SN: Adapted from his recent book, The New Urban Crisis, Richard Florida provides CityLab a walkthrough of the decline of modern suburbs. Please take note, as in the quote above, it is the inner ring suburbs that suffer disproportionately, and despite any misgivings about how they developed and how much they contributed to the ills of the past, I would argue that just like the prior decline of our inner cities, Americans should not turn their backs on these established inner ring, or middle, burbs. It will take some creativity, the protection of existing green space, more density, an increase in mixed used development, and a whole lot of transit. Not easy, but infinitely better then abandoned 7-11s, office parks, and cookie cutter homes. The space simply needs to be repurposed and not left to blight.
From Florida and CityLab:
The New Suburban Crisis
During the mid-1980s, before anyone thought of the suburbs as being on a downward trajectory, the urban designer David Lewis, a Carnegie Mellon colleague of mine at the time, told me that the future project of suburban renewal would likely make our vast 20th-century urban renewal efforts look like a walk in the park.
Incongruous as it might seem, the suburban dimension of the New Urban Crisis may well turn out to be bigger than the urban one, if for no other reason than the fact that more Americans live in suburbs than cities. Members of the privileged elite may be returning to the urban cores, but large majorities of almost everyone else continue to locate in the suburbs.
Across the United States, more than one in four suburbanites are poor or nearly poor. In fact, the suburbs of America’s largest metropolitan areas have more poor people living in them than their inner cities do, and poverty is also growing at a much faster rate in the suburbs. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of people living below the poverty line in American cities increased by 29 percent. During that same period, the ranks of the suburban poor grew by 66 percent. Seventeen million suburbanites lived below the poverty line in 2013, compared to 13.5 million urbanites. Concentrated poverty also resides in the suburbs—the numbers of the suburban poor who lived in neighborhoods of where at least 40 percent of residents were below the poverty line grew by 139 percent between 2000 and 2012. That’s triple the growth rate for concentrated poverty populations in the cities.
Economic mobility is significantly lower in more spread-out metros today than it is in denser cities. While it remains true that persistently poor urban neighborhoods concentrate and perpetuate a cycle of poverty, poor suburban neighborhoods also present challenges: They isolate and disconnect their residents both from jobs and from economic opportunity, and also from the social services that can mitigate poverty’s worst effects. Even when suburbs have social services, the poor are less able to access them because they are harder to find and harder to reach than urban social services.
Growth today is in fact concentrated in dense urban areas and at suburbia’s far-flung peripheries. Population growth is occurring fastest in the farthest-out (or “suburbiest”) parts of suburbs and in the densest urban neighborhoods, as real estate economist Jed Kolko wrote for CityLab in 2015. It’s far less expensive to build on the wide-open, undeveloped land in outlying areas than anywhere else, and it’s easier to grow fast when you’re starting from nothing. The densest urban places are attracting people and jobs because of their convenience and improved productivity. Meanwhile, the middle of our suburban geography is being hollowed out and squeezed economically: Growth is bypassing the older suburban areas that lie between the two poles of urban center and outlying new development.
When all is said and done, the suburban crisis reflects the end of a long era of cheap growth. Building roads and infrastructure and constructing houses on virgin land was and is an incredibly inexpensive way to provide an American Dream to the masses, certainly when compared to what it costs to build new subway lines, tunnels, and high-rise buildings in mature cities. For much of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, and on into the 1980s and 1990s, suburbanization was the near-perfect complement to America’s industrial economy. More than the great mobilization effort of World War II or any of the Keynesian stimulus policies that were applied during the 1930s, it was suburban development that propelled the golden era of economic growth in the 1950s and 1960s. As working- and middle-class families settled into suburban houses, their purchases of washers, dryers, television sets, living-room sofas, and automobiles stimulated the manufacturing sector that employed so many of them, creating more jobs and still more homebuyers. Sprawl was driver of the now-fading era of cheap economic growth.