Is America's Suburban Dream Collapsing?


For a long time, Toronto ran counter to events in the United States; in the last 40 years there has been a dramatic switch where the rich live in the centre, and the poor have moved to the suburbs. The downtown rapidly gentrifies, while the new suburbanites have fewer social services, lousy transit and lots of cars.

Now it is happening, rapidly, in American cities as well. Lara Farrar writes for CNN a depressing article titled Is America's suburban dream collapsing into a nightmare?
While the foreclosure epidemic has left communities across the United States overrun with unoccupied houses and overgrown grass, underneath the chaos another trend is quietly emerging that, over the next several decades, could change the face of suburban American life as we know it.

toronto changes over 30 years photo

from Spacing Toronto

The article continues:

This trend, according to Christopher Leinberger, an urban planning professor at the University of Michigan and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, stems not only from changing demographics but also from a major shift in the way an increasing number of Americans -- especially younger generations -- want to live and work.

"The American dream is absolutely changing," he told CNN.

This change can be witnessed in places like Atlanta, Georgia, Detroit, Michigan, and Dallas, Texas, said Leinberger, where once rundown downtowns are being revitalized by well-educated, young professionals who have no desire to live in a detached single family home typical of a suburbia where life is often centered around long commutes and cars.

Then the article turns nasty:

[Metropolitan Institute Director Arthur] Nelson estimates that in 2025 there will be a surplus of 22 million large-lot homes that will not be left vacant in a suburban wasteland but instead occupied by lower classes who have been driven out of their once affordable inner-city apartments and houses.

The so-called McMansion, he said, will become the new multi-family home for the poor.

"What is going to happen is lower and lower-middle income families squeezed out of downtown and glamorous suburban locations are going to be pushed economically into these McMansions at the suburban fringe," said Nelson. "There will probably be 10 people living in one house."

John Laumer reminds us that this happened before- after World War II all the big downtown houses were converted to rooming houses while those with money chased the suburban dream, and also notes that new urbanism isn't the only thing driving this trend, it is also the price of gas and where the job growth is. Having seen it in Toronto, I can say from personal experience that it is not without its challenges. ::CNN

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