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The Conservative Case Against the Suburbs

In his recent column, “Why Suburbia Irks Some Conservatives [1],” the prominent urban geographer Joel Kotkin creates and then slays a number of straw men in defense of suburban development patterns and all that is right and good in this country. This, unfortunately, is a lament that too often goes unchallenged, ceding a large swath of the American experience in the process. It is time for conservatives to confront the true nature of the suburbs.

America’s suburban experiment is a radical, government-led re-engineering of society, one that artificially inverted millennia of accumulated wisdom and practice in building human habitats. We can excuse modern Americans for not immediately grasping the revolutionary ways in which we restructured this continent over the past three generations–at this point, the auto-dominated pattern of development is all most Americans have ever experienced–but today we live in a country where our neighborhoods are shaped, and distorted, by centralized government policy.

Kotkin begins his piece with a reference to Franklin Roosevelt. In the depths of the Great Depression, Roosevelt pushed for the creation of the Federal Housing Administration [2] (FHA). The traditional way of building a home–in slow increments over time, sometimes with an attached commercial enterprise that helped with cash flow–became impossible to underwrite as government officials, desperate for economic growth, used regulation to make the single family home the only viable option for new homeowners [3]. The federally-established Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac followed. The results were rising home ownership and economic growth, but on a very different framework, one where families held significantly higher levels of long term debt [4].

Dwight Eisenhower likewise embraced the capacity of centralized government action to reshape society. The Interstate Highway Act [5] was a grand vision to connect the entire country with a world-class highway system. This undertaking was finished three decades ago [6], but policymakers found transportation spending such a seductively simple way to create short-term jobs and growth that we continue to expand it aggressively [7].

American governments continue to be obsessed with maximizing people’s capacity to travel, even as they ignore minimizing the amount people have to travel. Not only must American families pay the taxes to support this continually-expanding system, but to live in it they are required to purchase, maintain, and store a fleet of vehicles even as they endure heightened sensitivity to oil price fluctuations (and support the military adventures that result).

Like Medicare, Social Security, and a myriad of other federal initiatives, housing and transportation subsidy programs are as popular today as they are financially insolvent. In an effort to prop up our suburban experiment, we now have the Federal Reserve owning the mortgage-backed securities market [8] while Republicans in Congress champion “pension smoothing [9]” as a way to pretend an insolvent federal highway trust fund can continue to build more roads. As with any over-centralized effort, a lack of appropriate feedback mechanisms allows the system to continue barreling down its present course–until it buckles under its own insolvency. Our suburban experiment has an expiration date.

Kotkin argues for the popularity of subsidies for highways and dispersed single-family homes when he claims the suburbs, “represent the epitome of the American Dream and the promise of upward mobility.” This is a pleasant platitude, but is it true?

If it were, we should expect the typical American to actually enjoy more upward mobility than those in other societies. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Research shows that most Western European and English-speaking nations have higher rates of mobility [10] than the United States, despite living at much higher densities.

We would also expect Americans to have more economic security–more accrued wealth–than those in other societies. Again, the reality is that Americans rank 19th in median net worth [11] behind countries such as the United Kingdom, Spain, and Japan, countries that have urban population densities [12] many times that of the United States.

The sad reality is that, despite the marketing, the suburbs were never about creating household wealth; they were about creating growth on the cheap. They were born under a Keynesian regime that counted growth from government spending as equivalent to that coming from private investment. Aggressive horizontal expansion of our cities allowed us to consistently hit federal GDP and unemployment targets with little sophistication and few difficult choices.

That we were pawning off the enormous long-term liabilities [13] for serving and maintaining all of these widely dispersed systems onto local taxpayers–after plying municipalities with all the subsidies, pork spending, and ribbon cuttings needed to make it happen–didn’t seem to enter our collective consciousness. When all those miles of frontage roads, sewer and water pipes, and sidewalks fall into disrepair–as they inevitably will in every suburb–very little of it will be fixed. The wealth necessary to do so just isn’t there.

To quote the late columnist Earl Wilson, “Modern man drives a mortgaged car over a bond-financed highway on credit card gas.” Debt-to-income and debt-to-assets ratios for U.S. households have grown steadily during suburban expansion [14]. That’s because there is an enormous ante required to participate in Kotkin’s version of the American dream. Two cars. Two incomes. Home, work, daycare, school, milk, and fun all require an enormous investment in time behind the wheel every day. It should be no surprise that younger Americans, burdened with student loan debt and having diminished job prospects, are less and less willing [15] to tie themselves to a 30-year mortgages with two car payments.

Where Kotkin sees a “forced march towards densification and ever more constricted planning augurs,” I see the unwinding of our great suburban experiment. As government’s ability to subsidize this artificial pattern of development wanes, a return to more traditional living arrangements is inevitable. For thousands of years, cities have been engines of wealth creation. In America, they are becoming that again.

This leads us to a final truth: cities desperately need conservatives. These are places that have been abandoned to the left for decades. Many urban dwellers are hungry for better government. They want a more responsive bureaucracy. They favor unwinding many of the stifling regulations and perverse subsidies that have built up over the years. They are angry with the political patronage systems run by a governing class that has been unchallenged for decades. Why would conservatives cede this ground so easily?

If conservatives want to identify with the artificial paradigm of an urban left and a rural right meeting on the suburban battlefield, we will continue to empower a progressive governing minority in a country that is solidly conservative. Instead of abandoning America’s growing urban centers to the left, we must see the inherent conservatism rooted within traditional neighborhood patterns of development. These are our people. They are there just waiting for us to speak to them.

Clinging to the Kotkin Doctrine of suburban primacy during this period of change will not only lead to a generation of conservative exile; it will produce a much weaker America.

Charles L. Marohn, Jr. PE AICP (@clmarohn [16]) is a licensed engineer, a professional planner and the president of the non-profit Strong Towns [17]. His latest book, A World Class Transportation System [18], is now available on Kindle.

Follow @clmarohn [19]

This post was supported by a grant from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.

Follow @NewUrbs [20]

91 Comments (Open | Close)

91 Comments To "The Conservative Case Against the Suburbs"

#1 Comment By Ralfff On October 17, 2014 @ 11:06 pm

“I really want to know why it is so important for them to have people “stacked as pancakes”.”

This is your only complaint, and it’s an idea that the article didn’t propose, cribbed from a drive-by pseudo-conservative “ME ME ME” comment. If you knew anything about Chuck Marohn you’d know that he doesn’t particularly prefer big cities himself.

#2 Comment By Uriah Maynard On October 17, 2014 @ 11:29 pm

Here in Portland, OR, we have lovely walkable suburbs (usually .1 acre lots) close in, with cute main streets every five blocks or so throughout the east side, while the west side has a truly urban downtown of apartment buildings and larger .25-.5 acre lots in culs-de-sacs feeding car-oriented arterials in the west hills. Clearly a city needs to support all types, but there’s a reason the inner east side of Portland is the cultural heart of the city. DANG fine living around here.

