An op-ed in Saturday's New York Times by Christopher Leinberger argues that the age of fringe suburbs is over:
By now, nearly five years after the housing crash, most Americans understand that a mortgage meltdown was the catalyst for the Great Recession, facilitated by underregulation of finance and reckless risk-taking. Less understood is the divergence between center cities and inner-ring suburbs on one hand, and the suburban fringe on the other.
It was predominantly the collapse of the car-dependent suburban fringe that caused the mortgage collapse.
Less than 20 years ago, the most expensive housing in the US was found in high-end outer suburbs, but a structural shift since then has moved the value back to city cores and inner suburbs. "Considered slums as recently as 30 years ago, [expensive urban neighbourhoods] have been transformed by gentrification."
The author notes the demographic one-two punch of wealthy Boomers and young people, who for various reasons no longer see a house in the suburbs as the pinnacle of success.
Many boomers are now empty nesters and approaching retirement. Generally this means that they will downsize their housing in the near future. Boomers want to live in a walkable urban downtown, a suburban town center or a small town, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors.
The millennials are just now beginning to emerge from the nest - at least those who can afford to live on their own. This coming-of-age cohort also favors urban downtowns and suburban town centers - for lifestyle reasons and the convenience of not having to own cars.
This is also reflected in falling rates of driving among younger people.
So what does all this mean for a place like Hamilton? Leinberger concludes:
The good news is that there is great pent-up demand for walkable, centrally located neighborhoods in cities like Portland, Denver, Philadelphia and Chattanooga, Tenn. The transformation of suburbia can be seen in places like Arlington County, Va., Bellevue, Wash., and Pasadena, Calif., where strip malls have been bulldozed and replaced by higher-density mixed-use developments with good transit connections.
He argues that policy makers need to "stop throwing good money after bad" and to invest instead in building what people want: "mixed-income, walkable cities and suburbs that will support the knowledge economy, promote environmental sustainability and create jobs."
That means re-investing in the kinds of infrastructure that make high quality city living possible. "Bus and light-rail systems, bike lanes and pedestrian improvements - what traffic engineers dismissively call 'alternative transportation' - are vital."
You must be logged in to comment.