Is Your Pleasant Suburb The Next Slum?

Is the sub-prime meltdown just part of a larger more fundamental shift in the way Americans are choosing to live? Brookings Institute fellow and new urbanist cheerleader Chris Leinberger certainly seems to think so:

At Windy Ridge, a recently built starter-home development seven miles northwest of Charlotte, North Carolina, 81 of the community’s 132 small, vinyl-sided houses were in foreclosure as of late last year. Vandals have kicked in doors and stripped the copper wire from vacant houses; drug users and homeless people have furtively moved in. In December, after a stray bullet blasted through her son’s bedroom and into her own, Laurie Talbot, who’d moved to Windy Ridge from New York in 2005, told The Charlotte Observer, “I thought I’d bought a home in Pleasantville. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that stuff like this would happen.”

In the Franklin Reserve neighborhood of Elk Grove, California, south of Sacramento, the houses are nicer than those at Windy Ridge–many once sold for well over $500,000–but the phenomenon is the same. At the height of the boom, 10,000 new homes were built there in just four years. Now many are empty; renters of dubious character occupy others. Graffiti, broken windows, and other markers of decay have multiplied. Susan McDonald, president of the local residents’ association and an executive at a local bank, told the Associated Press, “There’s been gang activity. Things have really been changing, the last few years.”

In the first half of last year, residential burglaries rose by 35 percent and robberies by 58 percent in suburban Lee County, Florida, where one in four houses stands empty. Charlotte’s crime rates have stayed flat overall in recent years–but from 2003 to 2006, in the 10 suburbs of the city that have experienced the highest foreclosure rates, crime rose 33 percent. Civic organizations in some suburbs have begun to mow the lawns around empty houses to keep up the appearance of stability. Police departments are mapping foreclosures in an effort to identify emerging criminal hot spots.

The decline of places like Windy Ridge and Franklin Reserve is usually attributed to the subprime-mortgage crisis, with its wave of foreclosures. And the crisis has indeed catalyzed or intensified social problems in many communities. But the story of vacant suburban homes and declining suburban neighborhoods did not begin with the crisis, and will not end with it. A structural change is under way in the housing market–a major shift in the way many Americans want to live and work. It has shaped the current downturn, steering some of the worst problems away from the cities and toward the suburban fringes. And its effects will be felt more strongly, and more broadly, as the years pass. Its ultimate impact on the suburbs, and the cities, will be profound.

Leinberger argues that walkable cities of all sizes will weather the coming (current?) storm better than the downtown-less clusters of McMansions we’ve covered the country with in the past 8 years. Has the suburbanization of America finally exhausted itself? Leinberger argues that the preference for car-based suburban living was fueled by a society where families with children made up more than half of all households.

Things are changing:

“The Boomers themselves are becoming empty-nesters, and many have voiced a preference for urban living. By 2025, the U.S. will contain about as many single-person households as families with children.”

As affluent Americans move towards cities, Leinberger says, other suburban advantages (good schools, safe streets) may well move with them.

The Next Slum? [The Atlantic]
(Photo:Suzanne Dechillo/NYT)

Comments

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  1. I think that happened to the town, I live in, Lowell, MA. I walk 2-3 blocks from my apartments east and there’s a neighborhood populated by beautiful McMansion-type houses [some have signs up indicating 19th-century origin, though]. 2-3 blocks south or west though are literally gettoes.

  2. UpsetPanda says:

    I kind of doubt that the urban environment will just improve because some affluent people decide to live there – as with all upper middle to upper class, pockets of exclusivity will force those who just can’t keep up to take the other schools, other neighborhoods, and the demand for higher-quality housing and education will exclude them. I don’t see New York City being a mixing bowl of happy sunshine love because the former suburbanites move in and people think they’ll be okay with bumming it at Juan’s Supermart down the block.

  3. laserjobs says:

    Oh noes!!! Stupid people can’t afford the payment and the banks lent to them. When will people learn you don’t shit in your own bed.

  4. warf0x0r says:

    @laserjobs: What?!? How does not being able to make a housing payment = pooping in your bed? In analogy school you would get a D-. This is more a bite off more than you can chew type of analogy scenario.

