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Thread: Article - Five myths about the suburbs

  1. #1
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    Article - Five myths about the suburbs

    Was reprinted in the Luoisville Courier-Journal from the Washington Post.
    Are these myths or facts ?

    HIGHLIGHTS:
    1. Suburbs are white, middle-class enclaves.
    2. Suburbs aren't cool.
    3. Suburbs are a product of the free market.
    4. Suburbs are politically conservative.
    5. Suburbanites don't care about the environment.
    2. Classic - what defines cool ?
    3. Government policies or price of land ?
    Oddball
    Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves?
    Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here?
    Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?
    From Kelly's Heroes (1970)


    Are you sure you're not hurt ?
    No. Just some parts wake up faster than others.
    Broke parts take a little longer, though.
    From Electric Horseman (1979)

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    Mr. Wimsatt doesn't make particularly strong arguments in that article. He doesn't even seem to finish his own thoughts to their own logical conclusion. For instance, when he talks about the suburbs being "cool", he notes that the Go-Go scene in Washington is being "exiled" by politics and then follows that up with calling the condos of Shirlington "characterless." It sounds more like Washington is mismanaging its cultural assets than it sounds like the suburbs of Washington are fostering their development. Another instance is his paragraph on the "Free Market." I'm actually not even sure where he's going with this one. He basically calls out suburban sprawl as inefficient and not a cost-effective means of housing people. While this shouldn't be news on this forums, it doesn't make for a ringing endorsement of the suburbs in his article.

    I will say I agree with his note that density in the suburbs will help make them more viable/livable places. There will be pain in this transformation, however. The city planning profession will have it's work cut out remolding the artificial and dead islands of suburban development into lasting communities. As they stand now, I don't think many of them have rosy futures.

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    Quote Originally posted by Hagadin View post
    I will say I agree with his note that density in the suburbs will help make them more viable/livable places. There will be pain in this transformation, however. The city planning profession will have it's work cut out remolding the artificial and dead islands of suburban development into lasting communities. As they stand now, I don't think many of them have rosy futures.
    I suggest that many of the people living in the suburbs like it just fine and think they are livable. A good chunk of them likely won't agree with your assessment and your proscription. Probably rightly so.

    This is not to say I don't think that there will be some migration when cheap energy goes away.

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    Quote Originally posted by Hagadin View post
    Mr. Wimsatt doesn't make particularly strong arguments in that article. He doesn't even seem to finish his own thoughts to their own logical conclusion. For instance, when he talks about the suburbs being "cool", he notes that the Go-Go scene in Washington is being "exiled" by politics and then follows that up with calling the condos of Shirlington "characterless." It sounds more like Washington is mismanaging its cultural assets than it sounds like the suburbs of Washington are fostering their development. Another instance is his paragraph on the "Free Market." I'm actually not even sure where he's going with this one. He basically calls out suburban sprawl as inefficient and not a cost-effective means of housing people. While this shouldn't be news on this forums, it doesn't make for a ringing endorsement of the suburbs in his article.

    I will say I agree with his note that density in the suburbs will help make them more viable/livable places. There will be pain in this transformation, however. The city planning profession will have it's work cut out remolding the artificial and dead islands of suburban development into lasting communities. As they stand now, I don't think many of them have rosy futures.
    I think you are very wrong. Just because you think living crammed together like sardines in a can is desirable, doesn't mean that everybody wants or accepts that life-style. First ring suburbs, and some second rings as well, are going to prosper in the future because they give people private space with the convenience of being fairly close to jobs and services.

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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    I think you are very wrong. Just because you think living crammed together like sardines in a can is desirable, doesn't mean that everybody wants or accepts that life-style. First ring suburbs, and some second rings as well, are going to prosper in the future because they give people private space with the convenience of being fairly close to jobs and services.
    If energy prices get high enough, it won't matter what you want or think you can accept, what will matter is what you can afford. And if first ring suburbs are to prosper in an energy scarce future, they'll be the province of the well to do and affluent for the reasons you just mentioned. Hell, they already are today in most prosperous metro areas in this country. I'm looking at you, Scarsdale and Brookline. These places have no middle class left to speak of.

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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post

    [when] energy prices get high enough, it won't matter what you want or think you can accept, what will matter is what you can afford. And if first ring suburbs are to prosper in an energy scarce future, they'll be the province of the well to do and affluent for the reasons you just mentioned. Hell, they already are today in most prosperous metro areas in this country. I'm looking at you, Scarsdale and Brookline. These places have no middle class left to speak of.
    Wealth redistribution upward notwithstanding, if in fact the future is as you describe, the large McMansions and far-flung ticky-tack will be populated by the less well-to-do.

