Argument: regionalism = “play[ing] Sim City with residents’ lives”

One critic charges new regional plans in Minneapolis-St. Paul threatens a democratic way of life:

Here in the Twin Cities, a handful of unelected bureaucrats are gearing up to impose their vision of the ideal society on the nearly three million residents of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro region. According to the urban planners on the city’s Metropolitan Council, far too many people live in single family homes, have neighbors with similar incomes and skin color, and contribute to climate change by driving to work. They intend to change all that with a 30-year master plan called “Thrive MSP 2040.”…

While minority residents have been streaming into the Twin Cities’ suburbs for the past 15 years, the Met Council wants to make sure there is a proper race-and-income mix in each. Thus it recently mapped every census tract in the 2,800 square-mile, seven-county region by race, ethnicity and income. The purpose was to identify “racially concentrated areas of poverty” and “high opportunity clusters.” The next step is for the council to lay out what the region’s 186 municipalities must do to disperse poverty throughout the metro area…

The Thrive plan’s most radical element may be to evaluate all future development policies through the “lens” of climate change. Over time, this could give the council a license to dramatically remake the entire metro area…

Once implementation begins, however, Twin Cities residents will likely realize that Thrive MSP 2040’s centralized decision-making and Orwellian appeals to “equity” and “sustainability” are a serious threat to their democratic traditions of individual liberty and self-government. Let’s hope that realization comes sooner rather than later.

This is an argument several conservatives (another example here involving the UN) have made in recent years: the government wants to use urban planning as a means to control people’s lives, forcing them to live in denser areas with people they would not choose to live near. It violates property rights, individual liberty, local government, etc.

Here is an issue with these arguments: they tend to ignore the real issues present in metropolitan areas that involve both cities and suburbs. Adopting a free-market approach to planning, growth, and mobility leads to the outcomes we have today: ongoing residential segregation (both by race and class, affecting everything from school districts to health outcomes to location mismatches between employees and jobs), a lack of affordable housing, local governments that are numerous (and possibly inefficient), often can’t agree with each other and thereby hold up helpful projects or promote unhelpful competition (like a race for the bottom in tax breaks), transportation options that are expensive (whether maintaining a car or trying to make mass transit work in the suburbs), and a general defensive crouch of not wanting to deal with any problems outside of one’s immediate community. All of this reinforces existing inequalities in society: those with resources can afford nicer communities while those with less live in places where it is more difficult to move up.

Is there some middle ground here? To be honest, government is already heavily involved in local and regional decisions and conservatives probably like some of this (such as zoning). And some of the regional options allow for higher levels of efficiency by leveraging certain resources in effective ways. Maybe the real issue is that few residents of urban areas – whether conservative or liberal – want to live near public housing or affordable housing and/or want to retain the right to use their money to move to a more advantageous location should something not work out (like the neighbors).

As a final note, earlier versions of SimCity didn’t allow much control over the lives of individual residents. Similarly, the game was geared toward more urban environments as sprawling communities were more costly and didn’t provide the kind of density that would lead to better things.

Ferguson doesn’t get much revenue from the Fortune 500 companies in town

Many suburban communities give tax breaks to corporations so that they locate in their community. Ferguson, Missouri is one such case where Emerson Electronics and other businesses don’t pay as much as they might in local taxes:

In 2014, the assessed valuation of real and personal property on Emerson’s entire 152-acre, seven-building campus was roughly $15 million. That value has gone up and down over the last five years as Emerson has sold off some buildings and built others, but it has not exceeded $15 million in the period since the data center was completed. So what happened to that brand-new $50 million dollar building?…

For tax purposes, Emerson’s Ferguson campus is appraised according to its “fair market value.” That means a $50 million dollar solar-powered data center is only worth what another firm would be willing to pay for it. “Our location in Ferguson affects the fair market value of the entire campus,” Polzin explained. By this reasoning, the condition of West Florissant Avenue explains the low valuation of the company’s headquarters.In fact, the opposite is true: The rock-bottom assessment value of the Ferguson campus helps ensure that West Florissant Avenue remains in its current condition, year after year. It severely limits the tax money Emerson contributes to the Ferguson-Florissant district’s struggling schools (Michael Brown graduated from nearby Normandy High School, a nearly 100 percent African American school that has been operating without state accreditation for the last two years), and to the government of St. Louis County more generally. On the 25 parcels Emerson owns all around St. Louis County, it pays the county $1.3m in property taxes. Ferguson itself receives far less. Even after a 2013 property tax increase (from $0.65 to the state-maximum $1 per $100 of assessed value), Ferguson received an estimated $68,000 in property taxes from the corporate headquarters that occupies 152 acres of its tax base—not even enough to pay the municipal judge and his clerk to hand out the fines and sign the arrest warrants.