  5. forgottenpassword says:

    I’ve always resisted buying a house. The idea of being tied down to a mortgage & general routine upkeep of a homenever really appealed to me. Then there is the issue of property values rising & falling.

    I always had a wacky dream of buying an RV & living in that. Moving around anywhere I wanted to go. Silly I know.

    If I were smart…with all the forclosures & highly motivated sellers out there…I’d buy a small duplex, live in one side & rent the other out to pay for the mortgage. But then I’d have to mow the grass & be enslaved to local housing ordinances & possibly a Hone-owners’ Association.

    I have a friend who has a house in a low to middle income neighborhood & he HATES the local laws enforcing every little thing (like height’s of fences, what you can & CAN’T keep in your back yard or driveway… etc. etc..).

  6. satoru says:

    @BayStateDarren: I dunno hasn’t Lowell been pretty much a dump for years? :P I mean sure you could live in Lawrence, which is arguably a billion times worse, but Lowell is still no picnic :P

    A co-worker sent me this video of when I first moved to Mass like 8 years ago, since I was still looking for a place to rent. I think it’s fairly accurate in its satirical interpretation of the area :P

  7. Kat@Work says:

    “There’s been gang activity. Things have really been changing, the last few years.”

    This made me laugh – like it was June Cleaver or something. People are so naive. Get a gun to defend yourself, your family & your property or move.

  8. TWinter says:

    The rising cost of gas may play a role in this as well. With gas at $3.25 and many news stories about how it could go higher, I’m sure many prospective home buyers are looking for short commutes. In many cities that will favor the urban center and the inner-ring of suburbs.

  9. emilymarion333 says:

    My boyfriend lives in Elk Grove in a development that is very similar to this. It is very sad to see these nice looking neighborhoods and houses being trashed!

  10. mthrndr says:

    @satoru: That’s pretty much what I was going to say. McMansions and Lowell seem like they should be mutually exclusive words.

    Anyway, I think the key words in this article are “recently built”. These brand new, often overpriced communities are cruising for a beating from the current crisis. If you are buying a starter home, do so in an established neighborhood (say 10+ years) with a low rate of turnover. All the stats are readily available on the web on sites like zillow.com.

  11. velvetjones says:

    When people ask us why we live in the city, my husband always says: because they make more suburbs every day, they’re not making any more city!

  12. forgottenpassword says:

    @satoru:

    “Play throw the ball at the basketball pole”

    LMAO!

  13. mac-phisto says:

    i don’t know that i can agree with leinberger on this one. i don’t think it’s so much a shift in our lifestyle as it is a testament to it.

    i grew up in your typical 80′s “e.t.” suburban neighborhood, complete with teenage bullies, packs of kids on bikes/skateboards & parents that knew their neighbors & actually got together with them for dinner, bowling, pta meetings, etc.

    these sprawl communities are different. they provide enough privacy that a family can pretend that there are no neighbors. the houses have no windows on the sides so you can’t see jack & jane living next door. there’s no roving packs of hooligans. hell, dad doesn’t even ride the john deere on sundays – he pays jose’s lawn service to do that while he’s at work.

    there’s no “neighborhood” in america’s culdesacs & consequently, no pride in the ‘hood. things don’t work out, you pick up & move on to the next community where you don’t know who lives next door. what’s the difference?

    i don’t see the move to urbanism that leinberger is predicting. sure, young professionals are flocking to cities. but guess what? they always have. then they get married, have a kid, decide they need a nice house in a nice, quiet neighborhood where you can’t hear jack & jane banging one out at 2am & they end up back in the suburbs. circle of life.

  14. starrion says:

    @BayStateDarren:
    I live on the other side of Lowell from you. (Belvidere I presume) My side is all starter homes, with stable families and not a foreclosure or empty house to be seen. Walk ten blocks out of the Upper Highlands and it’s a slum.

    In CA and FL where I have spent a lot of time, there are just enormous clusters of houses in the hundreds. There really isn’t anything like it in MA.

  15. The Dude says:

    Very funny video…

  16. Steve Trachsel, Ace says:

    @TWinter: Great point. 5 years ago the hot “future growth” spots around DC were in the far suburbs (60 miles or so). People were investing in houses at a quarter of the price of a similar property close in. Double the commute price (and an greater awareness of the environment) and people are less willing to move further out.