    They will need energy retrofits just like the inner-ring burbs. And they will need transportation alternatives just like the inner ring burbs. And the far-awayers will need to all get along, as there will be a population that will stay regardless and they'll be afraid of new people. But there will be plenty of room for veggie gardens!

    So in a sense, the built environment layout out there will be important for several reasons, some related to livability but not in the way it was expressed upthread.

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    oh, 'burbs are a lot more expensive than $13k per resident in public money. Once you take into account the $100,000 to $400,000 loan from the Federal government GSE single family program financed by the savings of Chinese farmers, you realize just how ruinous they are.... American suburbs are basically products of State Sprawl Inc,, abetted by generous fuel, road and utilities subsidies, enabled by Euclidean zoning, and paid for by a future sovereign default of the United States of America. We spent something like $25 or $30 trillion in current-dollar public funds building this stuff from WW2 to the present, including nearly $9 trillion in outstanding para-sovereign (implied guarantee) MBS paper out there in int'l capital markets today (with a CURRENT $6 trillion loan-to-value gap that probably will never be recovered), and we still haven't learned our lesson... 'cause future generations of tax payers are payin' the bill. I don't know whether Ameriacn sprawl is the biggest experiment in failed socialist central planning in world history, but it may very be the most costly.

    Without para-statial GSE MBS paper, there would be no such thing as a 30-year or 15-year fixed rate mortgage. Government planning and subsidization allowed you to get 30 year paper at 5% a year, instead of max 10 year paper at slightly better than the rate you pay on your credit card APR (the real cost of your personal risk).. basically financing yourself at the same rate as a high-grade sovereign government. Without such an insanely fictitious financial product, there would be no 'burbs. Period full stop.

    The saddest thing is, for the cost of the government GSE handouts, we could've built something like a cumulative 500 to 600 million homes outright and just given them to Americans over the last 60 years. Unfortunately, we had to use that $23 trillion to enrichen three generations of mortgage bankers, homebuilders, land developers, Wall Street and other thieving thugs.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 22 Feb 2011 at 4:11 PM.

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    To take an economic perspective - suburbs are the way they are NOT because they are (or one time were) the most efficient way to live. They are the way they are because that’s what made land developer the most profits. When people are willing to pay for a half acre parcel that’s a 45 minute drive from their place of work and municipalities choose to approve and subsidize such development in the name of growth, then it’s not the developer’s fault for taking the money and running. Once they've sold the land it's not their problem how expensive it is to maintain that lifestyle.

    The best way to change the way things are current done is to align the interests of developers with the interests of the community. In other words, make sustainable development the most profitable form of development for the development industry. There are a number of ways to do that, but one simple way (in theoretical terms – not necessarily practical terms) is to calculate property taxes based on property size not dollar value. In other words, one acre of residential land will pay the same property taxed regardless of where it is located in the community or what type of building it has on it. A one acre estate lot and a one acre 50-unit apartment building lot would pay the same. Do that and then see how efficient and sustainable your community becomes.

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    Quote Originally posted by Howl View post
    The best way to change the way things are current done is to align the interests of developers with the interests of the community.
    Which community? The one that wants 1/2 acre lots or the one that likes dense cities?

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    Quote Originally posted by Howl View post
    To take an economic perspective - suburbs are the way they are NOT because they are (or one time were) the most efficient way to live. They are the way they are because thatís what made land developer the most profits.
    And the only reason they made the developers the most money was because of the extent of Federal and other subsidies on suburban homeownership. We were literally issuing trillions in quasi-sovereign debt to buy down mortgage rates for 80-90% of every dollar banks lent. Since this scam led to grossly overvalued real estate, the only real beneficiaries were developers and investors. Once somebody in the future sits down to an objective economic analysis on what happened, the suburbanization of America is going to go down as one of the great pyramid schemes of all history.

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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    First ring suburbs, and some second rings as well, are going to prosper in the future because they give people private space with the convenience of being fairly close to jobs and services.
    First rings in most western cities are already part of the inner city now. San Diego's streetcar suburbs are now inner city neighborhoods like Hillcrest and City Heights.. and new development there reflects not single family homes but rather multi-unit development. Yes, the old stock is single family homes but when those fall down, they are not being replaced by single family homes. Densities are limited by Euclidean zoning, of course, which just means astronomical pricing. Remember, these cities were compact to begin with, so the first rings are often in walking or easy transit distance of the old CBDs Even second ring burbs (which have fewer restrictions than the inner ring on infill densities) like Kearny Mesa in San Diego, Clairemont and University City are now going up. There are huge areas of UC (outer second ring developed as SFDs in the late 1950s through to the late 1970s) being infilled with highrise product coming in at FARs 8+, with 80 per acre perimeter blocks punctured by the occasional 30 story towers. Things are changing.

