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The Suburbs are Sexy

Adrian Moore
December 24, 2009, 10:39am

When Congress has found time not occupied with nationalizing healthcare, they have introduced a series of laws designed to curtail suburban living.  This column by Wendell Cox explains why that is a mistake.

The Mythical “Demise” of the Suburbs: Nearly since the pace of suburbanization increased, following World War II, critics have been foretelling the demise of the suburbs. During the 1950s and 1960s, some planning “visionaries” such as Peter Blake were predicting widespread municipal bankruptcies in the suburbs and for residents. This was occurring even as other urban planners were tearing up cities with urban renewal projects and freeways, setting the stage for “block-busting” and an ever-widening racial divide. The early criticisms have been repeated through the years, justifying a paraphrase of the old saw about Brazil (“Brazil is the country of the future and always will be”): “The suburbs are the wasteland of tomorrow and always will be.”

The Real Decline of the Cities: In fact, it has more generally been the central cities that nearly went bankrupt, not the suburbs. Examples include New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and that jewel of municipal consolidation, Indianapolis, rescued last year by $1 billion in state taxpayer funds. There are hopeful signs of a renaissance in most central cities, however their financial difficulties remain intractable and large swaths of their land area remain desolate. Meanwhile, the lawns were mowed in the suburbs, the houses painted and a strong sense of community developed among residents that was far too subtle for the prophets of suburban doom to perceive.

He goes on to examine in some detail greenhouse gas emissions from suburban vs. compact develeopment. 

But a funny thing happened on the way toward GHG inspired desurburbanization. Some academics actually began looking at data. The reality of the suburbs turned out to be rather different from that portrayed by the conventional wisdom of the planners.

He concludes noting President Obama's trip to Home Depot,

The President explained why insulation was sexy, noting that saving money is sexy. Indeed, saving money is what the suburbs are about. The economic research is clear that housing costs are far less where suburban development is not limited by the compact development strategies thatartificially create land scarcity. That’s why places like Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta and Houston, without compact development, had little, if any housing bubble, while housing bubbles of economy-wrecking proportions occurred in California and Florida, with their compact development.

Yes, Mr. President, insulation is sexy. Saving money is sexy. And, the suburbs are sexy.



Adrian Moore is Vice President, Policy


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