Therapy for those making the city to suburb move

For families that are having a hard time leaving the city behind, the move to the suburbs can be easier if others help:

People move for many reasons. Brokers, however, see a familiar thread: Couples move to the suburbs after having kids. And, as people marry later and live in the city longer, moving becomes more than just packing. Mentally and emotionally, experts say, people wrestle with changing from city dweller to suburbanite.

“I see this all the time with my practice,” said David Klow, owner of Skylight Counseling Center, which has offices in Chicago and Skokie. “Where we live gives us a sense of identity.”

Swapping city life for the suburbs is different from moving to another town or neighborhood. Real estate agents say city-to-suburbs folks often need special hand-holding…

In September, Alison Bernstein launched Suburban Jungle in Chicago, which she started after moving from New York City to the surrounding area and feeling lost on which neighborhood would best fit her family. The company’s sole purpose is helping families transition from, for example, Lincoln Park to Lake Forest. Employees meet with shoppers, aiming to best match a town to their personality. They connect clients to suburb experts and locals at no cost, taking a commission from the sale.

“Our job is literally 98 percent therapy and not real estate,” Bernstein said. “It’s like, ‘Am I making the right move?’ It’s a lot of stress, and it’s a big change.”

Even as Americans move quite a bit (see evidence here and here), it can be a stressful process. However, two things strike me about this particular article:

  1. All the people cited here are on the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum. The moves invoked include going from Lincoln Park to Hinsdale or Lake Forest. These are people who can afford to use a company like Suburban Jungle.
  2. Some of the fear of the suburban life might be driven by negative stereotypes of the suburbs. Some of these may have some truth – such as having fewer entertainment spots in the suburbs – but the typical suburban critiques (which have a long history dating back nearly a century) present a very one-sided view.

All together, being able to move to these kinds of suburban communities – wealthy, safe, good schools, clean, high property values – would be a dream for many people. On the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum, people often move to the suburbs seeking necessities such as work or cheaper housing but can end up in suburbs that have many problems that cities feature.

Several reasons Americans may be moving toward rejecting sprawl

An architecture writer sums up some of the arguments of why Americans might be starting to turn against sprawl:

In short, builders are recognizing that buyers (and renters, too!) value the neighborhood as much as — if not more than — the house. And what they want from that neighborhood might not be McMansions and four-car garages after all. Resale value may not in fact trump all else. Young and old, whether they’re in the city or the suburbs, want to walk to places like restaurants and shops. (And let’s stop talking about the integration of things like cafes, public transit and bike racks as “urbanizing” an area, which only reinforces the divide between two entities that are divided enough already.)

People have begun to wake up to the fact that the more time spent in the car means poorer health and less time with their families — and they’re seeking shorter commutes. They’re interested in smaller homes that are easier to maintain (and less expensive to heat and cool). Young millennials and older baby boomers are also showing less and less interest in car ownership and a corresponding greater interest in public transit, walking and biking. And again, it’s likely that we’re all less interested in continuing to discuss “urban” and “suburban” as dueling polar opposites — and more interested in recognizing there’s mutual benefit to some overlap.

The aforementioned changes point to the fact that a paradigmatic shift in our concept of the American dream is underway. And this shift is not just because of the recession, says Gregory Vilkin, managing principal and president of MacFarlane Partners, quoted in that USA Today piece, “It’s no longer the American dream to own a plot of land with a house on it and two cars in the driveway.”

And here is her summary of the people still defending sprawl:

And yet … there are still those who are having none of it. And they are a vocal and often breathtakingly well-funded minority. For them, the sprawl that characterized the years leading up to the financial crisis remains a dream to strive for. Any threat to the McMansion of yore is equated to “feudal socialism” (I kid you not). And these opponents not only excel at mobilizing the troops but at mastering the message. Take a look at the rhetoric of, say, the Texas Republican party, which recently passed “Resist 21” in opposition to Agenda 21, the United Nations’ sustainable communities strategy adopted in 1992. Taken together, proclaims Resist 21, those strategies aspire to “the comprehensive control of all our population and its reduction to sustainable levels and the socialization of all activities by their relocation to highly restricted urban settlement centers.”