    On your question relating to living in sardine cans, the question for most cities in faster growing areas of the country is not whether people WANT to live that way, but rather what they can prudently afford without a government handout. I'm sure a lot of people WANT to live in a 4,000 sq ft house on a half acre lot. But they can't afford it.. and they only were fooled into thinking they could by the GSE lending scam that came crashing down from 2006 to now. Now, with 40% of total US housing stock valuation wiped out and valuations around the country still artificially inflated due to the cheap money out there, we live in a fundamentally different reality. people will just have to accept that what they can afford will probably be dictated, within 5 or 10 years, by 20% down and a 10 year mortgage. Even developers will be able to secure construction capital only on a fully secured basis, which, for the record, means that homes will be sold with preexisting liens on them, further limiting mortgage opportnuities (this new horror is only just now becoming apparent... I went to a legal briefing today where a panel of attorneys basically said that this unspeakable phenomenon is the very best deal that builders in many regions will now be offered.. the conclusion was pretty much that the future of the single family home is basically armageddon). This latter horror may be the case regardless of whatever the government resolution to the GSE crisis will ultimately be. In fact, if the GSEs don't get resolved, I would imagine the constructor financing terms will be even worse. Which maens either consumer finance won't be available (beceause the GSEs will go away) or builder finance won't be available. Either way, the single family home is probably toast for most markets (save for the wealthiest, who can of course have whatever they please).

    If this means living in a sardine can, then so be it. Either that or Buffalo and Detroit will be our next boom towns. You can only have what you can afford. Which means that you have a choice: your future is either Cleveland and no job or a rented sardine can in a place that offers the prospect of gainful full-time employment. Welcome to post-indigestion America. It is fast becoming clear that it is simply impossible to overstate how royally ***** we are.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 22 Feb 2011 at 7:02 PM.

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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cismontane View post
    First rings in most western cities are already part of the inner city now. San Diego's streetcar suburbs are now inner city neighborhoods like Hillcrest and City Heights.. and new development there reflects not single family homes but rather multi-unit development. Yes, the old stock is single family homes but when those fall down, they are not being replaced by single family homes. Densities are limited by Euclidean zoning, of course, which just means astronomical pricing. Remember, these cities were compact to begin with, so the first rings are often in walking or easy transit distance of the old CBDs Even second ring burbs (which have fewer restrictions than the inner ring on infill densities) like Kearny Mesa in San Diego, Clairemont and University City are now going up. There are huge areas of UC (outer second ring developed as SFDs in the late 1950s through to the late 1970s) being infilled with highrise product coming in at FARs 8+, with 80 per acre perimeter blocks punctured by the occasional 30 story towers. Things are changing.

    On your question relating to living in sardine cans, the question for most cities in faster growing areas of the country is not whether people WANT to live that way, but rather what they can prudently afford without a government handout. I'm sure a lot of people WANT to live in a 4,000 sq ft house on a half acre lot. But they can't afford it.. and they only were fooled into thinking they could by the GSE lending scam that came crashing down from 2006 to now. Now, with 40% of total US housing stock valuation wiped out and valuations around the country still artificially inflated due to the cheap money out there, we live in a fundamentally different reality. people will just have to accept that what they can afford will probably be dictated, within 5 or 10 years, by 20% down and a 10 year mortgage. Even developers will be able to secure construction capital only on a fully secured basis, which, for the record, means that homes will be sold with preexisting liens on them, further limiting mortgage opportnuities (this new horror is only just now becoming apparent... I went to a legal briefing today where a panel of attorneys basically said that this unspeakable phenomenon is the very best deal that builders in many regions will now be offered.. the conclusion was pretty much that the future of the single family home is basically armageddon). This latter horror may be the case regardless of whatever the government resolution to the GSE crisis will ultimately be. In fact, if the GSEs don't get resolved, I would imagine the constructor financing terms will be even worse. Which maens either consumer finance won't be available (beceause the GSEs will go away) or builder finance won't be available. Either way, the single family home is probably toast for most markets (save for the wealthiest, who can of course have whatever they please).

