Thursday, November 11, 2010

Do cities matter? Whither the suburbs?

Do cities matter? Are the suburbs declining or healthy? I'm sharing a variety of links today that take differing looks at things. Note – I don't necessarily agree with everything written here, but found the articles of interest.

First, the Center for American Progress writes about "Trouble in the Suburbs: Poverty Rises in Areas Outside Cities." This is not unexpected: As center cities have gentrified, some of the low-income families who were displaced have moved farther out. And as jobs have moved to the suburbs, workers have followed, including those earning lower incomes. Then, the recession is forcing some middle-income families into the ranks of the poor.

The article links to a 2000 paper by the UNC Center for Community Capitalism, "Facing the New Suburban Housing Crunch," which found that the problem of finding affordable housing is not just a problem for the poor but is moving deeper into the middle class.

The article also links to this Brookings look at the new map of poverty in the U.S. It reports, "The number of poor people in large metro areas grew by 5.5 million from 1999 to 2009, and more than two-thirds of that growth occurred in suburbs." Last March Brookings had an interesting report, "Job Sprawl and the Suburbanization of Poverty."

The natural order of land values would hold that being near the center would make land more valuable, hence most costly, hence center cities would be home to the wealthier people. That's the pattern in European cities, where the poor live in the suburbs. (The very rich have in-town homes and villas or chateaux in the country.) The U.S. has been different, due in part to federal involvement in housing programs dating to the mid-20th century, when federal loan programs specifically encouraged suburban housing and pretty much forbade federally backed loans in neighborhoods inhabited by black people or other ethnic groups. That had the effect of reserving the suburbs for white, middle-class homeowners. Of course, the disinclination of many white people to live next door to black people played a huge role, too. And large-lot, single-family zoning created large areas where only middle- or upper-income homeowners could afford to settle.

But the end of those discriminatory policies and the efforts of many cities to add more multifamily housing in the suburbs seems to be changing the U.S. suburban landscape as well.

In some ways, spreading low-income families through the suburbs is not a bad thing. As several of the articles point out, it means poverty is less concentrated. But social services and public transportation are not as readily accessible in the suburbs, where local governments may not be equipped to serve the poor the way city governments are. (This, of course, raises the question of what is "suburban"? In a city such as Charlotte, with liberal annexation laws, the city limits themselves take in plenty of "suburban" neighborhoods that, in other areas of the country, would be separate municipalities.)

Changing topics, here's a provocative piece from National Resources Defense Council blogger Kaid Benfield: " 'Cities' may not matter as much as we think - regions and neighborhoods are where things actually happen."

He starts off noting that, of course, cities do matter. He also notes the problem of city limit lines having little to do with the reality of a metro region's functioning. But, he says, not enough attention is being focused on the suburbs (he means separate municipalities). He writes: "Stormwater runoff per capita is much worse in suburban sprawl, as are emissions of all sorts (CO2 per capita from transportation). One can even make the case that we should be going easier on cities than on sprawling places: To paraphrase David Owen, why put skinny people on diets? My personal view is that our environmental framework absolutely should be tougher on sprawling places than urban ones, but that urban ones should also do their fair share to heal our ecosystems, through appropriate standards, safeguards and mitigation."

He continues: "Unfortunately, I think we remain relatively less attentive to the suburbs, largely because our crazy patchwork of municipalities makes them legally so diffuse and with very rare exceptions there simply is no regional authority to address them as a group."

Illustration from San Jose Mercury News/MCT


Larry said...

Wow sounds like we may be moving back to the old days when people lived where they could, afford to live, wanted to live or lived because it suited them and not because the government spent their money to make them live where they wanted them to live or helped them live.

I guess running out of extra money has the effect of doing what is best for everyone and that is making people enjoy the simple things in life with out all those expensive toys and the like that put us in this mess.

par said...

