump rising gas prices and real estate prices everytime. why? because they are about family and notions of family are even bigger than economics. if there is even the perception that cities are unsafe or that the schools are bad, there is no way that middle class families would even consider moving back despite the issues that you cite above.

evilplatypus
Feb 22, 08 11:43 am

Dont call them dead yet. As long as land and taxes are cheaper they'll always be suburbs. its inevitable unless you have government mandates and growth caps etc. - you could imagine the corruption that would come with that! Think LA 1920's-50's - with the growth control of the water resevoirs.

The idea of freedom to roam and each family it's plot of land and garden is a western ideal going back to ancient Greece.

brian buchalski
Feb 22, 08 11:44 am

jafidler, i'm not convinced of your assessment that the article is focused on the "one market trend (the subprime housing meltdown)." leinberger and arthur nelson (also cited in the article) had a large presence at the um/uli real estate forum and presented similar data (and lots of it) at the forum in october 2006...clearly pre-dating much of the relatively recent subprime meltdown that started last year, 2007.

moreover, if you read the leinberger article i think it's clear that he is doing just the opposite of using "one market trend (the subprime housing meltdown) as a larger predictor of a major socio-cultural trend." on the contrary, his citing of popular 1990's television programs such as seinfeld and friends is an effort not to predict socio-cultural trends but to acknowledge them in their role of the emerging trend that he is hypothesizing for the suburbs.

but even using the word "suburbs" is somewhat misleading because leinberger repeatedly makes the distinction of "walkable communities" regardless of whether they are located beyond city boundaries or fit the traditional urban model.

evilplatypus
Feb 22, 08 11:48 am

What Jafidler said - suburban comunities give residents control to run their villages the way they want. big cities can be corrupting and smash entire areas to bend to the will of the state - the enormous population of DuPage county in Illinois is the result of hevy handed Federaly imposed urban renewal of the 50's and 60's. Estimated 1 million people left the westside of Chicago never to return. Theyre neighborhoods were declared blighted, housing project slums erected on their property siezed by eminent domain - this is a big reason people mistrust big cities. The destructive failure of progresive policy makers.

brian buchalski
Feb 22, 08 11:50 am

jafidler, middle class families are, in all likelihood, not going to be able to afford to move back to the city even though many will desire to move to these walkable communities.

i suspect that detroit is warping your judgement somewhat here. it's true that suburban typologies are beginning to take hold within the boundaries of detroit but that seems to be as much a function of an unusual inward folding of the growth of suburban sprawl. why keep moving outwards when there are practically greenfields to develop within city boundaries?

brian buchalski
Feb 22, 08 11:53 am

captain ron

won and done williams
Feb 22, 08 11:57 am

one thing to note about seinfeld, friends et al, they are all single without children.

evilplatypus
Feb 22, 08 11:58 am

this is the trend here as well puddles - the suburbs are sprawling into Chicago from the edges. I was in Queens NY last year - similar situation.

won and done williams
Feb 22, 08 12:03 pm

puddles, i'm not sure why you perceive so much desire to move to walkable communities whether one can afford it or not. such desire is coming from an ideology that i do not believe is shared by the vast majority of americans, and as i wrote above, even when put in economic terms, i believe the notion of preservation of the family will even trump the bottom line, let alone a particular ideology.

brian buchalski
Feb 22, 08 12:34 pm

i don't feel that walkable communities are an ideaology at all. in fact, i suspect that the desire for convenient access to amenities cuts across most idealogies. in some regards, that same desire probably played a role in the initial popularity of suburbs (it's easier to drive than walk, right? well it was easier to drive than walk) but has been replaced with the reality that automobiles are as trapping as they are liberating.

and regarding families, leinberger also points out that demographics are trending towards smaller families, more single people, more empty nest old people living longer. in just a couple of decades only one in four american households will have children.

oddly, i'm not a particular fan of leinberger, nelson, or anything of these other academic think tank types...but i'll admit that he's amassed a rather impressive body of data to support his arguments.

these conversations were more fun over drinks at gracies...and what the hell is up with ben wallace?

lletdownl
Feb 22, 08 12:37 pm

im afraid i agree with jafidler.