  17. BlondeGrlz says:

    @BayStateDarren: I also live in New England and our very small city has similar neighborhoods. But the difference is the town suffered the most years ago, when all the nice houses were split into multi-families and they tore down historic buildings for parking garages. If I walk 3 blocks North on my street I end up in a housing project. If I walk 1 block West I find the $500k+ houses (a lot for around here). The starter homes that were being flipped are sitting empty now, and I suspect it’s only a matter of time before they start getting vandalized. Hopefully it doesn’t creep onto my street.

  18. loganmo says:

    Suburban and exurban living is probably not sustainable for many middle-class families. Here in the DC area, alot of people live pretty far from their jobs (some come to the city from as far as West Virginia or even PA) on a daily basis, in part because the cost of housing is so much cheaper where they live, while they still earn a higher big city salary. However, as oil prices continue to rise, the cost of their commute + cheap city living is going to get closer and closer to the cost of just paying more to live in the city (or very close-in suburbs like Arlington, Alexandria, PG county, etc) and relying on mass transit. Second, the farther out of the way those suburban homes are, the more it is going to cost people who live there to buy all their goods as the higher oil prices mean it will cost more to truck their food over to their local grocery store.

    Now there are other reasons live to the suburbs-some people cannot fathom life without having 84,321 bedrooms or a 3000 SF lawn. However, they are going to have to a pay a price for those nicities. On top of that, most new contsruction these days (whether in the city or the burbs) is shoddy and cheap by even early 20th century standards. As their vinyl-sided wood frame homes age, the costs of maintenance is going to be much higher than if they lived in a masonry-building.

  19. warf0x0r says:

    @satoru: I think you just won at consumerist. That was probably the best reply ever.

  20. Steve Trachsel, Ace says:

    @loganmo: I live in one of those DC/Baltimore suburbs (though the rural part). My neighbors who dont work in the local area are either looking for work closer or demanding a metro extension.

  21. Superawesomerad says:

    @laserjobs: Great, except the people who are getting shafted in this story are the ones whose homes haven’t been foreclosed.

  22. bmwloco says:

    I live in Asheville, NC, also known as “AsheVegas” for the explosion in growth in the last decade.

    Things happen slower here, but the cracks are showing. We’ve had people move here who have sold their houses elsewhere and decided to move here – without having a job first.

    Bad move.

    Some massive upscale communities have popped up; who inhabits them is unknown. Funny, the “For Sale” signs are starting pop up. I guess it’s hard to pay a Jumbo Mortgage payment on minimum wage employment.

    20 years from now, no one will want to support such a massive house. Funny, our little 1920′s cottage looks better all the time…

  23. joemono says:

    @forgottenpassword: @mac-phisto: @Kat@Work: Did I miss a meeting where we decided to start using ampersands instead of typing out the word “and?” :)

  24. Jim says:

    @loganmo: Regarding your last paragraph, that’s the upside to this story. Since most of these homes were built in the style of trailer homes and double wides, they probably won’t be standing after 10-15 years. By the time my kids graduate, those will be pre-loaded landfills.

    @satoru: That is a great piece of film. I’m inspired.

  25. Jamie Beckland says:

    Meg-

    I believe you are referring to “The Brookings Institution”, not “the Brookings Institute”.

    They go by just “Brookings” now, but the full name doesn’t have “Institute” in it at all.

  26. timsgm1418 says:

    exactly. I think where they stated that some neighbors are pulling together to mow the lawns, etc, is the only thing the homeowner can do. It sucks when you bought a house you could afford and are paying your mortgage, then a bunch of people move in and get foreclosed on and you’re screwed..The foreclosure problem doesn’t just affect the people losing their homes, it affects everybody@Superawesomerad:

  27. Aphex242 says:

    @WillScarlett: Actually I’d always heard it as the Brookings Institute as well.