#3 Comment By philadelphialawyer On October 17, 2014 @ 11:57 pm

Jonathan:

I quite agree. Cities dip their “straws” into water resources far from the cities themselves. And that imposes all sorts of requirements on those areas. Boston, famously, caused the “drowning” of four towns when it built the Quabbin Reservoir on the Swift River. In addition, the loss of that water to its ultimate destination, the Connecticut River, was not without consequence either.

Of course, many suburban areas also use what is pejoratively known as “city water,” and also rely on not so close by water resources. And draining the aquifers to obtain “well water” is not without costs too.

Moreover, all suburban and urban areas must import food from elsewhere as well. Of course, rural areas import everything but food, and some of that as well, from other areas, and, out west, often import water too.

Let’s face it, human existence imposes on nature, and uses natural resources, wherever folks live. Consumption, pollution, etc. The ideal, environmentally, is to use as little as possible consistent with a decent lifestyle, and to avoid wasting and despoiling.

But their are other ideals as well. As this thread, and others like it on this site make clear, and as I have argued before, there are many, many folks who love their suburban life styles, and they are not going to willingly give them up, no matter the familiar environmental and financial arguments, nor the aesthetic/political arguments of the “New Urban” ideology. And, beyond web sites, and poll results to the contrary notwithstanding, actions speak louder than words. It is not zoning or governmental practice that has resulted in so much “sprawl,” in so much suburbia and now exurbia, but rather the simple fact that many, many people don’t like urban living of any kind: big city, small city, town, or even inner suburb. They like to have lawns, they like to have trees, and yards, and gardens, and to raise vegetables, and so on. And what poster Zeph portrays as a negative, for example:

“This [suburbanization generally] in and of itself was not too bad,but the larger lots and setbacks pushed houses apart, distancing people from their neighbors, until we got to the point we are now where most people only know the neighbors who live in adjacent houses (both sides, across the street, and behind if applicable).”

many people see as a positive! They don’t particularly want to know their neighbors, and they like the fact that they live in lots so large that they don’t have to! For many folks, indeed, this is the ideal. To be surrounded by lawns, and, beyond them, shrubs and trees and thickets and even woods. To have a long, long driveway, that discourages peddlers and other unwanted folks. The “New Urbs” people simply assume, because they are into “community” and town living, that everyone else must be too. But many, perhaps most, people simply are not.

#4 Comment By Lisa On October 18, 2014 @ 12:26 am

New Urbanism is not about stacking people like pancakes, i.e. density. It is about scale and diversity. It is about freedom. It’s about choice. The New Urbanism goal is to provide work, play, live, and learn in an area that can be walked within 10 minutes. It includes a variety of housing types and costs, places to shop, places to play, places to enjoy nature, places to go school, in a walkable area. It provides a gradient of character depending on the nature of the community. It can be a hamlet in a very rural area, a rural village in a rural area, a small city, a large city. The key, again, is DIVERSITY on a small WALKABLE SCALE. The suburbs are about a huge, regional, AUTO-CENTRIC SCALE. Large swaths of a single type of housing, or retail development, or offices. You must drive a car to get anywhere. New Urbanism is the neighborhood our grandparents grew up in. You know, the kind where you knew your neighbors and everyone looked out for each other. The one where you can send your kids to get a loaf of bread at the local store. A neighborhood that offered a variety of housing for grand parents, families, and singles, rich and poor. It ain’t that scary folks. It is how America was built. It is SMALL TOWN AMERICA. Get over the suburban thing. It’s a highly regulated and prescribed environment. It’s lonely. It’s ugly. It’s EXPENSIVE. Miles and miles of pipes and pavement we won’t be able to rebuild when it crumbles, because it will be exorbitantly expensive. It’s inefficient. It destroys nature and agricultural lands. It sort and separates people and families. Isolates people, especially those that can’t drive.

#5 Comment By Mhornbeam On October 18, 2014 @ 1:12 am

Wyclef- I didn’t ask you to remove abortion from the conservative plank. Planned Parenthood also does cancer screening for poor women, why is that bad for minorities?

Black Panthers outside a voting station in Philadelphia is exactly the same as denying entire groups of people their right to vote (ask Georgia’s SOS where those 40,000 voter registrations went).

#6 Comment By Nelson On October 18, 2014 @ 9:31 am

I’m new here but this is a super interesting discussion. I am a 30 something that bought a house in suberbia several years ago. The reason I did so was cost. Urban areas are more expensive dollar wise and there are many financial incentives for purchasing a house. However I came to realize that I wasn’t valuing my time enough. The commute was, in a word, stupid. Also the quality of life in the suberb wasn’t great. If I wanted to do anything social I had to get in my car and drive even more.

This year I decided I’d had enough. I moved to an apartment in the city, located near light rail, at the beginning of summer. My house sold last month. Quality of life has gone way up. The only downside really is the rent is higher than the mortgage payment. Maybe without subsidies it would be more equal and more people will do what makes sense overall instead of being (mis)led by the (subsidized) pocketbook as I was.

#7 Comment By William Burns On October 18, 2014 @ 9:44 am

An interesting take, but writing as if the history of the American suburb began with FDR is a non-starter.

#8 Comment By Scott T. On October 18, 2014 @ 4:39 pm

Excellent post.

#9 Comment By Dave_A On October 19, 2014 @ 1:26 pm

The problem with all this, is that it ignores the fact that urban life essentially REQUIRES you to be a big-government liberal.

Without government handling every aspect of life-support (public transportation, crime-control, sewerage, garbage pickup, aggressive zoning & development restrictions, just to start) a big city is unlivable.

This almost ensures that when the question of an even bigger nanny state comes up, city dwellers will vote YES enthusiastically… Their life is based on being held in govt’s hands cradle-to-grave…

Second, the urbanist’s dream-world is not only a 1984-style freedom-and-space-free hellhole (like New York) but also a relic of the past…

Cities were the engine of ‘wealth generation’ before the car, because that was the only way an industrial society could function: workers needed to be packed-and-stacked into crappy apartments, within walking distance of their (factory) workplace. Cars made this model obselete, and the end of the worker-driven assembly-line factory as a central feature of American life put a stake in it’s heart…

Now, we can all afford personal freedom & space (vs living Japan-style where only the super-rich can have their own back yard)… Yes, we end up in debt, but oh-well… You can’t take money with you when you die…

As for millennials whining about student loans & using this as an excuse to never-grow-up… That will be fixed by refusing them ‘relief’ & making them just go get a job and pay it off like everyone else….

#10 Comment By Rob G On October 19, 2014 @ 2:36 pm

“The thing is that suburbs aren’t necessarily bad, amongst the first suburbs were streetcar suburbs that were eminently walkable, self-contained communities built around streetcar lines. There is nothing wrong with such suburb. Suburbs CAN be walkable, CAN be sustainable, CAN be decently dense.”

In fact, many small self-contained communities became suburbs of this sort as the cities nearby grew outwards. I grew up in one such “suburb” of Pittsburgh, Pa. which has managed to maintain much of its self-contained status right up to today. Nowadays these sorts of towns are called “bedroom communities,” but in the 60s and 70s when I was growing up they were “suburbs.” I think it is important to differentiate suburbs of this sort from “sprawl,” which is a very different thing.

