Everyone loves urban areas again, for good reasons: diversity, accessibility, convenience, opportunity, sustainability. With all the attention going to center cities, what are the prospects for American suburbs, where urban dwellers from the 50’s to the 90’s fled to get away from crime, cramped spaces, and decaying social institutions? In The Atlantic, Chris Leinberger wrote:
…the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living…many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions…may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay.
Will suburbs truly become the new slums: a place where minorities from the cities are forced to live as the central cities become less and less affordable?
And does this really work if the suburbs are being abandoned due to the high cost of transit? Leinberger wrote this nearly three years ago, at the depths of the current economic depression. Since then, people have presumably continued their suburban exodus. In 2010, the Washington Post reported on a study done by the Brookings Institute that ethnic diversity in the suburbs is at an all time high in 100 of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. The study contends that minorities have been moving to the suburbs over the past decade or so, and that American suburbs now contain the “largest poor population” in America.
The apparently insurmountable problem of urban decay seems to have been solved, largely by a change in values. People now see urban areas as an asset. But urban areas are limited in size, and, in the long run, we will only be able to house a portion of our population within them. Eventually, suburban areas will have to become a part of the solution to our future growth problems. Our approach to urban re-development will eventually have to be applied to suburban redevelopment as well. Old, run-down factory buildings have become a dwindling resource; when we see them, we see opportunity. But right now, not many people are looking at the suburbs as ripe with opportunities. No-one looks at a vacant shopping mall and says ‘wow, that’s co cool, I’d love to live there’. Clearly we have a long way to go.