  28. oakie says:

    this guy missed the mark unless suddenly people will stop getting older.

    people grow up and grow out… mainly because large urban areas arent going to suddenly knock out their financial district to accommodate a subdivision full of new, single family homes for when they’re ready to start a family.

    and this “suburban gang activity”? wake up idiots, it’s been happening for 4-5 years now as those who couldnt afford a home in your neighborhood suddenly could with subprime lending. they werent being pushed out of “downtown”; they were lured out with the opportunity to buy a home despite their reduced capacity to pay for it.

    in 5 years, these problems will all be flushed out of the suburbs and be back mugging the urbanites.

    unsavory individuals usually prefer larger communities to blend in, not smaller communities so they stick out… and these same people arent actively “hiding out” in the suburbs if they’re proudly committing petty crimes in their own sparsely populated neighborhood.

  29. Kat@Work says:

    @joemono: Yesh. :) It happened yesterday @ that Starbucks wanna be place Conga Coffee. ;)

  30. emjsea says:

    @Tracy Ham and Eggs:
    Oh, great, another metro extension. Criminals love public transportation that takes them right to their victims. No need to drive.

  31. oakie says:

    @bmwloco: “20 years from now, no one will want to support such a massive house. Funny, our little 1920′s cottage looks better all the time…”

    wrong. peoples’ wants always trend upwards, not downwards. the wanters will find a way to support their desires. how do i know?

    when was the last time you ever heard someone WANT to live a life that’s lesser than their forebearers? at worst they want the same standard of living… but never less.

    sorry, but the only “socialist revolution” that ever happens are by the privileged who want the less privileged to take from each other instead of them.

  32. mac-phisto says:

    @joemono: lol. i pretty much do it out of laze – gotta fend off the cts as long as possible. =P

    file this under “things about me that no one cares to know”: i can’t actually write an ampersand, so i use that funky backwards 3 thingy w/ the 2 vertical dashes above & below.

  33. UpsetPanda says:

    Brookings just released a book that is a study of the immigrant population in America…places like the D.C. area are booming with immigration, legal and illegal, and I think that might be one of the “problems” a lot of suburbanites complain about. Good, nice, clean areas are being somewhat destroyed by crime supposedly brought in by immigration…Next on Fox, when poverty collides with well-landscaped lawns…

  34. Chairman-Meow says:

    I”ll bet you 1000 Quatloos that most of the “vandalism” & “gang activity” is coming from their own little snowflakes in these communities.

  35. vdragonmpc says:

    I had the whole neighborhood change happen to me after I bought my house. Its like I bought my home and from that everyone decided to sell that could. My next door neighbor was very nice but his realtor was a tool. He thought they were mowing the grass but I did it every other month to keep the varmits away. His back yard was fenced in and I didnt want to cause issues by going there. So it got completely overgrown. The realtor paid me to cut it as it needed a serious effort and a push mower wasnt going to do a thing.

    It sold to some pretty horrific folks who caused me a lot of problems complaining about rainwater flowing downhill across their driveway (yes I really have a letter from some A33hat at the city that told me to deal with the water flowing downhill onto asphalt!)

    Most of the neighbor keep to themselves but are friendly when I am outside working in the garage. I would not have bought in this area if I had known how bad they would fake house values for taxes and provide no services at all. Nothing.

  36. MoCo says:

    The article claims:

    This future is not likely to wear well on suburban housing. Many of the inner-city neighborhoods that began their decline in the 1960s consisted of sturdily built, turn-of-the-century row houses, tough enough to withstand being broken up into apartments, and requiring relatively little upkeep. By comparison, modern suburban houses, even high-end McMansions, are cheaply built. Hollow doors and wallboard are less durable than solid-oak doors and lath-and-plaster walls. The plywood floors that lurk under wood veneers or carpeting tend to break up and warp as the glue that holds the wood together dries out; asphalt-shingle roofs typically need replacing after 10 years. Many recently built houses take what structural integrity they have from drywall-their thin wooden frames are too flimsy to hold the houses up.

    The author is clueless about construction. Plywood does not break up and warp unless it is defective, asphalt-shingle roofs last more like 25 years, and drywall is never uses as a structural material.

    In contrast, nearly all older houses contain lead paint and asbestos. They lack sufficient insulation and have leaky windows, leading to high energy bills. While these deficiencies can all be corrected, buyers may find that the solid old house that they have purchased might just need to be torn down and replace it to create a liveable home.

  37. PirateSmurf says:

    I just had a flash of Back to the Future 2, so where is Biff’s Casino?

