While the urban centers in California remain relatively safe from the tumbling housing market, the sprawling suburbs in their outlying areas are quickly heading for what some Urban Planners are deeming Slumburbia, the type miserable crime-infested living conditions usually associated with inner-cities:
“Over the last few decades we’ve structurally overinvested in fringe real estate,” explains Christopher Leinberger, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute and a former developer. “Builders are experts in overbuilding, in terms of cyclical overbuilding, like lemmings to the sea. But this time it’s different. It’s not just a cycle. It’s going to take more than two or three years to recover from this.”Last fall, Leinberger published “The Option of Urbanism,” a book about the changing sociology of the built environment. He sees the growing attraction to urban living as a matter of critical importance. This month, his essay in the Atlantic magazine provocatively asserts that McMansion developments would deteriorate into crime ridden, impoverished slums. In the piece he mentions several instances of suburban neighborhoods getting hit so hard by the recent downturn that they already exhibit the tell-tale signs of deep decline: Looters stealing copper pipe and siding from new homes, gunshots puncturing picture-perfect facades, squatters taking up residence in abandoned houses.
But there’s an upshot:
“It’s an enormous opportunity,” says John Norquist, former mayor of Milwaukee, Wis., and president of the Congress for the New Urbanism. “Thirty percent of the housing stock that will exist in 2030 hasn’t been built yet. Developers who are creating walkable neighborhoods are doing very well.” Indeed, the fact that Americans are embracing walkable neighborhoods is a good thing for their waistlines, their pocketbooks and the planet. “(Al) Gore talks about the inconvenient truth,” says Norquist, “I call this the convenient solution: living in a more urban way.”
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