For over 60 years Americans have always dreamed about the suburban living. The General Motors presented the “Highways and Horizons” in the New York World’s Fair in 1940 where it envisioned how American cities and towns would look like in 1960s. It was anticipated back then that Americans in 1960s would live in large lot single-family homes with attached garages. Since then the passion for stand alone suburban housing have been growing steadily. Things began to drastically change over the past few years. Subprime mortgage crisis, thousands of foreclosed homes, vacant and boarded- up strip malls, empty parking spaces and poverty are all suppressing the American dreams. Unfortunately the so-called urban centers are now the dying fringe suburbs.
The Brookings Institute recently released the income and poverty data for the nation’s 100 largest metro areas. According to the report, there is an increase of 79% in the poverty rates and a decline of 82% of household income from 2007 to 2010. Especially from 2000 to 2010, the poor individuals in major metro suburbs grew 53% compared to 23% in the cities. The metro areas share of people living in poverty in the suburbs crossed 50% between 2000 and 2010. Population growth, job decentralization, aged housing, immigration, economic decline and government policies, guiding city poor to suburban homes are the major reasons for the collapse of fringe suburb (Business Insider, 2011).
Transformation of Suburban Poor Population in the Largest Metro Areas
Poverty crossing 50% in the suburbs from 2000 and 2010
Christopher Leinberger, an urban planning professor at the University of Michigan, in an article released in New York Times explains that, Capitol Hill in Seattle; Virginia Highland in Atlanta; German Village in Columbus, Ohio, and Logan Circle in Washington are the most expensive neighborhoods in their metropolitan areas, which were considered slums 30 years ago and have transfigured by gentrification. Beginning in late 1980s, developers started building “Lifestyle centers” to provide a substitute for suburban living. Lifestyle centers are mixed-use walkable developments. The Reston Town Center in Virginia is a planned community and also recently voted as top 100 Best Places to Live in America by Money Magazine. According to the 2006 study released by the Brookings Institution, Reston’s apartments and commercial spaces demanded 50% rent over the adjacent typical suburban houses and office spaces (The Next Slum. “the Atlantic”, 2008).
According to Leinberger the changing trend of the housing market is not only because of the shrinking economy and shifting demographics, but also because of the way the younger generations want to live and work. The break down of the suburban fringe is directly tied up with the mortgage collapse. During 1950s the center cities dwindled. In the late 1990s, the outer suburbs comprised the most expensive housing in United States. However, the conditions slowly reversed. Today high priced houses are the ones, which holds the spot in the high density, walkable neighborhoods in the center city and inner suburb.
Nationwide research reveals that the decline of housing values 12 miles away from the central business district are 4% higher than those within 2 miles away (Pittsburgh BusinessTimes, 2008). Analysts, reporters and research present that modern American preferences are mixed-use, walkable and transit oriented developments. These choices reduce the importance of auto-oriented suburban living. According to an article published by TheCityFix, the aging baby boomers will be forced to stay in their suburban homes until the values recover. If they have an option to move they would prefer mixed-use developments. The young baby boomers are the ones who will have hard times to sell the suburban homes. However, they are also attracted to planned communities. The millennial generations are easily drawn to walkable neighborhoods. Immigrants prefer larger homes if they can afford and public policies are also promoting the compact developments. Is the American dream of large lot single-family homes crumbled forever? With this market trend is there any hope for their revival?
- Geddes, Norman Bel. General Motors Highways and Horizons. Internet Archive. New York World’s Fair (1939-1940).
- Brookings, 2011. Parsing U.S. Poverty at the Metropolitan Level.
- Business Insider, Dec 2011. Poverty Is Crushing Suburban America Where Americans Are Reluctant to Ask For Help.
- Leinberger, Christopher, Nov 2011. The New York Times. The Death of the Fringe Suburb.
- Leinberger, Christopher, March 2008. The Atlantic. The Next Slum.
- http://www.reston.com/ (accessed Dec 2011)
- Pittsburgh BusinessTimes, Jun 2008. Study: Suburban Pittsburgh home values declining as gas prices rise.
- TheCityFix, March 2010. Moving through the Recession, Part 5: Are Exurbs still Declining?