  38. GearheadGeek says:

    @oakie: Your problem (and that of the public in general) is the conflation of “bigger” with “better.” It’s not necessary to have 3000 square feet of bland developer-built floorspace to “move up.” As the real costs of living 50 miles from their office mount, and the real costs of heating and cooling the 50% of the house they don’t really need affects their ability to buy that new Acura, it’s just possible that people will realize that the quality of their living space is orthogonal to its size. I don’t see how it has anything to do with socialism, but if that’s an easy way for you to dismiss the possibility that there might be a nice house that’s not huge without experiencing cognitive dissonance, fine.

    Of course, I’m into architecture and small houses, as much for the more comfortable scale as for the economic aspects, so my perspective on this is different than that of the average KB Homes customer.

  39. friendlynerd says:

    @MoCo:

    Plywood warps mighty fast when the vinyl siding blows off. And it will.

  40. PirateSmurf says:

    @GearheadGeek: That is one thing I dont understand is why someone would buy a house to live in 50+ miles from where they work.
    So they completely remove the factors of Gas, wear and tear on car, car maintanence, added car insurance due to milage driven each day. Commute time and last but not least stress from the commute and its length, blows my mind

  41. ARP says:

    @GearheadGeek: Amen. I’m a city dweller living in a 1200 ft Condo. A small house by suburban standards, but I can walk five minutes to countless numbers of bars, shops, restaurants, parks, etc. Because of that, we only need one car. So when you remove a car payment, gas, insurance, maintenance, etc. we’re not spending that much more than suburban dwellers.

    I know its fine for many, but I can’t justify spending tons of money on a big house, a bunch of cars, only to have to drive 40 miles to get to the nearest mediocre TGIF’s.

  42. weave says:

    Very happy I moved into an older neighborhood. It has about 180 homes in it with maybe 10 a year for sale. So even if half went into foreclosure it’s only 5 a year. Compare that to half of a new development going into foreclosure and the neighborhood just can’t absorb the impact.

  43. ohiomensch says:

    @forgottenpassword:

    Its not silly, I had the same dream most of my life. When people would ask me what I wanted to do when I grow up I used to tell them I wanted to be a vagabond, like David Janssen in the Fugitive (only without the murder charge hanging over my head). It still is my dream for retirement.

    As for affluent moving into rough neighbor hoods improving them — we have a lot of areas of gentrification where I live, but it doesn’t improve anything.

  44. jchennav says:

    @loganmo: You’re right about the shoddy construction quality. While mortgages are 30 years long, most houses built after World War II are designed to last at most 20 years.

    Recently built houses and condo conversions try to hide the shoddiness by including granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.

  45. halloweenjack says:

    I thought I’d bought a home in Pleasantville.

    Why? Did trees burst into flame every time a nearby housewife masturbated in the tub?

  46. mthrndr says:

    @halloweenjack:
    lulz.

  47. yesteryear says:

    @PirateSmurf: YEP! thats exactly what ive been thinking. james howard kunstler has said that the 21st century is going to be all about living locally… because of rising energy costs and their trickle down effect into the rest of our consumer goods. this subprime mess might speed that return to living/working/playing in the same community. i think its great. but i’m one of those weirdos who chose to live 7 minutes from my office and doesn’t mind paying a bit more in housing to save myself the headache and costs associated with 3 hours of commuting per day. i never understood how that trade off made any sense. id rather pay a premium to be relaxed and happy than save money just so i can waste 15 hours a week sitting in a car.

  48. humphrmi says:

    @weave: Amen. Same here, old established community. It’s just outside of Chicago. I keep looking for the foreclosure rush to hit, but it’s not happening so far. Which was actually quite surprising to me, since in the late part of the boom, a lot of flippers started working houses here – so I thought we’d end up with a lot of foreclosure activity from them getting stuck with properties. But, whatever, housing values are staying firm here in Skokie and in fact our crime rate seems to be going down.