There is still, what i percieve as being a majority of families across the country would in fact PREFER suburban life to city life. Even if city schools were safe, and crime was manageable, i think there are lots of people who identify as strongly with their suburbanism (though maybe not vocally) as many identify with their urbanity.

Having grown up in a suburb of Kansas City which is a picture perfect example of the suburban development gone wild, i witnessed first hand a distinct bitterness towards urban areas. Based not in fact, but in feeling. Just as many city dwellers despise suburbs, many suburban dwellers despise cities.

I guess the point is that yes, economics and social trends play a big part in development, but perhaps and even BIGGER part that we are not discussing yet is the fact that many people identify with big backyards, cul de sacs and 3 cars per family. And many of those people who identify with those typically suburban traits could easily afford to live in cities, they just choose not to.

evilplatypus
Feb 22, 08 12:48 pm

Lets not forget the deep social impacts city life had on many folks pre WW2. Cramped living, slum lords, eminant domaine, etc. It did leave a bit of a bad taste in the people who fled's mouths. Like everything else - somewhere inbetween the 2 shall meet.

Sir Arthur Braagadocio
Feb 22, 08 12:54 pm

i think Jump's comparison of economic thinkers and urban planners is very helpful here..."emergence" and "complexity" have a practical purpose in economics, in architecture it's still kind of not well founded. either way, the world does not work towards "planned outcomes" it emergence organically into systems not really comprehened yet.

and this is where i'll say the outcome of suburbs isn't as this article sees it or as most urban planners would hope.

the american way is the way of the individual's will. even if oil prices sore 10 fold, americans will find a way to commute efficiently before they give up the 3 cars per family scenario. electric cars will become big money...

here is a perfect example:

do you really think americans want to give up SUV's? GM knows the answer, of course not. so at the superbowl they run an add, the first SUV hybrid, 21MPG...which is nothing, but you get the idea.

Europeans immigrated to places like Australia and North America so they wouldn't have to live like Europeans.

Nam HendersonNam Henderson
Feb 22, 08 12:58 pm

Puddles,

Your exactly right.
He points to not only the sub-prime mortgagae et al, but also the trend towards smaller families, less married people with families.

Additionally yes, automobiles are not as effecient/easy now in many areas. Although the greater Los Angeles area isn't exaclt a burb i was watching the most recent Charlie Rose with Mayor Villaraigosa and he pointed out that in the greater LA area people spend 2 weeks a year in commuting. Which he pointed out is a huge hit to the economy in lost productivity..

So...To reiterate. While many Americans do still like the idea of the burbs, or at least live in them, there is a growing recognition that they don't work on many levels and that at the very least they will need to be densified becoming less sprawled burb and more neo-urban form....

Besides which no one has addressed the issue that i broght up of Cheap energy (read fossil fuels) which is the only real reason we as a society can afford to have the burbs.
Peak oil many industry insiders predict is right around the corner...

If so bye bye not just burbs but a whole way of life....

evilplatypus
Feb 22, 08 1:03 pm

nessessity is however the mother of all invention

brian buchalski
Feb 22, 08 1:13 pm

umm....if oil prices soared another 10 fold anytime soon (on top of the nearly 10 fold they've risen the past 15 years) america will literally stop moving. they're years away from any kind of viable electric car infrastructure and are probably much closer to a no car infrastructure, i.e., walking, than they are to a progressive step into the world of electric/hybrid/alternative/etc motoring.

i'd also be skeptical of proclaiming that general motors knows anything.

vado retro
Feb 22, 08 1:20 pm

really what does it matter if empty nester tom and marge move into a condo in downtown indianapolis if they are still going to get in their prius and drive 100 blocks to trader joe's. just because someone moves downtown doesn't mean their psychologically living downtown.