    If this means living in a sardine can, then so be it. Either that or Buffalo and Detroit will be our next boom towns. You can only have what you can afford. Which means that you have a choice: your future is either Cleveland and no job or a rented sardine can in a place that offers the prospect of gainful full-time employment. Welcome to post-indigestion America. It is fast becoming clear that it is simply impossible to overstate how royally ***** we are.
    Actually, as someone who chose the hinterlands of Buffalo to Boston or NYC, I can assure you that the choice isn't between "no job" and "gainful employment". There are lots of jobs out here in the boonies. They just don't pay as much as they do in Boston or NYC -- or Cali I imagine. A big paycheck doesn't count for much when it all gets eaten up by housing costs. I can live better here on $60k a year than in the Boston or NYC metros on twice that.

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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    Actually, as someone who chose the hinterlands of Buffalo to Boston or NYC, I can assure you that the choice isn't between "no job" and "gainful employment". There are lots of jobs out here in the boonies. They just don't pay as much as they do in Boston or NYC -- or Cali I imagine. A big paycheck doesn't count for much when it all gets eaten up by housing costs. I can live better here on $60k a year than in the Boston or NYC metros on twice that.
    I've lived in the middle of hundreds of acres of cattle, in a town of ~300 in the middle of thousands of hectares of sugar beets and feed corn, in a dense modern city, and several places on the spectrum in between.

    Having these experiences allows me to state that there is no 'one way' to do housing for a non-homogenous society. Anyone trying to come up with policy for such a scheme is fooling themselves. And folks over 40 likely know this already and anyone asserting that everyone is a-gonna move to dense areas when gas is 7.00/gal is going to get laughed out of a room of people over 40.

    Nonetheless, if the gummint subsidy of housing is going away - and it should - there will still be people wanting to live in non-dense areas. That is a fact. There is no wishing that away. This is reality. On the ground. A fact. How it is. The dealio. Many folks will find a way to make it happen. This is a fact. The dealio. We have to be flexible to deal with this basic fact, not rigid. Flexible.

    Just because many young planners tend to be urban doesn't mean non-planners loooooove!1 the city like young urban planners do. There is plenty of housing stock in the 'burbs. Folks will rent if they can. I actually want a larger yard than we have now, as we want to grow more vegetables, I want to experiment with more season extensions, and the kid wants her own garden. Our next move is likely to a place with a larger south-facing yard. If I were single I'd want this too (and had it, by the way). Sure I lived in a place where I could walk to dozens of restaurants and ride the bike to the grocery in 5 minutes. It was great. Loved it. But I didn't have a yard. Priorities. Lots of folks are like this. Not everyone thinks dense cities are, like, so cool.

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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    There are lots of jobs out here in the boonies. They just don't pay as much as they do in Boston or NYC -- or Cali I imagine. A big paycheck doesn't count for much when it all gets eaten up by housing costs. I can live better here on $60k a year than in the Boston or NYC metros on twice that.
    I think it depends on what you do. I'm sufficiently specialized as a planner that I haven't been able to find opportunities in my own hometown (San Diego.. a metro area of 5,000,000+ if you count both sides of the border) much less in smaller cities. I still consider San Diego home but I recognize that I will likely never be able to work there and still do what I do, at least up until the point at which I decide to become self-employed. In North America, my trade is pretty much based out of WDC, NY, Chicago, San Francisco, maybe LA, Toronto, Boston, Denver, and Philly on a good day.. possibly a few of those cities in the southeast I know little about (yes, I know there are huge, diverse cities in Texas, but I'm not sure my Yankee passport is valid there.. hehe...). Avoiding high housing costs isn't really an option for me. I doubt I could convince anybody in Cleveland to hire me, on any terms, at least outside of the academy.

    This is generally the case: whether or not you want or would put up with a suburban lifestyle is probably less important for most than proximity to our nation's great engines of economic activity. Those are the areas that'll continue to attract a disproproportate share of population and GDP growth and those are the areas where the continued development of the 'burbs is now in serious question.

    .. well, unless the worst case scenario happens and developer financing ends up having to be secured (as our lawyers are now telling us, better than 50/50 chance will be the case within a few years), in which case all bets are off. Under that case, just because there's still demand for suburban SFD product in Buffalo doesn't mean you can find anybody with the economic means of building it for you. The only way you'd be able to buy a new suburban house under that case would be if you as consumer took out a loan in your own name and paid a developer upfront to build it for you (everything would need to be pre-sold, as SFD developers would no longer be able to take speculative construction risk without surrendering your lien to the property you will one-day want to hold if you, yourself, are to be able to get a mortgage, if you understand what I mean). In a way, this is more likely to happen if GSE financing continues to be available in some form, in which case it's pretty much a darned if do and darned if you don't scenario for homebuilders. For them, the armageddon case (an end to the GSEs) may actually be the better case if the alternative is for them to lose access to their own unsecured credit lines.

