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Thread: Suburbs that don't need cities

  1. #1
         
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    Suburbs that don't need cities

    Most Northeastern cities have at least one small suburb that if the city was removed completely, the town could go on just as well without it.

    One example is my former home of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, population 11,000.

    Emmaus is an inner suburb of Allentown, a city of ~100,000 located in eastern PA, about an hour up the turnpike from Philadelphia.

    In this three square mile town, Chestnut Street (aka Main Street) is the main street and has businesses up and down both sides. State Street is also commercial and there are a few businesses on Harrison Street. Everything else is residential.

    http://www.mapquest.com/maps/map.adp...tate=PA&zoom=7

    Housing is mainly a mix of row homes and single family homes, built between 1860 and 1990 and costing between $100,000 and $300,000. No one is really rich and no one is poor.

    It seems like there are just enough people in town to support at least one of everything necessary, and much of it it is independent businesses - a furniture store, appliance store, coffee shop, movie theater, etc. You could easily buy everything a typical family owns without leaving town.

    Major employers are almost all nearby companies, not in the city. More people work right in town than in any city. Average commute is 19 minutes but that is skewed by the people who drive over an hour to Philadelphia or New York/North Jersey.

    Emmaus is right on a major interstate and is obviously convenient to Philadelphia and NYC, which is where people from this area go for "big city" attractions anyway.

    A large industrial corridor is nearby and consists mainly of warehouses for NYC and Philly companies. Obviously that could exist without the central city.

    Quite a few farms are south of town, though that won't be true for long.

    The town is almost all flat but some areas really close to the main street are quite hilly with winding roads. Golfing is in town and skiing is not ten miles away.

    ---

    Which other small suburbs could function well if you removed the city? Perhaps some people work in them.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian drucee's avatar
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    How about some of the Chicago "edge cities"? Aurora, Naperville, Joliet, and Elgin seem like they could function independently of the central city, especially Aurora and Naperville. Apparently Aurora, Joliet, and Elgin did once function as central cities before they were subsumed into the Chicago metropolitan area over the past 20 years.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Joliet, Aurora, Elgin, and Waukeegan are the original satellite edge cities.

    Naperville is just an overgrown small town.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Am interesting premise, but I can not think of any examples of this in our region.

  5. #5
         
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    These cities (towns) mentioned exist and (prosper?) because they are a part of a greater mass. No place exists in a vacum. To think a town can exist and prosper while ignoring the larger area around it is like sticking your head in the sand. Complete fantasy and denial. The most properous and vital communities in the US (all1st world societies and even 3rd world) are large cities with large metro areas. High population density absolutely = wealth, vtality and not incidentally political power.

    I'm amazed at how people leave a large city to go to a small suburban town 20 miles away and suddenly think they are an island onto themselves. Do they really think if that central core city falls apart it won't negatively affect them? Detroits pitiful condition has no negative affect on it's surrounding suburban area? On the State of Michigan, the midwest and the country as a whole?

  6. #6
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by boiker
    Joliet, Aurora, Elgin, and Waukeegan are the original satellite edge cities.

    Naperville is just an overgrown small town.
    Even though they were original satellite 'edge cities' of Chicagoland, they would all be little more than equals of Manitowoc, WI, Whitewater, WI, Freeport, IL, Pontiac, IL, etc, had downtown Chicago not been there with its convenient commuter rail connections. Of the four, only Waukegan is NOT an old 'terminal' station on the current METRA system (their line continues on one more city to Kenosha, WI).

    Pushing it even farther, perhaps they would be more like pre-suburban (<1965 or so) Schaumburg, IL, a tiny farming village of about 1500 residents, instead.

    I fully agree with jpjob's post, no 'suburb' exists in a vacuum. Metro areas are all basically single 'cities' with multiple governments.

    Mike

  7. #7
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jpjob
    [snip]...Do they really think if that central core city falls apart it won't negatively affect them? Detroits pitiful condition has no negative affect on it's surrounding suburban area? On the State of Michigan, the midwest and the country as a whole?
    Are you sure about your assumation in terms of Detroit and Metro Detroit?