St. Louis County doesn’t just assess Emerson a low market value. It then divides that number in three—so its final property value, for tax purposes, ends up being one third of its already low appraised value. In some states, Ferguson would be able to offset this write-down by raising its own percentage tax rate. Voters would even be able to decide which services needed the most help and raise property taxes for specific reasons. But Missouri sets a limit for such levies: $1 per $100 of property. As Joseph Pulitzer wrote of St. Louis during the first Gilded Age, “millions and millions of property in this city escape all taxation.”…

Emerson Electric isn’t the only business on Ferguson’s West Florissant Avenue. The street is also home to a number of big box stores including a Home Depot, a Walmart, and a Sam’s Club, located at the city’s northern limit. These companies all came to town in 1997 through something called tax increment financing—known (to the extent it’s known at all) by the acronym TIF. Along with low appraisals and tax abatements, TIF districts are one of Missouri’s principal tools for encouraging new development.

The conclusion here is that these tax policies reproduce the economic inequalities in Ferguson. Hence, the community has to find alternative sources of revenue, such as targeting motorists.

Here is where this gets trickier: if Ferguson didn’t offer these deals, could it have attracted these businesses? If many suburbs participate in the game of tax breaks, wouldn’t someone else offer good tax breaks? Where race matters here is that communities like Ferguson – lower income, transitioning from white to black over recent decades – have to offer even better tax breaks to compete. But, for all of these communities, it is a race to the bottom as a better deal to attract a corporation means less revenue for the city. Still, local politicians can sell the jobs created or the prestige generated. But, as this article points out, the jobs and prestige may not help much in the long run.

What you might need here is a metropolitan wide policy against such tax breaks or TIF districts to reduce the competition. Or, perhaps some tax revenue sharing program where sales tax and property tax dollars are partly redistributed to reflect who shops at or works at these facilities (they all don’t come from the community in which the firm is located). Yet, such policies require a lot of political will and again encounter the problem of race as communities, especially wealthier ones, will not want to share their revenues with others.

Suburbanites who don’t like proposals for affordable housing in the Twin Cities region

The Metropolitan Council for the Minneapolis-St. Paul region is working on plans for affordable housing but a number of suburbanites are not pleased with where the affordable housing might go:

The Met Council sees a growing problem. Its own newly available data suggest that annual production of affordable housing has dropped by hundreds of units since 2010, even as market-rate housing has rebounded.

An advance peek at the Met Council’s proposed goals, to be released late Monday, shows that communities considered to be prime locations for adding affordable units include upper income suburbs, such as North Oaks and Eden Prairie, and cornfield’s-edge fringe communities such as Minnetrista and Lake Elmo…

The target numbers — released this week for public comment, with adjustments possible from now to July — are part of a once-per-decade planning process that will begin in every city this fall. Each must start to figure out how to accommodate the additional units.

The Met Council is under heavy fire for allegedly pushing too much affordable housing into areas with plenty of it already, intensifying concentrations of poverty and perpetuating racial segregation in the Twin Cities.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The region has a history of metropolitanization, a rare occurrence in American cities, as well as an openness to immigrants, yet advancing affordable housing units in middle- to upper-end suburbs may be going too far. As some of the suburbanites in the article note, they moved to these communities to escape issues like this. But, the quality of life concerns they tend to express (good school, low crime, sense of community) seem to be inextricably linked with race/ethnicity and social class. Just a reminder that part of the benefits of having money in the United States is that one can move to such a place that insulates you against interacting with others.

Paris planning to add millions in the suburbs to its boundaries

Plans for metropolitanization in Paris are well underway:

The new Métropole du Grand Paris, or Metropolis of Greater Paris, will include nearly seven million people, more than triple the population now living in the central city. It will swallow rich suburbs to the west. But it should also provide better access to jobs and to business hubs and, if it really works, a greater sense of belonging for millions of immigrant families who live in poverty and isolation on the city’s southern, northern and eastern fringes. Resources would be redistributed, in particular those dealing with housing. The complexion of Paris would change…

As much as any struggling suburb, this one shows how urban development across decades, even centuries, has failed millions of immigrant families and contributed to what France’s prime minister, Manuel Valls, recently denounced as “territorial, social, ethnic apartheid.” His remark provoked a lot of hand-wringing in France. But, as all sorts of French planners, architects, historians and political scientists point out, a legacy of belonging and exclusion, center and periphery, inside and outside, is baked into the very layout of Paris and of places like Grigny, which has nice old houses and woods but is a de facto warehouse for tens of thousands of mostly poor, disenfranchised Muslims.