  49. Snarkysnake says:

    There ! I zipped up my asbestos suit, because I’m gonna get flamed for this one…

    What’s with all of the suburb bashing from these pink wiener “academic” types. If this were North Korea and there was a government office that made us buythese so called “McMansions” ,then the bashers would have a point. But these things have been built by free people with their own money (or financing). If they are such a bad idea,let the builders go broke. I’m getting real uncomfortable reading all of these “studies” that show how our lifestyle is “unsustainable” and we all need to mail the keys to the bank if we live outside these “walkable cities”. Fuck you, Chris Leinberger. I like my home and lifestyle just fine,thanks. You move your happy ass to the city and I hope that you have a great big group hug every day after work.For the rest of you gullible types that parrot this nonsense without doing any critical thinking,It’s not a very big jump from desiring that we all move back to the ‘hood to requiring same. Hell,no. There are lots of good things happening in these residential areas that this pretentious asshole and his ilk have no clue about.

  50. humphrmi says:

    @Snarkysnake: I applaud you.

  51. akyiba says:

    I moved to Lowell two years ago and I must say I don’t feel like I’m in Philly anymore which can and does have a double meaning. So far from what I’ve seen from other cities that I’ve been in you drive in one part and you’re like ‘whoa’, then you drive in another part and you’re like ‘whoa’.

  52. UpsetPanda says:

    @Snarkysnake: No flaming from me, I tend to agree. I like how I live – suburbs are a go for me. I don’t want to live where I work because it seems like an awfully crappy place to live. And with the two of us working in different areas, should we move closer to one job and the other person gets to drive an extra 15 minutes? Not fair either, so we choose to live between our two jobs and we each make an equal commute. I think it’s about balance…if you spend 98% of your earnings sustaining your home, you’ve got a problem.

  53. @satoru: LOL, I literally watched that video and exclaimed at one point, “I know that graffiti penis!” [Not intimately though, for the record.] Yep that’s my town. So anybody wanting to see McMansionville surrounded by slums, come to Lowell!@starrion: Yep, I do live in Belvidere. I’m so glad I’ll be escaping from ths shithole city this summer.

  54. GearheadGeek says:

    @Snarkysnake: Actually, your attitude is just as dumb as the ones saying that the only way to live is to grow your own food in a window-box garden in your apartment in a super-dense city. UpsetPanda phrased it perfectly… “it’s about balance.”

    My previous residence was a McHouse in a Centex Homes subdivision way the hell out in the boonies. It happened to be quite close to my work, which was my main motivation for building there. It was the smallest plan they sold in the neighborhood, quite comfy for 2 of us and 2 dogs. Balance, again. A reasonably-sized, efficient house near my work, though I didn’t like the dreadful sameness of all the same-plan-different-facade McHouses.

    Our lives changed. I work for the same company but from home, in a smaller 56-year-old house in a city. We’re a 10-minute walk from the medical school my partner attends. There were good “green” reasons for the location, but it’s mostly about convenience being near the med school, and the fact that we like the character of this neighborhood much more than the suburban wasteland. We drive less between us in a month now than either of us did in a week before, which with the current stupid price of fuel is a blessing.

    Go ahead, live where you want. No one has suggested that you be required to move into a commune, and I’m certainly not about to move into one either. If you want to maintain and pay for a big McMansion and a long commute to work, that’s how you want to spend your money and it’s fine with me, just don’t present it as an economical alternative.

  55. Ass_Cobra says:

    The guy that wrote this though obviously is a lousy journalist. He cribbed the paragraph about Windy Ridge from an earlier observer piece and totally biffed the quote. See the original article below.

    [www.charlotte.com]

    What can I say, I watch the wire and it always starts out with something true.

  56. Canoehead says:

    “As affluent Americans move towards cities, Leinberger says, other suburban advantages (good schools, safe streets) may well move with them.”

    So if all the empty-nester boomers are moving back to the cities (seems reasonable to me) why would schools follow them? They don’t need schools – look at San Fran, the ultimate urbanite, hipster, greenie city – not many kids, schools being closed every year. Now San Fran is certainly the extreme example, but retirees don’t need schools (and probably don’t want to pay for them) and even urbanite familes will have fewer kids given the cost of space and other things in the city. Meanwhile, if the suburbs go slummy, the schools there will also crap out – leaving middle class folks to mortgage themselves to send their kids to private school.

    The next bubble will be in private education.