I have years wanted to live in the suburbs. I did as I had purchased my first two homes. As i got older found that their was a better quality of life in the city. Conveniences, less traffic, more neighborly neighbors, a greater sense of security. All cites have their issues as the suburbs. As you weigh the differences. It becomes obvious life in the city wins out. I have never looked back and love my decision about 15 years ago to move into the Dilworth community from the suburbs.

Anonymous said...

Mary, Mary, Mary.. You might want to try a little disclosure, don't you think?

George Soros - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaSoros gave $3 million to the Center for American Progress, $2.5 million to ....

wiley said...

Center for American Progress?

UNC Center for Community Capitalism?

National Resources Defense Council?

Leftist, progressive propaganda all.

In some ways, spreading low-income families through the suburbs is not a bad thing. As several of the articles point out, it means poverty is less concentrated.

We have done that. Near my subdivision, which has been there since the early 60's, "affordable housing" was built. The vast majority have been foreclosed on - some multiple times.

So what's the real point of this article?

Kyle Merville said...

I think some other things that need to be studied more from these articles is the number of housing projects are now placed in suburban areas. Many cities that have large boundaries (Charlotte is one of them) started tearing down some of the older public housing areas closer to downtowns and building them where there was aviliable land (and less political resistance).

Also adding to this is the number of people that qualified for home loans (and now foreclosures) in the homes that are under $200k in value. Many of these homes are ten to twenty miles away from downtown. With a home in that value range a spike in oil prices (gas is required to get to from home/work/school/shopping) many of these people were forced into foreclosure.

The 'Drive until you Qualify' days are over for many people who are looking to escape the idea that in-town areas have high taxes. While the further out areas have lower taxes, they also have a higher dependence on cars and due to a smaller tax base, less ability to reach out and provide services for those in need. I feel like this will be the part II for many of these studies - how small towns with low value homes are hurting due to these people being far from jobs and necessary services.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of where poor, middle class and wealthy people currently live, the reality will become more and more apparent in the coming decades that the suburbs as we know them in the US are incredibly inefficient places to live (having only spread so much due to very shortsighted government policies over the last 60 years). As times get tougher you will see the shift back to cities and small towns accelerate, where services are concentrated and space is not wasted.

Anonymous 5:00, what do partisan politics have to do with this article? Are you assuming an automatic partisan tie between urban vs. suburban sensibilities?

Anonymous said...

Here is a link to a map showing per capita income in Charlotte.

Cato said...

There's something refreshingly candid about liberals' desire to use housing policy to disperse the poor. Buried within is an implicit assertion that living around large numbers of them is likely to have a substantial adverse impact one's quality of life - not least on the poor themselves.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. This has been more prominent in cities such as Atlanta and DC rather than Charlotte. I am sure it will happen here over time. It's more about wealth than race.

If you are familiar with Atlanta you will notice some declines in Gwinett, Cobb and Clayton counties. Clayton county has seen the biggest impact from the destruction of public housing in the city of Atlanta. Cheap housing in surrounding counties are always the first to be acquired.

In DC the less wealthy have moved to Prince George's county or to the southern US. There really isn't much affordable housing anywhere up there!

Everyone needs housing. The migration is basic supply and demand. Charlotte still has too much empty space to have this occur on a large scale.

cytomitch said...

The best way to get people out of the suburbs is to allow liberals to tinker and control them, like they did the big cities beginning in the 1950's. Once they build affordable housing, raise taxes, ruin schools, distort housing prices (Fannie,Freddie) and devastate local business it will make the inner city look not so bad.

Doubt me? NYT article (last yr) on white flight FROM Westchester County back into NYC because the public schools became so bad it made no sense to commute.

Spread the misery equally, is always the liberal answer. Just looks at how CMS operates.

Anonymous said...

Do cities matter?

NO !!!

Anonymous said...

I guess you could say I live in the suburbs (Indian Land, SC), just over the border south of Ballantyne.

I can't see that we're missing anything down here (except perhaps crime) or that anything is particularly inconvenient.

Our neighborhood is great for the kids and the schools are fine as well.

We don't worry about our safety or that of our children.

Oddly enough, once most "services" realize where the money and stability is, they move to accomodate us.