In essence, Paris Métropole promises a new regional council to coordinate housing, urban planning and transit for a greater Paris. The idea evolved from a proposal by Nicolas Sarkozy, who as president imagined business hubs and a high-speed train linking them to the city’s airports. That morphed into a more complex rail system serving poorer suburbs.

Pierre Mansat has spent years helping to put the plan together. He said the other morning that taxes on businesses, and, France hopes, billions more from Europe, will pay for Paris Métropole. Who knows whether right-wing and left-wing politicians from suburbs and city neighborhoods will actually cooperate, but Mr. Mansat stressed that “it’s above all about creating a new image of Paris as more inclusive, integrated, fluid.”

This sounds like an interesting confluence of factors. On one hand is inequality in the French suburbs which has been surfacing for quite a while. Urban images are important, if at the least for France’s international reputation and Paris’ thriving tourism, as are aiming to give all residents opportunities for a better life. On the other hand are the practicalities of comprehensively tackling urban issues – like housing and transportation – that require the cooperation of a range of communities. Cities can do a lot on their own but many of their needs are tied to the fate of nearby communities that can either join cities in pursuing common goals or pursue their own.

Of course, the article suggests it isn’t clear how successful the metropolitanization attempt might be. This is a long-term project and it will be interesting to see how other major cities learn from this process.

Happenings since Canadian National purchased the EJ&E tracks in 2008

Here is a recap of what has happened since the 2008 purchase of the EJ&E railroad tracks by Canadian National:

In December 2008, the Surface Transportation Board approved CN’s request to buy the smaller EJ&E, which extended in a half-circle from Waukegan to Joliet. Suburbs traversed by the EJ&E fought the plan, citing extra freight train traffic. The board agreed with CN that the purchase would reduce regional freight congestion but imposed numerous conditions on the railroad as a result and included a period of federal oversight until Jan. 23, 2015.

Last month, the STB extended the monitoring period until Jan. 23, 2017, citing concerns about additional freight traffic in the region.

Mongeau said the railroad’s acquisition of the EJ&E “gave CN what it was looking for — a route around Chicago,” that has a trickle-down effect on other railroads by taking its trains off other crowded tracks.

The railroad has spent $700 million on upgrades and safety improvements since 2008.

Twenty-eight out of 33 towns affected by the merger signed mitigation deals with CN, Mongeau noted. Holdouts included Aurora and Barrington, which fought against the merger and campaigned to extend the monitoring period.

In October 2014, there were 1,620 blocked railway crossings lasting 10 minutes or more on the EJ&E. In October 2009, early in the acquisition phase, there were just nine, according to CN data….

On tracks between Lake Zurich, Barrington and Hanover Park, traffic on the EJ&E grew from about five daily trains prior to the merger to 17 in October 2014.

This was a big issue for a number of suburban communities in the mid-2000s as they wondered how the purchase would affect freight traffic as well as block crossings, create more noise, and potentially harm property values. It sounds like the monitoring is intended to keep tabs on these changes and help ensure the railroad and communities work together. Yet, it is still important to keep the big picture in mind: moving traffic onto the EJ&E tracks can help alleviate freight traffic elsewhere, addressing the problem of the railroad bottleneck in the Chicago region. This sort of issue makes the case for metropolitanization where communities and government could come together and solve problems facing numerous municipalities.

As a suburb, Ferguson is not that unusual

The particular events in Ferguson, Missouri may have been particular but its social context is not that unusual:

Ferguson’s version of the story has several layers. Many of the aviation companies that were once a source of good jobs have shut down or moved away, leaving behind limited employment opportunities, especially for workers without a college degree. The tax base has shriveled, leaving the city dependent on fines and fees — including traffic tickets — for a disproportionate share of its funding. According to the city’s 2014 budget, Ferguson expected to take in $2.7 million in fines and fees in fiscal 2014 — 14 percent of the city’s revenue, up from 8 percent five years earlier.

