gloating in the wake of the suburban meltdown

OK, maybe not gloating exactly, but I think a lot of us here in the MM.com audience knew that suburbia wasn’t tenable several years ago… Anyway, it’s interesting to see the mainstream news catching up. Today, it’s CNN. They’re asking if, “America’s suburban dream (is) collapsing into a nightmare?

Here’s a clip:

…This trend, according to Christopher Leinberger, an urban planning professor at the University of Michigan and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, stems not only from changing demographics but also from a major shift in the way an increasing number of Americans — especially younger generations — want to live and work.

“The American dream is absolutely changing,” he told CNN.

This change can be witnessed in places like Atlanta, Georgia, Detroit, Michigan, and Dallas, Texas, said Leinberger, where once rundown downtowns are being revitalized by well-educated, young professionals who have no desire to live in a detached single family home typical of a suburbia where life is often centered around long commutes and cars.

Instead, they are looking for what Leinberger calls “walkable urbanism” — both small communities and big cities characterized by efficient mass transit systems and high density developments enabling residents to walk virtually everywhere for everything — from home to work to restaurants to movie theaters.

The so-called New Urbanism movement emerged in the mid-90s and has been steadily gaining momentum, especially with rising energy costs, environmental concerns and health problems associated with what Leinberger calls “drivable suburbanism” — a low-density built environment plan that emerged around the end of the World War II and has been the dominant design in the U.S. ever since…

Within 12 years, we’ll be scavenging the suburbs for building materials. In another 12, what’s left of their foundations will have been plowed under. That’s my prediction.

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18 Comments

  1. Ol' E Cross
    Posted June 17, 2008 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    More likely, in twelve years the poor won’t be able to afford downtown living and will be pushed to the decaying suburbs. Inevitably, in another fifty years, all the cool kids will start moving to the suburbs in search of a more authentic existence.

  2. egpenet
    Posted June 17, 2008 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    Over 50% of the world’s population live in or surrunding cities today.

    If you think most folksin Darfur live in squalid camps in the desert, think again. They live in squalid refugee encampments outside of the cities in the Sudan … which is worse, because the UN and other agencies have no control over what, why, where and when bad things happen to people who happen to be refugees in need in cities.

    All of the suburbs I have ever lived in have decayed, lost value and are not what they once where … including Bloomfield Hills. No sidewalks, too far from downtown Birmingham to walk or even bike … and “downtown” Auburn Hills is a joke.

    I know how much the townshippers love there little one and a quarter acres … but I love all of the things that are just STEPS from my front door.

    As Ypsi learns how to grow in a proper way … which WILL include going UP … I look forward to that happening. And I see the same spirit growng in downtown Milan, Belleville, Saline, Dexter, Chelsea and …
    what … I can’t … ah … oh, yah … Ann Arbor.

    All of a sudden they won’t demolish to let Zingerman’s expand … but in the last ten years they have lost so many truly fine buildings. What’s the hang-up this time. Their HDC is terribly confused and much too political for my blood. I’m on the Ypsi HDC, and I do NOT understand how the A2 HDC makes their decisions. We use the Federal Standards, I guess A2 goes problem to problem, which is their own doing.

    If I’d been on THATpanel, Ari and Paul, you’d be talking to your architects today, and preparing drawings for the next meeting of OUR HDC.

  3. Edge of the Sprawl
    Posted June 18, 2008 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    And I’m sure Prof. Leinberger figures if he repeats his distortions often enough that maybe some people may be fooled into believing it. Think he might be biased seeing as his occupational choice is as an urban planner? Hurry up and jump on the bandwagon and move to Detroit before all the really cool young people rent all the available property. Fortunately, reality has a habit of exposing falsehoods.

    U.S. Census Bureau figures show Detroit’s population reached its peak in 1950, with about 1.85 million residents. A report published in April of this year by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments projects that Detroit’s population will fall to about 705,000 by 2035. The city’s population is now pegged at nearly 919,000. Most educated persons would not call this a steady growing momentum towards urbanism. Then again. most educated persons don’t rely on CNN for their facts.

