Thursday, January 15, 2009

How government created suburbia

OK, the headline is a lot broader than this brief posting will be. (And there are links to some interesting reading at the end.)
But please indulge me in a tiny bit more on the suburbia discussion. Several commenters point out, rightly, that Levittown, one of the first large-scale suburban developments, wasn't a government project but a private one, and that's right.
However, if you burrow into history, you find that starting in the 1930s, when the government began backing mortgages, its rules specifically encouraged suburbia's single-family housing and discriminated against urban neighborhoods, especially those with racial or ethnic minorities. In thrall to "modern" planning philosophy, the rules discouraged mixed-use neighborhoods. Banks and other lenders wouldn't lend in areas that the government discouraged -- hence the phenomenon of red-lining, which lasted into the 1970s and 1980s.
None of that means that there isn't a market for large-lot suburban homes. There is. But that kind of development needs to pay more of its own way. And where were the wails of "socialism" when the government (and private lenders) were actively discriminating against urban neighborhoods, where you couldn't get a loan to rehab or add on? Read Jane Jacobs. Read Kenneth T. Jackson's "Crabgrass Frontier." Etc.
OK, new topic. Three interesting links:
First, a piece about the weird ways traffic works, courtesy of "Jumper."
Second, a link to a piece in Grist about Charlotte's transit system, courtesy of reader William Howard. (Grist bills itself as "environmental news and commentary."
And this month's Atlantic magazine has a piece from last November's CNU (Congress for the New Urbanism) conference in Charlotte on transportation.


Anonymous said...


Since you're in the mood for rebutting user comments, why haven't you answered the one question asked REPEATEDLY on your blog, regarding sidewalks, transit, Obama's stimulus, and the other millions, billions, trillions in spending:


You are going to be asked this question until you answer it.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 12:27:00,

Obama, Bush, Congress, and the Feds have not said where the money is coming from.

You are expecting a journalist to have unreleased info that the mainstream media doesn't have. I don't think that is a requirement for bringing up a web based discussion. Relax.

Anonymous said...

12:38 - I am NOT going to "relax" when $8,000,000,000,000.00 has ALREADY BEEN COMMITTED and (a) the rest of EESA/TARP hasn't been spent; (b) Obama's proposals haven't been considered.

Do you have any idea how much money $8,000,000,000,000.00 ($8 trillion) is? It is OVER A HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS FOR EVERY HOUSEHOLD IN THE COUNTRY.

Do YOU have an extra hundred thousand to give to Ken Lewis and Neel Kashkiri? If you do, maybe YOU can "relax". Me, I'm not going to.

Anonymous said...


you missed the point.

you attacked a journalist for not having unreleased information. That's what I have a problem with, and its different than the several points you are arguing.

In response to these angry questions I do agree with you that the government is spending entirely too much money. I think that in the same way consumers with credit cards, homeowners, and financial CEOs can't pay back their debt, the US government will suffer the same fate... on an epic scale.

So what would you have done with the bank failures? Capitalism wont function w/o banks. I think we should limit their size so one failure doesnt affect everyone. But that was too late at bail out time. Would anyone have jobs if all the banks went under? no sir.

Now lets look at the future. How are you going to create jobs? Clearly a lot are being lost quickly. No private companies are creating them. We have a problem in deteriorating infrastructure. We can create jobs by fixing a problem. Personally, I think we should invest more in manufacturing which would have a higher return. But I'm waiting to see your proposed ideas. Please post your letters to congress with recommendations and examples. For all your complaining and typing of zeros, please provide a solution.

Finally, on the original topic, I think suburbia was fueled by both government and private entities. Keeping US gas prices low encourages vehicle driving and suburbia. No office worker needs 2000 pounds of steel to do their job but the vehicle infrastructure is in place. GM bought trolley lines in the 40s and replaced them with buses. Finally, individuals glorified owning vehicles in the battle with the Jones. No one thought about the health and sustainability of cities. We're all guilty.

Anonymous said...