The recession added to the challenges. Parts of the city were hit hard by the foreclosure crisis; of the 10 Missouri zip codes with the most seriously delinquent mortgages, four are at least partly in Ferguson and three others are in other North County communities. That has turned formerly owner-occupied homes into rentals, often with absentee investors as landlords. The number of Ferguson residents living in poverty has doubled since 2000; its poverty rate, at 24 percent, is one and a half times the national mark.

In all of that, Ferguson is typical of inner-ring suburbs around the country. It isn’t even a particularly extreme example. Ferguson’s schools are struggling, but unlike some surrounding districts, they retain their accreditation. Its foreclosure rate is high by Missouri standards, but is nowhere close to those in Florida, Nevada and Arizona, states that were at the center of the housing crisis. North County has lost much of its manufacturing base, but retains several large employers, including a multinational manufacturer, Emerson Electric Co., and a fast-growing prescription drug provider, Express Scripts.

Ferguson’s experience with poverty is especially typical. St. Louis’s suburbs now have more people living in poverty than St. Louis itself, a pattern repeated across the country. Concentrated poverty of the kind found in southeastern Ferguson is also becoming more common in the suburbs. According to researchers at the Brookings Institution, the number of suburban neighborhoods with poverty rates above 20 percent has more than doubled since 2000.

casselman.ferguson.0826-chart

A familiar story: deindustrialization and a loss of manufacturing jobs, a declining tax base, changing demographics, plenty of suburbanites living in poverty. And a pressing question: what can be done to reverse the fortunes of such communities? These sorts of inner-ring suburbs are not going to be the first choice of many gentrifiers and it can be difficult to switch economic emphases. One possible solution proposed by some is metropolitanization, sharing taxes more across communities in a metropolitan area. However, this requires buy-in from wealthier suburbs who often reject the notion that should provide help to less well-off suburbs.

It will be interesting to return to Ferguson in 5, 10, 20 years to see what has happened. While the shooting of Michael Brown led to a lot of attention, it won’t necessarily alter the course of the community.

Did a lack of regionalism lead to the traffic nightmare in Atlanta after 2″ of snow?

What caused the terrible gridlock in metropolitan Atlanta after two inches of snow (which quickly turned to ice)? Here is one argument for a lack of regionalism:

Which leads into the blame game. Republicans want to blame government (a Democrat thing) or Atlanta (definitely a Democrat thing). Democrats want to blame the region’s dependence on cars (a Republican thing), the state government (Republicans), and many of the transplants from more liberal, urban places feel the same way you might about white, rural, southern drivers. All of this is true to some extent but none of it is helpful.

How much money do you set aside for snowstorms when they’re as infrequent as they are? Who will run the show—the city, the county, or the state? How will preparedness work? You could train everyone today, and then if the next storm hits in 2020, everyone you’ve trained might have moved on to different jobs, with Atlanta having a new mayor and Georgia having a new governor.

Regionalism here is hard. The population of this state has doubled in the past 40-45 years, and many of the older voters who control it still think of it as the way it was when they were growing up. The urban core of Atlanta is a minority participant in a state government controlled by rural and northern Atlanta exurban interests. The state government gives MARTA (Atlanta’s heavy rail transportation system) no money. There’s tough regional and racial history here which is both shameful and a part of the inheritance we all have by being a part of this region. Demographics are evolving quickly, but government moves more slowly. The city in which I live, Brookhaven, was incorporated in 2012. This is its first-ever snowstorm (again, 2 inches). It’s a fairly affluent, mostly white, urban small city. We were unprepared too.

The issue is that you have three layers of government—city, county, state—and none of them really trust the other. And why should they? Cobb County just “stole the Braves” from the city of Atlanta. Why would Atlanta cede transportation authority to a regional body when its history in dealing with the region/state has been to carve up Atlanta with highways and never embrace its transit system? Why would the region/state want to give more authority to Atlanta when many of the people in the region want nothing to do with the city of Atlanta unless it involves getting to work or a Braves game?

The region tried, in a very tough economy and political year (2012), to pass a comprehensive transportation bill, a T-SPLOST, funded by a sales tax. It wasn’t perfect, but it was an attempt to do something. The Sierra Club opposed it because it didn’t feature enough transit. The NAACP opposed it because it didn’t have enough contracts for minority businesses. The tea party opposed it because it was a tax. That’s politics in the 2010’s. You may snicker, but how good a job has any major city done with big transportation projects over the past 30 years?

The argument here is that no one smaller group of government was prepared to deal with the roads and the problem was compounded because there was no structure to coordinate and organize activity when something like this happened. Additionally, regionalism could promote more mass transit to serve the entire region and reduce dependence on cars.