    I cannot tell you how grim my friends at big single family residential developers are now. From their point of view, the sky has already fallen, and they're just waiting for it to hit earth. Yes, they're still building - taking advantage of the broader economy's recovery, but only under 98 to 100% GSE support of their customers' debt and using their own rapidly dwindling reserves to self-finance construction. Going to industry events with them is kind of like going to a funeral.

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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    I've lived in the middle of hundreds of acres of cattle, in a town of ~300 in the middle of thousands of hectares of sugar beets and feed corn, in a dense modern city, and several places on the spectrum in between.

    Having these experiences allows me to state that there is no 'one way' to do housing for a non-homogenous society. Anyone trying to come up with policy for such a scheme is fooling themselves. And folks over 40 likely know this already and anyone asserting that everyone is a-gonna move to dense areas when gas is 7.00/gal is going to get laughed out of a room of people over 40.

    Nonetheless, if the gummint subsidy of housing is going away - and it should - there will still be people wanting to live in non-dense areas. That is a fact. There is no wishing that away. This is reality. On the ground. A fact. How it is. The dealio. Many folks will find a way to make it happen. This is a fact. The dealio. We have to be flexible to deal with this basic fact, not rigid. Flexible.

    Just because many young planners tend to be urban doesn't mean non-planners loooooove!1 the city like young urban planners do. There is plenty of housing stock in the 'burbs. Folks will rent if they can. I actually want a larger yard than we have now, as we want to grow more vegetables, I want to experiment with more season extensions, and the kid wants her own garden. Our next move is likely to a place with a larger south-facing yard. If I were single I'd want this too (and had it, by the way). Sure I lived in a place where I could walk to dozens of restaurants and ride the bike to the grocery in 5 minutes. It was great. Loved it. But I didn't have a yard. Priorities. Lots of folks are like this. Not everyone thinks dense cities are, like, so cool.
    I totally agree. Almost 13 years ago, I said adios to the yuppie world and moved back to the Southern Tier of NY where we think "the big city" is Erie, PA! I took a pay cut and gave up the security of a state job to come "home", and I've never regretted it. I know lots of people like me who came back and many more who never left.

    I've lived in different places and in a couple of large cities, but I'm not that kind of person. I was incredibly bored in Albany when I didn't have a house. Like you, I'm a gardener, and I look forward to retirement (<5 years) when I can put up a modular/mobile home on my land near my home town and be an eccentric lady farmer. It doesn't matter if gas is $7 a gallon. I'll buy a couple of horses and an Amish buggy, and won't drive the Subaru except on infrequent trips into Jamestown or Hamburg. Besides, what I spend on gas will be offset by what I save on produce.

    Quote Originally posted by Cismontane View post
    I think it depends on what you do. I'm sufficiently specialized as a planner that I haven't been able to find opportunities in my own hometown (San Diego.. a metro area of 5,000,000+ if you count both sides of the border) much less in smaller cities. I still consider San Diego home but I recognize that I will likely never be able to work there and still do what I do, at least up until the point at which I decide to become self-employed. In North America, my trade is pretty much based out of WDC, NY, Chicago, San Francisco, maybe LA, Toronto, Boston, Denver, and Philly on a good day.. possibly a few of those cities in the southeast I know little about (yes, I know there are huge, diverse cities in Texas, but I'm not sure my Yankee passport is valid there.. hehe...). Avoiding high housing costs isn't really an option for me. I doubt I could convince anybody in Cleveland to hire me, on any terms, at least outside of the academy.
    That's a choice a lot of people make: to follow a specific career path or sacrifice the career ladder for a better life-style. People have been making those kinds of decisions for a couple of hundred years in North America, starting when they decided to leave Europe or Asia for "the New World". Beginning in the 1880s, thousands of American blacks moved out of the Deep South into the NE, the MW, and the Pacific Coast to escape Jim Crow and the KKK. In the 1920s, it became a flood. In the 1930s, refugees from the Dust Bowl migrated to California. In the 1950s and 1960s, people from Appalachia moved to the Rust Bowl cities to find better work. Overlaying that was a general migration from farms to cities and towns as mechanization required fewer farm workers and as the children of farmers escaped the hardships of farm life.

