Tuesday, June 3, 2008

(more) State of the Suburb

The Economist has a story about the status of the suburbs and how they've become more like the center city.

For instance, suburbs nationwide have gotten more diverse: The suburban Asian population grew 16 percent between 2000 and 2006, the suburban black population grew by 24 percent during the same period, and the suburban Hispanic population grew by 60 percent.

They also have more economic opportunities than they once did — "With some 60,000 jobs and 20,000 houses, Valencia [California] boasts a better ratio of employment to homes than the city of Los Angeles. And still its businesses grow."

But suburbs also have rising crime rates, their residents often have tiresome commutes, and a multitude of foreclosures are threatening the budgets of their governmental bodies.

From the Economist:

"James Kunstler, an American urbanist, says [suburbs] represent 'the greatest misallocation of resources the world has ever known'. Richard Florida, an influential writer, sees them as incidental, at best, to cities' highest purpose, which is to concentrate young, creative folk who will come up with brilliant innovations. Now that America worries about global warming, the acres of bungalows and freeway exit ramps seem not just pointless but harmful.

Although much of this is nonsense, it cannot be denied that a little sheen has come off America's suburbs in the past year."

I'm not sure what is nonsense about freeways contributing to waste and pollution, but here's where I've gotten stuck. The story examines suburban shopping districts meant to evoke old town centers — perhaps like the Avenue at Carriage Crossing — and comes to this conclusion:

"The popularity of such confections suggests that Americans want to spend time in places that look like cities but feel like suburbs. They hint at a broader pattern: cities and suburbs are converging. This is not entirely good news."

I don't completely understand. Americans like places that look like a city but feel like a suburb? Is this code for safe? Well-kept? Homogeneous? All the things the article says the suburbs aren't anymore?


Exile On South Main Street said...

"The popularity of such confections suggests that Americans want to spend time in places that look like cities but feel like suburbs."

This is an interesting--though not at all accurate--observation, and your confusion is understandable. The Avenue @ Carriage Crossing (and really, have you ever seen a carriage there? Me neither) and its ilk are less evocative of "cities" than anything I've ever seen in my life. My belief is that their stated purpose is to bring to mind "old towne America," with it's quaint sidewalks, lamposts, occasional green space, and (at least in Memphis) horrifying bronzed children.

Of course the issue is really one of convenience, and that uniquely American obsession with wanting our suburban cake and eating too. According to the developers who planned the Avenue, we all subconsciously crave the accoutrements of a small town, even one that looks like a TV set, and all that it evokes (friendliness, time with family, safety, innocence, blah blah blah) but not at the cost of our exurban lifestyle (ample parking for SUVs, the comfort of chain retail familiarity, etc.)

marycash said...

Maybe the bronzed children say it all. Fake is so much easier — and in this case, quieter — than real.