Nothing like cherry-picking the more extreme arguments…there is not much defense of the “traditional American suburbs” here. At the same time, I thought this was a decent summary of some of the arguments out there though, of course, it remains to be seen which side Americans will choose. Is “everyone” really interested in merging urban and suburban life? Opponents of sprawl can continue to tout the advantages of denser living but we don’t have the proof yet that we are headed toward a full “greatinversion” back to city life.

Another note: there is a small paragraph in this article suggesting that government could do more to promote alternatives to sprawl. This is true but one doesn’t have to go all the way to a Agenda 21 level of involvement. Local governments could provide tax breaks or incentives for denser (and more affordable) housing. Gas taxes could be raised. More money could be spent on mass transit. The government could revoke the mortgage interest deduction. Different levels of government could cede some of their own power (such as 45 mosquito abatement districts in DuPage County) in order to work together on a metropolitan level and solve problems together. And so on. The federal government helped promote suburban sprawl throughout much of the 21st century – what would happen if the playing field started tilting in the other direction? Is any attempt to provide alternatives to sprawl “feudal socialism”?

 

Back to the burbs

I usually leave the demographic articles to Brian, but one of my Brooklyn-dwelling friends (and a new father) pointed me to Joel Kotkin’s post at Forbes making the case that “America’s young and restless will abandon cities for suburbs”:

Some demographers claim that “white flight” from the city is declining, replaced by a “bright flight” to the urban core from the suburbs. “Suburbs lose young whites to cities,” crowed one Associated Press headline last year.

Yet evidence from the last Census show the opposite: a marked acceleration of movement not into cities but toward suburban and exurban locations. The simple, usually inexorable effects of maturation may be one reason for this surprising result. Simply put, when 20-somethings get older, they do things like marry, start businesses, settle down and maybe start having kids.

Kotkin also doesn’t think there’s much chance of substantially increasing suburban density (for reasons that long time readers of Legally Sociable have heard before):

[T]he notion of mass suburban densification is likely to meet strong resistance from local residents. This will be particularly marked in attractive, affluent “progressive” areas like the Bay Area’s Marin County, Chicago’s North Shore suburbs and New York’s Hudson Valley. People who move to these places are attracted by their leafy, single-family-home-dominated neighborhoods and village-like shopping streets. Nothing short of economic catastrophe or government diktat would make them accept any intense program of densification.

St. Louis also lost population (8%) in the 2000s and mayor says it is “absolutely bad news”

Last week, 2010 Census figures about Chicago were released and showed a population decline of 200,000. Population figures regarding St. Louis were just released and city leaders are surprised at the 8% population loss over the 2000s:

Figures from the 2010 census were a bitter disappointment, as the city’s population dipped to 319,294.

That’s down more than 29,000 – a staggering 8 percent – from 2000.

For St. Louis leaders, the news was doubly disappointing because they were expecting to see an increase.

“It is absolutely bad news,” Mayor Francis Slay said. “We thought after more than 50 years of population decline that the city had finally changed direction. Obviously, that’s not the case.”…

St. Louis was the nation’s eighth-largest city with a population of 856,795 in 1950. Now, for a couple of decades, it hasn’t even been Missouri’s largest city.

Kansas City’s population grew to 460,000 in the latest census, widening the gap over St. Louis, though the St. Louis metro area remains significantly larger.

Since the mid-20th century, the exodus of St. Louis residents to the suburbs has been startling. And people keep moving farther away from the urban core. St. Louis County lost population in 2010 for the first time, down 1.7 percent to 998,954 in 2010, as residents relocate to communities like St. Charles, O’Fallon, Wentzville and Troy.

Since 1950, St. Louis has steadily lost population. A few thoughts about these figures:

1. On one hand, it seems odd that the mayor would be caught so off-guard by these figures. Couldn’t the city have predicted or at least seen some hints of it through other measures (like vacancies)? But this is more complicated:

A census estimate on July 1, 2009, forecasted that the city’s population of 348,189 in 2000 had grown to 356,587.

Either the estimate was wrong or there has been a substantial recent exodus.

The 2010 census is based on the population in April 2010.

So what happened between this 2009 Census estimate and the 2010 figures?

2. There are two things at stake with these figures: the loss of state and federal dollars (often tied to population) and a blow to civic pride. As the mayor suggested, the city had thought they had turned a corner. Additionally, there appears to be some comparisons to Kansas City, the other major city in Missouri.