    The problem that many urban planners have is that they don't realize that we (ie, Americans) are who we are. We are sprawlers, and always have been. In 1763, we defied the King of England to take up land across the treaty line that was supposed to separate white settlers from the Indians. As early as the 1820s, there were "suburban" enclaves around some cities for those who could afford them, but much of the sprawl in the 19th and early 20th century was hidden because so many American cities created large city boundaries that weren't filled up until after WW II.

    Quote Originally posted by Cismontane View post
    This is generally the case: whether or not you want or would put up with a suburban lifestyle is probably less important for most than proximity to our nation's great engines of economic activity. Those are the areas that'll continue to attract a disproproportate share of population and GDP growth and those are the areas where the continued development of the 'burbs is now in serious question.

    .. well, unless the worst case scenario happens and developer financing ends up having to be secured (as our lawyers are now telling us, better than 50/50 chance will be the case within a few years), in which case all bets are off. Under that case, just because there's still demand for suburban SFD product in Buffalo doesn't mean you can find anybody with the economic means of building it for you. The only way you'd be able to buy a new suburban house under that case would be if you as consumer took out a loan in your own name and paid a developer upfront to build it for you (everything would need to be pre-sold, as SFD developers would no longer be able to take speculative construction risk without surrendering your lien to the property you will one-day want to hold if you, yourself, are to be able to get a mortgage, if you understand what I mean). In a way, this is more likely to happen if GSE financing continues to be available in some form, in which case it's pretty much a darned if do and darned if you don't scenario for homebuilders. For them, the armageddon case (an end to the GSEs) may actually be the better case if the alternative is for them to lose access to their own unsecured credit lines.

    I cannot tell you how grim my friends at big single family residential developers are now. From their point of view, the sky has already fallen, and they're just waiting for it to hit earth. Yes, they're still building - taking advantage of the broader economy's recovery, but only under 98 to 100% GSE support of their customers' debt and using their own rapidly dwindling reserves to self-finance construction. Going to industry events with them is kind of like going to a funeral.
    Has it occurred to you that the "great engines of economic activity" might really be houses of cards? Many of these sprawling metros were and remain utterly and totally dependent on more and more people moving into them. Their economies are rooted in home/apartment construction, not on banking or manufacturing or insurance, etc. When people stopped buying homes, the entire makeshift rig collapsed, beginning with real estate but rippling out throughout the metropolitan economy that was dependent upon it.

    Your view is from the development/planner end and the big coastal metros that generally embraced the "prosperity" that seemed to have been created by the various real estate bubbles. Not every place in America, probably not most places in America, are part of that. My view is from the technology field and from "Middle America". IMO, the real problem with the American economy is the change from a manufacturing base to a service base, and the lack of technical skills to provide services. We don't produce enough doctors, nurses, engineers or computer programmers while we produce too many salesmen, bankers, and administrators.

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    Well, actually the housing crisis seems most accute in places like Phoenix and the Central Valley, Tampa and Charlotte and, of course, everybody's favorite, Las Vegas - not the metropole cities. Many of the cities I was talking about had largely stopped sprawling on their own, at least in the west, by virtue of running out of land. Like everybody else, they were hit by the collapse and will be transformed by it's consequences, but they can hardly be said to be the source of the problem. In fact, Chicago maybe the only exception and that's an odd case with high density product... An abberation that caught the disease, not a catalyst of the collapse. The evidence points toward a local effect - a sudden influx of Canadian and other foreign capital creating a localized bubble with product types that work beautifully in booming Toronto and Vancouver but quite alien to the Windy City.

    I agree with you that we need to get back to the productive economy. San Diego and the Delaware Valley cities are weathering the recession better than most precisely of their manufacturing clusters.. The Problem For these areas is that with housing finance unavailable nationally, worker mobility is at an all time low and high prices from lack of housing supply may stifle industrial growth. Another issue for those two regions is that manufacturing growth is occurring at very high productivity rates... Meaning that few new jobs are being created even as highly automated robotic production translates into double digit manufacturing revenue growth all during the recession. San Diego saw impressive topline manufacturing growth every year since '07 but ended up losing at net of some 10,000 manufacturing jobs nonetheless.