  57. @UpsetPanda: It already has, in some places. Chicago Public Schools’ charter schools now have lower acceptance rates than Harvard (Harvard takes like 16% of applicants; CPS charters take 9%) because so many middle and upper-middle class families are moving back into the city … and FAMILIES aren’t the major city-seeking demographic! Obviously not every city will improve, nor every part of cities that do improve, but if housing prices go way UP in cities, and fall drastically in suburbs, poor people are going to live in suburbs and wealthy people are going to move back into city centers.

    @oakie: “mainly because large urban areas arent going to suddenly knock out their financial district to accommodate a subdivision full of new, single family homes for when they’re ready to start a family.”

    But for a long time, young families didn’t live in single-family homes, and there’s no rule that says they have to. Perhaps more to the point, most cities HAVE starter-home sections — townhouses, two-flats, tiny little houses on lots with yards. *I* live in a city on a 50×150 lot w/ about 2000 sq. feet in my home (around 1800 finished, I think? Can’t ever remember.) The family that lived here before us had three children in this house. My grandmother raised five in a house no larger than this. There’s thousands of little houses like this in my city … and plenty of larger, grander homes as well. All walkable, all urban, all with grass.

  58. ClayS says:

    @GearheadGeek:
    I don’t think snarkysnake was advocating that you or anyone else live like he. He was just defending his right to live as he wishes. I too live in a fairly large 40yo house, I work from my home and my wife commutes about 5 miles each way to work. To a lot of people, a long commute is worthwile to ensure that their children go to a good school in a safe neighborhood. To each his own is all we are saying.

  59. GearheadGeek says:

    @ClayS: He was basically saying he expects Chris Leinberger to show up with a bulldozer any day now. He said: “It’s not a very big jump from desiring that we all move back to the ‘hood to requiring same.”

    If no one is talking about the fact that cities don’t have to be slums, and the only residential investment that takes place is building houses that are 10 miles from the nearest grocery store, there just won’t be enough options. I think it’s a good thing that there’s more development taking place in cities, but as long as people want to buy McHouses in the boonies they’re welcome to spend their own money as they like.

  60. ClayS says:

    @GearheadGeek:
    No one is saying cities have to be slums. There are sections of cities that are far more upscale than most any suburbs. People are free to live where they wish and there is no need for anyone to overly advocate any venue over another. In my town, for example, there are Cape Cod homes around 1500 sf, medium to large houses about 2500 sf, and McMansions that are much larger even. Plus condos and townshouses.

    In Manhattan, you can find everything from studio rentals to multifloor condos and houses. The problem is, real estate prices are super-high in premium city locations.

  61. ChuckECheese says:

    @MoCo: In windy areas, shingle roofs need repairs after 10 years or less. Last year after a windstorm, I found somebody’s asphalt shingles blown into my yard. On their backside was printed “8-year guarantee.”

  62. guevera says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: City I’m in, Sacramento, doesn’t have affordable urban starter homes like the ones you mention — we make (slightly) more than the median income here, and 1800 feet of downtown home is way out of our price range. The burbs here are ground zero for subprime meltdown, but downtown property values remain insane.

    Leinberger’s suggestion is already being seen here. Elk Grove (a classic suburban wasteland and the region’s biggest boom burb of the bubble — great place for foreclosure bus tours now) is rapidly becoming the ghetto. Meanwhile, downtown has become heavily gentrified — filled with bland progressive yuppie types who throw around words like “localvore” a lot as they munch panini’s and chat idly about what it will take to make Sacramento’s film scene as hip and edgy as San Francisco’s.

    I guess you’re only entitled to a nice eco-friendly walkable community if you make 100K+ a year working as a lobbyist buying favors from state government. For those of us who don’t spend all day sucking the lifeblood from American democracy, the god forsaken suburbs it is..

  63. theblackdog says:

    @Canoehead: That’s already happening in DC, their public school system is completely in the toilet and only getting worse because of the parents who send their kids to $25K a year private school, or they form charter schools.

  64. theblackdog says:

    @loganmo: I live in Greenbelt (suburb in PG County) and from what I have seen, a lot of apartment complexes these days are full and staying full because of the folks who realize it’s not worth a 45 minute commute to their jobs when gas is creeping towards $4 a gallon.

    The only exception is Springhell Lake, whose reputation precedes it.