2a. But on the other hand, the trends happening in the St. Louis area are happening in many large cities: people are moving to the suburbs, further and further from the center of the metropolitan region. Even St. Louis County (suburban but three times larger than St. Louis) lost population, 1.7%, for the first time.

3. While it is notable that the population in St. Louis dropped by about 29,000 (8%), in the last sixty years, this is the smallest percentage drop since a population increase in 1950. From 1960 onward, here are the percentage decreases: -12.5% in 1960, -17% in 1970, -27.2% in 1980, -12.4% in 1990, -12.2% in 2000, and -8.3% in 2010. So perhaps the population in St. Louis is slowly stabilizing.

Suburban mayors look for Mayor Emanuel’s help

There is often a tension between a big city and suburbs: these communities have different goals and access to resources. With a new mayor in Chicago, suburban leaders say they are looking to work with Rahm Emanuel:

But suburban leaders said Wednesday that they expect Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel to recognize that the city he will soon lead and the surrounding communities are better off working together instead of fighting each other.

“I think, with his extensive government experience, he understands that we’re all in this together,” said Elmwood Park Village President Peter Silvestri, whose town is in Illinois’ 5th Congressional District, a seat once held by Emanuel.

Silvestri was among several leaders who also said they were hopeful that Emanuel, who has a reputation as a bare-knuckled political operative, will follow Mayor Richard Daley’s collaborative lead…

Among them is Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson, who fought bitterly with Daley over the expansion of O’Hare. He said he hoped Emanuel “will respect the concerns of his neighbor and work regionally.”

Emanuel supports  a Chicago casino, an idea that hasn’t gone over well in Des Plaines, which will soon open a casino of its own…

Naperville Mayor George Pradel was another suburban leader who said he hoped Emanuel would maintain a strong relationship with his suburban counterparts.

The Chicago mayor has influence on several issues that concern Naperville, including ongoing plans to build a western bypass around O’Hare and rates for Lake Michigan water, Pradel said. Naperville is the largest suburban user of water from the lake.

As a congressman, Emanuel supported an airport in south suburban Peotone and he has voiced support for extending the CTA’s Red Line to 130th Street — two important issues in the south suburbs.

Perhaps these suburban leaders do want to work with Emanuel but to me, it sounds like they are more interested in getting Emanuel’s support for their interests and projects. Perhaps Emanuel could ask these suburban leaders: and if I help you, how does your suburb plan to help the City of Chicago or the larger Chicago region?

This may be a cynical interpretation but this is the long-running history of suburban communities: many are not interested in regional or metropolitan issues except when they might threaten the quality of life in their immediate community. Going back to the 1890s and 1900s, suburbs stopped wanting to be annexed into the big city as they could provide their own basic services (water, sewers, electricity, etc.) and didn’t want to associate with cities which were seen as dirty and crime-ridden. Today, suburbs thrive on this idea of local rule: local taxes should go into local services, such as public school districts and basic local services such as police and fire. Local or regional projects are often judged on how particular suburban communities will benefit, particularly as it pertains to their tax base and property values.

In the long run, how many of these suburban communities are willing to help Mayor Emanuel?

Use data in order to describe Anacostia neighborhood in Washington, D.C.

A recent NPR report described the changes taking place in the Anacostia neighborhood in Washington, D.C. In addition to calling Washington “Chocolate City” (setting off another line of debate), one of the residents quoted in the story is unhappy with how the neighborhood was portrayed:

Kellogg wrote that “in recent years, even areas like Anacostia — a community that was virtually all-black and more often than not poor — have seen dramatic increases in property values. The median sales price of a home east of the river — for years a no-go zone for whites and many blacks — was just under $300,000 in 2009, two to three times what it was in the mid-’90s.” After profiling one black resident who moved out, Kellogg spoke with David Garber, a “newcomer” among those who “see themselves as trailblazers fighting to preserve the integrity of historic Anacostia.”

But Garber and others didn’t like the portrayal, as even WAMU’s Anna John noted in her DCentric blog, where she headlined a post “‘Morning Edition’ Chokes On Chocolate City.”

On his own blog And Now, Anacostia, Garber wrote that the NPR story “was a dishonest portrayal of the changes that are happening in Anacostia. First, his evidence that black people are being forced out is based entirely on the story of one man who chose to buy a larger and more expensive house in PG County than one he was considering near Anacostia. Second, he attempts to prove that Anacostia is becoming ‘more vanilla’ by talking about one white person, me — and I don’t even live there anymore.”

