The March 2008 issue of the Atlantic Monthly published an article titled “The Next Slum?” by Christopher Leinberger, had reinforced what I have learned on the changing tide of suburbanization. That renewed urban allure to Gen-xers and the Millennials, the second largest demographic in history after the baby boomers, combined with the disillusionment of urban sprawl, long commuting times and high gas prices (and home heating prices) have led to a critical glut in McMansions at metropolitan fringes and housing, and that the urban core, once a bargain twenty years ago,  are now going for a premium. 

The article isn’t dismissive of all suburbs and that while there is a shift underway to walkable environments the author, Leinberger, doubts that the swing from suburb to city will be as dramatic as the swing from city to suburb was in the 20th century. Many will still prefer the big house/car lifestyle. However those suburbs with access to shorter commute times or close mass transit will be among the suburbs fairing well.

Those suburbs that are on the wrong side of town, and poorly served by public transport, are already suffering decline finding long time residents replaced by Low-income people, displaced by the gentrifying inner cities. He make an interesting prediction, that much of the future decline is more likely to occur on the fringes in recently developed areas, that many of the the McMansions will be resale at rock-bottom prices to lower income families and will suffer eventual conversion to apartments.

I have heard apocalyptic suburban ruin wishful thinking before and I am sceptical, however, there is definitely some truth in the matter.   It is becoming increasing costly to runaway from problems instead of dealing with them. The days of cheap subsidised land are coming to an end, the costs are off-set by the cost of gas prices and home heating and the harder to measure but still costly – ever increasing commuting time.

There is also the issue that the article mentions I think has had a large factor in the return to the cities; most of the Gen-xers and Millennials have chosen not to have kids. The Baby Boomer’s parents generation (the settlers of Richfield), more than half of all households contained children, by 2000 they were only a third and by 2025 it will be closer to a quarter and there will be about as many singles households as family households. Schools, which once were a big selling feature of new suburban communities, hold less allure than they did fifty years ago. 

Speaking of the value of city planning :

Having once owned a home on Saint Paul’s West Side and having been lived next to West Saint Paul has made me very much appreciate Richfield, which like West Saint Paul, initially started with little or no urban planning but unlike West Saint Paul has made serious efforts since the 1980’s to correct it’s previous blind eye to unplanned development and have some design standards and not be afraid of urban planning.

 

The sad thing is, with it’s rolling hills West Saint Paul probably had some of the most stunning landscapes in the Twin Cities area and has pretty much made a sows ear out of a silk purse.  The following video was submitting to the Walker Art Center  for their “Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes” exhibit and pretty much captures the spirit of West Saint Paul living at its finest.