It would then be helpful to look to other major metropolitan regions to see how they tackle responses to natural disasters. Does regionalism lead to a better outcome for the region in such situations? For example, regions like Minneapolis or Indianapolis are held up as examples of regionalism – do they respond better in major snowfalls because of this? Without regionalism, is there a way to coordinate across levels of government in emergency situations that doesn’t require a full-level of regional cooperation on everything else?

New report says Chicago area transit agencies have a host of issues

Here are some of the issues facing Chicago area transit agencies according to an Illinois task force:

• The Metra scandal demonstrated that “those responsible for the transit system do not always have the rider’s best interests at heart.” Many transit board members are appointed without background checks and there are no ethics rules or discipline for those guilty of misdeeds, the task force found.

• There are four transit boards with 47 people appointed by 16 elected officials. The system leads to a lack of accountability and “makes it difficult to know who is responsible when the system is not functioning well,” the report stated. Instead of pushing for excellence, boards are more about representing political or geographic constituencies.

• A 2007 Illinois auditor general’s report found duplication and lack of coordination among various transit fiefdoms. That situation hasn’t improved in the past six years, the task force found.

• A coordinated regional transit plan to increase ridership is lacking. Traffic congestion has nearly tripled since 1980 but the percentage of commutes to work using transit have dropped from 18 percent to 13 percent in that time frame.

• The transit system under-serves the region. Only 53 percent of jobs in the six-county area can be reached using transit within 90 minutes, according to one estimate and another projection puts that number at 24 percent.

• Funding formulas encourage turf wars and a “divisiveness that splits the region and creates competition,” the report found.

Sounds like too many agencies with members who represent all sorts of groups (and perhaps not the riders) leading to a system that is not so great.

If the problems are easy to spot, what are some workable solutions? Illinois is known for fragmented government bodies – many levels with lots of groups having access to tax dollars – so this wouldn’t necessarily be easy to change. Are there models from other metropolitan areas that could produce a better mass transit system? What might Chicago area residents get in mass transit if these problems were reduced?

Saskia Sassen on three possible futures for cities: optimistic, dystopian, articulation

Sociologist Saskia Sassen shares three possible visions for cities in the future:

ArchDaily: What will cities be like in the future?

Saskia Sassen: Well I have two scenarios: a very optimistic one and a very dystopian one. The dystopian scenario is that we will have a lot of private cities. Abuja is de facto a private city. It is how not to be in Lagos in Nigeria. The mechanism is very simple. Everything is super expensive. The milk, the houses, everything. It de facto eliminates all kinds of people. But I think we’re going to take it further. Songdo is sort of a private city. There are now big firms that sell you a city. They will build you a city. And some of them will rent you the city. So that’s the dystopian scenario. That’s the dystopian scenario; in other words we will have vast settlements with probably many toxic conditions, where a lot of people—modest, middle-class people—will be living in slums. In a country like Brazil, many people who are in the civil service of the government live in the slums. Same thing in India. This is contrasted with these brand new perfect cities that aren’t really cities in that full robust sense of the term.

At this end, my utopia is that when so many new people come to cities there is going to be a lot of making—making of sub-economies, not the economy. Making of urban agriculture, making of buildings that work with the environment. People of modest means will use their imaginations; they will understand how to make air circulate so that mosquitos are less likely to come in. They will work and have that knowledge—that is my optimistic scenario. So even a modest, poor slum will have people that know that the shack that they are building is part of larger systems. Then of course, the rich will be the rich and the upper-middle class will be the upper-middle classes. I think the modest middle-classes will keep on splitting up. The splitting up of the middle class has been happening for 25 years. I wrote about it in the late 1980s and people didn’t believe me. They said, “That’s not happening. We’re all becoming richer.” Well, no. Now we know that.

On a larger systemic map about cities, I think that the desirable, optimistic format is multiple articulations of the territory—not one endless metropolitan zone. I think we will have understood that the vast metropolitan area does not work.

The option is articulations. China is building all of these cities so they build nine small cities around Shanghai rather than letting Shanghai become an endless stretch. In my optimistic view, I see a different way of articulating the urban with territory. Moving away from metropolitanization.  Now, my Dutch, practical sense tells me that we’re not going to be able to do that. We’ll build something unmanageable and then the elites will move out and build a new private city.