Garber also complained that Kellogg “chose to sensationalize my move out of Anacostia” by linking it to a break-in at his home, which Garber says was unrelated to his move. Garber says Kellogg chose to repeat the “canned story” of Anacostia — which We Love D.C. bluntly calls a “quick and dirty race narrative.”

Garber continues, “White people are moving into Anacostia. So are black people. So are Asian people, Middle Eastern people, gay people, straight people, and every other mix. And good for them for believing in a neighborhood in spite of its challenges, and for meeting its hurdles head on and its new amenities with a sense of excitement.”

This seems like it could all be solved rather easily: let us just look at the data of what is happening in this neighborhood. I have not listened to the initial NPR report. But it would be fairly easy for NPR or Garber or anyone else to look up some Census figures regarding this neighborhood to see who is moving in or out. If the NPR story is built around Garber’s story (and some other anecdotal evidence), then it is lacking. If it has both the hard data but the story is one-sided or doesn’t give the complete picture, then this is a different issue. Then, we can have a conversation about whether Garber’s story is an appropriate or representative illustration or not.

Beyond the data issue, Garber also hints at another issue: a “canned story” or image of a community versus what residents experience on the ground. This is a question about the “character” of a location and the perspective of insiders (residents) and outsiders (like journalists) could differ. But both perspectives could be correct; each view has merit but has a different scope. A journalist is liable to try to place Anacostia in the larger framework of the whole city (or perhaps the whole nation) while a resident is likely working with their personal experiences and observations.

“The Wire” creator defends depiction of Baltimore

In response to comments from the Baltimore Police Commissioner that the television show The Wire is going to harm  the city, creator David Simon defended the show:

Others might reasonably argue, however that it is not sixty hours of The Wire that will require decades for our city to overcome, as the commissioner claims. A more lingering problem might be two decades of bad performance by a police agency more obsessed with statistics than substance, with appeasing political leadership rather than seriously addressing the roots of city violence, with shifting blame rather than taking responsibility.  That is the police department we depicted in The Wire, give or take our depiction of some conscientious officers and supervisors. And that is an accurate depiction of the Baltimore department for much of the last twenty years, from the late 1980s, when cocaine hit and the drug corners blossomed, until recently, when Mr. O’Malley became governor and the pressure to clear those corners without regard to legality and to make crime disappear on paper finally gave way to some normalcy and, perhaps, some police work.  Commissioner Bealefeld, who was present for much of that history, knows it as well as anyone associated with The Wire.
We made things up, true.  We have never claimed otherwise.  But respectfully, with regard to our critique, we have slandered no one.  And to the extent you can stand behind a fictional tale, we stand by ours – and more importantly, our purpose in telling that tale.

It would be interesting to consider whether television shows and movies and other fictional works can have a significant impact on what people think about locations (and even further, whether it influences people’s decisions to move to certain places). The Wire was a critically acclaimed show but one with relatively low rating and even with more widespread DVD availability, it is still not a mainstream show.

There certainly is some link. Depictions of the inner city have impacted decades of suburban residents. I’m reminded of the Japanese businessmen who my father worked with when I was younger who knew two things about Chicago: it was the home of Michael Jordan and it was home to gangsters immortalized in film.

Now whether these depictions should reflect reality or some idealized or stereotyped view is another question. Simon defends The Wire on the grounds that the show was intended to showcase a different set of priorities:

But publicly, let me state that The Wire owes no apologies — at least not for its depiction of those portions of Baltimore where we set our story, for its address of economic and political priorities and urban poverty, for its discussion of the drug war and the damage done from that misguided prohibition, or for its attention to the cover-your-ass institutional dynamic that leads, say, big-city police commissioners to perceive a fictional narrative, rather than actual, complex urban problems as a cause for righteous concern. As citizens using a fictional narrative as a means of arguing different priorities or policies, those who created and worked on The Wire have dissented.

And this is a perspective or story that is rarely discussed in much depth.

I would be curious to hear how Simon would want people to view Baltimore after watching the show. Should they identify with the residents? Should they dislike the institutions? And ultimately, what should or could the viewers do to help change the situation?