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Monday, Feb 25, 2008, 10:11 am

Teenage wasteland

By Adam Doster

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Christopher Leinberger takes to the pages of the Atlantic with this piece on the possible decline of suburbs.

For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay.
It's an interesting read, but I'd just like to dig a little deeper.

Although he briefly discusses the different challenges individual communities face at the end of the piece, it's worth pointing out that suburbs are not monolithic by any means. In many inner-ring suburbs -- abandoned by industry with outdated housing stock and a limited tax-base to fund crucial services like transit and schools -- these changes occurred long ago, mostly hidden in an American policy blind spot. This is only a new phenomenon in far-flung exburbs, one that the mortgage crisis has certainly sped up.

Also, I agree that America's growing preference for higher-density, urban housing is undoubtedly a good development. But, as always, when moneyed populations relocate in large numbers, the poor and working class are the ones forced out and/or left behind. And a major knock against New Urbanism (which Leinberger strangely calls Lifestyle centers) is that the communities do a poor job providing for mixed-income housing. If we're serious about infilling our cities, we need to implement solid, fair housing policy regulations, like inclusionary zoning, land banking, thoughtful subsidy dispersal, to mitigate the negative effects of gentrification.

Adam Doster, a contributing editor at In These Times, is a Chicago-based freelance writer and former reporter-blogger for Progress Illinois.

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