treekiller
Feb 22, 08 1:56 pm

Wow - great discussion and many good points.

the trend towards longer and longer commutes (100miles+) seems to be be a phenomena that has peaked now that the real estate bubble popped and folks can find places in established communities again (if they can land a mortgage).

the demographics of suburban/exurban communities is the economic growth an maturity of these regions, many new jobs flipping burgers or working in calling centers have followed the folks out from the central city. Now people are commuting around cities (ie atlanta, washington's beltway cities, et al) to get between work, home and the 'third place' ie lifestyle destinations.

but all this is true only when there is a mature infrastructure and well developed network of routes. Leinberger's thesis is that the places that didn't develope good connections or any civic amenities (ie the poor towns/developments) will decay into slums and tenements for those displaced from the current economy.

As cities mature, infrastructure gets built. The shift from the rust/snow belt to the sun belt was the shift from infrastructure heavy places like Detroit and Philly (with high taxes and corruption), to the libertarian inspired sun belt with no infrastructure and a light civic tradition (but still corrupt). So part of atlanta's drought this summer was caused bu the lack of water infrastructure and managment for the common good. instead the officials buried their heads in the sand and let the homeowners over water their lawns and SUVs till the reservoir was almost dry.

evilplatypus
Feb 22, 08 1:58 pm

theres really not a whole lot of "urban" in most cities anymore. i think small college towns and small midwest mfr cities are more urban, dense and walkable than even Indy or other big regional cities, whose cores where turned into surface lots.

postal
Feb 22, 08 2:09 pm

libertybell, i dig your idea for a competition...

vado, your point is quite true. i've experienced this first hand with my fiance. and as lletdownl noted above she thinks she PREFERS (and yes, in all caps like lletdownl has noted) the suburban lifestyle that she's grown up in. and though we technically live within the city limits, she commutes an hour and drives everywhere. though she doesn't really realize that life for her would change very little if we were to move to the actual suburbs. where as my carless life would be unmanagable, or so i think. (this is a weekly argument at our place) either way, there is a huge stigma attached to both lifestyles that needs to be disregarded. why make the distinction? its what a person does to make themselves happy that ultimately makes them happy. why make my brother eat mustard? (f'in ketchup lover!)

i think the factors addressed in the article above, though true, aren't really such an incredible driving force that all suburbs will go to pot. there's an ebb and flow to properties and neighborhoods all over the place. with the house flipping boom, property has turned into a stock market, people nervously watching their property values on cyberhome or zillow.

...i'm not sure where i'm going in this post... but one things for sure...

...i'll probably be moving to the suburbs. help!

...hmmm, but how will the suburbs cope with becoming slums, i'm not sure. that's a good question...

Emilio
Feb 22, 08 2:20 pm

i've now read the whole article too (i was initially just responding to his construction quality comments). Leinberger doesn't bring up many issues that are all that new (Jane Jacobs had the walkable community thing down years ago). there's no denying that a lot of people like cities and even denser town-like places: but the theoretical basis of his observations and his quoting movies and TV shows as trends only goes so far. i agree with many here that the "suburbs" aren't going away any time soon, inspite of these trends.

but rather than just look at statistics and theoretical tomes, i basically look at my extended family (siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles). they live in a whole range of what you would call suburbs, from just post-WW2 ones to very recent developments. they like were they live just fine and i don't think any of them will be moving back into the city any time soon. most of them are close enough to go into the city center when they wish, some even by train, but do so only occasionally. and, yes, their lifestyles depend on the car, but so does most people's (not too many of us actually give up our car totally). the quality of their house construction varies too, but here's the key: they have enough money to upkeep them and even the stud walls and siding ones look just fine (even a solid old stone house will decay if water infiltration is allowed and it's not maintained.)