    I think it's unfair to say that the metropole cities are driven by services alone. Remember, that they still account for patents per capita far outstripping second tier cities and the hinterlands. How many large engineering firms like the one I work for are headquartered in Fresno? How many telecom equipment giants are homegrown out of Toledo? how many big biopharmas have come out of Omaha?
    Last edited by Cismontane; 23 Feb 2011 at 9:11 PM.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    Interesting article on the nonexistence of the vaunted housing recovery.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41735233...s-real_estate/

  18. #18
    Demographic momentum means that we will continue to see 1 million plus new households each year so in the longterm, the economy will produce somewhere around that many new units of housing each year as well. The 2000s saw some years where that number was exceeded by over 50%. more evidence that we were in a bubble.

    At the same time, large parts of the US, particularly rural areas far from metro areas have lost population. Even when energy prices were falling, there was net out migration and population loss. If energy prnices increae, this loss may accelerate.

    There are many different types of suburbs. Some are high density with many jobs, these may well do fine. Others may be on the verge of long term decay.

    Clearly, high income people prefer density and larger metro areas along the coasts. Anyone who disagrees please explain why these places are so expensive. The amount of space people want is a function of many things, price is perhaps the most important. The trade off of transportation, both time and money, is a major factor as well.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    I've lived in the middle of hundreds of acres of cattle, in a town of ~300 in the middle of thousands of hectares of sugar beets and feed corn, in a dense modern city, and several places on the spectrum in between.

    Having these experiences allows me to state that there is no 'one way' to do housing for a non-homogenous society. Anyone trying to come up with policy for such a scheme is fooling themselves. And folks over 40 likely know this already and anyone asserting that everyone is a-gonna move to dense areas when gas is 7.00/gal is going to get laughed out of a room of people over 40.

    Nonetheless, if the gummint subsidy of housing is going away - and it should - there will still be people wanting to live in non-dense areas. That is a fact. There is no wishing that away. This is reality. On the ground. A fact. How it is. The dealio. Many folks will find a way to make it happen. This is a fact. The dealio. We have to be flexible to deal with this basic fact, not rigid. Flexible.

    Just because many young planners tend to be urban doesn't mean non-planners loooooove!1 the city like young urban planners do. There is plenty of housing stock in the 'burbs. Folks will rent if they can. I actually want a larger yard than we have now, as we want to grow more vegetables, I want to experiment with more season extensions, and the kid wants her own garden. Our next move is likely to a place with a larger south-facing yard. If I were single I'd want this too (and had it, by the way). Sure I lived in a place where I could walk to dozens of restaurants and ride the bike to the grocery in 5 minutes. It was great. Loved it. But I didn't have a yard. Priorities. Lots of folks are like this. Not everyone thinks dense cities are, like, so cool.
    I'd definitely agree with this. I own my 2,300 sq. ft. house on 3/4 acre in an old suburb, with no mortgage, at age 29. It was a tax foreclosure, and it needs work, but hey, the price was right and I was able to pay cash . I rather enjoy being able to turn up my sound system while watching a movie and not get bitched out from someone on the other side of a wall. When the weather allows, I ride my bike to work and the store, as well. I might have considered a condo or something like that, but my BF had done the whole condo thing and he wanted a proper house, an idea to which I was not opposed.

    Realistically, the house was already built (built in 1940), as was the rest of the neighbourhood, and I think that's something a lot of people don't consider when they go on about the suburbs. Yeah, a lot of American suburbs were very badly planned and built, but those same suburbs are here. The likelihood of someone opting to tear it all down and start over is pretty much non-existent, and the likelihood of everyone moving downtown is pretty slim. The big question is how do we improve what's here while accommodating the reality that people want their space?

  20. #20
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    I look forward to retirement (<5 years) when I can put up a modular/mobile home on my land near my home town and be an eccentric lady farmer. It doesn't matter if gas is $7 a gallon. I'll buy a couple of horses and an Amish buggy, and won't drive the Subaru except on infrequent trips into Jamestown or Hamburg. Besides, what I spend on gas will be offset by what I save on produce.
    I tell you, if I wasn't married, I'd do an emoticon flirt right about now...


    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    The problem that many urban planners have is that they don't realize that we (ie, Americans) are who we are. We are sprawlers, and always have been. In 1763, we defied the King of England to take up land across the treaty line that was supposed to separate white settlers from the Indians. As early as the 1820s, there were "suburban" enclaves around some cities for those who could afford them, but much of the sprawl in the 19th and early 20th century was hidden because so many American cities created large city boundaries that weren't filled up until after WW II.
    I'm not a Breugmann fan and I think that many folks can drop that for more practical things. Not everyone, as I state above. But we can break free.

