Melinda Fulmer brings us this story on the downfall of the suburbs. The recession, high gas prices and demographic shifts have all combined to bring down the value of fringe communities. Arthur Neslon, whose stats have been featured in other articles of mine, is predicting that there will be a surplus of large suburban homes because of a lack of demand. Some of those will sit vacant, some will become low-income housing, and some will be divided up into multifamily units. Fulmer uses Elk Grove, CA, as an example of a city that is slumming. Housing values have gone through the floor, the necessary infrastructure isn’t getting built, and crime rates have multiplied. The price of suburbs, including commuting, might make them too expensive even for low-income housing. People have been asking for walkable communities near transit and services for years, but developers have built homes on the fringe because land is cheaper and zoning laws less restrictive. Baby boomers will be selling their now-childless homes so that they will have less to maintain and will move closer in. The suburbs won’t be completely deserted, though. People will still drive far for lower taxes, bigger houses, better schools and less crime, although there are reforms that are coming about in many cities to improve schools and school choice, and if Elk Grove is any example, crime may migrate. The suburbs that will do the best are the ones that have the best amenities and at least some mixed uses – some version of New Urbanism. The best thing that suburbs can do is turn their oversized big box stores and endless parking lots into walkable, mixed-use town centers. They will need to improve transportation services both for shoppers and workers in their communities.
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