  65. lockdog says:

    @MoCo: You are definitely right about all the problems of older homes, although lead paint is easily encapsulated, and I’ve never seen asbestos siding that friable, although I know it can happen. Other sources of asbestos are problematic.

    But new homes aren’t all rosy either. Those shingles would last 25 years, if they were installed correctly. And immigrant labor or just locals, the guys up on these roofs aren’t reading the installation instructions. Add all the complicated hips and valleys on a modern McMansion, and, well, it only takes one leak to get things started. Inside, drywall, OSB, carpet, laminate flooring, cabinetry will all disintegrate if it gets wet. A humid summer with the AC off is enough to get things started. And mold is a lot harder to deal with than lead or asbestos.

    Thats just your roof. Around here OSB or plywood is only required on the corner of the structure to give wind resistance. The rest of your walls are vinyl siding, blueboard, stud, drywall, paint. Not much to offer any resistance. I can kick my way through it. A good plaster and lathe wall can take all day to take down with sledgehammers and sawzalls. A tightly sealed and insulated house is great to live in, but leave it abandoned for a year or so and you have a permanent rot box.

  66. synergy says:

    I’m already seeing it. Suddenly the downtown is being “gentrified” left and right because all the houses are cheaper than the McMansions and people who’ve lived downtown for decades are being displaced because the city is aiding and abetting by raising land taxes enough to push people out, but keeping them cheaper than out in the ‘burbs.

  67. Her Grace says:

    I desperately want there to be a growth of walkable cities–especially ones that are designed to go hand in hand with public transport. Buses and trains are well and good, but what I would love best are more cities with trams. They’re the more convenient than trains (run in the streets with cars, so they’re able to go more places) and better environmentally and probably financially than busses (Melbourne trams are all electric). Being able to walk to reliable, safe public transport that everyone used–and it really was everyone, from the college students to the businessmen to kids coming home from school to grandmothers going to the market–would also benefit individuals: the small amount of walking necessary could make a huge health difference for people, as opposed to the sedintary car rides of today.

    A yearly public transport ticket for an adult in Melbourne ran $1000 for unlimited travel; if you wanted to go to the furthest reaches of the system (well outside of the city itself) it ran $1600. That covered any form of transport you wanted (buses, trams, and trains) and was cheaper than just the insurance to drive for many people–let alone the cost of the car itself. Best thousand I ever spent.

  68. altdude says:

    Never noticed this being a huge issue where I’m from. Yes, some houses seem to be worth a bit less, but there are still plenty of higher-end ($3 mil+) homes for sale which do end up selling.

    Maybe it’s because generally problems in the economy affect the wealthy the least. I still see just as many Mercedes on the road as I did 10 years ago, and the high-end stores downtown seem to be doing just as well as ever.

    Something to point out, however, is that I see fewer new constructions. Even as few as 2 years ago, I could think of at least 10 mini-mansions going up. Now, maybe there are a few, a couple of which are extensions to existing homes.

  69. Mary says:

    I’m all for anything that might result in the death of the suburb. Perhaps it’s not just all this talk of empty nesters and it’s more that people are learning just how idiotic that entire method of urban planning was in the first place.

    New urbanism for the win.

  70. @guevera: Move out here to flyover country. We’re very nice and property values are much lower. And all your neighbors will bring casseroles when you move in. :)

    My 1950 brick house around 2000 sq. feet in a stable urban neighborhood with two schools (Catholic and public) within a 5-minute walk on a 50×150 lot with super-nice neighbors cost me $116,500. 2-car garage, even. And a hot garbage man.

  71. SinA says:

    Not nearly enough articles on the tabs: ARCHITECTURE, CITY PLANNING, SUBURBIA. I can’t be the only one who finds all that fascinating. There ought to have enough interest for its own Gawker Media linky.

  72. GearheadGeek says:

    @SinA: There is definitely a group of people who are interested, but it’s fairly obvious that there’s a huge crowd who really aren’t, they’re largely the ones who bought the developer cookiecutters over the last decade. Hell, *I* was guilty of buying one out of convenience, because my office was out in the boonies and I wanted to live close to work.

    Worse than the soul-sucking sameness of the “designs” is the awful busybody boorishness of deed-mandated homeowners’ associations with too much power and too little rational thought.