#11 Comment By Suburbanite On October 19, 2014 @ 4:19 pm

My daughter recently graduated from college and found a job near downtown. Though not a Utopian, she entered into the urban lifestyle with an open mind. After a week of subway commuting she came home to visit with a long list of observations: it’s so crowded I feel like a sardine, some of those people smell real bad, it costs more than driving and walking a long way in the rain is not fun. This urban “ideal” is not for everyone. She found a different job in a “close” suburb where she can drive.

The second paragraph says that the “suburban experiment is a radical government re-engineering of society”. It was a dynamic that was newly available after the war thanks to the productivity of our country, our efficiency in building roads and automobiles and our desire and ability to structure and organize our own “towns” and “communities independent of the often rapacious and crooked urban centers. It was a dream for a lot of people to live in these communities; far from “re-engineering” our lives, I think its closer to the truth to say that the urbanists were outvoted and outmaneuvered in their efforts to stand in the way of the establishment of suburbs and the infrastructure to support them.

I think the part that’s most obnoxious to the urbanists is that people and their resources escaped their control. Detroit and other failed urban centers have been trying for decades to extend their control over the suburbs and have thankfully failed so far.

The next paragraph is a lament on the ubiquitous automobile. In contrast to the “efficient” jamming of serfs into rolling aluminum cages traveling underground to fixed destinations, the automobile is a chariot of freedom. It can go anywhere, anytime and mostly in comfort, certainly more comfort than crowded metro cars. No wonder urbanists hate them.

I think the latest trends have been more to bring the poor out to the suburbs (access to schools, etc) than bring the middle-class suburbanites into the city. The drawback of this trend is that it’s bringing more crime, drugs and other undesirable behaviors to the suburbs and also adding social spending burdens that weren’t there before.

We pay for our own roads (except interstates), our own schools and other infrastructure. Some communities might be tight on funding and not keeping their communities as well-tended as in previous decades, but in contrast to the article, I’d say that’s not because of the nature of suburbs, but rather the success that the urbanists have had recently in steering more and more of the national resources into the city centers rather than a more equitable distribution. They certainly have steered transportation funds into their urban ideal mass transit rather than roads which is causing part of the funding constraints.
Despite my complaints, I believe in a balance. Many people love subways and other mass transit options and when those investments make financial sense, I support them. Many enjoy the urban lifestyle too and I don’t begrudge them their desires. I get bothered when they take valuable resources and allocate them to things like the bullet train between LA and SF that makes no financial sense whatsoever and then complain that there’s no money left over for roads.

#12 Comment By squirefld On October 19, 2014 @ 7:20 pm

I’m old enough to remember when my parents and grandparents thought Elvis and Roll and Roll was evil, even being sent by the Devil. I also remember a song coming out, in 1958 by Danny and the Juniors” with the title “Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay”. My point is that the suburbs are here to stay and are growing. An article about “re-engineering of society”, a conservative against suburban areas is nothing more then perverted nonsense.

#13 Comment By Alex K On October 20, 2014 @ 12:16 pm

“Charles, I think you’re falling into the same straw man trap as Joel Kotkin. The only alternatives aren’t super low density exurb or stacked like pancakes in Manhattans everywhere. And it’s not what Chuck is suggesting here at all. Surely there’s quite a few alternatives in the middle of that ludicrous spectrum that you suggest? Something other than pancakes or tumbleweeds?”

Steve D, I think you’re reading into what Chuck Marohn is suggesting here. Broadly, Chuck favors more “town-like” development that is unencumbered by strict land-use regulations and propped up by subsidy. He advocates interconnected neighborhoods that include retail and the ability to easily walk or bike from place to place as a means of reducing overhead to the community. His premiss is that removing the government regulation and subsidy would allow more organic growth. Under that model, you’d see that full range of living environments, from small towns to big cities to “streetcar suburbs” that include many single and multifamily homes that are easily accessible to retail and jobs. What you would likely not see is more sprawling subdivisions because they are expensive to maintain and one could easily argue we already have a vast oversupply of them as it is.

#14 Comment By philadelphialawyer On October 20, 2014 @ 6:46 pm

Poster Lisa is the perfect example of the problem many suburbanites have with the New Urbansim. She claims it is all about “choice” and “freedom” and “diversity.” But then she not only rules typical suburban living out of court, but calls it “ugly” and “lonely” too! And, she simply assumes that because small town America was the thing in the past (which is itself a dubious assumption, as the American past was mostly rural), that folks want it now.

Folks don’t necessarily WANT the kind of living environment their grandparents had, their parents had, or that they themselves grew up in. Millions and millions of people love their suburbs and their suburban homes just as they are. Car centric, non walkable, exclusively zoned for residences, without foot traffic at all and without much car traffic at night. Without necessary contact with neighbors.

It is simply false that government policies or laws have forced most suburbanites to live this way, rather, most suburbanites like it this way. And, indeed, if they could have their druthers, they would move to an even bigger house on a bigger lot, even further from anything remotely “urban.”

And that does, per poster Suburbanite, cheese off at least some of the New Urbanists. They are ideologues. They do have an agenda. They do favor a certain amount of social engineering. And one need not be a “black helicopter” type CT person to believe that the choices of millions of ordinary people bug them, are viewed by them as “wrong” (not merely reflecting a difference of opinion or priorities), and they would like to have their way even if a certain amount of soft coercion is necessary.

#15 Comment By Suburbanite On October 20, 2014 @ 8:39 pm

I do like the concept of setting up a community to facilitate walking and biking on trails around a community. I do as much shopping as possible on my beach cruiser with a basket. I used to live in a small beachside community and would rarely get in my car between Friday night and Monday morning. Everything; restaurants, entertainment, groceries and the library were within an easy bike ride.

#16 Comment By Rick Rybeck On October 21, 2014 @ 12:14 am

@ Jonathan: You asked some excellent questions. Primarily, because most real estate contains both land and building values, how does an assessor separate one from the other? Also, doesn’t the land value impact the building value and vice versa?

First, land value in an urban context is primarily related to the value of a particular location. (“The three factors determining the value of real estate are location, location and location.”) In other words, based on the physical location and the development restrictions and regulations applicable at a particular location, what are the opportunities to develop that land for residential or commercial purposes? The greater the opportunity for profitable development, the greater the price of the land will be.

The simplest way to understand this is to imagine that a factory is spitting out identical houses. We put each of these identical houses on identically sized, quarter-acre lots. However, the lots are each located in different neighborhoods. Not surprisingly, each house will sell for a different price. We know that the value of each house is the same. So the difference in selling price is related entirely to different land values.

In real life, few homes are exactly identical. But they don’t have to be. Many are very similar. And, because of computerized appraisal software that performs multiple regression analyses, the computer can determine how much value a bedroom, additional square footage, or special features like Jacuzzis or swimming pools will add to the value of the house.

