The linked article asks the question, “Is America’s Love Affair with the Suburbs Over?’ (The article substitutes the term “exburbs” for suburbs, in a lame attempt to coin a new term.) It goes on to chronicle how, in today’s economic environment, the high cost of large homes and long commutes in the ‘burbs is giving way to reality; people foreclosed upon are forced to seek out cheaper digs closer in to the cities.
Is America’s love affair with suburbia over?
Though the recession has left few areas of the United States unscathed, the sprawling neighborhoods out on the far edges of the United States’ metropolitan areas have been especially hard-hit. Property values are falling, crime is rising, and the roads remain as congested as ever.
Some planners say the hard times are spurring a long-term shift away from the car-centric sprawl that has defined increasing swaths of the landscape since World War Two.
Rising prices for transportation and home heating, the declining number of two-parent households with children and a growing disillusionment with long commutes will prompt more Americans to choose smaller housing within walking distance of shops and mass transit, they say.
In this scenario, some of today’s developments intended for aspiring middle-class families could become tomorrow’s slums, warehousing those who can’t afford to live anywhere else.
A few comments are in order. First of all, Americans never had a love affair with suburbs. What we have is a disdain for cramped quarters that grew out of a pioneer spirit, a natural consequence of building a nation from a virtually uninhabited wilderness (or, more correctly, a wilderness forcibly taken from the indigenous peoples.)
Secondly, the ‘burbs are less a life-style choice than a natural consequence of rampant population growth in a regulatory environment that places no limits on sprawl and encourages the leveraging of one’s financial resources to maximize consumption. Nothing here has changed. To look upon the effects of a recession and conclude that our preference for this lifestyle has been fundamentally altered is ridiculous.
But, most importantly, to think that a turn away from this lifestyle in favor of cramped quarters in a more urban environment would be beneficial (essentially a lower standard of living) is to forget the relationship between per capita consumption and per capita employment. Such a move would be accompanied by rising unemployment and poverty. Yes, a densely populated nation can sustain a relatively high standard of living as evidenced by places like Japan, but not without a United States, with its high per capita consumption, to provide them work making products for export. Take that away and you need to look to places like India and Bangladesh to see what life in a densely populated condition will resemble.
Is that what we really want? Of course not. There’s nothing wrong with suburbs, but they can’t expand outward indefinitely. The time has come to put the brakes on the explosive population growth that now threatens the standard of living we’ve come to enjoy.