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Yay! Obama announced a plan to invest $8 billion in high speed and existing rail projects! This is a welcome change from the plan of the past administration to strangle Amtrak and throw it in a tub to drown it. Build it, and they will come. Please lord, let the economically stimulating effect of mass transit in New York City show the Feds and the villains in the New York State senate that mass transit is a priority, not a privilege.
Though this article in the New York Times is feel-good real estate porn, it is also anecdotal evidence that urbanizaton might reverse the sixty year trend of suburbanization. The reasons Keyes and Woods give for moving back to the city sound like the mantra of the post baby boom, urbanist ethos.
In the summer of 2006, [Keyes and Wood] sold the Brooklyn house to friends for $2.075 million and moved to a five-bedroom colonial, circa 1920, in Maplewood, N.J. Their house there cost $930,000. Compared with other places, Maplewood, which reminded them of New England, felt more like a community and less like a bedroom suburb.
Their Brooklyn taxes were around $3,500 annually, but in Maplewood they were paying around $23,000. The good schools, they thought, would justify that amount for a family with several children, but “we could put Jillian in a really nice private school for that,” Mr. Wood said.
And Maplewood didn’t really feel like a community after all. “We had wonderful neighbors,” Mr. Wood said, “but it wasn’t the same as being in the city. Everyone got in cars and went somewhere. The only people you saw were running down to the train or jogging or walking their dog.”
Mr. Wood works from home but travels often. Ms. Keyes, alone with Jillian, now 4, felt isolated. “I underestimated how important the sense of community we developed in Brooklyn was,” she said. “I missed the restaurants and the green markets.”
Taxes are paradoxically lower in the city than in the ‘burbs; the city has more community, and this is largely due to pedestrian traffic, public transportation, and population density; prices of homes are falling in the suburbs as people become desperate to get out. This last point is of particular interest. Though gas prices may fall so far that driving is not a crushing expense and will not be as important a motivating factor moving people to the cities as it was last summer, the housing contraction may take its place as a motivator. The “broken windows” syndrome that drove whites from the urban core from World War II to the end of the Cold War may now drive them from the suburbs as unsellable houses become squats, derelict, or hideouts for crime. The process may be viral, first infecting the last, big, overdeveloped exurbs, then making its way into older suburbs until they too seem like ghost towns. If it is, the next fifty years will look considerably different than the last fifty years.
That will have an effect on politics too. The rural myth, enabled by the automobile and the suburb, that made Sarah Palin seem like a wise choice to Karl Rove will change dramatically. Will it disappear? Probably not. But it will change, and that will change what sort of candidates the rural right chose to represent them.
The editor asked me to write more about NYC and less about national politics. So this is it.
We’ve all heard about the vices of city living: gangs, drugs, AIDS, high taxes, poor schools, crowded apartments, and no place to park. What are the virtues of urban living?