    Think the American dream is changing? Dream on.

  4. Ol' E Cross
    Posted June 18, 2008 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    EoS. One of things most academics try to do is look at all factors and not make poor assertions based on a shallow grasp of stats.

    Since you’re a fan of SEMCOG, check out their 2007 Residential Building Permit Report that notes: For the third year in a row, Detroit led the region in total new residential construction units permitted with 653. Detroit also had the most unit permitted in the two-family, TAC, and multi-family category with 523..

    We could also talk about the many variables for Detroit’s declining population (e.g., declining household size) but even that misses the point.

    Leinberger is talking about downtowns. I’m sure you’re aware that the mass of Detroit is characterized by residential neighborhoods that vary little in architecture and amenities from their inner ring, suburban counterparts.

    We lived in a Detroit neighborhood for seven years, in an area that was miles of post-war bungalows. For all practical purposes, we may have as well lived in Westland. We wanted to move to a downtown. We looked in downtown Detroit locations as well Ypsilanti. One of the factors that led us to Ypsi was we couldn’t afford much in Detroit. We were priced out of downtown Detroit eight years ago.

    Detroit may be losing population but downtown has been perpetually adding pricey lofts for the last ten plus years. And, frankly, as far as choices for entertainment, arts, eats, festivals, riverfront, good paying jobs, etc., downtown Detroit has far more to offer urbanites than Ypsi. Granted, it’s no Chicago, but it’s still the most active square mile in Michigan.

    The City is losing population, no doubt. We recently drove past the house we lived in and found, like many others on the block, it’s become foreclosed, abandoned urban blight. But that neighborhood was decidedly suburban in feel. Those are the neighborhoods that are emptying in the City, the downtown is filling up.

  5. Paw
    Posted June 18, 2008 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    When we go into the township to scrap the McMansions, I’d like a new garage.

  6. Posted June 18, 2008 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    This change can be witnessed in places like […] Detroit, Michigan, […] said Leinberger, where once rundown downtowns are being revitalized by well-educated, young professionals who have no desire to live in a detached single family home typical of a suburbia where life is often centered around long commutes and cars.

    Sounds great, until/unless you have children. Then it’s off to McMansion Township.

  7. MaryD
    Posted June 18, 2008 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Ed has it right, he won’t need to drive his dinosaur SUV way out there to his home at the edge of the sprawl, he can walk to most everything he needs, as can I.

  8. mark
    Posted June 18, 2008 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    OEC, you raise a good point. It didn’t come immediately to mind, but, years ago, I read a study about a McMansion community in California that had a similar fate. Over a relatively short period of time it went from super posh to dirt poor. I think, in that instance, developers overestimated how far from LA people were willing to live. The houses didn’t sell, and eventually things started to fall apart… My point, when I talked about the foundations being plowed under, was simply that the property the houses sit on would eventually be more valuable as farmland (which, in most cases, it had been previously).

  9. mark
    Posted June 18, 2008 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of McMansions, I wonder whatever happened Dingell’s proposed “McMansion Tax.”

  10. Edge of the Sprawl
    Posted June 18, 2008 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    Well OEC, if your comparison is to Detroit, I can see why you think Ypsi City is the berries.

    “For the third year in a row, Detroit led the region in total new residential construction units permitted with 653.” How is it that Detroit leads? Ypsi Township has a population of about 50K and 3000 new single family residences permitted and under construction. I guess Detroit leads if you conveniently exclude all the communities that are not built-out and overtaxed.

    I apologize for my shallow grasp of stats. I had no idea that all references to Detroit pertain to a mere one square mile of frenzied real estate activity.