it DOES mostly come down to economics and income level of the owners, and like vado pointed out, there are 30-40 year old suburbs that have been "slums" for a long time. but to see this overwhelming trend of deserted suburbs that he foresees, i just don't buy it.

brian buchalski
Feb 22, 08 2:26 pm

in case anyone's interested, here's a link to leinberger's website

j
Feb 22, 08 2:50 pm

i think the american dream is alive and well - the dream of a house with a white picket fence. people in this country love space. they love their cars and they love their yards. in most places, a big house in the suburbs defines success (i won't speak to the validity of that premise). and so the suburb will endure as long as america has space to spare.

trends are what they are. sure, some people are moving into the city. and this movement is much more pronouned now, as some formerly decaying cities have been revitalized by an insurgence of condos. but there are increasingly fewer reasons to move back to the city. fuel is still cheap and as long as people value space, fuel, in whatever form it takes, will continue to be so. fuel costs are up and people in increasing numbers are choosing more fuel-efficient cars, but the best selling vehicle in the world (by far) is still the ford f-series.

less and less is required of the city because technology means that people aren't tethered to the city any longer. the city is just like the suburb, with service-related businesses moving in as the world doesn't require offices to be central any longer. starbucks and panera move downtown and law offices move away.

people who value density and walkability can move in town and walk to kroger and people who value space can still drive to another one 20 miles outside of downtown. i agree that we'll see less of the death of the suburb than the equalization of urban/suburban living.

Emilio
Feb 22, 08 3:00 pm

well, j, i don't know if that's right either. for the most part, the suburbs still exist because of the "magnetic force" of the city (and i understand that there are ex-urbs in the middle of nowhere). even the suburban relatives i talked about want to occasionally go to a play, a ball game, a really fine restaurant, or any other of the countless things that only big cities can really supply. no, the city is not just like a suburb, and culturally and historically never was: there are some dynamics that happen only in the density of cities, and some people will always love living in them (myself included).

Sir Arthur Braagadocio
Feb 22, 08 4:25 pm

even at soaring gas prices which are still considerably less than eorope americans have only just noticed the mpg number recently and even then many who can afford to or write off gas on their taxes still by the f series dually supercab

gm had an electric car ten years ago see who killed the electric car documentsary
there is a ten million dollar prize this year for the company who comes up with the 100 mpg car

markets control markets regardless of think tank planning when it becomes necessary the electric or hybrid will dominate the market

100 years ago 8 of the 10 largest cities were in the north now the only 3 left are ny chi and phil

what do think everyone was escaping from....dirty cold dense industrial regions
why do many retire in florida

many suburbs were once towns within a close distance of a city many of these now suburbs still have mainstree see parker colorado or just about every so called burb of nyc even my undergrad town of lawrence ks is becoming a suburb of kansas city

owning a car is a way of life and so is having bbq s and a huge yard nothing not even suburban slums will stop that and we all know when the time comes these suburban slums will be the best investment for flipping even with shitty construction

if you really want to see what a suburban slum can lok like take a drive through the back roads of the south especially arkansas and muississippi

this article like any other article that guesses trends is interesting but proves nothing unless of course the future pans out this way which it wont

Sir Arthur Braagadocio
Feb 22, 08 4:52 pm

why suburban slums will be a gold mine for investment in 20 years, my trend article

the US population continues to grow . modern day sub standaard brand new construction will last in some form or another for at least a quarter century. my house is nearly 200 years old without a single level floor and a main floor beam cracked...it aint going nowhere. due to the slum condition the municipality will not be able to finance a proper bulding department. neighboring areas will have eventual economic growth and people will migrate near these new jobs. a smart developer will take advantagee of this situation and buy up so many house and do maybe just paint jobs to buildings that the municpality will hardly be capable of properly inspecting the homes due to the shortage of building inspecotrs etc...even if the infrastructure has collapsed te municpality will find ways to borrow money to fix the infrastructure up in turn adding to the new economic boom.

this whole article was an investment tip, keep your eye out for these slums

won and done williams
Feb 22, 08 5:09 pm

the problem is technological, not spatial. gm or toyota will solve the problem before duany or leinberger will.