Of course, we aren't dependent on government services so they don't matter as much.

But there are plenty of medical services and several fire stations nearby.

Not sure what else we'd be missing.

Anonymous said...

How do we define suburban in charlotte? Is Elizabeth suburban? Is Barkley Downs suburban? Is Foxcroft Suburban? Is there a geographical border?
Seems like defining this boundary is critical to discussing inefficiencies in suburban living.

Anonymous said...

One point that seems to be ignored in discussing Charlotte suburbs is the fact that Myers Park, Dilworth, etc. were all once considered suburbs--apart from downtown, with a different style of living. Last time I checked those neighborhoods still had large lots with large houses on them. Yes, their residents are close to downtown and there are nearby shopping enclaves, but I don't see everyone walking to everything--I imagine most use a car to get to the grocery store, medical facilities, work, etc. just like we do in the suburbs. And of course to get to the shopping venue of choice, Southpark, a car is definitely required. When the farther out suburbs started to be built they were much more isolated from needed goods, services,and work places, but over the past decade or so those things have come to the 'burbs, at least to the neighborhoods inside 485. I agree with the poster who said that she did not find the suburbs inconvenient. I admit that we have to drive to get to the museums and theaters that are uptown, but that happens in any big city, New York included--people come into the city for entertainment but they don't have to live there. Nothing wrong with that. The question is--do city people ever come into the suburbs (or is that too inconvenient) to see how the other half really lives?

Anonymous said...

To 10:48 Anon: I live in the city in a walkable neighborhood. I try as hard as I can to not head into the 'burbs. This is not because I don't respect your choices and way of living, it's simply because I really don't like driving everywhere. I have friends that like in the 'burbs who come into my 'hood and we walk to dinner, and walk to a show, or museums, or a park. When they ask my wife and I to come visit them, it's a hassle; because that means, driving out Independence or Providence, to Applebees, then driving to the movies, then driving to their house, then driving home on Independence or Providence. It's just a lot of work. We're not spending quality time talking to them because we're facing away from each other in the back seat of a car in traffic. I can't think of one time when I had a good conversation about anything important from inside a car moving car.
It just seems like 1/2 of the time we spend in the 'burbs is spent getting from somewhere to somewhere else. In my 'hood, "somewhere else" is usually next door.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 12:47: It's too bad you and your suburban friends confine yourselves to Applebees rather than taking advantage of the many wonderful local restaurants you can find in the 'burbs. We enjoy walking (yes walking) to a neighbor's house for drinks and then taking a short drive to Cajun Yard Dog, Ilios Noches, Aroojis, the Great Wall or Tomi, New South Kitchen, Cantina (yes, we have one down here too), Blue Taj, the Waldhorn and on and on. You're really missing out if you don't give a few of these a try. Don't get me wrong--your lifestyle sounds great--two of my sons live in the heart of two other big cities and love it. It's just not for everyone and I think it is rather condescending of you to dismiss the 'burbs as strictly Applebees country.

Anonymous said...

^Your right. I'll suggest some of these other places. I have nothing against the 'burbs other than it takes too long to get to where you want to be. Didn't mean to condescend.

Anonymous said...

In modern times most cities are purely centers of consumption, while most things are made, manufactured, or grown in suburbs or else foreign countries. There is barely a manufacturing base in many American cities anymore, it's all relocated to the suburbs or else other nations. Also, no food is grown in cities, all in the countryside - and the suburbs are in-between. Thus in the event of emergency suburbanites will likely have their first pick of goods flowing in to cities.

So if you look at it objectively most modern cities are parasitic centers of mass-consumption and that's about it - of course the same could be said of most suburbs too. They are dependent upon importing everything, and most American cities don't export very much anymore except toxic financial instruments, trash, sewage, etc. Why should the rest of Americans subsidize a lifestyle of mass consumption for yuppies?

We need to begin to rebuild sustainable eco-communities - urban, suburban, and rural - that are mostly self sufficient villages or towns that are as locally sustainable as possible.