Not surprisingly, if a neighborhood school starts to show pupil test scores rising or attains a reputation for fine teachers, home prices near this school will rise. It’s not because the bricks of these homes are more valuable. It’s because the location (land) is more valuable. Even real estate professionals who publicly claim not to be able to distinguish between land value and building value, do so regularly with surprising accuracy as part of their work.

The value of land is not determined by the building on it, but by the building that COULD BE on it. Thus, a vacant lot will have value.

Sometimes, a building may have negative value. Sometimes a property is sold and then the existing building is torn down. In this case, the purchaser would have paid more for the land if it had been vacant. To discover the value of the land, ADD THE DEMOLITION COST to the sales price and that is the land value.

We know that nearby public goods and services have an impact on land values. (See the example of the improved school above.) But what about an airport? The noise of the airport might cause nearby residential land to decline in value. But it might also cause nearby commercial land (zoned for warehouses) to rise. So the value of the land is determined by a confluence of factors relating to nearby public goods and services, zoning (what can the land be used for and how intensively can it be used), and economic demand. We could put great transit facilities and schools next to a site on the moon, and the value of that lunar real estate would be zero because there is no demand to develop the lunar surface (at this time). Likewise, we could develop a subway system on and beneath an Iowa corn field. Because there is no development demand to take advantage of the transit infrastructure, the net effect would be to lower land values because perfectly good crop land would be impaired or destroyed and there would be no demand for residential or commercial development to offset this.

In a similar vein, imagine a thriving city with lots of demand from new residents and businesses for more housing and commercial space. In such a place, changing the zoning from allowing a two-story building to a four-story building would double the price of the land. However, in a city where factories and businesses were closing and the population was declining, doubling the zoning density of a particular site might have no impact on land value whatsoever. Typically, zoning can reduce (but not increase) the value of land from whatever unfettered market demand would dictate. Thus, if there is a demand for 6-story buildings, zoning that allows a maximum of 4 stories would reduce the value by a third. Re-zoning that land from 4 stories to 2 stories would cut the value of 4-story land in half.

Sorry for this rambling explanation. However, there are numerous books and articles on this topic that will present this information more coherently. In LAND VALUE TAXATION: THEORY, EVIDENCE, AND PRACTICE (edited by Richard F. Dye and Richard W. England and published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2009) the following appears on page 193:
“we conclude that adequate analytical tools to estimate with reasonable accuracy separate values for land and for improvements are available…the tools necessary to do the job efficiently and accurately are available…”

#17 Comment By Rick Rybeck On October 21, 2014 @ 12:20 am

In the comment above, it is not the “noise” from the airport that causes the value of nearby warehouse land to rise, but the creation of the airport itself.

#18 Comment By Frommer Bishkva On October 21, 2014 @ 9:21 am

The ‘burbs have exploded because of the influence of oil, auto, banking, and building companies on congress. Pure and simple.

#19 Comment By Jonathan On October 21, 2014 @ 7:02 pm

Rick Rybeck
Thank you for your reply and the book reference. I will look into this further.

#20 Comment By philadelphialawyer On October 21, 2014 @ 11:33 pm

“The ‘burbs have exploded because of the influence of oil, auto, banking, and building companies on congress. Pure and simple.”

Tell that to the New York City apartment dwellers who stood in line to apply for mortgages in the original Levittown. I guess Rockefeller, Ford, Morgan, and their Congressman and Senator forced them to do so!

#21 Comment By ocschwar On October 22, 2014 @ 2:36 pm

“Tell that to the New York City apartment dwellers who stood in line to apply for mortgages in the original Levittown.”

If the banking industry hadn’t obtained huge subsidies in every form with which to subsidize Levittown, those NYC apartment dwellers would not have been standing in line for homes there, at least not in the same numbers.

#22 Comment By Paul Corder On October 22, 2014 @ 3:06 pm

philadelphialawyer sayed “there are many, many folks who love their suburban life styles, and they are not going to willingly give them up, no matter the familiar environmental and financial arguments”

Isn’t that the point? A conservative would support living within limits, especially natural and financial limits.

The American dream is to live on a 5 acres estate. But it is also to live within 5 minutes of work, the store, church and recreation with no traffic in the way. No city can afford to provide this to everyone.

Of course some people love it. But many do not and have to live in it anyway.

#23 Comment By ocschwar On October 22, 2014 @ 3:14 pm

” In contrast to the “efficient” jamming of serfs into rolling aluminum cages traveling underground to fixed destinations, the automobile is a chariot of freedom. It can go anywhere, anytime and mostly in comfort, certainly more comfort than crowded metro cars. No wonder urbanists hate them.”

I love how some people, those who need a license from the government just to leave their homes and return with a jug of milk, somehow equate their way of life with “freedom.”

The freedom to take two government tests, get a government issued picture ID, then buy a car from a government approved make&model, retitle it with the government, register it with the government, get it inspected by a government regulated shop, and insured with a government licensed insurer, and pay the government at each and every step. Then you put government-regulated fuel into the car to drive it on government-built roads.

Then with this level of freedom, you can choose to live somewhere that requires you to keep doing or else wind up effectively under house arrest.

I, meanwhile, could have my driver’s license revoked tomorrow, and the impact on my life would be nil. I have a license, and a car. But I live in an “old Urbanist” area with those rolling aluminum cages going where I need to go. And I’m the serf?

#24 Comment By warren On October 22, 2014 @ 3:40 pm

“They don’t particularly want to know their neighbors, and they like the fact that they live in lots so large that they don’t have to! For many folks, indeed, this is the ideal. To be surrounded by lawns, and, beyond them, shrubs and trees and thickets and even woods. To have a long, long driveway, that discourages peddlers and other unwanted folks. The “New Urbs” people simply assume, because they are into “community” and town living, that everyone else must be too. But many, perhaps most, people simply are not.”

This might be true, but it’s kind of sad if it is, and I think it’s bound to create problems when large numbers of people start to think this way. For instance, children are no longer able to wander, explore, and make friends on their own because their parents don’t live in communities where they feel that their children are safe.

Plus I think it’s very unlikely that people moved to the suburbs with the intention of isolating themselves. More likely they believed that they would find a thriving community there, became isolated from their neighbors over time, and gradually come to accept that.

#25 Comment By warren On October 22, 2014 @ 3:56 pm

“We pay for our own roads (except interstates), our own schools and other infrastructure. Some communities might be tight on funding and not keeping their communities as well-tended as in previous decades, but in contrast to the article, I’d say that’s not because of the nature of suburbs, but rather the success that the urbanists have had recently in steering more and more of the national resources into the city centers rather than a more equitable distribution. ”

Doesn’t the claim that New Urbs are harming suburbs by steering national resources away from them make hash of the claim that suburbanites can pay for all their own amenities? Anyway, I believe in equitable distribution too, but I think that truly equitable distribution would see the vast majority of funds shifted away from suburbs. This is because amenities created in the cities will, thanks to greater population density, naturally help more people. This is why New Urbs want to pull public money away from the suburbs. Not because they’re hoping to impoverish the suburbs out of spite, but because they think that money is being spent inefficiently on a small number of privileged people rather then being spent efficiently and smartly.