    The City of Detroit fell and (recently) stabilized, but the suburban metro area has done nothing but expand and prosper. The failure of the central city has had only a positive affect on the growth and prosperity of the suburban municipalities. As people, factories, and businesses left the City, they simply went to the undeveloped suburbs. Now, the suburbs are booming and the City is no longer central. It is simply just another node within the multi-nodal Detroit Metro region.

    Troy, MI could definitely survive without Detroit.

    Though, Detroit may be an outlier in this theory.

    EDIT: Your last sentence is rather sweeping.
    Last edited by mendelman; 23 Aug 2004 at 1:34 PM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman
    Are you sure about your assumation in terms of Detroit and Metro Detroit?

    The City of Detroit fell and (recently) stabilized, but the suburban metro area has done nothing but expand and prosper. The failure of the central city has had only a positive affect on the growth and prosperity of the suburban municipalities. As people, factories, and businesses left the City, they simply went to the undeveloped suburbs. Now, the suburbs are booming and the City is no longer central. It is simply just another node within the multi-nodal Detroit Metro region.

    Troy, MI could definitely survive without Detroit.

    Though, Detroit may be an outlier in this theory.

    EDIT: Oh, and your last sentence is a rather sweeping.
    I would think that if Detroit was not there, what is now the City of Troy, MI would still be there, but only as a very rural township with maybe 1,000 residents.

    Mike

  9. #9
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mgk920
    I would think that if Detroit was not there, what is now the City of Troy, MI would still be there, but only as a very rural township with maybe 1,000 residents.

    Mike
    How are we thinking about this question? Are we thinking about it as "if Detroit wasn't there in 1930, then..." But I think the original question was asking about the interconnectedness of cities/places at present.

    You are right - if Detroit hadn't been the industrial powerhouse it was during the first half of the 20th century, than Troy wouldn't be what it is now, but, at present, Troy could definitely weather a continued decline of Detroit. Troy would be hurt much more by loss of KMart than it would be by loss of Detroit.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman
    Detroit may be an outlier in this theory..
    I agree. The transfer of people, money and power from Detroit to its suburbs (and really, Oakland County, MI) has been more complete there than probably any metro area in the country. Troy, and all of Oakland County (and to a lesser extent Macomb and Washtenaw counties), could well exist without Detroit.

    That transfer also came with a price. Detroit's suburbs move along quite nicely, but they collectively don't have the national power or prestige of Detroit circa 1920-1960. Detroit was the nation's fourth-largest metro area in 1940, with the central city the lead economic engine. Detroit's now -- what, the eighth or ninth largest metro area in the US? Whereas the 1940 Detroit area was nearly on par with Chicago and Los Angeles for economic, political and social clout, the 2004 Detroit area is at best on the same level nationally as Phoenix and San Diego in those same areas. And that's largely because, unlike almost any other metro area, Detroit either gave away or moved away its central city dominance.

    Last point: it's not fair to look at whether Troy, MI would exist if Detroit
    never happened; it wouldn't. It's more appropriate to look at what Pontiac, Mt. Clemens, Dearborn and Ann Arbor -- all towns in their own right before Detroit's growth took off in the 1880s and 1890s -- would've grown to be. My guess? With no Detroit, Dearborn would've grown to become a mid-size industrial city, on par with modern-day Grand Rapids or Flint, largely because of its favorable location of where the Rouge River meets the Detroit River. The others, unless they did what Ann Arbor did and capture a major university, would've become small ag/manufacturing centers like an Adrian, MI or Jackson, MI -- a far cry from what they are now.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    I completely agree with Pete-rock about Detroit. The metro as a whole is hurting because Detroit is in the pits. People both outside and in have a negative perception about Detroit and that means that the metro constantly loses opportunities to other cities. The culmination of decades of that is what we have now: a region of greatly declined national significance that's unable to diversify away from its one, main industry.

