Slumburbia?

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Will

Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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12 Responses

  1. I don’t know much about the other cities mentioned by my understanding is that the gentrification and out-migration of SF is a major problem.Report

  2. Avatar Kyle says:

    From a San Diego perspective, I agree with Mike, though I think the conclusion is less accurate than the preceding paragraph:

    “One is that, at least here in California, the outlying cities themselves encouraged the boom, spurred by the state’s broken tax system. Hemmed in by property tax limitations, cities were compelled to increase revenue by the easiest route: expanding urban boundaries. They let developers plow up walnut groves and vineyards and places that were supposed to be strawberry fields forever to pay for services demanded by new school parents and park users.”

    Structurally it’s a problem, it’s cheaper (or at least has been) to simply grow new communities than to reinvigorate old ones and the expectation of new revenues for(ever?) the long haul have bequeathed an expensive and arguably unsustainable infrastructure.

    That said, I think Egan’s treatment of the developers’ argument isn’t terribly accurate. It’s not that the cities have priced out the middle class and then emptied it’s that the developers have been saying that the cities will price out the middle class and then unaffordable housing will turn away businesses and growth. Which is still a fairly legitimate concern. The housing markets have “recovered” in SF and San Diego but they’re not affordable and that’s a different problem that still hasn’t been well addressed.

    The question I’d have for Egan is how municipal economies relate to his contrasts between free for all development and stricter codes. Is Phoenix’ slumification any different from New York’s in the 70’s? (It is the 5th most populous city in America) Are Las Vegas’ troubles related more to their dependence on a vibrant tourism-service economy, as opposed to the biotech, tech, and defense work done in Seattle, SD and SF?

    Not that I’m in favor of unrestricted development but it seems like the argument Egan is making doesn’t quite work…Report

    • Kyle makes solid points here. It’s much more about the available jobs than the fault of the developers. New York, SF etc moved to boutique staus where all the jobs are either at the high end or in the service sector. Las Vegas is even worse as tourism doesn’t really pay the big bucks. It’s easy to blame developers but they are investors…they generally only build what they believe people will buy.Report

  3. Avatar Trumwill says:

    It’s hard not to notice that the article does not mention the oft-cited epitome of sprawl and lack of development regulation: Houston. Nor does it mention Dallas. Nor Oklahoma City. Instead, it focused on those places where real estate became an industry unto itself. To be fair, that does apply to California as well but if that were caused solely by lack of development regulation, the aforementioned cities (and many more) would be worthy of mention. Perhaps you can avoid slumburbia by preventing development, but you can also prevent it with a more vibrant economy (which has the added benefit of addressing Kyle’s concerns). Many would argue that the lack of development regs in Houston allowed it to prevent both the bubble and the pop (or at least mitigate its effects), though I think some of it can be attributed to Houston’s (and similar cities’) longer-standing large economies. One of the things that Las Vegas and Phoenix have in common is very, very rapid growth without a study economic infrastructure to weather an economic downturn. If nothing else, there’s definitely a lesson to be learned in that. Before you start making room for everybody (in terms of housing), make sure there’s room for everybody (in terms of jobs). Then again, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Had there been no downturn, Phoenix and Vegas would still be reaping rewards.Report

  4. Avatar Will says:

    Y’all are some knowledgeable commenters. Anyone want to bang out a guest post?Report

  5. Avatar Sam M says:

    But wait. The section of the article you quote says that this is what happens when you let money and markets ruke the day. But higher in the article, we see some other factors at work. Namely:

    “…the outlying cities themselves encouraged the boom, spurred by the state’s broken tax system. Hemmed in by property tax limitations, cities were compelled to increase revenue by the easiest route: expanding urban boundaries. They let developers plow up walnut groves and vineyards and places that were supposed to be strawberry fields forever to pay for services demanded by new school parents and park users.”

    Hardly sounds like a libertarian utopia. Or dystopia, I guess. Seriously, you thikn that if the Cato Institute were to design a model free-market community, it would include a broken state tax system, city fathers with a rapacious view on expansion, huge issues with property taxes, etc.?Report

  6. Avatar JosephFM says:

    I need to think about this post some more when I have time. It’s pertinent – part of my hometown are basically like this. I look at the budget and economic forecasts for Florida, and wonder if we can ever really recover.Report

  7. Avatar Tim Kowal says:

    I’m not sure what is meant by the statement that San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and San Diego have “stable” home markets. According to the 6th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, those markets have the 6th, 24th, 18th, and 13th most unaffordable housing markets in the world, respectively. This is undeniably the result of the artificially inflated values caused by over-exuberant regulators. If the foolhardy home borrowing/lending mess did not hit these markets as hard as the suburban markets, this is only because the foolhardy borrowers were more interested raising their families in a real home in a real community (see Joel Kotkin’s piece here, noting that “[o]ne recent University of California at Irvine study found that density does not, as is often assumed, increase social contact between neighbors or raise overall social involvement. For every 10 percent reduction in density, the chances of people talking to their neighbors increases by 10 percent, and their likelihood of belonging to a local club by 15 percent.”) To suggest the regulators who price working families (particularly minorities, who have increased from 5% of the suburban population in 1970 to something like 27% today (see id.) out of these markets have done a public service is pure rubbish.Report