#26 Comment By philadlephialawyer On October 22, 2014 @ 7:08 pm

ocshwar:

“If the banking industry hadn’t obtained huge subsidies in every form with which to subsidize Levittown, those NYC apartment dwellers would not have been standing in line for homes there, at least not in the same numbers.”

Really? Care to flesh that out? What banking “subsidy” was at issue? And, if there were any, weren’t there also subsidies for building apartment buildings? Isn’t urban living also subsidized generally? With State and Federal moneys used for transit and other projects? Same with rural living. Farm loans, price supports, co ops, payments to not grow crops, subsidized electricity and other utilities, cross subsidization with more profitable regions, road building, direct subsidies to provide hospitals, etc.

Let’s face it, we don’t live in a laissez faire situation in which subsidies are some sort of deviation. Every form of community is subsidized, to some extent and in some way or another. We all contribute to the big government pot, and then all of our communities get to take stuff out of that pot.

In New York State, New York City AND its suburban regions (Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties) both contribute more financially to the State government than they receive back. And upstate New York, with its many small cities, small towns, and rural areas, gets more from Albany than they send.

Paul Corder:

“philadelphialawyer sayed ‘there are many, many folks who love their suburban life styles, and they are not going to willingly give them up, no matter the familiar environmental and financial arguments’

“Isn’t that the point? A conservative would support living within limits, especially natural and financial limits.”

But, as has been pointed out, city living is living beyond limits as well. Cities are not self supporting, not in terms of water, or food, and not financially, either. Is New York City, or Los Angeles, a good example of the concept of “limits?” Modern living generally is a strain on natural resources. It doesn’t necessarily matter all that much if you live in the city, the country, or somewhere in between, if you use electricity, have AC and heating, have clean water piped to your house and dirty water piped away, etc.

“The American dream is to live on a 5 acres estate. But it is also to live within 5 minutes of work, the store, church and recreation with no traffic in the way. No city can afford to provide this to everyone.”

Of course not. Thus, the combination of those things, to the extent there are any, are usually highly prized. Contra to the assertion that government policy or zoning laws or subsidies to the banks make them desirable.

“Of course some people love it. But many do not and have to live in it anyway.”

So I keep hearing. Yet this country is full of small towns, of inner suburbs, of small cities and big cities. Why do folks “have” to live in the suburbs, if they don’t want to?

In New Jersey, for example, there are small towns that fit the “New Urb” ideal to a “T.” With shopping within walking distance of housing, with mixed use areas, and with transit available locally, regionally, and to NYC and/or Philly and beyond. Some of these places are high priced. But others are moderately priced, and others are dirt cheap/”ghetto” areas. If millions and millions of folks were starved for this kind of living, why are, say, Bound Brook, Somerville, and Dunellen (small towns) and New Brunswick (a small city) modestly priced areas? With substantial, and largely poor, immigrant populations? Why is Plainfield (a small city/large town) a slum? Why aren’t these places being bid up and gentrified? If folks hate all those bedroom communities in Somerset and Middlesex and Union counties so damn much, why does it cost more to buy a house there than in these places? Sure, Cranford and Westfield fit the description of a ritzy, small town. But most small towns in NJ don’t.

warren:

“This might be true, but it’s kind of sad if it is, and I think it’s bound to create problems when large numbers of people start to think this way. For instance, children are no longer able to wander, explore, and make friends on their own because their parents don’t live in communities where they feel that their children are safe.”

Actually, parents in leafy suburbs think their kids are safer than parents in urban areas. Indeed, city and town parents tend to impose more restrictions on their kids than do those in the suburbs. In any event, all middle class and above parents, pretty much, in the USA, are too over protective, no matter where they live.

Moreover, what you find to be “sad” other people find to be liberating. Not everyone wants to hear the Johnsons’ on the next floor or next door have their daily fight. Nor do they want their personal business to be overheard by the Johnsons.

“Plus I think it’s very unlikely that people moved to the suburbs with the intention of isolating themselves. More likely they believed that they would find a thriving community there, became isolated from their neighbors over time, and gradually come to accept that.”

And I flat out think you are wrong. I grew up in the suburbs. Most of my large, extended family live in the suburbs, and many of my friends as well. And, for the most part, they love what you call the “isolation.” Sure, they say “hi” to their neighbors, but that is about it. Mostly, they interact with their families and their chosen friends, and don’t view their neighbors as anything more than acquaintances based on shared proximity.

People who want “community” don’t move to areas where the houses are far apart, where the lots are large, where there are no sidewalks, and where there is exclusively residential zoning.

Again, the disconnect here is really strong. Folks who don’t “get” suburban living really just don’t understand. They just can’t fathom that many, many people (1) don’t really care all that much about the folks that happenstance has made their neighbors, (2) don’t want strangers in any kind of proximity to their living quarters, whether they are neighbors, pedestrian strollers, folks attending shows or going to bars or restaurants, etc, and (3) prize their little piece of greenery, their space for their kids to play, to garden, to have bird feeders and baths, to barbecue, to have a pool and patio, to perhaps even raise animals, to have deer and rabbits and squirrels and foxes and chip monks, etc. dropping by, and so on.

“This is why New Urbs want to pull public money away from the suburbs. Not because they’re hoping to impoverish the suburbs out of spite, but because they think that money is being spent inefficiently on a small number of privileged people rather then being spent efficiently and smartly.”

This is, I think, a better argument. Stop telling people in the suburbs that they don’t like how they live, or that they shouldn’t like it. But, rather, try to do the math that shows that it is unaffordable. That, if we really account for everything, more people can live better for the same expenditure in cities. At least that appeals to people’s better nature, rather than attacks them for liking what they like.

#27 Comment By ocschwar On October 23, 2014 @ 4:39 pm

“Really? Care to flesh that out? What banking “subsidy” was at issue? ”

Do you really want the entire history of US housing policy hashed out in front of you?

#28 Comment By Paul Corder On October 23, 2014 @ 10:50 pm

“It doesn’t necessarily matter all that much if you live in the city, the country, or somewhere in between.”

I will try to explain why it matters using 10 acres of build-able land.

A typical single family pre-WWII urban property is about 5000 sf ft (50ftx100ft). On ten acres you can get about 87 houses. If the land is worth $100,000 an acre (10×100,000 = $1 mil total) and each house cost $100,000 (87×100,000=$8.7 mil total) the land value plus the property value is $9.7 mil (1 mil + 8.7 mil = 9.7) or $970,000 acre and $22.28 per sq ft (1 acre = 43560 sqft). This will house 217 (at 2.5 people per house).

A typical single family suburban property is about 20,000 sq ft. In ten acres 21 houses can be built. At $100,000 an acre the land is still worth $1 mil. Building the same house at $100,000 will create a value of $2.1 mil. The total property value is $3.1 mil. That is $310,000 an acre or $7.11 per sq.ft. This will house 52.5 people.

It would take 39.9 acres of suburban lots to house the same number of people as the urban lots.

