In an op-ed in the New York Times, an academic argues that “fringe suburb[s]” are dying and we should shift resources to communities that need reinvestment:
Simply put, there has been a profound structural shift — a reversal of what took place in the 1950s, when drivable suburbs boomed and flourished as center cities emptied and withered.
The shift is durable and lasting because of a major demographic event: the convergence of the two largest generations in American history, the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and the millennials (born between 1979 and 1996), which today represent half of the total population…
Over all, only 12 percent of future homebuyers want the drivable suburban-fringe houses that are in such oversupply, according to the Realtors survey. This lack of demand all but guarantees continued price declines. Boomers selling their fringe housing will only add to the glut. Nothing the federal government can do will reverse this…
For too long, we over-invested in the wrong places. Those retail centers and subdivisions will never be worth what they cost to build. We have to stop throwing good money after bad. It is time to instead build what the market wants: mixed-income, walkable cities and suburbs that will support the knowledge economy, promote environmental sustainability and create jobs.
This is not an unusual argument. Based on survey data, a number of commentators have suggested that the demand for the sprawling suburbs will shrink and builders and governments should get ahead of this shift. The suburban critiques delivered by academics and others since the post-World War II suburban boom may have finally gained some traction as the young and old seek out community over a big, cheap house. How much of this shift will be “durable and lasting” remains to be seen but it would certainly be helped if “the market” goes in this direction.
Two claims in the final sentence of this op-ed are intriguing. The argument that density = greener neighborhoods is common but the arguments about benefits for the knowledge economy and creating jobs is less common. A little more about each of these:
1. I assume the knowledge economy bit is tied to ideas like “the creative class” from Richard Florida. Younger adults, in particular, want to live in places with some culture and neighborhood life, not on the metropolitan fringe in bland neighborhoods. These places become centers of innovation and culture, attracting more residents and businesses.
2. The jobs claim is a bit less clear to me. If money was spent redeveloping older neighborhoods, this could create jobs – but so could building new balloon-frame homes in new subdivisions. Perhaps the creative cities will create so much innovation that this leads to job growth? Does Richard Florida have data that shows a link between the creative class and job expansion overall?
Overall, this is another voice calling for a new urban strategy where the government and businesses stop subsidizing sprawl and start providing money to promote denser, more New Urbanist type developments that some Americans desire.