    Further, there are many things in Detroit that its suburbs depend on. Surely Dearborn would feel it if it suddenly lost the bridge and tunnel connections to Ontario that are located in Detroit. And even though Detroit is mostly a ghetto, every metro in America has to have ghettos as a reality of our national economy. The economy of that metro needs legions of poor people to work the low-wage jobs that keep it functioning. They have to live somewhere.

    Thinking of municipalities in a metro as islands that can live without the others is very narrow-minded and simplistic. Every metro has far too many economic connections across municipal boundaries for the sudden disappearance of any municipality (especially the largest one in the metro!) not to negatively impact the others.

  12. #12
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Since this discussion is becoming more in depth, things need to be clarified.

    We need to decide what the original poster was asking with the question.

    Is he asking:

    1. Can a place/municipality exist and function without the traditional central city?

    or

    2. If a place/municipality ever existed, would a certain other place/municipality be able to exist?

    Also, what does the poster mean by "without"? Does without the central city mean "never existed", "dissolution of municipal government", or "continued decline in importance in all sectors of the city"?

    I think the original poster intended #1 and is ambiguous about what "without" means.

    In terms of what been presented so far, I think pete-rock is the closest to answering question #1. Dearborn was a fully functioning and economically separate entity from Detroit in 1900, and could function and survive without Detroit well by itself. As for the infrastructure jordanb mentions, it would all still be there if Detroit falied for some reason (this failure would be a "closing of shop" for the City of Detroit as a governmental entity). The Ambassador Bridge is a privately owned international crossing (how cool is that!!), as are the other international crossings (auto and rail tunnels under the Detroit River), so if the Detroit city government faltered, the infrastructure would still be there.

    I do agree that this question is bound to attract inaccuracies and simplistic generalizations. Maybe we need to pull this away from large metros like Detroit and focus on smaller ones and how the suburban places interact with the traditional center city. A good one would be Kalamazoo/Portage (since we have people from that area)
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    If you're just talking about elimination of governments, then it surely becomes much more case-by-case. But it also becomes more meaningless. I assumed the poster was talking about if a volcano were to erupt in the middle of detroit and flatten everything within its boundaries (for instance). Then the bridge would, in fact, be affected. If the government of detroit went bankrupt and decended into some dystopian lawless state, then the bridge would also be affected. If the governemnt went bankrupt and was taken over by the state, then that might be a good thing for both Detroit and the suburbs, because at least then Detroit could get access to state resources.

  14. #14
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    [snip]...If the governemnt went bankrupt and was taken over by the state...[snip]
    That would surely be the most likely scenario. That is what happened to Highland Park, MI.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  15. #15

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    I'll take another stab at this.

    I've never been on the West Coast, but my impression has always been that the metro areas there are way more multi-nodal than those in the Northeast and Midwest.

    I think it's highly likely that several different nodes in Southern California would have grown and prospered without a central city Los Angeles. The San Fernando Valley would've grown with or without an LA; so, too, would Orange County, Hollywood/West LA, the Pasadena area, and Long Beach/South LA -- and each for different reasons(a port, the beach, fantastic scenery, great climate, or simply lots of cheap land near all of the former). However, I'm guessing that the Inland Empire and the Santa Clarita Valley would have never seen the growth they do now, if those other areas had not developed first.

    The same might be true for the Bay Area. I've always seen San Francisco as being the primary city there, but it seems to me that the San Jose area and the East Bay grow quite well, irrespective of what happens in San Francisco.

    Now could Emmaus, PA thrive without Allentown's growth? I have no idea, and it depends on what "thriving" means anyway. If it means being a self-contained, fully-functioning village of 5,000 with a downtown that sells Amish antiques (is that redundant?), maybe so. As for Kalamazoo and Portage, MI, I'm guessing that they're one in the same, and that Portage simply incorporated before Kalamazoo got a chance to annex it.

  16. #16
    Member Wulf9's avatar
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    I sort of skimmed this thread. But my question is - where do the people in these autonomous small cities work? If they work outside the city, it is not autonomous. It is a classic example of importing money from the outside to provide more services than would be supportable by the underlying job base.

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