The three visions: private cities where the wealthy can control everything versus cities where all, or most, people will be able to make things that improve their lives (though the scales of these improvements will likely differ) versus smaller big cities that are more manageable. To some degree, all of these are happening now so its unfortunate Sassen doesn’t go on to explain how these three scenarios might play out and under what conditions.

Something refreshing in this brief analysis: it sounds like Sassen is thinking about cities around the world and not really thinking about American cities. American urban sociology would do well to keep considering the changes to major cities elsewhere in the world…

President Obama wants to turn American suburbs into Manhattan?

Conservatives continue to worry that President Obama is opposed to suburbs:

The most obvious new element of the president’s regionalist policy initiative is the July 19 publication of a Department of Housing and Urban Development regulation broadening the obligation of recipients of federal aid to “affirmatively further fair housing.” The apparent purpose of this rule change is to force suburban neighborhoods with no record of housing discrimination to build more public housing targeted to ethnic and racial minorities. Several administration critics noticed the change and challenged it, while the mainstream press has simply declined to cover the story.

Yet even critics have missed the real thrust of HUD’s revolutionary rule change. That’s understandable, since the Obama administration is at pains to downplay the regionalist philosophy behind its new directive. The truth is, HUD’s new rule is about a great deal more than forcing racial and ethnic diversity on the suburbs. (Regionalism, by the way, is actually highly controversial among minority groups. There are many ways in which both middle-class minorities in suburbs, and less well-off minorities in cities, can be hurt by regionalist policies–another reason those plans are seldom discussed.)

The new HUD rule is really about changing the way Americans live. It is part of a broader suite of initiatives designed to block suburban development, press Americans into hyper-dense cities, and force us out of our cars. Government-mandated ethnic and racial diversification plays a role in this scheme, yet the broader goal is forced “economic integration.” The ultimate vision is to make all neighborhoods more or less alike, turning traditional cities into ultra-dense Manhattans, while making suburbs look more like cities do now. In this centrally-planned utopia, steadily increasing numbers will live cheek-by-jowl in “stack and pack” high-rises close to public transportation, while automobiles fall into relative disuse. To understand how HUD’s new rule will help enact this vision, we need to turn to a less-well-known example of the Obama administration’s regionalist interventionism…

The Plan Bay Area precedent makes it clear that HUD will use data on access to housing, jobs, and transportation to press densification on both urban and suburban jurisdictions. With the new HUD rule in place, municipalities will be under heavy pressure to allow multifamily developments in areas previously zoned for single-family housing. The new counting scheme, which measures access to housing, jobs, and transportation, will simultaneously create pressures to push businesses into the newly densified areas, and to locate those centers near transportation hubs. In effect, HUD’s new rule gives the federal government a tool to press ultra-dense Plan Bay Area-style “priority development areas” on regions across the country.

Housing discrimination is a real issue as is the lack of affordable housing. Leaving it to “the market” to sort this all out isn’t really working.

Also, there is some hyperbole going on here. See similar claims from conservatives about the US joining with the United Nations to push urban density. Pushing denser suburbs does not necessarily mean that all suburbs are going to be Manhattan. In fact, Manhattan is very unusual even among American cities for its density. Interestingly, the thriving cities of today are Sunbelt cities like Houston that tend to be less dense than traditional big cities in the Northeast or Midwest. Kurtz seems to be defending unmitigated sprawl, the idea that suburbs should have as little density as they like. This tends to be linked to greater local control as well as wealth – it is more expensive to have big lots/pieces of land. Additionally, less dense sprawl is viewed as the opposite of city life with its forced interactions with people different than you, less space, dirtiness, and urban problems (this perspective tends to ignores the benefits of urban life).

There are problems with unmitigated sprawl, even if people with means may desire it. Like any kind of development, there are tradeoffs involved. It is can be costly environmentally, tied to issues of land use and water runoff, among others. It leads to more driving which can be viewed as the ultimate expression of American independence but which also involves longer commutes, less walking, more traffic, and the expensive actions of owning and operating a car. It can be related to weaker communities and social relationships – see the discussion about sprawl in Bowling Alone. Its infrastructure is costly as roads, electric lines, gas lines, and local services are more spread out. Additionally, the fate of suburbs are linked to cities – the two areas are not independent (though they may appear to be so, say, when comparing Detroit with some of its wealthier suburbs) and problems in one area affect the other.

Having denser suburbs does not mean the American suburban way of life will disappear. It may mean smaller lots and less driving plus more mixed uses and new people in the suburbs but this does not necessarily equal Manhattan.