Prime farm land makes the best suburbs so that would be 29.9 acres of farm land wasted. In addition the square feet of pavement, the length of water, sewer, gas and electric lines will be higher. More fire stations and police stations per person will be needed per person to maintain the same response times. Fewer children will be close enough to school to walk (the safest way for children to travel).

If 217 people are willing to pay $22.88 for something and only 53 people are willing to pay $7.11 for a product then I would say the free market is telling us that the $22.88 product is the one in demand.

In the real world this also holds true. In almost any city (even in NJ) the center city and downtown properties will have higher property assessments per square foot than a suburban style development in the same community. The struggling downtown is worth about 15 times the average property value per square foot. Some cities have downtowns (New Urbanist type developments) that get up to 600 times the suburban values in the same area.

It does matter where someone lives.

#29 Comment By dk12 On October 27, 2014 @ 5:07 pm

“the automobile is a chariot of freedom”

tell that to the generation who was strapped into one of those things for hours every day, though… it’s only some level of freedom from the time you’re an adult until you retire (if you can afford it). if you’re under 18 or a senior with any sort of health issue, living in a place where this is your only choice of transportation becomes a major burden.

for me, moving at an average speed of 5mph in gridlock every day for work is not exactly my idea of “freedom.” sure – it’s great to use to get out of the city once in a while – but for my daily commute I prefer biking in – it’s faster, I get exercise, save some money, something goes wrong I can fix it myself… I have a nice house in a nice neighborhood of the city – I have access to public transit if I don’t feel like biking, and I can walk to things – if I make it to retirement and I start to lose my ability to drive, this is the kind of neighborhood I’d want to be in.

IMO – cars are great for traveling long distances, but they really don’t make much sense in the city – they take up too much space, they are dangerous, cause congestion and pollution… I do live in one of those rare american cities that wasn’t decimated during the 70s, so this might be difficult for some people to understand.

#30 Comment By WeAreNot”Your”People On October 28, 2014 @ 8:11 am

I know I’m a bit late but I would like to clear something up, as somebody actually FROM an urban area “conservatives” fled for the suburbs decades ago.

You grew up on a sheltered culdesac. You are not “my” people. You have absolutely NOTHING to “teach” me or any other urbanite. If you don’t come from an urban background then you don’t it as well as those of us who do. That’s what you don’t get, left or right. Your worldview is skewed, and you should be LISTENING, not speaking, to us.

#31 Comment By philadelphialawyer On October 30, 2014 @ 10:18 am

“In almost any city (even in NJ) the center city and downtown properties will have higher property assessments per square foot than a suburban style development in the same community. The struggling downtown is worth about 15 times the average property value per square foot. ”

Flatly untrue. Land in center city Newark, Jersey City, Plainfield, Camden, etc, is dirt cheap. Land in one of the fancy suburbs is quite expensive. Then too, why is land the issue? The issue is housing, not land. Houses in fancy suburbs cost way, way more than houses in the above named cities.

“Prime farm land makes the best suburbs so that would be 29.9 acres of farm land wasted.”

US farms already produce far more food that can be eaten in the USA. Hence the subsidies, hence the price supports, hence the dumping on foreign markets. The notion that we are all going to starve because developers ate up the farmland is a strange one. Most food is grown and raised on big operations in the Great Plains and points west. Nobody is taking that land out of production.

“Do you really want the entire history of US housing policy hashed out in front of you?”

No, just the part that shows that suburban living has been MORE subsidized than rural, small town or city living. All types have been subsidized, one way or the other. Not just suburbs.

As for cars being “chariots of freedom,” well, that is overblown. On the other hand, once again, telling people that they don’t prefer what they do prefer, or are simply “wrong” to prefer it, is not the way to go. I could write an essay as to why individuals prefer car travel to public transit. There are literally dozens of reasons.

Of course, as with suburban living generally, a SOCIETAL argument can be made that overreliance on automobiles is wasteful, etc. But that is a different argument altogether.

#32 Comment By WeAreNot”Your”People On November 1, 2014 @ 5:05 am

philadelphialawyer: You’re trying to take a period that was an aberration in human history and act like it’s the rule and not the exception. Every single city was more expensive than the suburbs when the suburbs were first built…. the suburbs were built for the working class. They were basically gifted the land, had tax breaks and incentives, and they got to sponge off of the urban infrastructure for virtually nothing. That, and government policies that were anti-city and pro auto, suburbs, sprawl, and highway, is what allowed suburbs to gain the wealth they have. It wasn’t just the fact that the wealthy fled the cities that killed them… it was the fact that the backbone of the stable working class and middle class fled the cities as well.

And only in cities that declined (Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, etc) has suburban real estate ever been more expensive than urban real estate.

Camden was leeched off of completely by those wealthy suburbs you mention (very few of which are anything more than middle class, like most of the Philadelphia metro), and Jersey City’s real estate is cheaper than the suburbs of NJ? For real? That’s why they’re only building skyscrapers and proposing supertalls in Jersey City and not ANY of those suburbs, right? Jersey City was only EVER as cheap as it was because the worst aspects of Manhattan and other parts of NYC starting taking over JC and JC was completely overshadowed by and sucked into the tractor beam of Manhattan. The same thing started happening to Newark at a later date and is even now moving into western NJ and parts of PA as well as Staten Island, Long Island, CT, RI, etc. Philadelphia did the same thing to Camden, which wasn’t even all that bad until the late 80s-early 90s. Also, when places are built around industry to such an extent and the majority of the wealthy there are “new money”, when that goes away then the city loses not just its wealth and wealthy population but its backbone and foundation. JC, Newark, and Camden all suffered due to being secondary cities within their respective metros. Philadelphia was different because its “new money” which had been excluded from Center City by the “Old Money” who date back to the privileged families back in England, France, etc, abandoned North, West, and NW Philly (the ones who didn’t lose their shirts in the panics and depressions that hit cities like Philadelphia so hard) and move to Center City once the “Old Money” moved on to the Main Line and other “country” places where they could own their own estates. This would’ve been fine if the “GI Bill” and other government programs hadn’t basically given the working and middle class their leg up to live the American dream at the same time that redlining made it impossible to get a mortgage or any other type of financial help in the majority of the city, eventually leaving almost the entire city outside of Center City and a few other places to the working class/working poor and the poor minorities at the same time that the jobs that would’ve given them stability were completely evaporating. The new money wealthy eventually left Center City and settled in enclaves like Chestnut Hill in the city, the Main Line outside of it, Drexel Park, and other communities that were built for them. The “new money” wealthy were pretty much the last legitimately wealthy people in the Philadelphia area. None of the “new new money” who come from the working/middle classes that moved to the suburbs have anywhere near that level of wealth.

I’m sorry but you have a completely backwards view of what the suburbs actually are. Outside of legitimately monied places like the Main Line, Westchester County, parts of New England, etc, the suburbs were entirely built up for working class and middle class people and their values have been severely inflated. By the way, Liberty Property Trust paid more than 40 million dollars for the roughly half a city block sized future site of the CITC. Tell me the last time ANY suburban lot of that size, including the Main Line, fetched that kind of money. You can’t because it never has. The suburbs aren’t wealthy. They never have been. They were simply more wealthy than the cities whose values had plummeted due to a sharp decline in demand caused by the “Old Money”, “New Money”, and the at the time working class and middle class almost all not being interested in buying those ornate, grand old properties.