    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    Has it occurred to you that the "great engines of economic activity" might really be houses of cards? Many of these sprawling metros were and remain utterly and totally dependent on more and more people moving into them.
    Bring it, sister!

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    Demographic momentum means that we will continue to see 1 million plus new households each year so in the longterm, the economy will produce somewhere around that many new units of housing each year as well. The 2000s saw some years where that number was exceeded by over 50%. more evidence that we were in a bubble.
    Yes,, I've mentioned this before. We will need producton to ramp up again, and it will happen, But what kind of production? And where?

    We did an internal study of development alternatives for the greater NYC area and reached the following conclusions. Mods, this is my own work so it's not leeching.

    http://flic.kr/p/9kG1xD

    ny_projections by cismontane, on Flickr

    The two middle columns reflect development in urbanized areas. The first of those two is development within a couple miles of existing transit stops. The second of the two is development without easy access to stops. The rightmost column is greenfield development beyond the current urbanization fringe.

    The first scenario reflects our modelling of the current (by TAZ) projections of the MPO, NYMTC. The second scenario reflects what we consider to be a more sustainable model of development while still leading to the same total number of new people accommodated. Both reflect actual land-use realities. Obviously, the second scenario has more TOD-oriented development in multi-unit configurations, whilst the former focuses on new exurban growth. Note that while the apparent increase in transit corridor density appears relatively small, since much of that development will be concentrated at stations, it'll likely be very high density. Effectively, you're creating dozens of new Stamford, CT's around the region.

    BTW, the growth figures for the City itself reflect only what the MPO currently projects. I have no idea how the five boroughs will accommodate a 17% increase, but that wasn't the point of the study.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 24 Feb 2011 at 12:17 PM.

  22. #22
    Quote Originally posted by Cismontane View post


    BTW, the growth figures for the City itself reflect only what the MPO currently projects. I have no idea how the five boroughs will accommodate a 17% increase, but that wasn't the point of the study.
    they are going to be a million plus people living in NYC in sardine cans because they will be forced to live there against their will.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    they are going to be a million plus people living in NYC in sardine cans because they will be forced to live there against their will.
    I guess that's what happens when Jersey cancels ARC! If you can't get them into the City, you have to figure out how to house them there. Even I think that the 17% (which more or less matches Bloomberg's numbers) is ludicrous. How on earth are you going to be able to accommodate close to 10 million people in the 5 boroughs?! At 31,000 per square mile? That's more than Hongkong, Singapore, Tokyo or any Chinese city.. way more. In terms of density, they're adding the density of all of LA on top of what they already have. They'd do better to put the balance into the suburbs at high density, doubling the increase along the transit corridors. 'course that'll mean that they'll actually have to build all those projects Jersey just cancelled 'cause it's broke.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian
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    On your question relating to living in sardine cans, the question for most cities in faster growing areas of the country is not whether people WANT to live that way, but rather what they can prudently afford without a government handout.
    I agree whole-heartedly (OK, its never as simple as all that, but ...) I think we in planning sometimes talk too much about what people want ... I think our publics and decision-makers need to be challenged to think about what they want in the face of what we can afford and sustain and what the broader implications and consequences are.

    The 1/2 acre lot is a lot easier to choose in the abstract if one believes the highway to work will not become more congested, the farmland next door will never be developed into more 1/2 acre lots, and the pretty rural road won't be widened to host more strip shopping centers! If we can get beyond "urban vs. suburban" and think about what makes good communities ...

  25. #25
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by docwatson View post
    If we can get beyond "urban vs. suburban" and think about what makes good communities ...
    I agree with you. As planners our job is to provide the best possible communities given what the market can bear and what the politicians can legislate. For many years, that meant delivering parcels and infrastructure for government-subsidized SFDs. Maybe we'll have to keep on doing so but if not, then we'll plan for something else. We're just analyzing trends about the suburbs here, here, trying to anticipate the future so that our craft can be prepared for any changes and know how to respond.

    Also, what people "want" is fickle. Yesterday it was a suburban tract home of increasing size. Tomorrow it might be something quite different.

    This is interesting - average unit sizes for new construction for 2007 and 2010.

    http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot...sizes-new.html

    If you take the midpoint of each range as the average size for that range (with 1400 sq ft assumed as the average for the smallest homes), the average square feet per unit has dropped 577 sq ft since 2007.. or over 20%. Monster homes have virtually diappeared, and we're basically back to 2000 in terms of unit sizes.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 25 Feb 2011 at 10:04 AM.

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