This has got to be the absolute STUPIDEST piece of writing I've ever seen. People have (for now atleast) a choice in where they live. People want to live in quiet neighborhoods on their own property in their own free standing houses away from cities and all of the problems associated with urban living. If they didn't there are more than enough apartments/comdos under the same term of purchase and tax credit. Its freedom of choice, why do you deamonize it as some kind of anti-social behavior? If government and the socialist left doesn't like suburbs than be honest about your agenda, change the zoning laws and stop grabbing the ankles for every developer who spreads campaign money. Don't blame the people who excersize their choice in what's left of our capitalist society. Have another kid and go back to eating valium with Vodka watching Oprah during naps because you stink at journalism.

Anonymous said...

Did someone wake up on the wrong side of the bed today? Countering polite discussion of ideas with insults diminishes any validity to your arguments.

I suggest you compose your posts as if your mother would read them first.....

Anonymous said...

Government creates suburbs when it fails at its main duties. When inner cities become unsafe, people move out. When city schools become poor, people move out. When taxes become high, people move out. It's really that simple.

Anonymous said...

I am not "attack(ing) a journalist for not having unreleased information."

I am asking Mary where she believes funding CAN come from for every program she wants. I am asking for HER IDEAS. She seems VEERRRRRYY forthcoming with her ideas on what to spend money on, and how government will save us all (despite her sacrilegious indictment of FDR in the present article).

As for you, your hyperbole ("all the banks") shows that you aren't interested in discourse but in blather.

For those who ARE interested in a workable idea for replacing the bankrupt Zombie Banks (Wachovia, Citi, BofA, JPM, etc.) here is a good start:

Answer me this, by the way: The government is considering giving BOA another $25,000,000,000.00, and its stock immediately lost $8,000,000,000.00 in market capitalization.

So remind me again how giving taxpayer money to BOA is going to help it or us?

Anonymous said...

2:06: My mother didn't steal $750,000,000,000.00 and give it to her failed friends.

In fact, in all of her 86 years she was never afraid to speak her mind, including directly to multiple elected officials like Myrick and McCrory.

It's apathetic Nintendo-playing American Idol cowards like you who allow bailouts and wars and trillion dollar debts to happen.

Hannibal Brother said...

If human beings are meant to live packed together like sardines, why are there so many rats in New York City?

Anonymous said...

2:40 Why are there so many racoons in Charlotte?

Mitch said...

Mary illustrates the point that government intervention of ANY kind will have unforeseen consequences. This seems to me as an argument AGAINST further government meddling in individual choice scenarios.

And look at what wonderful things happened when the CRA, Fannie & Freddie took the opposite tack and explicitly coerced banks into lending to unqualified borrowers...their 'dream deferred' turned into my taxpayer financed bailout.

Dave said...

Gov-Co may have helped create the suburbs but they will also be the cause of its demise. The Suburban Foreclosure problem will create ghetto style neighborhoods in middle class suburbs – increasing cime rates and decreasing school quality. “Bright flight” will take place ruin and despair will happen, urban areas and bedroom communities will thrive and then….Suburban revival…. “New Suburbanism”. Planners, educrates and new versions of Newsom, will talk about the benefits of retuning and reinvesting in a more secluded way of life with big backyards, cul-de-sac basketball and neighborhood pools……Its all Cyclical.


Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more with comment at 2:06

Anonymous said...

Having lived in both urban and suburban environments, I can tell you that each has its benefits and neither should be demonized. Both have benefited from government direction and largesse. And no, I don't nkow where the 8 gazillion dollars is coming from.

Anonymous said...

A more appropo title for this piece might be "How government and racism created suburbia". With government-mandated integration came white flight. And urban revitalization, in the form of high-priced high-rise condos, has been the card drawing white people to the cities, ironically living next to the descendants of the people that their own ancestors abandoned.

Anonymous said...

We see the meddlings of the pc crowd for decades expanding govt housing into all sectors of the city and county so stupidly. This is similar to busing to attain integration in public schools that failed so badly and a social experimentation gone haywire that reduces property values. Living or going to school next to whites is supposed to rub off or something? Please.

Had Ford never invented the internal conbustion engine then suburbs probably wouldnt be as far reaching since horses didnt get people around too quickly.

The majority of whites live in the suburbs in America while the majorty of minorities live in the inner cities. The highest percentage minority city in America is noneother than Washington DC. Go fig.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget...if the opposite happens and white people leave the suburbs and move back into inner-city neighborhoods & drive up prices it is called 'gentrification' and looked down upon.

What should a PC-minded, guilt-ridden liberal yuppie do to be at peace with the universe???