Sir Arthur Braagadocio
Feb 22, 08 6:59 pm

exactly jafidler...i thought of another example which is actually management, but makes space seem less important (on that note see Jean Baudriliard and Paul Virillo)

my bro who was working on a PhD in economics wrote a paper about the success of RyanAir (the airline company in Europe where you can get a ticket from London to Dublin for 10 bucks before taxes). the main stat my brother used to prove the companies success was the efficiency of the amount of employees per customers. the best airline company in the US in this area was Southwest with 1 employee servicing 300 customers. RyanAir had 1 employee for 9000 customers.

you might ask why is this important. oil prices have risen which has translated to higher prices in Jet Fuel for airplanes. instead of causing flight costs to go up, the costs have gone down in the last decade.

between technology and management, any looming doom will be survived and possibly avoided all together.


will gallowaywill galloway
Feb 23, 08 2:39 am

wow. lots written.

personally i am not so sanguine about technology. i think we are in for some serious problems as a result of energy and social/environmental costs that will not be addressable through technology fix(-es). somewhere along the way cultural changes will inevitably take place.

my real issue with the article is that NOTHING points to the walkable city/community becoming the new standard. it may happen, but really the problems we face are much bigger than the limits we used to judge everything by and it will take smarter and more open-minded people to resolve them in a palatable/realistic way than i see in the article by the esteemed mr. Leinberger. all he is giving us is what he wants to happen. how useful is that? lerup at least is trying to give us what we NEED. that impresses me.

as far as data goes i can give you information and studies that will prove anything you want about the city. i am not exagerating. there is so much out there that any idea is supported by actual evidence. to me that is a signal that we don't know what we are measuring. but instead the measurers just assume everyone else is wrong, cuz they got some kind of bone to pick. so my reaction really to this kind of article is sweet fuck, not another one.

for my phd on, unfortunately, the suburbs and their role in the future city, i read literally hundreds and hundreds of articles and books all saying contradicting things, many of them written by careful and intelligent researchers who were not even trying to force a point like this guy is. to me this article is ultimately just one more largely useless self-aggrandazing piece.

what i am really waiting for is someone to really get it together and give us a bit of something useful. for now lerup is on my list, but he seems to be more of a loner than he should be...

brian buchalski
Feb 23, 08 9:09 am

i'm not sure that there's any point dwelling on a suburb vs. downtown dialectic. this certainly isn't battle with a winner and loser. leinberger concedes that there are plenty of his "walkable communities" in both urban cores and suburbs and that single family homes on large lots aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

but let me ask this, if you were going invest money knowing what you know today in new developments, would it be single-family detached homes on generously sized lots? or would you target mixed-use projects that contribute to the density of options in a given community?

vado retro
Feb 23, 08 9:56 am

although people are feeling the pinch, i am beginning to wonder if 100 dollar a barrel oil really matters that much. its as if people are resigned to the fact that gas is going up and when its 3.20 a gallon they curse a bit under their breath but when it goes down to 3.00 they feel as though they've gotten a deal. and although sales of big suv's is down now, people are still buying suvs and still buying big cars and minivans, at least here in the midwest. people drive. people drive. people like to drive. even when driving should be a deterrant, people get in their cars and drive. you can do business in your car. you can listen to the music you want. you don't have sweaty people sitting right beside you as you do on a subway. hell i used to drive 45 miles to work and it took the same amount of time as it did to ride the redline from rogers park to the loop. the car is a freaking womb for people. its an identifier, a pacifier, an empowerer, a liberator for people. and until you outlaw them you will have sprawl, suburbs, congestion, smog, greenhouse effects, global warming etc...

disclaimer... from age 19 to 36 i did not own a car.

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