You bought into an illusion of wealth created by a lot of people who were well-paid but not legitimately wealthy. That illusion doesn’t exist in metros where the city never lost its wealthy (New York, Chicago, Boston, etc) or rebounded to such an extent that they easily outvalue their suburbs now (San Francisco, Seattle).

#33 Comment By philadelphialawyer On November 2, 2014 @ 12:37 pm

We Are Not Your People:

I’m not really sure you are being responsive to what I wrote. Again, go price a stand alone house in Newark or Jersey City or Camden or Plainfield or Somerville or New Brunswick or Dunellen or Bound Brook or Mineola, and then tell me it costs as much as a comparable one in Far Hills or Dix Hills or Lloyd’s Neck and so on.

The most expensive, fanciest, most desirable (as judged by market price) places to live, outside of a very, very few center city luxury buildings, are suburban/ex urban, quasi rural, big lot areas. No one tries to build skyscrapers, or even large buildings, in the most exclusive suburbs because it would never be allowed. Depressed cities, on the other hand, like Jersey City and Newark, will approve almost any kind of development. What does that tell you? And, sure, a city block on which hundreds or thousands of residential units or offices are going to be built is going to cost than a lot on which one house is going to be built. What does that prove?

Of course, there are more modest suburbs as well. But there are certainly modest city and town neighborhoods too. And worse.

How or why this got to be is whole other story. Yes, suburbs were subsidized, but cities, big and small, and small towns, and rural areas are subsidized as well.

The rest of your distinctions strike me as illusory, or, in any event, irrelevant…”well paid” as opposed to “legitimately wealthy,” “New Money” versus “Old Money,” and so on. The point is that lots of rich people want to live suburban lives. And, yes, many middle and working class people feel the same way, and emulate that lifestyle to the extent that their budget allows. And then some. Millions and millions of people, of all these income levels, want nothing to do with “urban” living, “new” or otherwise.

I’m not sure why you find that to be so controversial.

#34 Comment By WeAreNot”Your”People On November 4, 2014 @ 4:40 am

First of all, half of the places you mentioned aren’t even cities. Secondly, you name a handful of places which are the EXCEPTION to the rule in order to back up your lies.

No, they don’t try to build skyscrapers there because the market wouldn’t support it. Those suburbs and exurbs you mention have inflated prices due to the fact that they’re so sprawled out, mostly new construction, and have lower taxes due to government subsidies and brand new infrastructure.

You mean Jersey City where they’ve been getting supertall RESIDENTIAL buildings proposed on top of the many, many residential buildings already built? That Jersey City? The one with Manhattan type of financial companies relocating there, among other things? And what it proves is that the suburbs aren’t as sought after as you want to pretend and them being so was an ABERRATION in history.

The majority of suburbs are “modest”. Their prices have been inflated due to TEMPORARY factors. You can’t seem to accept that.

It’s really not a whole different story because you said that’s how it’s always been… which is what brought history into it since you were flat out wrong. Also, nowhere has been as subsidized as the suburbs have. They came into existence by being parasites and have never stopped doing so.

Of course that’s how they strike you… because you’re delusional. Let me explain it to you then. Ask anybody in the suburbs about their family history, and with very few exceptions they will tell you that their family came up from the working class and moved to the suburbs and has been there ever since. That’s not wealth. Being a developer, being a lawyer, being a doctor, being a small-time businessman is not wealthy. That’s the “wealthy” in most suburbs, and that “wealth” doesn’t last. The majority of suburbanites are middle management or office drone types. That’s not wealthy. The smart people with actual money are moving to the cities and dumping the suburban real estate on people “moving up”.

And keep using the New York metro as an example but it’s an outlier and you know it. Also, you’re trying to compare wealthy suburbs of MANHATTAN to a secondary city of the New York and then the Philadelphia metros. It’s not surprising to see you being completely disingenuous though given your prior comments on this article.

You’re not being controversial; you’re just flat out wrong.

#35 Comment By philadelphialawyer On November 6, 2014 @ 8:33 pm

Again, I don’t see the controversy.

There are plenty of wealthy suburbs. I only named a few for few convenience sakes.

As for the “secondary” nature of the cities and towns I mentioned, that is because what is being promoted here is NOT generally “Manhattan” or already existing large cities, but small cities and towns. In case you haven’t noticed, those are the “new urbs” that are being featured. My point is that, contrary to the claims being made, such places already abound, and far from being uniformly desirable (as shown by the market) and the alleged lack of them being attributable to zoning laws, they actually exist in abundance, but are not, generally speaking, all that desirable (again, as reflected by the market).

Jersey City, again, is a depressed area that will accept any and all development. Comparing the massive buildings built there to suburban lots and houses makes no sense. But, if we are going to compare desirability, let’s look at comparable houses in terms of space, style, etc in JC and a typical (not even a wealthy) NJ suburb. The latter will always cost more. Again, why do you think that is?

Your continued illusory rants about what is “wealthy” and what isn’t, now going back generations rather than just taking into account current status, are, again, not only overly broad and a little bit odd, but just flat out pointless. Currently existing wealthy folks, many of them, like to live in suburbs. And by suburbs I mean just as they are, not as the “new urbs” folks would have them be. True, not all such rick folks do, as some prefer big cities (and others totally rural life). And it is also true that not all suburbs are wealthy. But, to repeat, that is besides the point. As all types of communities have their rich, poor and in between representatives (and, if anything, suburbs have fewer truly depressed areas than either cities or rural zones).

As for history, I only adduced the (again, not seeing why controversial) point that wealthy people have, for many centuries, perhaps millennia, always liked to have “country” houses not far from the city, and that in recent years advances in transportation (and communication) technology now make at least the country house aspect of such living affordable to more people. I fail to see how that is a “lie” or a “delusion” or is “flat out wrong.”

And I am still waiting for a demonstration that suburbs have been MORE subsidized than cities, small towns, and rural areas. And the notion that suburbs are “temporary” is almost comical. Suburbs have been built, just considering the USA, for well over a hundred years. They don’t appear to be going anywhere. Nor is it true that small towns and cities only exist in the NYC metro area. The entire Northeast, from Maine to Wisconsin, is filled with them.

I think this sums up the problem here:

“Ask anybody in the suburbs about their family history, and with very few exceptions they will tell you that their family came up from the working class and moved to the suburbs and has been there ever since. That’s not wealth. Being a developer, being a lawyer, being a doctor, being a small-time businessman is not wealthy. That’s the ‘wealthy’ in most suburbs, and that ‘wealth’ doesn’t last. The majority of suburbanites are middle management or office drone types. That’s not wealthy. The smart people with actual money are moving to the cities and dumping the suburban real estate on people ‘moving up.'”