    Mary,
    Where do you walk to buy all your clothes? Do you really feed your family entirely from the coop or Dos Hermanos? Where do you walk for your computer and other electronic purchases? Do you walk over to Abes, or the Wolverine, or the Bomber for those special occasion dinners? What movie theater do you walk to to see films? Where will you walk to buy your next bicycle? Your next lawn mower? Where do you buy your major appliances? How easy is it for you to walk home carrying your purchases in bad weather? Do you really limit your recreational and entertainment options to those locations that you can walk to? Do you visit only those friends and family members who live within walking distance?

    Maybe you do sit at home and obtain everything you need from the Sears catalog, but I bet you drive out to the sprawl on a daily basis to get what you need.

  11. Ol' E Cross
    Posted June 18, 2008 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    EoS,

    I’ll cite my source. What’s yours? And, maybe I should wonder more about your reading comprehension. From Mark’s post:…said Leinberger, where once rundown downtowns are being revitalized… Note the word “downtowns,” take your time, sound it out. He wasn’t talking about a city-wide revitalization, but a downtown trend. Look at a map or even drive around. The vast majority of Detroit land isn’t “downtown.” A square mile is generous.

    Mary, forgive me for butting in, butt:
    Where do you walk to buy all your clothes? Value World.
    Do you really feed your family entirely from the coop or Dos Hermanos? Pretty much. And the farm markets. But, we do make occasional runs to stock up on odd items they don’t carry.
    Where do you walk for your computer and other electronic purchases? Once every ten years we go to Best Buy, but that was before Clover Computers opened in Depot Town.
    Do you walk over to Abes, or the Wolverine, or the Bomber for those special occasion dinners? No. Tomorrow is my 15 year wedding anniversary. We’re still debating walking to Haab’s or Cady’s. Either way, we’ll walk home tipsy. Key word being “walk.”
    What movie theater do you walk to to see films? Ypsilanti District Library. If you’re willing to wait on a short list, the flicks are free.
    Where will you walk to buy your next bicycle? Ypsilanti Cycle. Duh.
    Your next lawn mower? Ace Hardware. Double Duh.
    Where do you buy your major appliances? N/A. I’ll let you know. Probably Normal Park yard sale. But, once every few decades, I’m willing to drive to Sears. That’s where we got our mattress. Most other household furnishings are available in Depot Town.
    How easy is it for you to walk home carrying your purchases in bad weather? Two blocks and an umbrella. It’s murder. On my umbrella.
    Do you really limit your recreational and entertainment options to those locations that you can walk to? No. But 90 percent of them, I can.
    Do you visit only those friends and family members who live within walking distance?, No. But ninety percent of them, I can.

    In all fairness, EoS, what are your answers to the same questions? And geez, how long has it been since you’ve left the bunker?

  12. Ol' E Cross
    Posted June 18, 2008 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Mark. One of a few like experiences that motivated my first comment… A number of years ago I happened to be covering a tour of Detroit riverfront for investors. They were driven past a long line of frontage properties. The properties weren’t vacant, but were far from glistening. I noticed how every one of them had some variation of cheap fishing boat in the side lawn. People of lower income were obviously living in the homes and enjoying the riverfront. It was hard to see how if we replaced the income levels of the folks on the river, which was what was essentially be suggested, the river access would cease to be “wasted.” When I inquired with the urban planner on this, she said, “It’s a fact that gentrification displaces the poor.”

    Detroit, like other urban cores, has the capacity to house many more folks than are currently there, for sure. But, these areas not entirely abandoned. At present, the poor are living in yesteryear’s McMansions.

    Detroit is a long way from reaching capacity and is ripe for repopulation, but few, if any, of modest income can afford to live in downtown Chicago. It won’t do much good if all we do is swap locations. I don’t have an answer, it just keeps floating around me until I hear one.

  13. Posted June 19, 2008 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    so who’s gonna open the movie theater?

  14. Edge of the Sprawl
    Posted June 19, 2008 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    My source: http://www.twp.ypsilanti.mi.us/commdev/developments.php

    Sorry – I don’t know how to make a link. It looks like SEMCOG missed quite a few new housing developments in their report.