Basically, as a city dweller (I’m one myself, by the way), you are carrying a torch for cities. As you see it, the “smart” people are all moving to the cities, while, presumably, the stupid ones are all being left behind in the suburbs. When it is pointed out to you that many of those allegedly “stupid” people are in fact quite successful professional and business people, you turn around and make all kinds of inane and transparently self serving, as well as completely unfounded, distinctions between the allegedly smart rich people and the “temporarily” wealthy fools who continue to prefer, and live in, the suburbs. What are rich people if not professionals and business people and corporate executives and entreprenuers? And why does the status of their ancestors matter at all? Who qualifies as wealthy, if they don’t? Only the Rockefellers and Astors? Their families were not always rich, either. We don’t actually have titled aristocrats in the USA, you know. And, in any event, plenty of folks that have been wealthy for generations and have vast wealth DO live in the fancy suburbs I named, and places like them But, somehow, that doesn’t count, either.

I am not at all being disingenuous, rather, it is you who have gotten yourself all worked up over not very much…

#36 Comment By philadelphialawyer On November 7, 2014 @ 1:57 pm

And another thing…Jersey City is the anomaly, when it comes to smaller cities. JC is located right across the Hudson from Downtown Manhattan (aka “the Financial district,” aka “Wall Street”). And the big apartment buildings you are talking about are being built right on the river. With their back to 99 per cent of JC, including its derelict downtown, its slums, its decaying, abandoned, enormous housing projects, and its underutilized, grimy industrial areas. The part of JC you keep referring to is connected to Manhattan by the PATH (essentially, as it applies to JC, anyway, a subway line) and by ferries. Folks can get off the PATH (which runs 24/7) or ferry, take two steps, and be in their safe, luxury doorman building. Basically, they are living in Manhattan, working and playing there, and are only going to JC to sleep. And, at that, they are sleeping in what amounts to a walled off, subdivision of Manhattan. As for the corporate development in JC, much the same thing. Folks get off the PATH or ferry from Manhattan, and do their work, and then go back to Manhattan to sleep and play. The development is all by the river, and, again, has as little to do with Jersey City itself as is possible. Some of the apartment and office buildings are actually built on piers, over the river itself, and thus have their backs to 100 per cent of Jersey City.

The notion that this development shows the vitality of smaller cities and towns is absurd. JC has managed to capitalize on its virtually unique setting and transit facilities. But few other cities or towns can do so.

#37 Comment By Ruffslitch On February 16, 2015 @ 6:04 am

As a married mom I have no reason to live in the city. If I want to see the aquarium, the zoo, or a play I drive downtown, pay exorbitant parking fees close to the venue so I won’t get accosted by the city-dwellers while I’m there, then I drive home to my nice suburb where my son can ride his bike in relative safety, build forts down by the creek in the backyard, and I can gather eggs from my chickens. I can understand why singles find cities exciting but I loathe crowds do I never use public transportation, either. As long as there are people like me there will be suburbs. I’d live in the country but I still commute.

#38 Comment By richard herriott On February 24, 2015 @ 5:30 am

As a social democrat (I am very left-wing) I found this critique of suburbia very interesting. While I think there is a left-wing argument against suburbia as well as a conservative one, I would like to ask people here to note than when government was small we built small, dense cities. I would not advocate we return to the slums and fire-traps of the pre-20th century but there was a lot that was good about these dense places that support community and society. I would also ask suburbanites to note that all their sewers and roads and other utilities are indeed subsidised. Whether you live in a town or in a suburb you do need some level of state action. That´s not socialism, that´s people acting together with a shared interest.Think of golf club fees. Is that socialism? No one member can own a golf course of pay the staff but 1835 members can.
Also, conservatism is about conserving: isn´t our farmland a vital resource to protect for future generations? I am often puzzled about why conservatives show such disdain for nature. I imagine that the best sort of conservatism is about slow, organic growth and, as Burke said, a contract between the dead, living and unborn. The future is not ours to build on and pollute, is it?
For me a conservative attitude means responsibility and selfish consumption strikes me as irresponsible. That includes paving our landscape for bungalows and malls.

Regards,

Richard

#39 Comment By Douglas On February 25, 2016 @ 12:38 am

suburbs continue to expand because NIMBYs don’t want more housing built over/near/behind/in front of them.
Look no further than NYC – we’ll add maybe 15,000 units net of housing in 2016 because of NIMBYs.
You’ll never ever ever ever cure NIMBYism. Suburbs will remain the only place to build. It’s just the reality of the issue.

#40 Comment By BetterLooAdvocate On July 3, 2016 @ 7:25 pm

Dave_A

“Cars made this model obselete, and the end of the worker-driven assembly-line factory as a central feature of American life put a stake in it’s heart…”

Cars make public transportation obsolete huh? Try telling that to those trying to get home in a car in any large city these days. It’s brutal gridlock in most circumstances.

“The problem with all this, is that it ignores the fact that urban life essentially REQUIRES you to be a big-government liberal.”

The subsidy doesn’t end in the interior of the cities. You’re roads. You’re traffic lights. You’re electrical grid are all heavily subsidized.

“As for millennials whining about student loans & using this as an excuse to never-grow-up… That will be fixed by refusing them ‘relief’ & making them just go get a job and pay it off like everyone else….”

I’m sure you paid them off after accruing debt when the States typically covered about 80% of the “real” cost of your heavily subsidized college education. Since about 2000 the inverse is now true. The student bears 70%-80% of the cost having to take out loans just to attend. In addition the loans have caused hyperinflation in education costs — which in adjusted dollars have been growing 3-5 times the rate of inflation.

So what cost you $10,000 in loans in adjusted dollars to get a degree now requires $40,000 in loans to get a degree. You’re being a complete hypocrite about how “others” will be on the teat of government. You’ve been on that same teat since birth sucking it dry even more fervently all the while pointing at others.

#41 Comment By BetterLooAdvocate On July 3, 2016 @ 7:27 pm

(Corrected)

Dave_A

“Cars made this model obselete, and the end of the worker-driven assembly-line factory as a central feature of American life put a stake in it’s heart…”

Cars make public transportation obsolete huh? Try telling that to those trying to get home in a car in any large city these days. It’s brutal gridlock in most circumstances.

“The problem with all this, is that it ignores the fact that urban life essentially REQUIRES you to be a big-government liberal.”

The subsidy doesn’t end in the interior of the cities. Your roads. Your traffic lights. Your electrical grid are all heavily subsidized.

“As for millennials whining about student loans & using this as an excuse to never-grow-up… That will be fixed by refusing them ‘relief’ & making them just go get a job and pay it off like everyone else….”

I’m sure you paid them off after accruing debt when the States typically covered about 80% of the “real” cost of your heavily subsidized college education. Since about 2000 the inverse is now true. The student bears 70%-80% of the cost having to take out loans just to attend. In addition the loans have caused hyperinflation in education costs — which in adjusted dollars have been growing 3-5 times the rate of inflation.

So what cost you $10,000 in loans in adjusted dollars to get a degree now requires $40,000 in loans to get a degree. You’re being a complete hypocrite about how “others” will be on the teat of government. You’ve been on that same teat since birth sucking it dry even more fervently all the while pointing at others.