    This discussion goes no where. OEC and Mary claim to have no need for a car since they can walk to get just about everything they need in the city. Sure you can buy used underwear at Value World (which, by the way, is in the township). But it’s quite a stretch to say you can buy a major appliance at a yard sale and carry it home. And where exactly is the furniture store in Depot town? In the context of the original article this new urbanism is proported to be causing a “suburban meltdown”. 650 lofts in Detroit hasn’t impacted my neighborhood yet – but thanks for the warning.

    I get in my car and leave the bunker everyday. (Of course, after I check the perimeter and lock and load.) I shop frequently at a number of stores in 5-6 counties surrounding my home, but mostly in Ypsilanti and Pittsfield townships. I like the big box stores, where I choose from a wide selection, and pay reasonable prices. I shop at Kroger, Meijer, Sam’s, Costco, Lowe’s, Home Depot, WalMart, Randazzo’s, Best Buy,etc. There’s plenty of Malls in the area that I can choose to drive to. I order a lot online as well. I like to eat at the Dam Site Inn, Knight’s, the Boneyard, Malarkey’s, Zukey Lake Tavern and the Chelsea Pub. I like to drive to these locations and see the different communities. I like to see crops in the fields, and woods and wildlife, and meet people I’ve never seen before.

    And, most of the people who live near me at the edge also like the variety of choices found in numerous communities and very much prefer to experience life as an adventure that covers more ground than the few blocks around our homes. But I will concede, that I would travel back to Ypsilanti City if they reopened the Martha Washington for G-rated Saturday matinees.

  15. Ol' E Cross
    Posted June 19, 2008 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    EoS.

    SEMCOG simply compiles what the communities report. They limit their report to projects that are actually permitted, not just in the early planning stages. Otherwise, things like the first plan for Water Street, which didn’t materialize, would be reported.

    We do own a car and we use it frequently. But, we can also go a week without using it. And, our proximity to things means we can get by easily with one car. We save a couple thousand in annual vehicle costs.

    From the sounds of it though, your home on acreage isn’t one I’d necessarily expect to see decline a lot in value. I think Mark and I are picturing developments more like this.

    Oh, and you can pretty much furnish your home at Apple Annies and Salt City Antiques. And no, even I don’t buy my underwear at Value World. Mark gives me his hand-me-downs.

  16. applejack
    Posted June 19, 2008 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    I recently moved to Ypsilanti from Atlanta — with a year spent in Madison, WI between the two. And I have relatives in high places in Michigan politics. Living in these different cities, and talking to these politicians, (and reading this blog) has taught me one important thing about Michigan politics: charter townships are killing Michigan cities and keeping the state a suburban sprawled mess.
    Michigan is the only state in the union with townships that cannot be annexed by growing cities. It creates extra levels of bureaucracy and red tape. It punishes successful cities by keeping tax revenues flowing to the suburbs. and those revenues go to the entrenched interests maintaining this status quo.
    Why is this not campaign issue? Why aren’t smart people in government doing anything about this? Are there other people out there who see this the way I do?

  17. nammeroo
    Posted June 19, 2008 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    Why aren’t charter townships an election issue? Because the smart politicians in Lansing know that the majority of the motivated voting population of their districts live in charter townships because the don’t want to live in cities. Oh, yes, and also because of term limits – most of the current crop of Lansing politicians ARE FORMER CHARTER TOWNSHIP ELECTED OFFICIALS.

  18. applejack
    Posted June 19, 2008 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    I agree that term limits sound better on paper than they work out to be. There are pros and cons on both sides of that issue, but I think I’m against them. The only problem is that Michigan has a strange reluctance to kick out poor performers (this includes individual politicians as well as labor unions and townships in general).
    but yes more people live in townships now than in cities. this creates a nice doughnut affect where a bunch of nice but modest towns are suburbs to . . . nothing.

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